|Ryan says his past guarantees have added pressure to his players. (US Presswire)|
INDIANAPOLIS -- Once upon a time, it was good for New York Jets coach Rex Ryan to declare his Jets as the team to beat. Now it's not because they failed to reach the playoffs -- heck the conference championship game -- for the first time on Ryan's watch, and so something must change.
And that something is Ryan.
He promises to be the same guy, poking fun at those who deserve to be poked, but he also promises to quit the Nostradamus business. So he would not make a Super Bowl prediction Thursday at this year's NFL Scouting Combine as he did here last year because he believes -- or someone believes -- what he said hurt his team.
"I felt it did place some undue pressure on our team," he said, after hearing about it from an unnamed player. "I don't think I wanted to admit it until after the season. But one positive thing that came out of this season is that we're going to learn from our mistakes. And for me not to admit that was a mistake ... that would be ridiculous."
Maybe. But I'll tell what's more ridiculous: Ryan thinking his words are what kept his team down because they didn't. His players kept his team down.
Simply put, they weren't good enough, and that was demonstrated again and again. They couldn't run. The offensive line wasn't sound. They committed too many turnovers. There wasn't a pass rush. Their quarterback didn't improve. And they had no chemistry.
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It wasn't Ryan's prediction that buried the New York Jets. It was the New York Jets that buried the New York Jets. If Ryan was guilty of anything, it was making Santonio Holmes a team captain instead of court-martialing the guy after his insolent behavior helped to fracture the team.
The problem was that the Jets couldn't admit to their shortcomings, and it sure seems like we're beginning to walk that path again. I mean, Ryan had "Soon to Be Champs" inscribed next to the Jets' name on a bus touring 2010 training camps, and that didn't seem to keep them from making the playoffs or from beating division champion New England in January.
I don't remember anyone then saying it was too much pressure. That's because they won.
It's also because they could run the ball and because quarterback Mark Sanchez was effective. Neither happened last year, as the running game plummeted from third to 22nd and Sanchez ranked 23rd among quarterbacks, but neither is the problem, right? It's Rex Ryan's prediction, and if you believe that I have a couple of Stanley Cup playoff tickets in Columbus to sell you.
When Ryan boasted about his team before, it was to take pressure off his players ... and it worked. So when he restrains himself now he says it's to take pressure off his players again, and, sorry, someone please explain.
Which is why I asked Rex to do it for me.
"I think each situation is different," he said. "My first year when I came in I said we were going to win a Super Bowl in the president's term. I never [said] that we were going to do it that year. Now, when we made the playoffs I said I would rank us No. 1 if I were a betting man. And that's the truth. That's how I felt.
"The second year we go win [a playoff game], and I put 'Soon to be Champs' on there. But I didn't put a date on it. So when I said [last year that] it was specifically going to happen -- even though we had made it to two straight championship games -- I just felt: What else was there to accomplish? I thought it would motivate our team. But I think it had the opposite response.
"I think it literally put pressure on our guys. And that's certainly something I would never want to do. I'm a guy who would put the pressure on myself to back it up, thinking it would take pressure off our team. When I challenged [New England coach Bill] Belichick, Belichick is a zillion times better coach than me. If we had lost that [playoff] game, it would have come a million miles against me. Absolutely, I knew that would happen.
"But when we won then, I said what? I said it had nothing to do with me and everything to do with the players. And that's the truth. I thought, if anything, [what I said last year] would put pressure on me and take it away from the players. But I don't think that was the case. I think some of our players felt some of that pressure."
Maybe. But so what? Pressure is part of the game. The Jets thrived under it two years ago because they had the league's top-ranked run offense, the league's top-ranked pass defense and the league's No. 1-ranked overall defense. They thrived under it in 2010 because they could run, they could play defense and they had a hot quarterback in the playoffs.
But that didn't happen last season, and Ryan said the Jets will change. Great. Only change the right tackle. Change the running backs. Change Santonio Holmes. Improve the pass rush. Reduce the mistakes. Improve the quarterback. Find better receivers. Something, anything, to improve a product that was fractured by the end of last season.
Look, maybe Rex Ryan says too much. Maybe he goes too far. But he absolutely, positively, did not keep the Jets from winning more than they lost last year because of what he said. Nope, the Jets prevented themselves from winning by what they did.
Or didn't do.
Ryan said he and his players will learn from their mistakes, and he predicts the Jets will be a closer team this season. He predicts they will be a better team, too. I think you can guess what he doesn't predict.
"We will play as a team, and at the end of the season we'll know it was a great season," he said. "I have something I believe will happen, but I'm not going to share it with you."
Yeah, I know, because it might offend his players. Well, too bad. The Jets need a kick in the butt, and Ryan should do it ... not apologize for putting them in a position where they were supposed to do what they're paid to do.
Which is win.