FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - We've seen NFL players give credit to a variety of people and factors after a big win, whether it's teammates or coaches or close relatives. Rarely is a general manager included on that list.
But there was Josh Cribbs, standing in front of his locker after the Jets' remarkable 26-20 upset of the Saints on Sunday, throwing a bouquet to first-year general manager John Idzik, who has his fingerprints all over the roster of a far more promising team than anyone could have expected.
"I credit it to the GM," Cribbs said when asked about the role that seldom-used backups such as tight end Zach Sudfeld and receiver Greg Salas played in replacing Jeff Cumberland and Jeremy Kerley, who was lost to a gruesome elbow injury. "He saw integral pieces. He saw a puzzle being made, and he went out and got the pieces to the puzzle that would fit and help this offense be as versatile and as off-balance to the defense as possible. My hat's off to the GM."
Idzik has chosen to do his work largely behind the scenes, and is rarely seen in the locker room or the press room, which is coach Rex Ryan's domain. But the soft-spoken general manager has made a huge impact on a team that is not only exceeding expectations, but is very much in playoff contention. In fact, the Jets would be the AFC's second wild-card team if the season ended today.
No proclamations from Idzik just yet. Especially with seven games left in a highly competitive AFC East, where the Jets remain two games behind the Patriots and narrowly ahead of the Dolphins and Bills.
"I'm not in that business to predict the playoffs," Idzik said. "The beauty of our league is unpredictability, who makes the playoffs and who doesn't. I was on a [Seahawks] team [in 2010] that made the playoffs and had a 7-9 record. We just do what we do. We take it one week at a time."
That the Jets are even in the discussion about the playoffs is due in large measure to the job that Idzik has done. While Ryan has done a terrific coaching job with rookie quarterback Geno Smith and a resurgent young defense that features a dynamic front seven, Idzik has remade a roster that was rife with salary-cap problems and a thorny situation he inherited with All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis.
Idzik made the bold yet sensible move to ship Revis to the Buccaneers for a first-round pick, which turned out to be Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. He has been a revelation and has a good chance of becoming the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year. Idzik also drafted cornerback Dee Milliner to fill Revis' spot in the secondary, and though Milliner has gotten off to a shaky start because of missing so much time rehabbing from injuries, the defender is coming off an excellent game against New Orleans.
And Smith has shown much promise in the early going; although far from perfect, he has been more than adequate in leading the Jets into playoff positioning heading into their bye week.
But it's more than hitting on the most important early-round picks that defines what Idzik has meant to the equation. It's coming up with Sudfeld off waivers to fill in for Cumberland and suspended tight end Kellen Winslow Jr.; picking up Salas off the Eagles practice squad Oct. 15, the same day they signed Cribbs, the former Browns All-Pro return man, who is also doubling as the Jets' Wildcat quarterback. And finding wide receiver David Nelson, who has helped fill the void left by the oft-injured Santonio Holmes.
All of them have played a part in the Jets' two signature victories over New England and New Orleans.
Idzik and Ryan have personalities about as different as you can imagine, but they are kindred spirits when it comes to knowing what they want in players. And the recent additions, as well as the other central figures on this year's team, are a reflection of that commitment to becoming a smart, physical team that thrives on competition at all positions.
"We have a lot of similarities, not only in upbringing, but in our views on football and players," said Idzik, who, like Ryan, is the son of a former coach. "We want people to reflect what it is to play like a Jet, to act like a Jet. There's no 'my way' that Rex had to learn or 'Rex's way.' I think it's our way."
Their way has been much better than anyone could have imagined. Except, perhaps, for Ryan and Idzik, who aren't shocked in the least about the good that's come out of the first nine games.
"I wouldn't say it's a surprise to any of us," Idzik said. "We've got a good group of players, good coaches, a good building. What comes out of that I don't think is a surprise to us."