When Rex Ryan met with his team on Saturday evening at the team hotel to talk about Sunday's game against the Patriots, it was business as usual. No emotional plea, no "Win one for the Gipper." In what might well have been his final home game at MetLife Stadium as head coach of the Jets, Ryan said nothing about himself to the players who sat in the conference space, listening to him.
Instead, he focused on the gameplan and the task at hand.
It might be the sixth and final season here in New York for Ryan, whose Jets fell to 3-12 following a 17-16 loss to the Patriots on Sunday. The win was theirs for the taking, but a poor decision by quarterback Geno Smith, who underthrew a ball in the fourth quarter to set-up the Patriots go-ahead touchdown, proved costly.
While it must have been tempting for Ryan to invoke himself into his message to the team, especially going up against his arch-nemesis in Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, he chose to instead focus on the task at hand. It was vintage Ryan, according to the players who love him dearly.
“He didn't mention anything like that – about playing for him or none of that stuff," Jets tight end Jeff Cumberland said. "He said we had one more game left [at home] and we have to continue to play ...The season hasn't gone the way we expected it to but we're still fighting. Look at [Sunday]. Still fighting man.”
Ryan came to a Jets team and a franchise that was floundering in 2009, following a season where they crashed late in the year to miss the playoffs. He gave them some fight and stuck his oversized jaw, perfect for a backpage caricature, out for possible punches from opponents. He believed in his players, often times too much, and he was a coach who always seemed to have the locker room.
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He wanted to be the target of opponents, not his team, and he bore the brunt of disbelief and ridicule over his irrational belief that the Jets could actually be winners. And for those two first years, they backed up his unwavering belief in them.
And even at Week 16, in what is another losing year along Jets Drive, he still believed in his team. And they apparently believe in him, because on Sunday afternoon, against the division winners, Ryan's Jets gave the Patriots all they could handle for four quarters.
It is easy to look at the 3-12 record and a fourth straight year without the postseason and relegate Ryan to the castoff heap. But this Jets team is still playing hard, a testament to this head coach.
Their last three losses, all with the team knocked out of playoff contention, are by a combined 10 points. It directs the attention to a head coach who still has the pulse of the locker room, who hasn't lost the 53 players on the sidelines.
Rex Ryan isn't the problem on this team, the lack of talent given to him clearly is.
“As long as he's here, he's our coach. I speak for all the guys I think – he's a player's coach. Everyone likes him here,” fullback John Conner told Metro.“We're always going to play for Rex.”
Ryan claimed after the game that he didn't think about this possibly being his final time as a head coach at MetLife Stadium, but the thought must surely have crossed his mind. Headlines have been swirling about his firing for weeks and he has been asked point-blank about it in press conferences since the mid-point of the season.
At least once this weekend, he must have given it a glancing thought, even if he won't admit it.
There is no denying that Ryan will be revered by this Jetsfanbase for years to come and while he started his tenure with a bang and now sees it end with a whimper, he should undoubtedly be in the 'Ring of Honor' someday for his contributions to reshaping the image of the franchise.
And as he stared at a final game on the home team's sideline, he didn't mention himself once to his team. Not once at the team hotel on Saturday night and not once as the team gathered around him to hear him before the game started.
Instead, he talked about wanting to beat the Patriots, about the task at hand.
There was no 'I' mentioned, the players said. Instead it was about 'we' and nothing else.
"Rex doesn't do that. It's always about the team. It's about what we do, not about him,” defensive end Leger Douzable told Metro.“The thing is, we know how to play the Patriots but we know how to play them. We try to line-up and punch them in the mouth. That's the way Rex wants it so we go try to do it.”