Rex Ryan’s message to his team, reporters and fans today, less than a day after the bitter disappointment of 29-26 in overtime at New England was that the best of 2012 is yet to come.
“We’re a better team right now, playing much better, than we were three weeks ago as a football team,” the Jets head coach said after experiencing a fourth-quarter comeback and blown lead all in the same game against their division uber-rivals. “I’ve seen this team improve on the practice field and with the games we’ve been playing.
“We’re just not there yet. We’ve just got to keep going, getting a little better. We’ve got to win these type of games. That’s what’s got to drive our team to prepare and get better. Obviously, that’s our mission. We’ve got to do something this week, which is something we haven’t done since I’ve been here, and that’s sweep Miami.”
Last year the Jets finally figured out how to beat the ‘Fins at home with their 24-6 Monday night win at MetLife Stadium. But they went from playing with house money with a hard-fought victory at Gillette Stadium to playing yet another one of those virtual must-win games. If the Jets are intent on showing the improvement Rex talks about, they’ll need to take a win and a 4-4 record into their bye week, then come out angling for a 5-3 or 6-2 regular-season finish to at least be in the postseason conversation.
A strong finish is obviously not out of the question. Yes, there’s the Thanksgiving night return match with the Patriots, and three of the four improved NFC West opponents, and a three-out-of-four-on-the-road finish, crowned by the Bills lying in wait for some opening-day revenge at the Ralph.
Yet none of the Jets’ remaining eight foes has a record better than 4-3, and the combined schedule strength is a very manageable .463 winning percentage (25-29). Very manageable, that is, if the Jets are intent on proving their coach right and overcoming the injuries and reversals of fortune they’ve suffered so far.
“We’re making strides, and not by luck or anything else. It’s by design,” Ryan asserted. “Guys have approached that in the classroom and on the practice field. We’re not where we need to be yet. We need to keep working hard and start winning games like this.”
The pessimist would say what makes the Jets think they’re ready to beat New England if they couldn’t do it Sunday, when they were 1:37 away from such a big triumph. The optimist would say that instead of house money, let’s shift sporting metaphors from poker to tennis. Let’s not worry about the Pats for five weeks but when it’s time, let’s hold serve.
One reason for the optimism is that while the Jets couldn’t keep Tom Brady in check when it counted, yielding a pair of 54-yard drives to Stephen Gostkowski field goals to pull the game out, they showed for the first time that, as imperfect as the offense sometimes was, it finally outgained the Patriots. The final tally was 403 yards to 381. Not a wide margin, yet perhaps significant since the Patriots had outgained the Jets in 17 of the previous 18 games in the series, by an average of 89 yards a game.
Additionally, the Jets cleared 400 yards of offense for the first time under coordinator Tony Sparano, in fact for the first time in 20 games since they last visited that figure at Oakland in last year’s Game 3. And we’re not sure what this says about reaching 400 in this day of NFL football, but the last time the Jets gained 400 against the Patriots was in the bad old year of 1996, when they put up 422 yards.
If Mark Sanchez can avoid the big pick on the throw into the red zone, if Stephen Hill can hold on to a crunch-time pass, if Jeremy Kerley is emerging as a dynamic pass-catcher, if Dustin Keller is really back to form, if the protection can hold up and get better still …
If, if, if. Yet with all the ifs, the Jets still matched the Pats in drive yardage (including penalties) at 387 apiece, still mounted six scoring drives, still rang up 26 first downs — tied for second-most first downs of the Ryan era (behind 28 in OT at Cleveland in 2010) — and have put together 10 regulation quarters in which they’ve outscored opponents, 71-41, since their San Francisco earthquake.
“We can’t go back in the past,” RB Shonn Greene said this afternoon about any inspiration he might draw from the progress he feels has been made since the 49ers game. “This loss right here hurts being that we fought so hard.
“But if we win this game [over the 'Fins], we can be right back where we were this past game. That’s how messed up this division is.”
The NFL at large has been scrambled a bit this season as well. But the teams that fix their problems quickest will be the ones standing in January. “We’ve got to learn from the mistakes we made in this game,” said Ryan, “and move forward.”
The Plays Are the Thing
Who had the most reps at New England? If you said rookie LB Demario Davis, go to the head of the class. Davis was in for a career-high 69 snaps on defense, in part package-related and in part Bart Scott big-toe-related. And DD was also in for a team-high 29 special-teams plays, giving him 98 plays in the game, second only to the Patriots’ Devin McCourty, who was in for 102 plays.
“We had Bart playing out there with a toe that most guys would’ve taken the last three weeks off with,” Ryan said. “Bart would’ve jumped out there, but from a physical standpoint, there was no way he could’ve played that spot and been as effective as Demario, who I thought for the most part played well. There were a couple of plays I’m sure he wishes he had back, but for the most part he played pretty well.”
Davis finished unofficially with six tackles on defense plus one more in kick coverage. Scott logged nine defensive plays and had one solo tackle, taking down Stevan Ridley for a 1-yard loss in the third quarter.
TE Jeff Cumberland anticipates returning to action after the bye week from a hand injury that has required a cast. … Joe McKnight and his sore ankle seemed to come out of the game fine. He had 23 yards of offense, 116 yards on kickoff returns and is sixth in the league with his 29.6-yard return average. … Nick Folk has equaled the franchise record he set last year by hitting all 11 of his field goal tries from the start of a season. … If you need a yard, call Greene. He converted on both of his third-and-1 carries Sunday and is 7-for-7 for the season. No one else in the NFL is better than 5-for-5 on third-and-1. And he has two 1-yard scoring runs this season, including the one to cap the Jets’ opening drive yesterday.
“Inside the Jets”
G Matt Slauson, RB Lex Hilliard and RB Jonathan Grimes are the three Jets guests on tonight’s “Inside the Jets” radio show from Grasshopper Off The Green in Morristown, N.J. The show will be hosted by voice of the Jets Bob Wischusen and will air live on ESPN 98.7 FM from 7-8 p.m. ET.
Tags: Demario Davis, Jeff Cumberland, Jeremy Kerley, Mark Sanchez, New England Patriots, Rex Ryan, Tom Brady
Posted in Randy Lange | 92 Comments »