A few housekeeping matters on a busy Tuesday:
• I’ll never be able to thank all of you personally—via email, Twitter, text message (wow—dog lover John Madden checked in) and voicemail—for your kind thoughts about the death of Bailey the Golden Retriever. Somewhere, I’m sure, she is blushing. I’ll have a section at the end of this column with some of your sentiments. Just know I’m grateful to have such a warm internet community (that’s a crazy way to look at it, but in today’s world that’s the way it is) at times like this.
• Jenny Vrentas of The MMQB was in Tampa last night, and, after so much of the Incognito/Martin story was aired in Monday’s column, I’ll let her story speak for our Dolphins coverage today. Here’s Jenny’s take on the state of the Dolphins.
• We have a powerful story on the site today about the downfall of Sam Hurd, the former Cowboys and Bears wide receiver ensnared in a major drug trafficking investigation. I strongly recommend the strange and captivating tale by Michael McKnight.
Now, a short column top on the state of a team we never thought we’d see in playoff contention in the middle of November …
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In the summer I visited Jets camp in Cortland, N.Y., and spent a few minutes with Rex Ryan after practice. I thought, like everyone else in football America, that Ryan was on his farewell tour with the Jets. I’d been around him enough to know that he was a relentless optimist, and I said to him that, even though the horizon looked dark, he could always take solace in the fact that he was going to survive at least five years as a head coach in the cauldron of New York professional sports.
“You know,” he said, “I never came here for the security of the job. I never came here to survive. I came here to win. And this year, well, we’ll see. I hear what people are saying. I know we are more talented than people give us credit for. I have been around long enough to know what a good team looks like. So we’ll see. We will work our ass off to get things done. We’ll see.”
So now, after nine games, here’s what we have: The Jets, 5-4, have a one-game lead on five teams for the sixth and final AFC playoff spot. If the season ended today, they’d travel to meet their old friend in Indianapolis in a wild-card game. The Jets got their starting quarterback knocked out for the year in the third preseason game, and they’ve played a rookie, Geno Smith, who wasn’t ready for the job when it was handed to him, and who has turned it over way too much (16 in nine games) … but who has a certain precociousness about him. In a five-game span, he played well enough to beat Matt Ryan, Tom Brady and Drew Brees.
What think you, Rex?
“We believe in ourselves,” Ryan says now. “We are playing complimentary football. The so-called experts knew nothing about our team. Nothing. We’ve got a defensive line playing as well as any in football, with a guy, Muhammad Wilkerson, who should be in the conversation for defensive player of the year. So I like where we are.”
Smith, he said, is not a player the Jets will try to hide in the second half of the season. “He is a growing player, and we like him a lot. This is a tough position to play in the NFL. He’s learning, and he’ll continue to get better.”
In the final seven weeks, the Jets play one team with a winning record (Carolina in Charlotte in Week 15), so that’s good. They’re finished with New England, so that’s good. They’ll play Miami twice in the final five games, so that probably will be good. If Ryan doesn’t look out, he’s going to save his job for 2014 and beyond before Thanksgiving.
Owner Woody Johnson and GM John Idzik will consider Ryan’s fate after the season. I asked Ryan if he thought he’s earned a contract extension.
“Oh,” he said with disdain, “I don’t worry about that. Honest to God, I don’t. There’s not one day that it enters my mind. I mean: I haven’t spent one minute thinking about it. Things will work out. When you work hard and take care of your job, things usually do work out.”
I told him I thought his team has responded to him consistently this year, and the Jets had played well enough for him to get a new deal.
“Thanks,” he said. “But you know me. That’s not my focus. Honestly.”
Now let’s head over to Page 2 for your email…