By Jason Keidel
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While my friend Green Lantern thinks his beloved Jets need to vanquish their former coach to put a cherry on this most surprising season, it says here that Gang Green has done enough to make him, and you, proud.
Sure, with that playoff berth four quarters away, your heart sings with optimism. While you dare to dream of a deep January run, it’s impossible to even consider a Sunday loss at the hands of Rex Ryan.
But consider where you were last year at this time. Planes were sailing over the Meadowlands, pulling abject signs begging the Jets to can general manager John Idzik. For his part, Idzik came here without the power to pick his head coach, and many thought he pocketed up to $20 million in cap space to hamstring Ryan. Rex, himself, was on a very public march to his demise. It was politics at its most gruesome.
And now, in one stroke, the hiring of another GM, who then hired his own coach, has the Jets with no issues of harmony, stability, and competency.
Just look at Philadelphia, where Chip Kelly fell through the trap door of his decisions. Look at Miami, Tennessee, and Cleveland, where they have seismic power vacuums. The Dolphins, Titans and Browns should soon have new head coaches.
Look at the teams that prosper the most. The Patriots, Packers, and Steelers have a clear and solid totem pole, each with a level of respect. Malcontents and miscreants are jettisoned, replaced by team guys to be part of the team-first ethos.
The Jets now have that, too.
If you listened to Willie Colon on WFAN on Wednesday morning, you heard a veteran who admires the ethics and brotherhood of his team and aches to join them. Colon has been on a Super Bowl winner, knows the ornery road to get there, and believes the Jets have almost all the hallmarks of a champion.
If not for Ron Rivera, Bill Belichick, and Bruce Arians, you could argue that Todd Bowles should be the NFL Coach of the Year. His boss, Mike Maccagnan, brought in Darrelle Revis and Brandon Marshall to fill huge holes, and signed the QB who has lead this team to the cusp of the playoffs. Ryan Fitzpatrick has been a godsend. Whether this is the new, lasting look of the old QB is unknown, but he’s on fire, and no one doubts his grip on the huddle. The former football gypsy has found a home, and is just 276 passing yards from 4,000 for the season. Only Joe Namath has done that in green.
With Fitzpatrick leading in passing, Chris Ivory in rushing, and Marshall and Eric Decker leading in receiving, they will be just the second such quartet to come from other teams to do so in the last decade, and the 12th since 1970. And with TD catches against the Patriots on Sunday, Decker and Marshall tied the NFL record for offensive duos by scoring in the same game eight separate times.
Just this past August, the new Jets seemed to be old Jets, with presumed starter Geno Smith getting his jaw cracked by a teammate. If you said that team would eventually be 10-5, and 60 minutes from a wild card spot, fans would have signed on in a New York minute.
Sure, Ryan once landed on New York like a meteor. The large, loquacious coach charmed us with his open heart, R-rated monologues, and epic hubris. After two trips to the AFC title game, the whole thing imploded. It seems you need equal parts strategist and psychologist, and Rex’s bag of tricks seemed only to hold a few motivational mantras.
Just look at the Bills, who were thought to have had a dominant defense, an all-world wideout and Pro Bowl running back when the season started. Now it seems all they needed was a coach/chemist to pour all the winning alchemy together.
We see how that’s going. The Bills may very well wish they still had Doug Marrone, while the Jets are thrilled they don’t have Rex Ryan. And while it would break your heart to lose this Sunday, at Buffalo, to Rex, you should still be heartened by the palpable progress this team has made.
A club left for dead to start September now has double-digit wins and league-wide respect in December.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel