Rex Ryan relishing underdog role

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- In retrospect, Rex Ryan conceded he put too much pressure on his team last season by guaranteeing a Super Bowl. This year, he's taking the opposite approach, relishing the role of underdog.

The New York Jets coach responded Wednesday to preseason publications that predict a third-place finish for his team in the AFC East, admitting the lack of respect is a motivating force.

"Does it drive you a little bit? I'd be lying if I told you it didn't," Ryan said. "Of course it does. Human nature is like, 'I want to show you.' That's exactly how I am. I've grown up that way all my life. There are smarter guys than me, and better looking, but I'm going to show you.

"There's a reason I'm here today. I'm going to compete and our whole football team is going to compete and our organization is going to compete. ... I'd rather be picked third right now and be somewhere else down the road."

Many prognosticators say the Jets will finish behind the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills, whom they face Sunday at MetLife Stadium. The Bills were 6-10 last season, and they've dropped five straight to the Jets, but they raised expectations by signing the jewel of the free-agent class, defensive end Mario Williams.

The Jets didn't make any marquee additions -- well, except for quarterback Tim Tebow, who will be used in the Wildcat package. A winless preseason, in which the starting offense failed to score a touchdown, also has fueled the perception that the Jets are primed for another 8-8 season -- or worse.

"I think we're right where we need to be," Ryan said, smiling. "It does remind me, for whatever reason, of our first year here."

In 2009, the Jets overachieved with a turnover-prone rookie quarterback, Mark Sanchez, reaching the AFC Championship Game. Sanchez still is inconsistent (26 touchdown passes, 18 interceptions last season), but he's no longer the weak link.

Sanchez has improved in all areas, according to Ryan, who believes the fourth-year quarterback is ready to lead the team back to the playoffs -- as opposed to riding the coattails of others.

"You saw it coming through his years," Ryan said. "As a rookie, he was looked at as the weakness on our football team. I said, 'There's going to be a day when he's looked at as a strength, and not a weakness.' I think that day is right now."

Sanchez said he doesn't pay attention to the so-called experts.

"Who cares what they say?" he said. "I think this team has something to prove to each other, but nothing to anybody on the outside. We're accountable to each other in here. That's the only opinion that matters."

Interestingly, Bills coach Chan Gailey was hesitant to give his opinion of Sanchez, who is learning a new offense for the first time since his rookie year.

"Until you see him in this offense a few times, it's hard to really make an evaluation," Gailey said on a conference call.