By Ernie Palladino
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Woody Johnson didn’t wait, didn’t hesitate.
Right after the Jets ruined the Dolphins’ postseason chances and secured a non-losing season for themselves with a 20-7 win, he confirmed that Rex Ryan would return for the 2014 season.
Whether he does it under his existing contract, which runs out after next year, or operates under a minimal extension remains undetermined. But whether Ryan becomes a lame duck or not, his return showed Jets fans a different side of the organization, and a welcome one at that.
It took Johnson some amount of thought to make yesterday’s decision; considered, calculated thought. This is significant, for the Jets have often operated as a seat-of-the-pants outfit under Mr. Johnson.
Sign ancient Brett Favre and anoint him immediately as a savior? Sure seemed like a good idea at the time. Draft a quarterback in the second round and then name him the starter for 2013 despite his youth, numerous flaws, and scouting reports that pointed to an airplane-hold full of baggage? Brilliant.
But keeping Ryan around for another year, with or without an extension to keep him from wearing that horrid lame-duck tag, well, that’s a thinking move. Especially for an organization that hasn’t exactly made brainwork a strong point over the years.
Not that yesterday’s win meant anything, but if there was any doubt in Johnson’s mind about Ryan’s status before, the level of play the Jets showed in ruining the Dolphins’ playoff chances cinched the deal. If only because of a particular fourth-quarter sequence, Ryan’s offense displayed exactly why he should have returned, and why Johnson was absolutely, positively correct in retaining him.
Bilal Powell’s power run up the middle for 13 yards led it off. Two plays later Powell, on a direct snap, took off left and found tight end Jeff Cumberland for 30 and set up a field goal for a 17-7 lead.
Add some good, spirited defensive play led by Ed Reed’s touchdown-saving tackle and fourth-quarter interception, Geno Smith’s legwork in eating up key yardage, and that this game was the diametric opposite of the teams’ Meadowlands meeting, and it became clear Ryan’s players didn’t want to see him go.
Now for the question of an extension. The Jets didn’t address the contract situation yesterday, saying only that Ryan was coming back. Luckily for Johnson, he can’t go wrong on this one. It’s always nice to give an embattled coach that extra year, but aside from the monetary expenditure should things not work out the following season, those extensions don’t mean much.
The Giants gave Tom Coughlin a one-year reprieve in 2006, but everybody knew if he didn’t make the playoffs in ‘07, he was a goner. As it turned out, Coughlin rewarded John Mara’s patience with the first of two Lombardi Trophies.
Ryan doesn’t really need an extension. He of all people is in a position to handle 2014 as a lame duck. Given his personality, he can continue to inspire his squad. In fact, the lame-duck tag could even help him, considering how well his team responded last week when he informed them of ill-winds before the Browns game. That’s the kind of guy he is.
He obviously would rather have the extra year for a little financial security. All coaches do. But he proved this year that he could work effectively under adverse conditions. Because of that, length of contract became one less thing for Johnson to worry his little head over.
The eight wins from a team that had no right winning more than four or five coming out of training camp, Ryan’s good-soldier mentality in sticking with Smith through the kid’s darkest hours, and the coach’s calmer, more analytical remarks about his team this year all made Johnson’s decision easier. Still, Johnson needed to think about the direction his team is headed in, and whether Ryan was the right guy to lead that march forward.
The answer after some clear and cogent thought was to bring Ryan back.
There’s no saying this works out. If John Idzik doesn’t bring in some truly representative offensive talent, Ryan might still be out of a job around this time next year.
For now, be happy about this. For once, Woody Johnson used his head. He made a good decision.
That’s saying a lot for an organization that has made way too few of those over the years.
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