The New York Jets were 6-10 last year, but you would have thought they went winless based on how they were stuck on the butt ends of jokes all offseason long.
Every transaction was laced with snarky comments from the media and other fans, looking to squeeze every ounce of cheap humor out of the struggling franchise. The Jets became less of a football team and more of a cheap punchline.
At this point, the word "buttfumble" should be added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary.
The Jets certainly deserve criticism for fielding a losing team in 2012, but the microscopic dissection of every move the Jets make as the football realm combs for more flaws in the organization has left a stain on the franchise. After all, it was not long ago when the jets were the talk of the town and the model of a new method of branding in the NFL.
No roster move makes sense, and every draft pick is doomed for failure. Why? Because they’re the Jets, that’s why.
Had any other team drafted Geno Smith, it likely would have been praised as a high-value pick. The Jets, however, were called a “circus,” spending a second-round pick at one of their biggest positions of need.
Rex Ryan has certainly made himself an easy target for criticism. After spending the first three years of his head coaching career gloating about how great his team is, Ryan set himself up for a tsunami of criticism for when things turned sour.
From guaranteeing Super Bowls to declaring his roster to have the best players in the league, Ryan’s “unique” (and refreshing) way of handling himself in the public eye put a bull’s-eye on his back.
It wasn’t long until Rex found himself literally running away from bulls.
One cannot mention the Jets in a casual conversation without eliciting mental images of Mark Sanchez running into his own lineman or Tim Tebow watching a pass bounce off his head. The stigma that surrounds the Jets and their head coach has gotten to the point where Ryan cannot even visit his son in college without sparking up a debate on ESPN.
The Jets were bad—but they weren’t that bad. At 6-10, they were not even the worst team in their own division. In fact, there were eight teams picking before the Jets in April’s draft. Where were the incessant jokes about those franchises?
When the Seattle Seahawks brought in Brady Quinn to try out in training camp, no one so much as blinked an eye. Somehow, when the Jets give Quinn a call to give them some extra insurance as a backup because of Mark Sanchez’s injury, the move suddenly becomes laughable.
Even playing backup quarterback in the second half of preseason games is considered to be a fireable offense.
The jolly, entertaining Ryan has been forced into hiding, replaced by the generic-sounding coach he was criticized for not being in the first place.
How did it get to this point?
The Jets really did create the perfect storm for a media siege. Bringing in Tim Tebow brought along (unwarranted) national attention. Combined with Ryan’s boisterous personality and their location in the most un-remote place in the country, the Jets set themselves up for a media firestorm by the likes of which few have ever seen.
However, last year was last year; the Jets have paid for their mistakes several times over. Ryan and everyone else involved in the organization need to not only build a winning team, but also scrape the hardened, bacteria-ridden stains off their once-proud logo.
With a young roster that has lost some of the best players from a 6-10 team, perhaps the only thing working in Ryan’s favor is that expectations are so low. He has taken such a beating over the past nine months that turning in any kind of respectable performance will be considered a surprise at this point.
After beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in spectacular fashion, it is now accepted that the Jets, while certainly not close to Super Bowl contention, are not the worst team in the league. Still, Ryan and the Jets need to show a lot more if they want to be treated like any other “normal” team.
If Ryan wants true vindication, he will need to walk into Foxborough and knock off the New England Patriots this Thursday night.
For Ryan, this upcoming game is about more than just getting a road divisional win early in the season (on a short week, nonetheless). This is more than just getting revenge on a team that has haunted the Jets for well over a decade.
This is about Ryan showing that he is a lot better coach that he is made out to be.
His father, Buddy Ryan, may have introduced him to the world of coaching, but Ryan is not a head coach by accident. He diligently rose through the coaching ranks from his humble beginnings at Morehead State, winning a Super Bowl ring and changing lives in the process.
After all, the fact that the Jets were able to get within a half of football of a Super Bowl berth in two consecutive years with Mark Sanchez as his quarterback is a testament to how good Ryan is at squeezing every ounce of talent out of his roster.
Now, he will need to replicate his magic from his early head coaching days if he wants to keep his job.
With injuries mounting at their skill positions, the Patriots appear to be as vulnerable as ever—but to assume that the Jets are simply “due” for a victory would be a terrible mistake. Beating the legendary combination of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick in their own building is a tall task for any team, no matter what shape the rest of the roster is in.
However, if Ryan is indeed able to get the upset and stun the Patriots, familiar vibes from 2009, his first season as head coach, will be in full effect. Just like they are now, the Jets were assumed to be a pushover all year long with a rookie quarterback at the helm, but the Jets showed how difficult of a team they were to play against with a Week 2 victory over the Patriots.
By no means does this assume that a 2-0 record will propel the Jets into the AFC Championship Game once again—but it will remind the football realm that Ryan is, in the purest of forms, a coach that is not the clown everyone assumes he is.
All of these preconceived notions that the public has about the Jets will erode away if Ryan knocks off a real AFC powerhouse on Thursday night. It won't be easy—but Rex Ryan has earned the position he is in. Now, it is up to him and his team to seize the moment and finally begin to heal the scars that have ravaged this franchise.