Growing Pains

By Jane McManus Feature Columnist
November 18th, 2009
Both rookie QB Mark Sanchez and Head Coach Rex Ryan have experienced big growing pains with the Jets in their first season. ( Photo)
Both rookie QB Mark Sanchez and Head Coach Rex Ryan have experienced big growing pains with the Jets in their first season. ( Photo)
FLORHAM PARK, NJ - It’s hard to follow a coach who self-deprecatingly puts a box of Kleenex on the podium to start a press conference, but Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez did his best yesterday. With the humility evident in his voice, Sanchez started his late afternoon press conference.

“Do you guys want to start or do you want me to start?”

Sanchez made it clear he thought his post-game monologue after a loss to Jacksonville on Sunday was another rookie mistake. He came out with a quickly-delivered and slightly defensive speech to start off, designed to answer any possible question before it could be asked, but in retrospect it didn’t work out the way he thought it would.

“I answer the questions you guys ask the questions,” Sanchez said. “That’s the role. I’m not here to do your job like you’re not here to do mine.”

There has been so much for Sanchez to learn in his first season with the Jets — the speed of the game, reads and the playbook — this was a relatively small chapter in his education. Jets coach Rex Ryan said he didn’t see the presser, but that Sanchez hasn’t shown a lack of confidence in practice as the losses have mounted for the team.

“I think the press conference probably was, he felt like the rest of us, just so disappointed, and sometimes it doesn’t come out the right way,” Ryan said.

Things haven’t been right with the Jets for a while. The last time the Jets faced the Patriots, Kris Jenkins was at full strength and Kerry Rhodes was backing up his tough talk. Today, Jenkins limped across the practice field on crutches and Rhodes had to explain that his fictional “Swagger Man” was probably doing the same. The safety was asked if the team has lost swagger after a 5-1 losing streak in a 4-5 season, and used an analogy to explain the situation.

“It’s hanging on,” Rhodes said. “I saw the little swagger man on the goal post almost falling off but it’s still there hanging on.”

The what?

“Swagger man. Swagger man.” He paused, and then laughed. “I made it up.”

It was a light moment on a day that puts the Jets at a crossroads. Ryan explained that the team is only a half game back if they can beat the Patriots in the 4:15 game this Sunday afternoon, they will only be a game back with six to play. He reiterated that he thought the Jets would be a championship team in this presidential term, but there was humility there, too.

“I understand we’ve found ways to lose games more than I dreamed would happen,” Ryan said.

With all the talk of “swagger” and “must wins,” it’s a wonder the entire team didn’t burst into tears just anticipating the Wednesday press availability at the Jets practice facility in Florham Park. Rhodes said he was a little stunned when Ryan wept during the Monday meeting, but upon reflection accepted it.

“When I really sat back and thought about it, I took it that he really wants to win,” Rhodes said.

That’s a feeling that the guys in the locker room can relate to, but this isn’t the same loud group that spent August in Cortland. The losses and injuries have sapped some of the energy that was so evident the first three games of the season.

“There are definitely things that I have to improve on,” Ryan said. “Maybe it’s the communication. Maybe my communication from coach to coach can improve. Maybe it can improve from coach to player or whatever.

“I’m looking at everything, because we’ve got to find a way to get it done.”

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