He is brash, cocky and sometimes very irritating but make no mistake about it--Rex Ryan is a winner and well on his way to becoming an elite NFL Head Coach. His Jet team has been in the eye of the storm all year whether they have been the focus of HBO, league investigations, or bulletin board fodder for their opponents.
But all that has just served as window dressing because he is very skilled at 2 major qualities all great head coaches possess: the ability to create unique game plans and at the same time, employ halftime adjustments that turn intermission deficits into dramatic victories.
Going into this weekend's clash with Peyton Manning and the Colts, the star quarterback had dominated Ryan as evidenced by last year's AFC Championship win in Indy as well as numerous encounters with him while on the staff of the Baltimore Ravens. So, Ryan came up with a new twist--he would reel in his aggressive blitzing strategy and force Peyton Manning to beat him by handing the ball off to Dominic Rhodes and Joseph Addai. He did it by employing a deep zone thanks to the fact Darrelle Revis kept wideout Reggie Wayne in his back pocket all night.
Still, down 7-0 at the half, Ryan had to do more than defuse the high octane Colts--he had to find a way to both limit Manning's chances in the second half and score some points. From the opening second half kickoff, the Jets leaned heavily on their talented offensive line behind Pro Bowlers Nick Mangold and D'Brickisaw Ferguson as they pounded the quick but small defensive front of the Colts finding the end zone twice in that second half. But those 2 drives also forced Peyton Manning to watch from the sidelines as the Jets milked the clock for almost 15 minutes on those 2 drives alone.
More drama was to come late in the game as Ryan watched the Colts take the lead but effective use of his timeouts coupled with some creative play calling gave the Jets the win and sent the reigning AFC Champions home. I have watched Peyton Manning lose playoff games but have never seen a defense defuse him in this fashion on the fast turf in Indy. And a big reason for that is Rex Ryan had the courage to change his game plan because it was the best way to win.
Tom Brady and the New England Patriots await the Jets in the next round in Foxboro on Sunday. Going up against the best quarterback and the best coaching staff in the league is a tall order and add in the fact the Jets were embarassed there on National TV just a few weeks ago. But do not count the Jets out here--Rex Ryan and his second year quarterback Mark Sanchez are now 3-1 in playoff games and all of those have been on the road.
It should be a week full of verbal missles being fired between here and Beantown. But when the bell rings on Sunday at 430PM and all the chatter stops, one thing is for sure. Rex Ryan will have a few tricks up his sleeve and he will have to because he will be facing perhaps the greatest playoff coach in league history. Can he win? Not sure about that but winning is Foxboro after defeating Peyton Mabnning will surely put the Jet Head Coach in rarified air--air that even the long arm of the NY media might not be able to reach.