Time to give Rex credit he deserves

Jets head coach Rex Ryan looks on against

Jets head coach Rex Ryan looks on against the Kansas City Chiefs at MetLife Stadium. (Dec. 11, 2011) (Credit: Jim McIsaac)

Pretend for a moment that Rex Ryan is not the Rex Ryan we have come to know but a conventional, conservative, cliché-ridden coach.

In other words, one who wouldn't make Super Bowl promises on a whim, curse out a fan in his own stadium or wear a wig to a news conference.

One who would kiss Bill Belichick's rings.

One who would follow a basic lesson of Public Relations 101 and try to lower expectations rather than raise them.

Then consider the record, and only the record: After a day on which they demolished the Chiefs, 37-10, and most everything went right in the standings, Rex's Jets improbably are in control of an AFC wild-card berth.

If they secure it, they will give the franchise its first-ever three-year streak of playoff invitations. And even if they don't, Ryan and Mark Sanchez are a victory from becoming their first coach/quarterback pair since Weeb Ewbank and Joe Namath with three straight winning seasons.

One more thing: Ryan has the highest regular-season winning percentage in Jets history at .622 (28-17), even better than Bill Parcells' .604 (29-19). He also has four times as many playoff wins in green as Parcells did.

In other words, the biggest obstacle to us fully appreciating what Ryan has done is the big man himself.

It was inevitable during the ups and downs of this season, particularly after the dismal loss to the Broncos, that some in the media and fan base would turn on Ryan. Fair enough. Fact is, he brought it on himself.

Even now, at 8-5, the best Ryan can do is travel another against-the-odds path to the Super Bowl via three road games. That was not the plan for Year 3, and it will be fair game to point that out if the season dies another pre-Super Bowl death on some cold day in Pittsburgh or Baltimore or Foxboro.

But at the same time, let's take a step back and recall the cloud that hung over the team for most of its first half-century. These are the good old days, Jets fans.

The art of Ryan is that he recognized that the reclamation project required more than just winning. He knew there was more to altering the Jets' image and he has done that, too, turning the poor relations of New York-area football into an impossible-to-ignore show.

It would not have been a surprise at halftime Sunday -- at which point the Jets had outgained Kansas City 253 yards to 4 -- if he had stripped off his sweater vest and yelled to the fans, "Are you not entertained?''

On Thursday, linebacker Aaron Maybin tried to explain the pull Ryan has on his players and how they felt they had let him down after the Denver loss. "We believe we are that team he believes we are,'' he said. "We put him in a difficult position.''

Ryan tested Sanchez by taking away some of his practice snaps after that loss. The Jets responded with three straight wins.

"Pressure either brings out the best or worst in players,'' Sanchez said. "I think that's a tribute to our front office, our general manager and Rex drafting guys and acquiring guys that know how to finish.''

The Jets tried to be respectful toward the woeful Chiefs, but in the waning minutes, the public-address system blared the clean version of the Cee Lo Green song "Forget You'' to bid the visitors adieu. Nice.

Someone asked Ryan if the rout might make his team overconfident. "We're always confident, period,'' he said. "Overconfident? I don't think so.''

That was similar to but less telling than his line when asked a week earlier about the Jets' growing confidence. "More confident than 100 percent?'' he said. "I don't know about that.''

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