FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- When Rex Ryan went on the radio Tuesday and told everyone he expects to be fired if the New York Jets' season doesn't get turned around, it smacked of a motivational ploy he used last December.
On the eve of the next-to-last game, with speculation swirling about his future, Ryan stood before his 6-8 team and made himself out to be Dead Man Coaching, telling the players his bosses already were starting to look for his replacement.
The players answered with a resounding victory over the Cleveland Browns, and another over the Miami Dolphins, creating that wonderful postgame scene in the locker room. They celebrated the return of Rex, and there was nothing fake about it. The emotion was real, as they were genuinely thrilled to have him back.
Now, once more, Ryan is hoping they have his back.
I don't think he did it for seflish reasons, meaning self-preservation. Ryan bleeds green and he really wants to get this mess cleaned up before it's too late. I think he'd give just about anything to win a championship in this town. He simply used himself as motivational fodder because, let's be honest, he's short on other material. He's betting on himself -- his hold on the team -- to lift the Jets (1-4) out of this funk.
The defense? Deep down, Ryan knows this group isn't strong enough to play shutdown football on a week-to-week basis. Until it figures out third-and-long, this defense will be nothing more than a tease.
Ryan made it about himself, putting himself on the firing line, thinking it might create a spark.
"We all respect Rex, we love Rex and we enjoy playing for him," Smith said Wednesday. "I guess you can say it's an extra reason to go out and play hard."
This is a dangerous play for Ryan, because if the Jets continue to flatline Sunday against the heavily favored Denver Broncos, it will reflect poorly on him and his ability to push the right buttons.
Under different circumstances, he should've waited a couple of weeks before taking this approach, just like baseball managers never call team meetings on the day they have to face the opponent's ace. The Jets will face two aces in five days, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Problem is, when the statistics say you have only a five percent chance of making the playoffs, there's no time to wait. The Jets are in a now situation. They have to beat the Broncos.
The Ryan-coached Jets ended Manning's career in Indianapolis, although no one knew it at the time. They beat the Colts in a 2010 wild-card playoff game, the year before Manning sat out with his neck injury. Now Manning gets a chance to take out Ryan, who went on and on about Manning and his legendary brain.
"It's like you're going against Bobby Fischer, as far as a chess game is concerned," Ryan said Wednesday. "We've got to match wits, and it's Rex Ryan versus Bobby Fischer in a chess match. I'll find a way to knock some of those pieces off, steal them off, but that's what I do. I'll try to challenge him as best I can, but I recognize it's a tough task."
Ryan is crazy like a fox, but it'll take more than clever schemes to upset Manning. He needs that old "Let's Save Rex" mentality to carryover from last season.