The Jets didn’t necessarily solve all their problems with Sunday’s 20-7 win over the Miami Dolphins, but they are now able to take a lot of positives with them heading into the offseason.
Yes, the prevailing theme heading into the game was the ability to knock the Dolphins out of the playoff race – but as the Jets picked apart and eliminated the lifeless Dolphins, it became more about what the Jets were accomplishing themselves.
Shortly after the victory, owner Woody Johnson announced that Rex Ryan will return as head coach in 2014.
No one would say publicly whether an extension is in the works or if Ryan is finishing out the final year of his contract until he proves he’s worthy of being retained long-term. Either way, the move gives the team stability in the interim and appeases a roster that was openly campaigning for Ryan to keep his job.
Ryan is notoriously loyal to his players, which paid off greatly for him with this year’s crop of rookies.
Playing literally just steps from his childhood home, Geno Smith ended the year with a performance that didn’t seem possible a few weeks ago.
Smith, a Miami native, looked horrendous and was benched as recently as the team’s December 1 meeting with the Dolphins, yet finished the season with a start he can be proud of. He’s developed an internal clock that has reduced the amount of times he is getting sacked and ends the year without throwing an interception in his final two games after struggling with turnovers for so long.
One of the biggest changes in Smith’s game is he is using his legs more and improvising when the play isn’t giving him anything to work with rather than making poor decisions – adding a dynamic to his game that opposing defenses must now prepare for in 2014.
Smith rushed for a touchdown and 44 yards on 10 carries, playing arguably his most poised and polished game yet.
The patience Ryan showed in sticking with Smith even when he was at his worst is something that could have a very positive effect on the team’s future. Smith still has a long way to go before he is considered a finished product, but these past 16 games will go a long way in accelerating his development.
Similarly, Dee Milliner’s two interceptions Sunday probably never would’ve happened if he wasn’t allowed to play through his mistakes for most the year.
Milliner at times has looked like he didn’t even belong on an NFL roster, let alone starting at cornerback every week. However, he can now say he ended his rookie season with his two best games as a pro – giving him confidence and something to build on going forward.
Fellow rookie Sheldon Richardson didn’t require much patience as he’s fit right in since day one, yet Ryan showed another reason why guys love playing for him when he allowed Richardson to rush for a one-yard touchdown in the second quarter.
Giving the ball to Richardson and having him become the first defensive lineman since William “The Refrigerator” Perry to rush for two touchdowns in a season since 1985 not only gave the Jets the burst of power needed to score at the goal line, but it was a play designed to have some fun in a league that is so often devoid of lighthearted moments.
Though not a rookie, midseason acquisition David Nelson also heads into the offseason playing some of the best football of his career. Nelson’s 66 yards on five catches were highlighted by a couple of plays that Smith’s targets simply weren’t making for him earlier in the year.
Smith and Nelson seem to have discovered a chemistry that gives the team a much-needed offensive weapon that had been missing for much of the season.
The play of so many different Jets on Sunday helped contribute to a victory that gave them their first two-game winning streak since Weeks 13 and 14 of 2012.
And after an abysmal first seven games on the road, the Jets were able to pick up just their second win of the season away from home.
Winning eight games and missing the playoffs isn’t exactly cause for celebration, but at least the team appears to be heading in the right direction.
When the Jets take the field next September, the expectations will have shifted dramatically.
Assuming the proper pieces are added in the offseason, rookies and rebuilding the roster can no longer be used as excuses.
It is playoffs or bust next year. And should the Jets miss the postseason for a fourth straight time, it’s hard to imagine the team announcing Ryan will be back again in 2015.