By John McMullen, NFL Editor, The Sports Network
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) – Rex Ryan and the New York Jets got the “Good Geno” on Thursday night and it still wasn’t enough in a heartbreaking 27-25 loss to the New England Patriots.
Smith didn’t throw an interception for the first time this season, made good decisions throughout, and even used his mobility to extend plays and keep drives alive.
All that did, however, was hand the game over to Nick Folk, while asking the veteran kicker to win it with a 58-yard salvo from Connecticut, one which was blocked by Chris Jones after some solid “preventative officiating” from Bill Leavy’s crew which had all of Jets nation up in arms on Friday morning.
Ryan, who is now 10 weeks away from beginning the search for his next job, was predictably frustrated after watching his team fall to 1-6 against his biggest rival. He was spotted cursing and punching a wall before composing himself and going through the hell that is an NFL post-game press conference after a close loss.
“To say it’s a disappointing loss is a fair assessment,” Ryan said. “We’ve been snake-bitten. I don’t know how many touchdowns we’ve given up on third down this year when we’ve got ’em where we want them, but we’ve given up a bunch of them. And most of the time it’s our own fault. So that’s tough to handle.”
For once Smith was hardly the issue in Thursday night’s contest except for the fact that he’s always the issue.
While Ryan may have defaulted to the third-down issues on defense and the conspiracy theorists had Leavy and the officiating crew to point at, the reality is that Smith at his best still wasn’t good enough.
So what exactly is going on with the Jets?
Common sense says any coach who needs to win in order to stave off the unemployment line would want to start the players who give him the best opportunity to win on a particular day.
And on the surface, Michael Vick moving to the Jets seemed like a very good fit.
The Jets needed a veteran presence to push Smith after an uneven rookie season which neither proved the former West Virginia star was the long-term answer in Florham Park nor conclusively affirmed he wasn’t. Meanwhile, Vick had his best professional season under current Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg when both were in Philadelphia.
There were issues, however.
Vick is a little too good to fit snugly into a backup role behind a flawed young QB like Smith, but he’s also 34, signed just a one-year deal, has a significant injury history and issues with preparation, meaning he’s certainly not the future of this organization.
Meanwhile, despite his high-profile “extension,” everyone knew Ryan had little margin for error if he wanted to remain a head coach in New York past 2014.
Yet, an open competition between Smith and Vick never materialized and Ryan, despite being a dead-man walking at this point, has stuck by the struggling Smith like Tammy Wynette.
Forget football, you need a psychologist to explain this dynamic.
“Consciously, (Smith) wants to succeed, but unconsciously he seems to be in a dance with coach Ryan,” Dr. Stanley Teitelbaum, the author of “Athletes Who Indulge Their Dark Side: Sex, Drugs, and Cover-Ups and Sports Heroes, Fallen Idols” said. “Asking ‘Give me another chance’ yet he repeatedly gets himself into trouble (by playing poorly).
“And Ryan responds, ‘OK you’re still my starting QB next game’. Through his behavior Smith is begging for limit setting, while Ryan seems excessively understanding and permissive.”
If you believe “excessively understanding and permissive” seems contradictory to Ryan’s personality, you’re not wrong.
He has been coaching at the NFL or big-time college level since 1994 and has been in “charge” of the Jets since 2009. Ryan understands football, realizes his situation, and grasps what’s in his best interests.
“Sometimes when limits are set it serves as a wake-up call to end the dance,” Teitelbaum continued. “The more Ryan responds with pats on the back, the more it doesn’t work to get Smith’s act together.
“If some version of zero-tolerance (or very little tolerance) is instituted, it will help take the dance as far as we can go: it will either get him back on track or end it once and for all. It can’t perpetuate the dance.”
Ryan never had any interest in perpetuating any dance but has been declawed by his general manger John Idzik, unable to enact any zero-tolerance policies when it comes to Smith.
“It’s ridiculous to stand here after a loss and think where our team’s at. It’s not where this team should be,” Ryan said.
Actually, it’s exactly where the Jets should be.
Serving two masters never works and unfortunately for Ryan, Vick gives him the best chance to succeed in a one- shot situation, while Geno remains the better long-range solution for the Jets and Idzik.
Ryan has been dealt a losing hand by his boss and is doing the best he can with it until he busts and plays the role of scapegoat.
Only then will Ryan get the piece of mind of knowing the clock has shifted and started ticking on Idzik’s future, a reality which will put zero-tolerance back in play.