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Ryan has Jets back on track

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Greg Couch

Greg Couch has been a national columnist at AOL Fanhouse and The Sporting News and an award-winning columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times. He was featured twice in "Best American Sports Writing" and was recognized by the US Tennis Writers Association for best column writing and match coverage. He covers tennis on his personal blog. Follow him on Twitter.

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For most losing teams, when the receivers are blaming the offensive line, the offensive line is blaming the receivers, the stars are complaining to the coaches, the coaches are overcompensating for a sudden lack of toughness, the quarterback is getting clobbered and a malcontent is thrown out, well, that means one thing:

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Implosion. For the New York Jets, it might just have been constructive turbulence.

You might have thought the Jets were out of control early on this season. Instead, maybe they were just in problem-solving mode, Rex Ryan style.

It’s still possible that the Jets were going through the implosion thing, but I have to admit that it’s possible Ryan is on to something. It’s just too hard to tell, sometimes, when your coach is part goofball, part genius. Which part are you getting?

Maybe things are straightening out in spite of him. Whatever, the Jets clobbered the Buffalo Bills 27-11 on Sunday for their third straight win after three straight losses.

It took a while, but at the halfway point of the season, the Jets have found themselves. Next up, they play New England to take control of the division. The Jets, Patriots and Bills are tied for first in the AFC East at 5-3.

Just like that, the Jets are back.

“We had a stretch there,’’ Ryan said, “where we looked like the Bad News Bears.’’

He was talking about a stretch in Sunday’s game. But the statement was true of the season, too.

“I think we know who we are now, identity-wise,’’ running back LaDainian Tomlinson said. “It takes till the middle part of the season, or later sometimes, to find who you are.

“With the new receivers and the different things going on in the offensive line, we just didn’t have our team together. We didn’t have our rhythm.’’

It might have had something to do with the lockout and the team’s inability to work out as a group during the offseason. For weeks, I’ve thought that was a convenient excuse for struggling teams looking to find hope. True, they couldn’t work out as a team during the offseason.

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But the Jets had brought in receivers, including Plaxico Burress, and the offense was changing. It is not as tough as it used to be, not strong enough for ground-and-pound, the way Ryan has always liked it.

Young quarterback Mark Sanchez was expected to make his move toward the league’s elite. And there was a lot for Ryan to figure out without the usual time.

Maybe that’s what happened to the Philadelphia Eagles, too. It takes a little time to figure out the best way to fit the puzzle together, even if the pieces are all so good. I think it happened the other way for the Buffalo Bills. After their fairy-tale start, they have come back to reality.

It’s starting to appear that the first half of this year served more as a preseason.

Still, I think Ryan and the Jets panicked. He saw the excessive passing around the league and went for it, too. The Jets were throwing too much, even though Sanchez hadn’t found his connection with the receivers. Also, the offensive line isn’t good enough to protect him.

So Burress and Santonio Holmes reportedly complained to Ryan. Receiver Derrick Mason talked openly about seeing cracks. Holmes blamed the line, which responded by blaming him.

“If you can’t protect the quarterback for four or five seconds, there’s no point in dropping back 7 yards to throw the football,’’ Holmes said a few weeks ago.

Guard Brandon Moore responded: “To put your teammates out to dry, guys you work with every day so on Sundays you can have a productive day, that’s not really being a leader.’’

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Moore also said that someone was telling Holmes it was OK to rip his teammates like that. That suggests Ryan.

Let’s face it: This was a team following the lead of its coach. If he’s a blabbermouth, then why shouldn’t they be?

Even Joe Namath, of all people, piped in that the Jets seemed too cocky. And Bill Parcells suggested that Sanchez was not the type of quarterback to lead a team to the mountaintop.

Some people are crediting the Jets’ turnaround on Ryan’s return to a run offense. I don’t think so. The big moment was throwing Mason off the team.

Someone had to fall. And that was Ryan’s way of pointing out that no matter what kind of a circus he seems to run, there are limits. It was a little surprising, as Ryan always has been a guy who can make the most out of whatever cast of characters has been sent to him.

So all the characters want to come play for him, right?

Keep in mind that while I’m giving credit to Ryan here for keeping control, I’m not quite positive that’s what happened at all. It is possible that things sort of fell into place on their own.

At one point, the Jets even oddly issued a press release a few minutes before a game to explain that a New York Daily News report of Burress and Holmes complaining to Ryan was false. That sounds like panic, not plan.

But at some point, talent should show through.

Jets at a glance

 
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“Our guys were loose and focused,’’ Ryan said. “We were all week. And we’re at our best when we play that way.’’

Whatever the reason, that’s the result. And before you think that I am on the verge of crowning the Jets as Super Bowl champs, I’m not. It’s just that they are finding themselves.

There still is no getting past Sanchez, who isn’t good enough. For the third time this year, he threw an interception in the end zone. This one came at the end of a 10-minute drive in the first quarter. Three defenders and one receiver were in the end zone, and Sanchez sort of shot-putted the ball right to the safety.

He simply does not lead enough, and he can’t seem to stay focused all the way to the end of a drive.

But whatever. Maybe Ryan’s genius — and a little agitated calmness — can work that out, too.

Tagged: Bills, Jets, Plaxico Burress, Santonio Holmes, Mark Sanchez

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