Rex Ryan told his players he wasn't going down without a fight. And neither should they.
The Jets' coach stressed during Saturday night's team meeting that all of their futures were uncertain -- especially his -- and that he believes the organization already has begun to look for his replacement, according to a source familiar with Ryan's situation.
So Ryan implored his players to seize the moment, starting with Sunday's home finale against the Browns.
The tactic -- a combination of heartfelt honesty and, perhaps, some self-serving motivation -- worked. The Jets (7-8) fought back from a 10-point deficit for a 24-13 victory.
Afterward, neither Ryan nor his players wanted to share the details of the meeting with television cameras. But earlier in the day, Fox Sports reported that Ryan told players Saturday night that "word on the street is'' he's about to get fired, and he encouraged them to "fight'' with him in the season's final two games.
And they did. Geno Smith had a nice bounce-back game, completing 20 of 36 passes for 214 yards and two touchdowns, the first time since Week 5 in Atlanta that he has thrown more than one TD pass. Smith, who did not throw an interception, also scored on a 17-yard run with 3:19 to play. Fellow rookie Dee Milliner also had his best game, making his first interception.
All in all, it was a good day for the Jets, who vowed to finish strong despite having been eliminated from playoff contention last week. Chris Ivory ran for 109 yards; David Nelson, who spent time with the Browns in training camp, had his first two touchdown catches as a Jet; Calvin Pace recorded his career-high 10th sack, and Leger Douzable had back-to-back half-sacks.
But there's no telling if this win, or even a win over the Dolphins on Sunday in Miami, will be enough to save Ryan's job.
He began the season on the proverbial hot seat with the arrival of general manager John Idzik, but a 5-4 start quelled speculation about Ryan's job security. Four losses in the first five games after the bye, however, again made his future uncertain.
Jets owner Woody Johnson shed no light on the situation as reporters headed to the locker room. "We're not saying anything about coaches or players regarding contracts,'' he said.
But at the very least, Ryan's players hope they can salvage the season and save his job.
"I'm a fan of Rex's,'' Nelson said. "Honestly, I couldn't have said that four months ago before I [joined] this football team. He inspires me to play with aggression, with physicalness. I hope that what we've done this year will allow him to come back.''
Ryan refused to confirm or deny that he addressed his uncertain status with his players. Asked if he knows if he'll be back next year, he said: "No. I know I have a contract for next year.''
He preferred to focus on the positives from Sunday: the play of Smith and Milliner, the Jets' ability to claw back from a 10-0 deficit and their 422 total yards. Ryan, whose contract expires at the end of 2014, also talked about the future -- the team's immediate future.
"We know what we have in front of us,'' he said when asked when he plans to discuss his contract status with Johnson and Idzik. "For us to be our best, our focus has to be right now on the present, and that's what it's on.''
So his players were left to answer questions about Ryan's uncertain situation.
"This is a league where you're judged on wins and losses,'' Pace said. "But in the same breath, Rex is the guy. Rex needs to be the guy. And I just think everybody rallies around him. I've never played for a coach who believes in his players more than Rex.''
Antonio Cromartie refused to talk about the team meeting, but the cornerback said players feel a sense of responsibility to finish strong for themselves and Ryan.
"I definitely want Rex back,'' Cromartie said. "I think he's the man for the job. It just speaks volumes of what kind of coach he is. Every guy in this room that's on this team would go to bat for him.
"We wouldn't be having this discussion right now talking about Rex and his job if it weren't for those games we should have won.''