GREEN BAY, Wis. - The smile was back early in the week. The jokes were running freely and the charismatic personality was on full display. But the Jets shouldn't forget Rex Ryan's scowl in the moments after they got away with one last week in a lackluster season-opening win over the Raiders.
Ryan was uncharacteristically chapped after that one, even though the 19-14 victory counts every bit as much as if the Jets had won by five touchdowns. He knew the Jets had played down to their competition, and knew that if the Raiders had a functional quarterback and not a rookie making his first NFL start, the outcome likely would have been different.
Well, now comes the much better test of whether Ryan's team is as good as he thinks it is. Now comes a game against a Super Bowl-caliber Packers team coming off a stinging opening-game loss on the road to the defending champion Seahawks. And with three extra days to prepare, no less.
Aaron Rodgers in bounce-back mode for Green Bay's home opener? There is no better environment than this to find out how good your team really is. Or how much better your team needs to be if it's going to have the kind of impact Ryan expects.
Iconic Lambeau Field. The best quarterback in the league. One of the most intimidating backdrops for an NFL game. A sellout crowd bathed in green-and-gold that welcomes its players with open arms -- literally -- every time the home team scores a touchdown. Playing at the home of "The Lambeau Leap," Rodgers wants to create as many as he can against the visitors in green and white.
"When you're on the road," Ryan said, "you have each other and you've got to tighten up your focus and preparation."
If you don't, especially at a place like Lambeau against a quality Packers team, it will get ugly. The kind of ugly Ryan saw last year when his team played on the road. They were 2-6 away from MetLife Stadium in 2013, with blowout losses in Tennessee, Cincinnati and Buffalo.
They were mostly horrendous on the road last season, with Geno Smith's inexperience leading to some humiliating moments. Such as his fourth-quarter meltdown against the Patriots in a Week 2 Thursday night loss. And the 38-13 loss in Tennessee in which Smith tried to put the ball behind his back to avoid pass rusher Karl Krug, only to fumble and see Krug recover it in the end zone for a Titans touchdown. And what about the two pick-6s Smith threw in a 49-9 loss in Cincinnati?
The only two road wins were a Monday night masterpiece in Atlanta, where Smith had his best game as a pro with three touchdown passes and no interceptions, and the season finale in Miami. The Jets won, 20-7, and celebrated afterward when they were told Ryan would be back as coach in 2014.
So yeah, this is a big test in the early part of the season. The Jets face a torturous schedule featuring five 2013 playoff teams in their next eight games. The three other games are against the Lions, who drubbed the Giants in the Monday night opener; the Bills, who upset the Bears on the road in Week 1, and the Steelers, who narrowly missed the playoffs last year after rallying from an 0-4 start.
That schedule is a big reason why Ryan was so ornery after last week's stinkeroo against the Raiders. He knows you get away with those games only every so often and that you can't expect to beat the likes of Rodgers, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers with anything less than your best.
And the best means paying attention to the details, such as the ones Ryan is stressing this week. You want to deal with Rodgers successfully? Then you'd better play your "plaster technique" perfectly.
That's the technique Ryan teaches his defensive backs to apply when a quarterback buys time scrambling. Rodgers is a master at avoiding the pass rush, which means the defensive backs need to "plaster" themselves to the receivers they're covering and provide coverage longer than usual.
They must deal with running back Eddie Lacy, who is different from most power backs because of his nifty spin moves. Ryan has told his defensive linemen and linebackers two things needed to contain Lacy: "You've got to wrap the guy up , but you've also got to press your hip when he spins."
Smith has to figure out when Clay Matthews is blitzing and go to his "hot read" with a quicker pass.
The Jets didn't take care of enough details against the Raiders, and they nearly paid for it. If it happens again, now that the quality of competition will take a quantum leap, the Packers will make them pay.
And the Jets will know that they're not as good as the coach thinks they should be.