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Ryan keeps smiling through Jets’ turbulence

In New York, they’re calling the Jets a laughingstock, the biggest joke in sports. So when Rex Ryan came on the conference call, which had been delayed by a phone glitch, I couldn’t help blurting out the obvious:

“These are kind of desperate times, aren’t they, Rex?”

“That would be a … Good morning to you, too!” the Jets coach said as the Buffalo media broke up in laughter. “One and six, I would say that qualifies as a desperate time.”

Rex almost seems to relish it. The guy is a survivor. He was on the hot seat a year ago after John Idzik took over as the Jets’ general manager. Then Ryan’s team rallied around him, got to 8-8, and he lived to coach another day.

Things are really rough now. The Jets, who didn’t lose four straight games in Ryan’s first five years, have lost six in a row and stand four games back in the AFC East. The New York media call him “Dead Coach Walking” and wonder if he might get whacked before December if things don’t turn around soon.

“You handle it the same as if you were 6-1,” Ryan said. “You go about your job and you just do the best you can as a coach, and you line it up each week. That’s what we do. We put everything we have into our preparation and putting our players in a position where we think they can be successful.”

That’s pretty bland stuff, coming from Ryan. He’s lost a lot of the swagger and bombast from his early years in New York, when he led the Jets to back-to-back AFC title games. Maybe he’s trying to present a more polished, presidential image, in case he’s job hunting in the near future.

But I wouldn’t feel too sorry for old Rex. His Jets are a dangerous team at the moment, a wounded dog that might be ready to rise up and rip out the throat of the next creature to cross its path. Sunday in the Meadowlands, the Bills will have all they can handle against Ryan’s squad.

“You understand the record,” said Bills coach Doug Marrone. “But you watch the tape and you realize they’re a heck of a football team. We know the record is not an indication of who they are, by far.”

Overhyping an upcoming opponent is on Page One of the Coach’s Manual, alongside photos of Lou Holtz and Bill Belichick. But Marrone wasn’t kidding. If you watched film of the Bills’ win over the Vikings and the Jets’ loss to the Patriots last week, you’d assume the Jets were the better team.

The Jets lost to New England that Thursday night, 27-25. They became the first team in NFL history to hold the ball for more than 40 minutes, run for 200 yards, not commit a single turnover, and still lose.

That’s why the Jets are favored – that and the fact that they’re 7-3 against Buffalo under Ryan, the most wins he has against any team. The Bills have lost their last four road games against the Jets, giving up an average of 36 points in the process.

The Jets have a habit of exposing the Bills. In 2011, the Bills got off to a 5-2 start. Then Ryan’s crew came to The Ralph and smacked them, 27-11. They beat them at home three weeks later, putting them under .500.

In Mario Williams’ debut as a Bill, the Jets romped at home, 48-28. The Buffalo defense never recovered that season. Last year, in the first road game of the Marrone era, the Jets won, 27-20, as Geno Smith outplayed EJ Manuel and threw for 331 yards, which remains his career high.

Ryan will probably lose his job after the season. The odds of the Jets reaching the playoffs are staggering. But Rex is a master motivator, and he’ll have his troops convinced that the Bills game will be the start of an improbable Super Bowl run.

Idzik traded for troubled Seattle wideout Percy Harvin on Friday. It’s hard to say how effective Harvin will be in his first game with a new team. But acquiring a dynamic playmaker in a moment of crisis could create a sense of renewed hope and possibility in Ryan’s beleaguered team.

No offense to Kyle Orton, but it should also be a lift to know they aren’t facing a future Hall of Fame quarterback for the first time since September. In their last three losses, the Jets have faced Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Oh, and the losing streak began against Aaron Rodgers.

Those are four of the six highest-rated quarterbacks in NFL history.

“Well, Orton might not be a future Hall of Famer, but he’s a good quarterback,” Ryan said. “He’s posted some big numbers in this league and he has a ton of experience. He might not be Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, but he’s certainly a good quarterback.”

The Bills, minus their two top running backs, should unleash Orton against a secondary that has given up 18 touchdowns, has only one interception, and has allowed opposing quarterbacks a 108.3 passer rating, the second-worst in the league. Idzik should be ripped for failing to adequately address his defensive backfield after refusing to re-sign one of the game’s best cornerbacks, Darrelle Revis.

Ryan will try to beat the Bills in his usual fashion, with a power running game and strong defense. The Jets are sixth in the NFL in average per rush (4.7) and sixth in average rush against (3.6). When you’re weak at quarterback and have a sieve for a secondary, it’s a useful formula.

At least he’s true to his identity. Ryan likes tough players and believes in physical football (does anyone say smash-mouth anymore?). In 10 games against the Bills, his teams have averaged 194.7 yards on the ground.

Maybe Ryan is on his last legs in New York, but he is still a very good coach who should command a lot of respect in Western New York. He generally shows up for the Bills with a sound game plan, one that probes an opponent’s weaknesses and gives his team an edge.

Marrone has done a nice job this season. His team has demonstrated poise and belief in tight situations. A win would send the Bills to the bye at 5-3. But if the Pegulas decide to cut ties after the season and Ryan is on the street, they should keep Rex in mind.

He’d be the best coach this town has seen since Marv Levy. And that’s no joke.


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