For the first time since 2009, the Jets are headed into this season as underdogs, thanks to a quarterback who is coming of a year of regression with a backup quarterback who has a religious following.
Most of the negativity surrounding the team does not stem from the holes on the roster or lack of elite talent. Instead, most point to the unparalleled media spotlight as the Achilles' heel of the New York Jets.
Most assume that the acquisition of Tim Tebow will spell doom for the Jets. Tebow became a media sensation in the Rocky Mountains. Who knows what kind of damage he will do in the media capital of the world?
However, headlines and back-page real estate is not always the nuisance that coaches assume it is. If handled correctly, the Jets can take what most teams view as a obstacle into a motivational tool they can use to their advantage.
Good vs. Bad Publicity
It is not only the amount of publicity a team gets that matters—it is the type of publicity that makes the difference.
While fans love to hear how great their team is in the daily camp reports, nothing drives a coach crazier than to see their team being flourished with praise before accomplishing anything.
Just look at the 2011 Eagles—they were clearly affected by the amount of praise they got for being a "Dream Team" and probably took their team's talent for granted. The team stumbled to an 8-8 finish, missing the playoffs.
The kind of publicity a coach is looking for attacks the team's perceived talent and potential for the season, because it makes for excellent bulletin-board material. When a team is counted out before they can take the field, coaches can easily turn it into motivation, just like the 2009 Jets did.
In 2009, just about everyone in the NFL, including most Jets fans, counted out the team that was starting a rookie quarterback and was 4-6 at one point. But the Jets clearly took issue with their lack of respect, evidenced in Rex Ryan's postgame speech after beating the heavily favored Chargers in the AFC Divisional game:
In the following years of 2010 and 2011, the Jets were viewed as playoff favorites after reaching back-to-back AFC Championship games. They went from hunting for respect to being the hunted, especially combined with the pressure of Rex Ryan's bold guarantees. Now, the Jets are back to being underdogs, which syncs harmoniously with Rex Ryan’s best quality as a coach—unshakable confidence.
While a team can certainly use negative publicity to its advantage, too much negative talk can actually shake a team's confidence, especially when a team's starting quarterback has come into question.
Take this year's Jaguars: Some are predicting them to be picking first overall in next year's draft, with Blaine Gabbert in the cross-hairs of every negative article written about the team.
Coach Mike Mularkey could possibly use this negative perception of his team to his advantage and get his team to put out extra effort for being disrespected. However, his ridiculous policy of not allowing his players to talk about personal injuries to the media at a cost of $10,000 is a total confidence killer for his team.
In essence, Mularkey is telling his team that they are so much worse than every other team that they have to go to extreme measures to gain every advantage possible to win games. How can a team expect to compete for anything beyond mediocrity with any kind of doubt in their mind that they can play up to the level of competition?
Ryan, on the other hand, has a wide-open media policy. He allows his players to say whatever they want, even if what is said does cause a stir from time to time. When Rex speaks to the media, not only is he filled with confidence that can be felt throughout the room, but there is authenticity in his eyes that cannot be fabricated—he truly believes every word that comes out of his mouth.
While some may view this as a fault because it can put a target on the team's back, during lean times, confident talk is just what a team needs to get back to where they want to be.
There is no doubt that the Jets are down right now after going 8-8 and missing the playoffs. If Rex was anything but his normal self, his players would start to think that his first three years were nothing but an act and see anything else he does as phony.
All Rex has to do is keep being himself to get the Jets back to the mentality they rode in 2009 all the way to the AFC Championship game.
The Right Coach for New York
There are some players, in all sports, that simply cannot play in New York. The intense scrutiny can destroy a player’s confidence and crush a player's career.
There are basically two different ways to go about handling the New York media: Either ignore it (Eli Manning) or take it head-on (Rex Ryan). So far, Eli’s approach has been more effective with two Super Bowls to his name, but Ryan must remain true to himself and continue to use his head-on approach.
While he has not quite brought home the championship he promised, the man has not had a losing season as head coach. While he may have lost because of the way he manages his quarterback or a (rare) incorrect defensive call, he has never let the media change the way he goes about his business.
Of course, none of this will matter if the Jets don’t get the job done on the field. Ryan could use all of his motivational plays perfectly, but it will be all in vain if his players don’t execute.
Nonetheless, playing in New York with the full attention of the media is not always a bad thing. In fact, if handled correctly, it could be the final piece of the puzzle that puts the Jets over the top.