No wild predictions or brash declarations these days. But the Jets coach still believes his team has a shot at the playoffs.
That’s despite the fact New York is 4-7, coming off an embarrassing loss to New England, and hasn’t won two straight games all season.
Hardly the résumé of a team with its sights set on playing past Week 17.
Ryan has hope, though, and it comes from the fact the Jets have five games left, all against opponents with records below .500. So, the message, even if it appears unrealistic to most, from Ryan to his players is simple: Run the table and see what happens.
”Heck yeah,” Ryan said Monday. ”That’s your goal. Absolutely, that’s what you’re trying to do. Our goal was to beat New England also, but that never worked out.”
That’s for sure. The Patriots thrashed the Jets 49-19 on Thanksgiving night on national television, scoring 35 points in the second quarter, including three touchdowns in a 52-second span.
”Everyone was shaking their heads thinking, ‘How did that happen?”’ cornerback Antonio Cromartie said.
Ryan called it ”a nightmare,” a dismal performance that some could consider the lowest point of his nearly four-year tenure as Jets coach.
The lasting image from the game — Mark Sanchez fumbling the ball after running into right guard Brandon Moore’s backside — was still a big topic of conversation on sports radio and blogs four days later.
”It’s time to move on,” linebacker Bryan Thomas said. ”We know the mistakes we had in the game. … We know we stunk it up. That’s pretty much what we did. We know we did, but what can we do about it? There’s nothing we can do about it. Hats off to the Patriots. They played a fantastic game, and now we move on to Arizona.”
The slumping Cardinals have lost seven in a row after opening the season 4-0. Then, the Jets are at Jacksonville (2-9), at Tennessee (4-7), home for San Diego (4-7) and at Buffalo (4-7).
Winnable? Maybe. But all five opponents probably feel the same about their games against the Jets.
”I’m saying right now that I’m not going to make a guarantee that we’re going to make the playoffs or that deal,” Ryan said. ”We have to get better. It has to start right now.”
Even if the Jets win all five, they might still miss out on the postseason for the second straight year. Big changes could come after that, with Ryan and general manager Mike Tannenbaum on the hot seat, and several key players, including Moore, Dustin Keller, Shonn Greene, LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell, in line to become free agents.
Many Jets players insist they aren’t thinking about any of that, but rather they’re focused on Arizona.
”We’re playing for pride,” running back Joe McKnight said. ”And we still have a chance to make the playoffs.”
Added Thomas: ”You can’t look ahead. What are we going to look ahead for? We’re not playing those guys. We’re playing Arizona. We’re playing the Cardinals. That’s what we’re looking forward to doing.”
While the Jets have their own quarterback woes with Sanchez struggling and backup Tim Tebow dealing with two broken ribs, the Cardinals are down to third-stringer Ryan Lindley. Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt said his team is sticking with the rookie, who threw three interceptions, including two returned for touchdowns, in his first NFL start Sunday, until Kevin Kolb is back from injured ribs.
Whomever the quarterback, the Jets need big-time improvements in a hurry.
”It’s not that we need to get better, we need to eliminate the mistakes,” Cromartie said. ”We need to eliminate the turnovers, the penalties.”
Cromartie said after the loss to the Patriots that he had no idea why the team has been so error-prone this season, and still had no answers Monday. The game against New England included five turnovers by the offense and special teams, while the defense allowed a season-high 475 yards as the Patriots went 11 for 15 on third-down conversions.
”Some of the better defenses, they play well consistently, and I think that’s not what we’ve been doing,” Cromartie said. ”We haven’t been playing well consistently. We’ve been up and down and that’s something you can’t have as a defense, especially when your offense is struggling at times. We’ve got to be the backbone of this team.”
While in-fighting in the locker room helped derail the Jets’ season a year ago, there appears to be none of that this year. At least none that is evident, as there was then as Sanchez and the offensive line clashed with wide receiver Santonio Holmes.
”A team stays together no matter what,” Cromartie said. ”That’s a team. The way you get through it is by everybody sticking together and standing together, and believing in each other.”
But, does this team think it has a chance to roll through the next five weeks and make the playoffs?
”I don’t even know what I believe right now, the way we’ve been playing,” Cromartie said. ”There’s five games left, and anything can happen.”
Landry also danced around the same question.
”We can fight,” Landry said with a grin, ”and win ballgames.”
NOTES: Ryan said he was ”disappointed” at hearing that Ed Anzalone – who led the ”J-E-T-S” chants at home games for years – announced in a guest column in Metro New York that he is no longer going to games as Fireman Ed because of increasing ”confrontations” with fans, many of whom take exception to him wearing Sanchez’s No. 6 jersey. ”I love that guy’s passion and energy that he would bring and, really, he’s a great fan,” Ryan said. ”I really admire him. … I like Fireman Ed. If he could play linebacker, I’d use him.” … Moore took exception to NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth’s description of the play in which Sanchez ran into him. Collinsworth said New England’s Vince Wilfork threw Moore into Sanchez, and compared it to how Reggie White used to ”forklift” offensive linemen. Replays showed that Moore fell when Sanchez ran into his backside. ”The Collinsworth guy, never really been a big fan of his,” Moore said.