Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted in 2005.
ATLANTA - The bar has been set so low for the Jets that last week, coach Rex Ryan found himself fielding a question about the perception that the team had "exceeded expectations" at 2-2, coming off an awful loss to the Titans.
To his credit, he didn't bite, saying: "Certainly not in our building. That doesn't exceed our expectations."
It was the right thing to say at the time, even if it smacked of politically correct coach-speak. But after what went down here Monday night, the Jets' desire to be taken seriously must be taken seriously.
Their 30-28 upset of the Falcons at the Georgia Dome improved them to 3-2 and stamped them as a rapidly developing feel-good story in the NFL -- not to mention the Great New York Sports Hope of Autumn 2013.
When Ryan was asked again after the victory if his team had proved itself, he said: "It doesn't matter. With us, all we care about is the Jets fans and what's inside our walls. That's all we care about. Outsiders are going to say what they're going to say. They've already spoken when they picked us 32nd in the league, OK? But again, it doesn't matter. We just care about ourselves and we care about our Jets fans."
The Jets are not getting carried away. Quarterback Geno Smith wisely suggested that ESPN analyst Steve Young "calm down" after he suggested that Jets fans are thinking Super Bowl.
But we can say this nearly a third of the way into the season: Given the local sports chasm left by our playoff-free baseball teams and the bumbling Giants, the Jets look as if they are capable of keeping us engaged for weeks to come -- or at least until Kevin Garnett starts glaring at the Knicks.
There are sure to be ups and downs ahead, including from young Mr. Smith, but watching the rookie dissect the alleged Super Bowl contenders from Atlanta was a revelation.
As bad as Smith was in committing four turnovers against the Titans, he was that good Monday night, finishing with a near-perfect passer rating of 147.7 amid the din in the Dome, especially in leading a drive that began with 1:54 to play and set up Nick Folk's 43-yard field goal as time expired.
Bonus points for checking out of a pass play on third-and-3 at the Atlanta 31 and instead handing the ball to Bilal Powell, whose 6-yard run for a first down situated Folk nicely.
Smith all but shrugged off the accomplishment, calling the last-minute dramatics "fun."
"It's always a dream of mine since I was a kid to be in those situations and take my team down and get the last-second field goal or touchdown," he said.
It was the end of a wild, wacky night, part of a ride that presumably will continue for these Jets, a raw, mercurial outfit certain to cause its fans plenty of agita, along with a few thrills, the rest of the way.
Ryan said the goal entering the Falcons game was to avoid turnovers while not playing timidly, a balance that is much easier said than accomplished.
"We were not reckless," he said. "We were just the opposite: We were fearless, and that's how we have to play."
Let's go back to another thing Ryan said late last week when pressed on the Jets' underdog image, and what a victory over the Falcons might do to change it.
"We just want to win, so if that proves we're a contender or whatever, [winning is] our mission,'' he said. "That's what we want. Quite honestly, guys, if we cover the point spread and don't win, we don't feel good about it.
"There might be others that do, but we don't. So we're in the win business, and that's all we focus on."