MIAMI -- With controversy swirling around the New York Jets from Braylon Edwards' drunken-driving arrest to the intense anti-Jets fallout, coach Rex Ryan decided to take a different approach to Sunday night's game against the Miami Dolphins.
He pulled an Eric Mangini.
On the eve of the game, when he usually entertains his players with video clips of their highlights, Ryan showed the team lowlights from its two crushing losses to the Dolphins last season. Mangini used to bring up the negative. It was out of character for Ryan, but there was a method to his movie night.
By focusing on Miami payback and by not even mentioning Edwards' arrest or the potential distractions, Ryan pushed the right buttons and set the tone for the Jets' 31-23 victory at Sun Life Stadium on Sunday. He stressed revenge over righteous, and the Jets (2-1) emerged from the AFC East showdown/morality play in first place.
"That was the message," guard Brandon Moore said after the hard-fought win. "He put a chip on our shoulder."
Did the Jets sell their souls to win a football game? Maybe. They caught major flak for letting Edwards play, but he played well (he scored on a 67-yard reception), and the Jets delivered an early-season statement: They're the best team in the AFC East after back-to-back wins over the Dolphins and New England Patriots.
So you want to rip them? Go ahead. They'll take it because they're in the winning business, and business has been good for two weeks, sins and all.
"This is a tough team, a resilient team," Ryan said. "It was an unfortunate situation, obviously. I thought we dealt with it. We support our player; we support all of our players. That's all I'm really going to say. This is a tough team. I told you that last year."
Before the game, the Jets had announced that Edwards, who was arrested on a DWI charge Tuesday after having a blood alcohol level twice the legal limit in New York, would sit the first quarter. He was back on the first play of the second quarter; some penance. Unofficially, he wound up playing 34 of the 57 offensive snaps, second only to Jerricho Cotchery among receivers.
You get the feeling that, if it were up to Ryan, Edwards would've been out there on the second play. The front office, perhaps concerned with public opinion, pushed for a one-quarter benching. Afterward, Edwards said he agreed with the punishment. Of course he did; it wasn't much punishment at all. He thanked Ryan and the organization for having faith in him and for throwing the ball to him. He caught two passes for 87 yards and drew a critical pass-interference penalty in the end zone that set up LaDainian Tomlinson's 1-yard touchdown run with 1:55 remaining.
"It's been interesting," Edwards said of the week that was. "It hasn't been the best feeling."
The Jets could've crumbled in this spot. With their receiving diva stealing the headlines and with star cornerback Darrelle Revis (hamstring) home in New Jersey, the Jets were vulnerable, mentally and physically. They wobbled in the second and third quarters, almost blowing a 14-0 lead, but the Mark Sanchez-led Jets owned the fourth quarter.
This is a tough-minded team, determined to prove it's not what you saw all summer on "Hard Knocks."
"This team is tired of people thinking that, just because we had our own TV show and a couple of off-the-field issues, we're some kind of soft, Hollywood team," said Moore, always a voice of reason. "It feels good to come in here, with people thinking those things, and get a win. This is huge."
Safety Jim Leonhard, part of a Revis-less secondary that was shredded by Chad Henne (26-for-44, 363 yards, 2 touchdowns), said the team had endured a "rough, rough few days" because of the Edwards mess. Leonhard believes that it unfairly reinforced the image that the Jets are an undisciplined team.
"Once Sunday rolls around, it's our day," he said. "It's football."
The Jets are good at football. Sanchez was brilliant for the second straight week, passing for 256 yards and three touchdowns -- and no interceptions. He has yet to throw an interception this season, giving him a career-high streak of 78 attempts without a pick.
What you have to admire about the Jets is their ability to play complementary football. Defense slumps, offense rises. Passing game stalls, running game picks up. And don't forget about special teams; Eric Smith blocked a punt.
That was big because, in Ryan's team meeting Saturday night, he mentioned special-teams coach Mike Westhoff and how devastated he was by last season's meltdown against Miami. Anybody remember those back-to-back kickoff returns by Ted Ginn?
"We owe him one," Ryan told the team, referring to Westhoff.
So they won it for Westhoff. And they won it for themselves. The Jets didn't win any new fans, but all they care about is the standings.
And look who's in first.