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What happened to Rex Ryan?

10.09.11 at 10:08 pm ET
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“As much as I respect and admire Bill Belichick, I came here to kick his ass, and that’€™s the truth.’€

Rex Ryan, Nov. 29, 2010

Ah, the salad days. Remember when Rex Ryan actually talked the talk?

Salad has been replaced on the menu (at least for now) by a couple of slices of the ol’ humble pie (which isn’t the snack Rex was talking about on “Hard Knocks”). After losing for the third straight time — a stretch that has seen his vaunted defense allow 34, 34 and 30 points — Rex stepped up to the podium minutes after a defeat to his main (OK, only) rival, a loss that puts his team at 2-3 on the season and somewhere very close to trouble as the early postseason picture starts to take focus.

“Obviously, they are the better team right now,” Ryan said. “The score indicated that. I was encouraged, though, by our team. We got back to some runs and completions.”

Encouraged by a loss in which his team gave up 36 first downs, 30 points and 446 yards of offense? Encouraged by 166 yards of passing (70 of which came on the final drive against a prevent defense) on 26 attempts? What happened to the guy who wasn’t going to kiss any rings? Rex Ryan just lost a (winnable) game to the Patriots and instead of bluster, arrogance and hyperbole (which is the Jets’ version of The Law Firm) we get Pete Carroll 2.0. What happened? I feel like Jimmy Conway when he thinks Tommy is just going to sit there and take it from Spider: “What is the world coming to?”

I suspect the truth is this: In 2009 Rex Ryan knew he had a very good football team. In 2010 Rex Ryan knew he had a very good football team. And in 2011 Rex Ryan has no clue if he has even a good football team.

Look, there isn’t anything close to a perfect football team in the NFL right now. The Patriots have major flaws on defense (as we all wait for Albert Haynesworth to do, well, something). But the Jets — again, this is just five games, maybe not a small sample size but by no measure a defining one — look to have significant flaws on both sides of the ball.

Mark Sanchez was OK (but just — and this was against a defense that allowed 478 yards per game through four weeks) on Sunday, but this is a quarterback that hasn’t made The Leap. The offensive line hasn’t been able to protect him or help what has been a below-average running game.

But wasn’t this the case with Sanchez last season (at least in the regular season) and in 2009 (at least in the regular season)? The Jets — Rex Ryan’s Jets — were supposed to be about defense. Sure, the quarterback has to make some plays, but not making mistakes has always been more important for this team.

Zero interceptions from Sanchez (with two touchdowns — no turnovers for Jets) and 4.0 yards per carry might have been enough to pick up a win against this team last year. And now we arrive at the screaming difference between the Jets of 2009-10 and the team we saw on the field Sunday.

This is Just Another Defense.

The Patriots ran for 152 yards on Sunday (BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran for a career-best 136). If this was an outlier, you could tip the cap and move on. But this is reality. The Ravens rushed for 112 — same as the Jaguars — and the Raiders (who I still think win the AFC West and one postseason game) rushed for 234.

Darrelle Revis is still plenty great, but the greatest cornerback of all-time isn’t much of a help when the line simply cannot stop the opponent from running the ball at will. I have not seen a drive as telling this season as the Patriots’ final drive on Sunday, 27-21 with 7:07 left. There was no mystery — the Patriots were going to run Green-Ellis and dared the Jets to try to stop them. And the Jets — with Bart Scott (very quiet in the locker room postgame), Revis, Antonio Cromartie and Rex Ryan — were helpless against this:

Green-Ellis for eight yards.

Green-Ellis for 15 yards.

Green-Ellis for six yards.

Green-Ellis for no gain.

Green-Ellis for 14 yards.

Green-Ellis for five yards.

Green-Ellis for three yards.

Green-Ellis for six yards.

Green-Ellis for three yards.

Green-Ellis for one-yard loss.

And when that was done, Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 28-yard field goal with 1:02 left to put the Patriots up 30-21, and the game was over. The Patriots lined up, basically punched the Jets in the face, and nothing close to a response was offered.

And it’s the defense — aging and ineffective — that has taken the stuffing out of Rex Ryan.

“We did some good things.” Ryan offered after the game.

The 2011 Jets: Where Moral Victories Happen.

Read More: BenJarvus Green Ellis, Bill Belichick, Mark Sanchez, Rex Ryan
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