FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Here’s a stunner: The New York Jets would be in the playoffs if the regular season ended today.
Yes, those Jets. The group many thought would struggle to come close to last year’s total of six wins. The team that some ranked at the bottom of the NFL entering the season.
As unlikely as it seemed a few months ago, or even just a few days ago, Rex Ryan’s bunch has made a firm statement as it heads into the bye-week break. These Jets don’t plan on going away anytime soon.
“At the end of the day, we’re not worried about what people expected of us,” defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson said. “We know what we’re capable of doing as a team and as an organization.”
In the up-and-down world that is the Jets’ season, opinions continue to fluctuate on whether this team could be a serious playoff contender. But after a surprising 26-20 win over New Orleans on Sunday, the question might be: Why not?
After all, they’re 5-4 and currently hold the No. 6 spot in the AFC playoff picture.
“People didn’t really expect a whole lot out of us this year,” tight end Konrad Reuland said. “I think the only people who did expect a lot out of us was ourselves.”
That underdog approach has suited the Jets well over the years under Ryan — who has evolved from a brash and boastful coach. He has toned down the bravado and his once must-see news conferences are now a balanced mix of football talk, coach speak, entertaining self-deprecation and a few well-timed yucks.
Behind closed doors and away from the cameras, Ryan’s confidence — in himself and his players — has never wavered.
“He’s the fire,” right guard Willie Colon said. “The fire behind all this.”
Colon then told Newsday that Ryan was “worthy” of an extension.
“I’m for it,” the told the paper. “I see it like this: If you feel like the team is going in a positive direction — which we are, even though we have a lot of football left — and you see him in your plan, why hold out?”
In the past, Ryan might have swung at the softball of a question when asked if he feels validated that the Jets have been proving their critics wrong. The “new Rex” isn’t taking the bait these days.
“I don’t think that way,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s a normal way of thinking or not. To me, it’s like what is the challenge in front of you, and that’s it. When I told you guys this year when I came back that I’m just treating it like it’s a new beginning, that’s how I’ve treated this from Day 1. Like it’s just full speed ahead.
“I’m not looking down the road. I’m looking at what’s right in front of me, like this is what we have to get done,” he said.
Ryan’s new approach is rubbing off on his players. Wilkerson wouldn’t bite Monday on WFAN radio when asked if he believed the Jets would make the playoffs.
“I’m not going to speak on that,” Wilkerson said. “All I’m going to say is the Jets … we will keep on fighting like we always do. Like Rex says, play fearless, not reckless.”
At their best, the Jets have been fueled by a stingy defense and persistent running game, helping make up for the flaws of rookie quarterback Geno Smith, who has also made some game-winning plays with both his arm and his legs. New York has shown all that in impressive wins over teams such as Atlanta, New England and New Orleans.
At their worst, they’re a mistake-prone group — led by an up-and-down Smith — that hardly resembles a playoff-caliber team, as shown in the 49-9 loss at Cincinnati last week.
Win one, lose one. That’s the trend so far, without fail.
The Jekyll-and-Hyde Jets are tough to figure out from one week to the next, but the fact they’re nine games into the season with very real postseason aspirations is one of the league’s most stunning developments.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a surprise to any of us in the building,” a defiant general manager John Idzik said.
The Jets and owner Woody Johnson defied all logic in the offseason when they opted to fire GM Mike Tannenbaum, but retained Ryan. It’s not the way most NFL teams operate, but it certainly set up this so-far unpredictable start by the Jets.
They’re still defying logic. And now, they seek consistency.
New York’s last seven opponents have a combined 22-28 record, including Miami (4-4), whom the Jets play twice in December. Only one of those teams has a winning record: Carolina, at 5-3.
“Right now, we’re 5-4, we have seven games ahead of us and we have to prepare our butts off for them,” Smith said. “We all know about the playoffs and we want to put ourselves in the best position possible, so we’ve got to continue to prepare and just get better.”
Idzik wouldn’t speculate on Ryan’s future beyond this season, but praised the coach’s ability to make things work, from his coaching staff to a roster that is constantly being shuffled because of injuries to key players.
“Rex has pulled it all together,” Idzik said. “He’s our leader.”
The GM also wouldn’t commit to Smith as the Jets’ long-term solution at quarterback. Idzik insists the team needs to be “living in the moment,” and for the Jets, they’re feeling pretty good right now.
But, far from satisfied.
“In this league, if you have a feeling of contentment or complacency, you’re at risk,” Idzik said. “And we’re not going to have that feeling in this building.”
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