Commentary

Rex Ryan, Jets have staying power

At 5-1 heading to the bye week, Gang Green proving they are legitimate contenders

Updated: October 19, 2010, 2:03 PM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- You're the coach of a 5-1 team, hottest in the NFL. Your stated goal to finish with the best record is starting to look like a possibility. You're almost giddy because you believe your team still hasn't played its best. Now you have a bye week, a chance to reflect and reboot.

Life is good for Rex Ryan, who was able to get away from the office Monday to enjoy his son's high school football game. For the first time in months, the New York Jets' coach is stress-free. No holdouts, no off-the-field incidents, no major injuries. It's all about being 5-1, imagining the possibilities.

"It's hard to say we're not the best team in the league," Ryan said a day after the Jets' Mile High Miracle.

No other team can say it's 5-1, so Ryan's bravado isn't without basis. The big question is, do the Jets have staying power? The answer is an absolute yes.

Barring a spate of injuries or a significant regression by quarterback Mark Sanchez, the Jets aren't going away. This is a mature, battle-tested team that has proved over two seasons that it's not a fluke. The Jets' 10-2 record over the past 12 regular-season games is the best in the league over that span, and they showed again Sunday they can handle pressure.

"We have the potential and the right type of guys to bring the trophy home," LaDainian Tomlinson said.

The Same Old Jets are gone.

There will be skeptics, of course -- skepticism is part of Jets fans' DNA -- but there are reasons this season will end differently than others that held so much promise. The reasons:

Ryan. He's a winner. With a career mark of 14-8, he's off to the best start of any coach in Jets history. His team is well prepared, motivated and resilient, able to handle adversity in small and large doses. Here's an amazing stat that speaks to the team's mental and physical preparedness: The Jets have yet to allow a first-quarter point this season.

"When Rex infuses that confidence into you, man, you think you can do anything," Bart Scott said. "You don't want to be the guy to let him down. I know people hate to hear this, because it keeps coming back to Rex, but he's a hell of a leader."

A favorable schedule. After the bye, the Jets face the Green Bay Packers at home, with road games against the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns.

Combined record: 5-13. The Rust Belt swing is followed by back-to-back home games against the Houston Texans and Cincinnati Bengals, whom the Jets beat three times last season by a combined score of 85-21.

The Jets face the Bengals on Thanksgiving night, which sets up nicely because it gives them three extra days of rest before a possible first-place showdown in New England.

The only negative to the Jets' fast start is they haven't gained any separation on the Patriots (4-1), who figure to get stronger as their young defense gains more experience. Judging from Sunday's win over the Baltimore Ravens, the Belichicks will be just fine without Randy Moss. If both teams continue to take care of business, Dec. 6 (a Monday night) will be the biggest Jets-Patriots showdown in eight regular seasons.

Balance. The Jets no longer rely on one unit to carry the day. That wasn't the case last season, when everything was predicated on the defense. If the defense had a bad day, the team had a bad day.

Consider: The Jets were 0-5 when they allowed at least 17 points in a game. You can't win a championship that way. This season, they're already 3-0 in those games, with significant contributions from the offense and special teams. The days of being one-dimensional are over.

If Sanchez continues to grow up, his two-interception game in Denver notwithstanding, the Jets have the ability to get better on offense, assuming wide receiver Santonio Holmes gets more comfortable.

Defensively, they're not close to last season's level, but they've had to deal with injuries to Kris Jenkins, Calvin Pace and Darrelle Revis. The Jets are ranked 14th in total defense, shockingly low for a Ryan-coached team.

But hear this:

"I think we'll lead the league in defense," Ryan said, predicting a repeat of 2009.

Health. Pace's surgically repaired foot is fine, and Revis' ballyhooed hamstring should be healthy after a week of rest and rehab in the trainer's room. While many teams are struggling with the battle of attrition, the Jets are getting healthier. The only player not coming back is Jenkins, and the Jets have proved they can win without him.

"As long as we stay healthy," Revis said, "the sky's the limit."

The Jets aren't surprised to be 5-1, not at all. When Brandon Moore was asked whether the fast start has raised the team's expectation level, he looked quizzically at the reporter.

"How much higher can you go?" he asked.

Than Super Bowl, he meant.

Rich Cimini covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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