Jets thrilled after Woody Johnson says Rex Ryan will return
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. - Muffled voices could be heard behind the door separating the visitor's locker room from the news conference area. Then, without warning, came deafening cheers.
While reporters waited for Rex Ryan to emerge for his postgame briefing, Jets owner Woody Johnson was delivering the news his players had been waiting weeks to hear.
"He just said Rex will be here, he'll be here another year. And everybody went crazy," outside linebacker Calvin Pace said.
Players jumped up and down, hugging their emotional coach as the impact of Johnson's words filtered through the room.
"That's what we wanted to hear," Sheldon Richardson said. "The whole team was elated."
Said Geno Smith: "You'd think we won the Super Bowl."
The speculation surrounding Ryan's future was laid to rest just moments after the Jets' impressive 20-7 beatdown of the Dolphins -- a game that knocked Miami (8-8) out of postseason contention and gave the Jets (8-8) their first winning streak of the season.
But little did the players know that Johnson and first-year general manager John Idzik had informed Ryan of his fate before warm-ups. And shortly after the game, a hoarse Johnson explained his decision to the media.
"I couldn't be prouder of our team," Johnson said, clearing his throat. "The effort and the passion and everything they put into this game. Coming down to Miami, Geno and the offense putting another great game together -- two in a row -- we're clearly on the ascent.
"And a lot of it is due to our coach. So we're going to keep Rex Ryan and he'll be our coach next year."
Johnson said the outcome of the past two games didn't influence the decision to retain Ryan ("No, we made up our mind earlier than that"), though he wouldn't give a specific timeline. Idzik said the decision to keep Ryan wasn't made at a "discreet'' point in time. "It was more of a continuum,'' he said. "It's a feeling that you get in the building."
Neither he, Johnson nor Ryan would give specifics about the coach's contract.
With his current deal set to expire at the end of the 2014 season, Ryan was seeking a multiyear extension and hoped to secure extensions for several members of his staff.
If Ryan were given a one-year extension that would take him through the end of the 2015 season, he essentially would be in the same situation next year: coaching for his job. But rather than discuss the particulars of their agreement, the trio focused on the here and now.
"I'll say this: I love being the head coach of the New York Jets. Plain and simple," Ryan said.
Players said Sunday's season finale was about pride, payback and, above all else, their coach. For weeks, they had expressed their commitment to Ryan, but collectively, they agreed the "time for talk is over," said David Nelson, who led all receivers with five catches for 66 yards.
"We can sit here and tell the media and the fans about how much we want him," Nelson said, "but really the most powerful way to keep him is to play and to prove that on the field."
And the Jets used the Dolphins to send the message.
Miami marched into MetLife Stadium on Dec. 1 and spanked the Jets, 23-3. But this time Ryan Tannehill was outplayed by Smith, who completed 17 of 27 passes for 190 yards and rushed for 44 yards -- including a tiebreaking 7-yard touchdown with three seconds left in the first half -- just five minutes from his hometown of Miramar, Fla.
Richardson, the Jets' 294- pound defensive tackle, tied it at 7 when he powered his way into the end zone on a 1-yard run late in the second quarter.
He now has the most rushing TDs for a defensive lineman (two) in a season since the Bears' William "Refrigerator" Perry in 1985, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
Embattled rookie cornerback Dee Milliner also contributed, recording two interceptions.
Said Johnson: "To have them play this well this late in the season and ascending each week, not losing focus or concentration but performing well, is an amazing tribute to Rex and his coaching staff."
After missing a 35-yard field-goal attempt, Nick Folk made amends by kicking two fourth-quarter field goals to ice the victory. Kellen Winslow Jr. (34-yard catch), Bilal Powell (30-yard pass to Jeff Cumberland out of the Wildcat) and Ed Reed (interception) also made big plays.
The Jets may not have been playing for a postseason berth, but Pace said, "Our whole motto was: 'If we're not going, they're not going to go.' "
Heading into what they thought could have been Ryan's last stand, the players finally put together a complete game, on the road no less. And they refused to leave anything up to chance as far as his future was concerned.
Said Pace: "We just said: 'We need to win this for Rex.' "