By Jerry Sullivan
I used to look forward to Rex Ryan's conference calls with the Buffalo media before Bills games. Ryan was a flamboyant, outrageous presence in his early years with the Jets. He didn't care what people thought of him. You never knew what the guy might say. That defiant attitude was part of his team's persona when the Jets reached two straight AFC title games.
No more. Nowadays, Ryan plays it low-key with the media. He utters the usual bland cliches that you get from almost any NFL coach: They respect the Bills. They're focusing on this game and not looking forward. Blah blah blah. That was Ryan's approach to this Sunday's game at the Ralph. I couldn't even get Ryan to speculate about his team's surprising playoff prospects.
At 5-4, the Jets are currently alone in the sixth and final AFC playoff spot. All three teams that also had four losses going into last week (Miami, San Diego, Tennessee) lost. So Rex, are you surprised to be in that position, in a playoff spot after nine weeks?
"I'm not getting into it," Ryan said via conference call late Wednesday morning. "I just know we have Buffalo on Sunday. That's the entire focus."
You sound like the other coaches now, I told Ryan.
"I don't care what I sound like," he said. "I just know that we're not good enough to look down the road. We have to look at what's right in front of us, and that's where it is. We've been an inconsistent football team. We've been up and down the whole season. Literally, we've been win one, lose one, win one, lose one ... but we did lose to the bye week last week."
The Jets have alternated wins and losses all nine weeks of the season. The pattern says "loss" in Orchard Park on Sunday. But as Ryan suggested, maybe the bye week can bump the pattern ahead to a 'W'.
Ryan isn't looking ahead. He wants to keep his Jets grounded and humble, which is more appropriate with this year's Jets, an inexperienced bunch who were picked by a lot of observers to finish dead last in the NFL this season.
"We're a young football team," Ryan said. "We have seven new starters on defense, six new starters on offense and five rookies starting. This isn't like a veteran team that can look down the road. Bull, we're looking at the Buffalo Bills, period. This is a team that really had Kansas City beat and almost had New England beat, that lost to Cincinnati in overtime. We got blown out by Cincinnati. So we know what kind of team Buffalo is, and certainly our entire focus is on this team only."
Spoken like a true NFL coach. Really, if you disguised the voice, it could have been Bill Belichick.