At 3-5 and with a difficult immediate schedule ahead, the New York Jets look like long shots for a third playoff berth in Rex Ryan's four seasons as coach. Ryan is embracing that challenge, and believes he has the team to make a strong run in the second half of the schedule.
That schedule begins Sunday in Seattle, where the Seahawks are undefeated.
But Ryan likes the idea of starting off a quest for the playoffs with such a tough task.
"I think, obviously, you go out there with a mission to win. That's what we hit the field to do," he said Thursday.
"I know Antonio Cromartie had some comments about us making the playoffs and all that. I feel as an entire football team that we should all feel like that. I think we do feel like that."
To get their season turned around, the Jets need to fix just about everything.
In their last outing, they were smoked on offense, defense and special teams by Miami. Ahead also is a Thanksgiving night matchup with New England, and should the Jets lose to the Seahawks and Patriots, even sweeping their other games might not be enough to get to January.
New York ranks in the middle of the league in turnover differential (minus-1), run offense (14th) and total defense (16th). Most maddening have been the Jets' failures in two normally strong areas: run defense and special teams.
Ryan said he'd never seen special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff down more than he was after Miami blocked a punt for a touchdown, blocked a field goal, recovered an onside kick and had some big returns.
"As frustrated as I've ever been in my career," Westhoff admitted.
Ryan will lean on his veteran players who have been through two successful seasons in which they made the AFC championship game to offer guidance to those who weren't here for the good times.
"We did have those and we did meet those challenges," he said of 2009 and 2010. "We did make the playoffs those two years. We faced (similar) challenges last year and dropped three straight games. Unfortunately, we have been through that as well, so we've seen both.
"I'll say this, this team is much closer than I think our team was last year, my team was. That was one of the things I talked about going into training camp. One of my jobs was to make sure this team was back as the type of New York Jets team that we expect. ... That's guys totally committed to each other and pulling that rope in the right direction."
That the Jets went in the right direction in '09 and '10 could provide some impetus for 2012, but only if they improve their performances on the field. All the togetherness and determination in the world won't matter if you can't make plays.
Veteran left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson believes the Jets should take lessons from all three of Ryan's seasons in charge — the two good ones and the forgettable one.
"Last year is a true testament to there are no guarantees we'll get what we want," Ferguson said. "Just because you want it doesn't mean it will happen. We have to understand if we want it, we've really got to go after it. We have that experience of going after it.
"Along the road, there are obstacles. We're used to it from the past years and we know what it takes to get to the postseason."
Ryan says he's been more involved in all the positional meetings, and he even provided some plays for offensive coordinator Tony Sparano.
"They were upside-down. He draws backward," Sparano said with a smirk, noting Ryan's defensive upbringing. "Listen, he put them in, I'm going to use them. Momma didn't raise a fool."
Neither Ryan nor Sparano was letting on what those plays involved, but finding a way to use Tim Tebow more effectively must have been in the discussions. Tebow has been in for only 55 plays in eight games, throwing three passes and running 23 times altogether.
Sparano spent a portion of the bye week examining every play when Tebow was on the field, noting how many different defensive looks the Jets got when the backup quarterback to Mark Sanchez was involved. He and Ryan were mum about any possible plans to use Tebow more.
Regardless of who is playing, Ryan strongly believes his team has what it takes to still be playing in January.
"I think obviously at 3-5 you're not where you want to be," he said, "but this team believes that we can right the ship and were going for it."
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