(SportsNetwork.com) - Few would have seen this one coming three Decembers ago.
When he arrived in New York with over-the-top bravado and instantly
transformed the Jets from laughingstocks to two-time runners-up in the AFC
Championship Game, it appeared that Rex Ryan would hold the keys to the
franchise for as long as he wanted.
Just three years later, though, he may well be in the final throes of a reign
The Jets visit Miami's Sun Life Stadium this weekend for a meaningless -- to
them, at least -- Week 17 game that will end a third consecutive season
without a playoff berth.
While the 8-8 and 6-10 records New York slogged to in the past two years have
been somewhat surprising given elevated preseason expectations, the job Ryan
has done to get the 2013 team within a game of .500 is considered by some the
best coaching exhibition of his five-year stint.
Most preseason forecasts suggested the Jets were a four-win team at best with
a rookie quarterback and little in the way of premier talent, but Ryan
shepherded them to a 5-4 start that yielded brief playoff scenario chatter
before an untimely three-game skid in weeks 11, 12 and 13.
New York rallied to 7-8 with a 24-13 defeat of Cleveland last week, rallying
from a 10-point deficit in what might have been Ryan's final home game at
"It's just one of those things where he really cares about his players," wide
receiver David Nelson said. "Players appreciate that. Players know and they
respect him for that. They believe in him and they respect him and they play
hard for him. It's just the mutual respect he gives his players."
QB Geno Smith's 2,856 passing yards are a franchise record for rookies and he
scored his fifth rushing touchdown against Cleveland, a total that's second
among all NFL passers. He has four passing TDs in his last three games --
after posting just one in his previous five -- and has thrown just two
interceptions in his last 80 pass attempts.
Still, his 21 interceptions and 55.3 completion percentage have surely upped
Ryan's gray hair ratio, and he was just 4-of-10 for 29 yards in a 23-3 loss to
the Dolphins at home in Week 13.
"He needs his time, and I think it's unfair for anybody to step out and say,
'Oh, this kid is not having a great year. Let's look for a new one,'" guard
Willie Colon said. "Every player needs time to develop. It's up to us as a
team to get better, up to us as a line to do a better job and let the kid grow
up. And, I think he's doing that."
For the Dolphins, the finale means a possible gateway to something more.
Though Miami was the site of league-wide scorn following a midseason bullying
scandal, coach Joe Philbin returned the team to contention and has it within
reach of the AFC's sixth and final playoff berth.
The Dolphins have won four of six since a Nov. 11 loss at Tampa Bay and can
secure a spot via a number of scenarios, the simplest of which are a defeat of
the Jets and a loss or tie by Baltimore at Cincinnati, or a win against New
York alongside a win by San Diego against visiting Kansas City.
"We have to play our best game of the year. It's a great way for us to finish
the regular season," Philbin said. "We've got a great opportunity."
Things would have been far simpler had it not been for an inconvenient clunker
last week, when Miami traveled to Buffalo and was smothered, 19-0, while
compiling just 103 total yards and allowing 203 rushing yards to a Bills team
with just five wins in 14 games.
The Dolphins rushed for just 14 yards on 12 carries after exceeding 100 eight
times in 14 games and going for 120 against the Bills in a Week 7 contest.
"That's the worst part - we had everything in front of us," safety Jimmy
Wilson said. "We knew how important that game was, and to drop it like that
without getting points or making impact plays or giving ourselves a chance to
win is a big letdown. We just have to get ready for a home game and go ahead
and finish our season the right way."
Miami had 125 yards on the ground against New York on Dec. 1.
"Of those 12 carries (against Buffalo), our longest run was 3 yards,"
offensive coordinator Mike Sherman said. "A lack of productivity in the run
game caused me to veer off into another direction."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
A Home Finale?
Veteran safety Ed Reed, a native of Miami who played at "The U" before
beginning what's likely to end up as a Hall of Fame career, could be making
his final NFL appearance on Sunday with the Jets. He's surged as of late in
this, his 12th professional season, and has two interceptions in his last
three games -- the first two of his six-game stint with New York. Reed has
five career interceptions against the Dolphins, including a postseason meeting
while with Baltimore.
Dialing Long Distance
First-year Dolphin Mike Wallace, he of the lucrative offseason contract,
enters the regular-season finale in Miami just 95 yards away from recording
the third 1,000-yard receiving season of his career -- he went for 1,297 and
1,193 in 2010 and 2011, respectively. The former Steeler has averaged 86 yards
per game in three career regular-season meetings with New York, and he had
seven catches for 82 yards and a TD in Miami's road win on Dec. 1.
The amount of admiration the Jets players have for Ryan is easy to spot, but
the Dolphins have significantly more on the line this week and it's likely the
New York surge will stall after securing the win in its own home finale last
weekend. If it's anything like the first time the teams met earlier this
month, this one will be close and low-scoring, but the home team will find a