Seven games deep into a year best defined as a pleasant surprise, John Idzik still has reasons to do absolutely nothing with his roster before Tuesday's trade deadline, and none more convincing than this one:
His New York Jets have not proven to him that they are for real. In fact, even after their conquest of the Bradys and Belichicks, the Jets haven't proven to anyone that they are for real, if the definition of for real includes any team with a credible chance of making the playoffs and winning games once it gets there.
In other words, a team capable of getting hot enough to reach a Super Bowl that happens to be scheduled for the Jets' backyard.
Rex Ryan has yet to win two consecutive games this year, and the general manager who inherited him, Idzik, saw what he saw when the Jets were blown out by the Titans, when they failed to score a touchdown against the then-winless Steelers and when they lucked out against the Buccaneers and (to a lesser extent) the Patriots.
The GM saw a team strong enough to hurdle the painfully low bar many set for it in the preseason, and yet flawed enough to finish the season at or around .500, not good enough to qualify for the tournament.
And not good enough to justify the trading of a draft pick over the next three days to give the Jets the playmaker they desperately need if they want to be considered, you know, for real.
But the Jets can change all that Sunday in Cincinnati, where they play a 5-2 Bengals team that has won three in a row. If they score this road upset a week after beating Tom Brady, and a week before facing Drew Brees in what would suddenly be advertised as a very big game, the Jets wouldn't only move their critics (this one included) to reevaluate who they are; they might move their GM to try to make that trade.
"I think [Idzik] should consider that if his team is 5-3 at the halfway point," said a league source close to the Jets. "Winning is so precious in professional sports, and if the price isn't prohibitive, it's worth taking a hard look at."
If the Jets want Idzik to give strong consideration to a trade that would aid their current cause, they should know that athletes send messages to their bosses in different ways. By publicly declaring his desire to enter free agency in July, Carmelo Anthony applied pressure to the Knicks' new GM, Steve Mills, just in case Mills planned on taking Melo's stated preference to stay put to the bank. Anthony was telling the front office to improve the cast around him and give him a fighting chance to win a title, or else.
By beating the Bengals and establishing their first winning streak of the year, the Jets would be making a statement to Idzik with their helmets and pads, not their mouths. They would be giving the GM a reason to believe they could actually make something of a New York football season that was supposed to be dead and buried once the Giants started coming undone.
"It would be huge," Ryan said of an unlikely victory over the Bengals. The Jets coach called Cincinnati one of the league's better teams.
"We have to be at our very best, there's no question," Ryan said, "to have a chance to beat these guys."
Antonio Cromartie has to shut down A.J. Green, and Muhammad Wilkerson and friends have to get to Andy Dalton more than Geno Atkins and friends get to Geno Smith. Of greater consequence, Smith has to be the rookie who was poised enough to outplay Brady, and not the rookie who has thrown three more interceptions than touchdowns in his first seven starts.
"I like Geno a lot," the source close to the Jets said, "but it's going to come down to how he handles the ups and downs of the season, and the challenge of not getting too high or too low, especially in New York.
"But if he doesn't turn the ball over, the Jets will be hard to beat because of that defense. Like Kansas City, the Jets are physical and have a good, strong front seven in a league where nobody plays defense. They have two running backs who can really play, and the best kicker in the NFL, and that formula will keep you in games. It's hard for me to imagine Cincinnati not being a one-score game in the fourth quarter."
And what if the Jets end up on the right side of that one-score game? What if Smith beats Dalton the way he beat Brady and Matt Ryan, and makes everyone forget, again, that Rex Ryan got Mark Sanchez knocked out for the season on a senseless choice in August?
Idzik will have until 4 p.m. Tuesday to answer those questions. He's got a defense, and an offensive line, and an intriguing young quarterback, all assets that make the 4-3 Jets a mildly interesting act, and something of a juggernaut when measured against the 1-6 Giants.
Only in a fast-breaking league, the Jets' lack of firepower at receiver reduces them to the equivalent of a half-court team. They're just not going to rip through the AFC side of the bracket if Jeremy Kerley is their most dangerous outside threat.
Chances are, Idzik will decide a relatively high draft pick for a better short-term receiver is too steep a price to pay for a rebuilding team he hopes and suspects is two years away from legitimate title contention.
But if the Jets believe they are capable of something magical right now, capable of giving New Yorkers a show before they get to the Knicks and the Nets, they have one last chance here to change Idzik's mind.
They can beat the Bengals, and put their own GM on the clock.