INSIDER WEDNESDAY TEAM REPORT
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – It ain’t over ‘til the fat lady sings—or in the Jets case, until the fat guy sheds some tears.
Various media outlets reported that head coach Rex Ryan let his emotions get the best of him during his Monday morning meeting with the team, following their disheartening 24-22 loss to Jacksonville on Sunday, which all but deflated the Jets playoff aspirations.
In light of the incident, Ryan opened up Wednesday’s press conference with the media by receiving a box of Kleenex from Jets PR Director Bruce Speight.
“First off before we start, I’ve got a new sponsor,” joked Ryan. “The Jets have the Toyota, I get the Kleenex for obvious reasons.” Despite his joking, Ryan and the Jets aren’t kidding around in their belief that this season may not be over just yet.
“(Sugar Ray Robinson) made a great statement once,” said Ryan. “And it goes something like ‘to become a champion, you have to believe in yourself when nobody else will.’ I think that’s the message I believe in.”
“You have to believe in yourself to achieve great things. That’s the way I am, that’s the way this team is.”
Losers of five of their last six, the Jets head to Foxboro this weekend with their season on metaphorical life support. The 6-3 Patriots, coming off a fourth quarter collapse on the road against Peyton Manning, would like nothing more than to avenge their Week 2 loss at the Meadowlands by laying the smackdown on Rex Ryan’s squad, effectively pulling the cord on Gang Green’s 2009 season.
In fact, as bad as the Jets need Sunday’s game, a win bares as much, if not greater significance for their opponent. New England needs to kick the Jets while they’re down or it could come back to bite them. Despite the Jets skid into irrelevance since Week 3, a win on Sunday would put them only a game out of first place in the AFC East with the tiebreaker over New England in hand.
“It’s a big game,” said New England tight end Chris Baker in his conference call with the New York media on Wednesday. “It’s a big game for us and for them as well. Obviously, it’s a huge division game. We think we can go out and beat them. That’ll be big for us and get us going back on the right track to where we’re trying to get.”
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick also admitted that his team will need to bring their ‘A’ game on Sunday. “A couple of plays here or there and they could be looking at seven or eight wins. They’re a real solid team. They played well against us in all three phases of the game. We know we’ve got to do a better job.”
“We all understand that this is a huge division game against a team that’s beaten us the last two times we’ve played them. We need to have a good week of practice. We need to have a good week of preparation. We know how determined and competitive they are. I’m sure they’ll be at their best for this game, just like they were the last time they played us.”
At 5-5, the postseason would still be an uphill challenge for the Green and White, analogous to climbing Mount Everest. The Jets close out the season against the 9-0 Colts and 7-2 Bengals and do not hold the tiebreaker over 4-5 Miami, who swept the season series with New York.
Add in the fact that New England has also been proven to be almost unbeatable coming off of a loss under Bill Belichick. Since 2003, the Patriots are 18-1 in games following losses, dropping back-to-back games only once.
The Pats last instance of back-to-back losses? 2006, when New England followed a loss to the Indianapolis Colts by falling to none other than the New York Jets, 17-14 at Gillette Stadium. Sound familiar?
“This is same football team that we beat in Week 2,” reiterated Rex Ryan. “So we know we can beat them. I know was everybody said they’re going to be mad and they’re going to be ready to get after it, and they’re going to try and whip us and all that. Guess what? We’re going to try and whip them again.”
As the beat writers walked through the hallway past the cafeteria inside the Jets practice facility today, they were greeted by owner Woody Johnson. Johnson shook hands with each of the writers, uttering the phrase “Don’t lose hope.”
Hope starts with a win on Sunday.
Injury Update; Leonhard’s status still up in the air
Safety Jim Leonhard had surgery on his right thumb yesterday and is expected to miss a few weeks. The exact timetable for his return is unknown at this time. Leonhard has three screws in his thumb and his right hand in a sling, but Rex Ryan still isn’t ready to write the five-year veteran off for Sunday’s game just yet.
“He is a tough kid,” said Ryan. “I’m just telling you. And the average guy, there is no way he plays. But Jim Leonhard’s not an average guy.”
“If there’s any way possible of him playing, I wouldn’t be shocked.”
If Leonhard is unable to go, Eric Smith will get the start in his place with LB David Harris taking over the defensive signal-calling responsibilities.
Leonhard, as expected, joined LB Vernon Gholston (hamstring) on the bikes at practice this morning. Shaun Ellis (knee) and Brad Smith (quad) were limited. Bryan Thomas (toe) went through the full practice.
Definite questions in return game
The resounding impact of Leon Washington’s season-ending injury is finally starting to settle in around Florham.
With Justin Miller inactivated last week, and Jim Leonhard sidelined with the thumb injury, it remains to be seen who will step up in the return game for the Jets. In last week’s loss to the Jaguars, WR Brad Smith was seen back deep for kickoffs while CB Darrelle Revis returned two punts.
During this morning’s practice CB Dwight Lowery, Revis, and even WR Jerricho Cotchery all got in some reps returning punts. It’s often forgotten that Cotchery was the Jets main punt returner back in 2005, leading the team with 23 returns for 182 yards.
While Cotchery and Revis may possess to speed and ability to thrive in the return game, it would definitely be a questionable decision for Rex Ryan to throw two of his best players on either side of the ball out in an open-field situation, risking injury.
The Jets would be better served to have Lowery, a nickelback less vital to the team’s success, take over the primary return duties.
Baker sheds light on rivalry
Since his rookie year in ’02, Chris Baker had been programmed to despise everything the New England Patriots stood for as a football team and an organization. The Queens native spent seven seasons hauling in receptions at the tight end spot for Gang Green before his departure for New England this past off-season.
Baker spoke today on being on the other side of the rivalry and whether it means anything extra playing against his former team on Sunday. “I was thinking earlier in the day about it,” said Baker. Over the years and knowing some of the guys, it may mean a little bit more for me to play against guys I was teammates with and am still good friends with.”
“Early on it was a little weird (being on the other side of the rivalry) but I’ve kind of grown into it. Obviously I’ve been here for half a season now. I’m definitely here, so at first it was but I’ve gotten to the point where it’s not an issue anymore.
“Obviously, I miss a lot of my friends, but for me it was a positive change. I’m happy here and they’re doing a lot of good things up here and I’m having a good time. I’m doing pretty good, so I can’t complain.” In nine games this season, Baker has 10 receptions for 91 yards and a touchdown.
Baker holds that contrary to common belief, the Patriots do not have any contempt for the New York Jets. “I don’t think so,” he said. “I thought there was when I came up here, but it’s really not. It has everything to do with one game at a time. Obviously, it’s a rivalry. They know us, we know them. I always thought that they didn’t respect us. It couldn’t be further from what is in here. We have more of a healthy respect for what they do.”