FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Rex Ryan wants his defense to be feared every time it steps on the field.
That has always been the New York Jets coach’s philosophy: Play the meanest, most physical and aggressive group of guys you can and dare offenses to beat you.
“If you look at yourself that way, as soon as you get the lead, game over,” Ryan said. “That has to be the mentality.”
He watched defenses dominate that way back when he was with the Baltimore Ravens, particularly the 2000 Ravens team that won the Super Bowl. The Jets also had some elite-type moments in each of Ryan’s first two years in New York.
New York is ranked seventh overall in defense this season, but has been far from dominant.
“Are we there yet?” Ryan said. “No, we’re not there yet.”
The best example of that was last Thursday night when the Jets stifled Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos for nearly 55 minutes. Then, it all fell apart as Tebow drove 95 yards for the winning touchdown, capped by his 20-yard run that came as the Jets sent an all-out blitz — its first of the game.
It was a critical error, one defensive coordinator Mike Pettine has taken full blame for. It was also a moment that showed the difference between a good defense and an elite one.
“That’s on me as a play caller, and that’s on our guys to be able to rise up in those critical situations,” Pettine said. “Most defenses, you’re going to have a drive like that a game. It can’t be the last one, and that’s something that we need to get fixed starting from the coaching part of it down to the execution and the players’ part of it.”
Even in 2009, the Jets had their moments of frustration, when they would allow teams to get back into games and, in some instances, win. Just as they did when they went to Miami and allowed the struggling Dolphins to drive down the field and pull out a 31-27 victory in the closing moments.
“It’s similar to that, like, ‘Hey, if we get the lead, I don’t care when they get the ball in the fourth quarter, you’ve got to close it out,” Ryan said.
That’s the expectation, and that goes for the players as well as they coaches.
“We’re still making a few mistakes that are hurting us in the end,” safety Eric Smith said.
New York’s defense was solid in the first two games of the season, wins over Dallas and Jacksonville, as well as closing out the victory over San Diego a month ago. Three weeks ago, the Jets stopped the Bills, one of the league’s most dynamic offenses at the time, and sent Buffalo’s season spiraling.
New York hasn’t won since, though, and the defense needs to step up and be dominant — especially with Mark Sanchez and the offense struggling a bit lately — again on Sunday against the Bills.
“We’re really confident,” defensive end Mike DeVito said. “I mean, we put together a great game (against Denver). We just didn’t finish, so we went back, looked at that and fixed that and now we’ll be ready to put a full game in on Sunday.”
Buffalo will be without injured running back Fred Jackson, who’ll be replaced by the speedy C.J. Spiller. That presents a different challenge for the Jets, who held Jackson to 82 harmless yards the last time the teams played.
“If we want to be elite, and I have been around some elite defenses in Baltimore and two years ago and we were close to it and not that far away from it last year, it’s the closing games part of it,” Pettine said. “As bad as the circumstances were (last) Thursday night, that was our game to win, defensively. That’s the inconsistency.”
A look at the numbers and one might think the Jets are indeed dominant, or at least close to it. They rank second in allowing third-down conversions, sixth in yards passing per game and seventh in total yards per game.
“I think we’ve been solid,” Pettine said. “But I also think there’s so much room for improvement. We’re young at some positions and I think we’ve had some inconsistencies, but I think statistically you look at us, I think there are a lot of teams around the league, you could ask: ‘Statistically, would you take this defense?’”
But as both Pettine and Ryan have pointed out, it doesn’t matter what the statistics say. It’s the play on the field and the numbers on the scoreboard that count in the end.
“Our standards are different,” Pettine said. “From what we’ve built and the reputation that we want to have and the standards that we compare ourselves to, we compare ourselves to our own.”
NOTES: While some players think the Jets must go 6-0 down the stretch to make the playoffs, Ryan thinks 5-1 might still be good enough. That’s even with three teams in the AFC North — Baltimore (8-3), Pittsburgh (7-3) and Cincinnati (6-4) — having better records than them. “I’m not afraid of any of those teams,” Ryan said. “There’s a couple of real good teams in there. Obviously, Baltimore and Pittsburgh, but beyond that, I’ll take our division over any of them.” … Ryan had “quite a few” people over his house for Thanksgiving dinner, which included his favorite side dish: green bean casserole. “Whew, the lap band was in trouble,” he said, laughing. “It got stretched out. I was stretching that bad boy out.”