From True/Slant on January 18, 2010
Thank You, Rex Ryan.
Up until 5:00 est on Sunday, the divisional round of the NFL playoffs was about as much fun as all the snow shoveling I’ve done in the past month.
Enter the New York Jets.
As much as I enjoyed watching the Packers and the Cardinals break the scoreboard last week, I love watching good defense. And the Jets defense is fun. The Jets are riding high on their top-notch, risky, blitzing, pounding defense. Nursing a 10 point lead, Rex Ryan never reverted to the dreaded prevent defense. He trusted his players to make plays. They did. Sometimes blitzed and brought six guys. Sometimes they dropped everybody and rushed only three guys. When Phillip Rivers punched, the Jets D counter-punched. They bobbed and weaved and did a rope-a-dope. But they never went into a shell. They were never just reactive. That defense was pro-active every moment it was on the field. They knew that a comfortable Phillip Rivers eats defenses alive. So they never let him get comfortable. LaDainian Tomlinson was a non-factor (mostly sitting on the bench looking sad by the end) and Rivers never got in a groove. Score one for the Jets defense. Score one for smart risk-taking.
It’s so handy for a sportswriter when a team reflects their coach. It’s a great little meme to reach for. But this team really does reflect Ryan. The Jets have had some decent teams over the years, but they haven’t had this much swagger since Joe Namath was running the offense.
Say what you want about Rex Ryan (and feel free to insert fat joke here), but he’s awakened a team turned inert by the Mangenius, a franchise routinely booed by their own fans at the draft. He’s taken that team the whole way to the AFC Championship game.
So, yeah, he’s big and fat. He’s loud and obnoxious, too. Some don’t care for his style, but I do. I’m so sick of watching taciturn coaches grunt answers like pre-pubescent boys at the dinner table. Do they really think the media is the enemy? That they can somehow lose a game on the dais, rather than on the sidelines? Yes, I am looking at you Evil Hoodie. How’s that whole cloak and dagger routine working for ya these days? Thought so.
But it’s not just Evil Hoodie. The pubescent boy speak afflicts much of the league.
Rex Ryan is good for the media. He seems to actually enjoy the give and take. But more importantly, Ryan is good for the Jets. I didn’t want to like him. I really didn’t. But I can’t help myself. That defense and his pounding running game won me over, because I admit it, I kick it old school like that.
But how’d we all end up here? The Jets versus the Colts? A rematch of Super Bowl III in the 2010 AFC Championship Game. Really?
Back on Christmas morning, you’ll remember, the Jets were left for dead on the side of the road, with a record of 7-7 and just coming off a stinking loss versus the Falcons. Even Ryan himself said their playoff hopes were nil. Then the Colts gave up, gave in, yanked their starters and didn’t really try much during a week 16 Sunday night game. They spit the proverbial bit, as it were.
Oh, there was a tremendous hue and cry from the Colts fans, but the Colts coaches and players rationalized it — they were protecting Manning and Clark and Wayne, et al. There were more important games ahead.
But we all knew it was a bad omen. The Colts opened this Pandora’s Box and let loose the Jets on the playoff picture.
To their credit, the Jets run the ball down the other teams throat. They take away the deep pass and pressure the QB. They make offenses look awkward. And Mark Sanchez (cliche alert) is better than just a game manager: He makes just a few plays, but he seems to have a knack for making them at key moments. It’s a good sign for the long-term future health of the Jets franchise, to say nothing of the jubilation going on at the moment.
If the Colts lose to the Jets this Sunday, that would be a delicious irony, another handy literary illusion to reach for. But even if the Jets magical run ends in Indianapolis, without the tidy greek-tragedy bookend, it sure has been a fun ride.