FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Hindsight is not a luxury on the sideline.
The win was right there for the taking Sunday, along with first place in the AFC East. But several squandered opportunities by the Jets helped the host Patriots gain a 29-26 overtime victory. And after spending hours reliving the crushing defeat through video study, Ryan made sure to highlight the positives in his news conference.
But as the questions about the Jets' play-calling mounted, the edge in his voice became undeniable. The tipping point came when Ryan was asked about their seemingly conservative play-calling after a momentum-swinging fumble recovery at the Patriots' 18 on a kickoff return with 2:01 left in regulation and the score tied at 23. The Jets lost seven yards on two running plays and a 10-yard sack and had to settle for a field goal, which the Pats matched to force OT.
"That's not even close," he snapped, firing back at fans and media who think the Jets played it safe down the stretch. "We go down [there] to win. I think saying we played scared is somebody who has probably never played the game in his life. That's a ridiculous comment. That's certainly not what we do. Everything we do is to play to win the game.
"Again, if you lose, people have the right to any opinion they want. They can make that [assumption], but to say we were scared, that's not even close to being accurate."
There were several puzzling decisions to point to Sunday: namely, having Tim Tebow and Joe McKnight run on first and second downs after the fumble recovery -- a move that essentially took the ball out of Mark Sanchez's hot hands. And drawing up a slant to wide receiver Chaz Schilens on third-and-2 at the Patriots' 3 -- with the Jets trailing 16-10 early in the third -- rather than having Tebow try to punch it in.
Regarding the play-calling after the fumble, Ryan said, "We felt good about running the football," given that McKnight broke off runs of 13 and 5 yards on the previous series. He also blamed poor execution on the Schilens slant rather than the call.
"You get one perspective here and one perspective there," he said. "If one's effective, we're having a completely different conversation. If it doesn't work, we can question everything, and I understand that. That's part of the beauty of being a football fan. Obviously, I wish the result was different, but it wasn't. If you look at it in hindsight, then it's easy. You have all the answers."
Despite Sunday's loss, Ryan said he has seen growth in his players. He complimented Sanchez, whom he said played "outstanding" for "most of the game," and highlighted a running game that gained 106 yards.
"I know we're a better team," he said, referencing a 34-0 loss to the 49ers in Week 4. "We had to improve as a football team and we did. I see us getting better. We still got a ways to go to get to where we want to get to. But you see it. We're making strides. And it's not by luck, it's by design."
Ryan said he realizes "how close we are," and so do his players.
"We win this game, we can be right back where we were before," running back Shonn Greene said. "That's how messed up our division is. We could still be sitting pretty."