Mandatory Credit: Andrew Mills/THE STAR-LEDGER via USA TODAY Sports
This is part 2 of a 5 part series on the evolution of Rex Ryan. To read part 1 about 2009 click here.
In 2010 the Jets went from the hunter to the hunted. Coming off of an unexpected run to the AFC Championship Game and with the acquisition of Antonio Cromartie, Santonio Holmes, Ladainian Tomlinson, and Jason Taylor the Jets were a team on the rise. Expectations were sky high and Rex Ryan didn’t shy away from those expectations. The Jets decided to be featured by HBO on the Hard Knocks series and what followed was one of the greatest years in Jets history although it ended in disappointment.
Right off the bat Ryan addresses how the Jets have gone from hunter to hunted in the first week on Hard Knocks:
“Last year, hey we were under the radar that’s a good place to be. F**k that the best place to be is when expectations are high.”
Rex also addresses the other major storyline from Hard Knocks, the holdout of Darrelle Revis, in typical Ryan style:
“Hey, guys, we don’t have Revis in this building right now. Does it matter that Revis is not here? Goddamn, he’s pretty f******* good. He’s pretty good, OK? But you know what guys? It isn’t about one guy, its about leading the league in f******* wins.”
Rex Ryan set the tone for the season on Hard Knocks. He was blunt, straight-forward, and confident in himself and the team. Nowhere is that more present than in his most famous speech from Hard Knocks:
“You guys know me I’m about as positive a guy as there is. I believe our team is better than every f****** team in the league. I believe our players are better than any other players in the league. Those are true statements. The team is only going so far if I’m the only one who leads. I’m not a great leader. I can’t lead myself. This whole group of men we ain’t gonna win if it’s about me. I’m sitting here waiting for us to realize the team we said we were going to be. What are we waiting on? Do you want it or not? Do you understand there is a price to pay?…Let’s make sure we play like the f****** New York Jets and not some f****** slap d*** team. That’s what I want to see tomorrow. Do we understand what the f*** I want to see tomorrow? Now let’s go eat a Goddamn snack.”
The team went 11-5 during the regular season finishing behind the Patriots, including a 45-3 drubbing at New England that decided the division, and having to take the long road in the playoffs for the second year in a row. In the first round the Jets would look for revenge against Peyton Manning and the Colts who beat them in the AFC Championship Game the year before. A fact the Rex Ryan used to motivate the team.
“I don’t know when I’m going to beat him, but I want it to be Saturday night. Is it personal? Yes, it’s personal. It’s personal against him (Peyton Manning), Reggie Wayne, all those guys, yeah. (Dwight) Freeney and (Robert) Mathis and those other dudes? Absolutely.”
The Jets got their revenge as they won 17-16 on a last second field goal by Nick Folk sending them on to play their old rival, the New England Patriots. After the regular season disaster in New England and the Patriots dominance at home no one gave the Jets a chance to win in Foxboro. Ryan took the pressure off of the players and kept the talk away from the blowout at Foxboro by framing the matchup as one between himself and Bill Belichick as stated here:
“When you look at it, both teams are very even,” Ryan said. “When you look at the players, our teams are solid across the board. When you look at the assistant coaches, we’re on level ground. So this is going to be about me raising my level against Bill Belichick. I recognize he’s the best. But I’m just trying to be the best on Sunday. And I plan on being the best coach on Sunday.”
“He’s going to going to get everything I have on Sunday,” Ryan added. “If he slips at all, we’re going to beat him.”
What followed was the second greatest game in Jets history and certainly the most satisfying for those who were not around for Super Bowl III. The Jets beat the Patriots 28-21 and moved on to face the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship. The celebration at the end of the game with Bart Scott’s “Can’t Wait” interview and the team celebrating on the Patriots’ home field are things that will be remembered for years to come.
Another year another AFC Championship Game for the Jets and Rex Ryan but this time it is handled differently. Instead of the uber-confident coach that believed in his team and didn’t give a damn about the opponent Ryan decided to heap praise on the Steelers during the week.
“They’ve got an outstanding set offense,” said Ryan. “But they do as good a job as anybody in this league when it breaks down. First off, Roethlisberger is able to just knock people around physically, not go down, keep plays alive with his athleticism, with his strength and all that. But the receivers do a great job. They run their route and then they see Big Ben scrambling and they get open.”
The Jets came out flat. Really, really, really flat and fell behind 24-0. They rallied back to 24-19 but couldn’t stop Pittsburgh on a 3rd and 6 and the clock ran out on the game and the season. Personally I still have not gotten over that loss it was a terrible gut punch. The Jets were the better team they had already beaten Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh Week 15 and I truly believe if they weren’t emotionally spent from the New England game that they would have advanced to the Super Bowl.
This game was the turning point of the Rex Ryan era. He had the team completely unified and bought in, they gave everything they had physically and emotionally and they fell short of the goal Rex was so certain they would achieve. Doubt over whether the team could get over the hump started to creep into the minds of everyone. His critics had their first opening to take their shots at him and line up they did. Life is much different when the preseason favorite doesn’t win than when the underdog falls short.
What lessons would Rex Ryan learn from this season and how would it affect him in 2011? Would he see the tiny cracks in the foundation of the team before it was too late? We’ll see next time when we examine Rex Ryan the 2011 edition.