Week 17 for the head coach of a 4-12 team shouldn't matter, especially not when you've now gone four straight years without the playoffs. But the Jets' 37-24 win on Sunday afternoon in Miami should matter plenty to head coach Rex Ryan, and especially owner Woody Johnson.
In fact, it should be a step towards a seventh season here in New York for Rex.
Six years ago he came here to win Super Bowls, vowing to never kiss the rings of Bill Belichick in New England. A swagger came with him, a desire to see a franchise whose lone bright accomplishment came in the Orange Bowl in 1968 and see them lifted from punchlines into contenders. That promising start, twice within his stated goal of the Super Bowl, has given way to a 24-38 record over the past four seasons and no playoffs. But as Sunday afternoon against a very good Dolphins team will show even the most bitter of Rex Ryan skeptics - this team still cares for him.Still fights. Still battles. Still is led by this man. And there is no reason for Woody to fire him.
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Consider that there have been other seasons here in New York where the locker room has been lost in years where there have been far more victories on the schedule, such as 2009 when a 9-7 Jets team collapsed down the stretch and a future Hall of Famer under center couldn't deliver them to the postseason. But Ryan's teams haven't fallen apart, and despite the fact that they have inferior talent in several key positions, they still managed to play hard and win a few games down the stretch.
Sure, there were some brutal games this season.Two blowout losses to the Bills and a horrible road loss at the Chargers come to mind rather easily as some of the worst contests played by any team in the league this season. But seven of this team's losses have come by a combined 34 points, showing that Ryan managed to coach up this team to a decent standard. If some of those games went another way, if some of those close losses to the Patriots (twice), Packers, Lions, Bears and Vikings went the other way, perhaps we're talking about another 'Rextension' here in New York.
Four wins is not the right direction for this team, not after an 8-8 record a season ago and playoff expectations. But given the plebeian if not downright pathetic offseason by general manager John Idzik, it might actually have been a tremendous coaching job by Rex this time around. His secondary was lacking starpower, the byproduct of Idzik swinging and missing on key free agents. There was no true quarterback competition either, again the byproduct of management wanting their guy -Geno Smith - to start over four-time Pro Bowl quarterback Mike Vick, who was instantly relegated to clipboard duty upon signing this year.
Lack of talent at wide receiver to start this year, issues along the offensive line and 19 draft picks over the past two years that have produced precious little outside of Sheldon Richardson– all factors that led to 12 losses. And all factors outside the control the head coach.
Can't blame Rex for these issues and he can't be fired for them either.
If fans were really fair, there would be a plane flying over Florham Park on Monday, a banner that reads 'One More Year for Rex' in tow. He has been the good and faithful servant of now two general managers, a head coach that has proven he can win. A man who his players still want to step on the field for.
It would be unfair – not that life is very fair – but it would be unfair for Rex to pay the price for Idzik's poor job at building this team. He may be the only head coach in NFL history to earn the right to come back after a 4-12 season, a fourth straight year without the playoffs.
But a man whose eulogy has been written a dozen times over the course of the past few years has made his case to his owner that he deserves one more year with a full roster, a competent general manager and a little support to turn this thing around.
Rex deserves one more year to show that he is still the coach that brought this franchise close in 2009 and again the next year. Sunday showed he is able to still do that.
If Woody is smart, next year will show that he can.