FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – Rex Ryan had never been in this spot before as a head coach.
His New York Jets are 1-5 with five straight losses, a stretch of increasing frustration for the team — and fear from fans that this season is already over just six games in.
Ryan knows it doesn't look good. It's the longest losing streak in his six years with the Jets, but that doesn't mean the coach is writing off the season.
"My message is pretty simple: Hey, we might be counted out, (but) we're not dead," Ryan said Monday. "We are going to fight our tails off."
Ryan tried his best to sound positive, but he appeared weary and acknowledged he got very little sleep after the Jets' 31-17 loss to the Denver Broncos on Sunday. His job status has also been a hot topic of discussion.
He is 47-45 with the Jets, including 4-2 in the postseason — with his last trip coming four years ago, which likely seems a lifetime ago for Ryan. For a guy who made headlines with his brash approach and headline-making bravado, his current conundrum has become the low point of his coaching career.
"Yeah, I would say so," Ryan said. "It's not by a lack of effort. We're trying everything we can. It just hasn't happened for us yet."
Next up is a game Thursday night at New England against the AFC East-rival Patriots. It's another chance to try to get things moving in the right direction, but even Ryan acknowledged it's "not ideal."
Not when you're going against Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. Not when there are questions as to whether the Jets' morale might be dipping dangerously low.
"Well, look, this is the biggest rival you have," Ryan said he will tell his players. "You don't have to worry about the motivation. It's going to be there. Both teams don't like each other. There's respect for each other, but I don't think you really like each other. We know we have to be at our very best.
"We can't make mistakes."
There have been plenty of those this season, and quarterback Geno Smith has been in the middle of a lot of them. He has seven interceptions, including a wayward toss in the closing moments Sunday that Aqib Talib returned for a sealing touchdown.
Despite his struggles, Smith remains the starter over Michael Vick despite calls by some to give the veteran a chance to spark the offense.
"I think Geno is the best way to go right now," Ryan said. "That's why I'm comfortable saying he will be our starter."
Smith mostly rebounded from a brutal week in which he was fined $12,000 for cursing at a fan while walking off the field after a game; bristling a bit at a reporter; and missing a team meeting the night before he was benched at halftime of the Jets' 31-0 loss at San Diego.
During a conference call with Patriots writers, Smith was asked what the year has been like for him because it appears it's been "a little topsy-turvy."
"For me, it hasn't been," Smith said. "Obviously, with everything that goes on with the media, a lot of things are, I would say, miscommunicated, and then it just gets misprinted and then misunderstood. I don't have any quarrels with anything. The main thing is that we just have to find a way to get a win. The hardest part about it all is losing. With the effort, the time that we put in, the preparation that we put in throughout the week, coming up with game plans — we always have a really good game plan going in — and then obviously we haven't executed as well as we'd like.
"Those things are tougher than I guess what can be said and what is portrayed out there in the media."
Winning often helps temper criticisms, but it's something the Jets haven't done since the season opener against Oakland.
"There's no way I would have thought," Ryan said, "that we'd have the record that we have right now at the beginning of the year."
During training camp, Ryan insisted his team was good enough to be a playoff contender. The Jets' current record, combined with injuries and shaky play, indicate that Ryan overestimated his team.
But his players know that with 10 games left, there is time — although it's quickly dwindling — to turn their season around.
"There is a shot," Smith said in the locker room. "It's definitely one that's a stretch, but as long as we've got a shot, we've got an opportunity. We can look forward to having another tough game, but I believe that we're going to be fired up this Thursday night."
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