NEW YORK (AP) Six more games. That's what Rex Ryan has left before his fate with the New York Jets is decided.
Thumbs up on another season? Or thumbs down to end an era?
Well, the speculative writing on the wall is that Ryan, who came in with such promise - and bold promises - will be gone at the end of a fourth straight season without leading his team to the postseason. That's a lifetime in the win-now culture of the NFL, and Ryan knows it.
But after stunning the Pittsburgh Steelers 20-13 on Sunday and ending an eight-game losing streak, Ryan was the smiling, boisterous coach that Jets fans came to love - and opposing fans loathed.
''For people that count this football team out, you do so at your own risk,'' Ryan said moments after the victory. ''This team is tough. I've said it the whole time.''
That was pure relief from a coach who badly needed some.
For now, Ryan is going nowhere. Neither is general manager John Idzik, the subject of a banner-toting plane over the practice facility last week.
Fans are frustrated, and rightfully so. After all, they've been waiting to get back to the Super Bowl since the team's last visit in 1969. And, they can cross off another year.
But Ryan's optimism and loyalty have never waned during his six seasons with the Jets, even in the toughest times - which really have been the last several weeks of this season as losses piled onto losses. Despite all the losing, the locker room remained mostly loose, with no signs of fracturing among the players and no gossip-dishing leaks.
And now, an improbable victory that the Jets (2-8) can carry into their bye-week break.
''I have to admit, I did sleep a little better,'' Ryan said during his weekly spot on 98.7 ESPN New York.
During a conference call with reporters Monday, Ryan acknowledged he was excited after watching film of the game, but also said his team's performance wasn't perfect by any means. There were a lot of things, he said, that the Jets could build on.
Truth is, it's no slam dunk Ryan is gone after this season. Owner Woody Johnson is fond of him, so much so that he took the unconventional approach two years ago of hiring a GM with the contingency that Ryan would remain the guy.
Johnson also might not be so quick to pull the plug on Idzik after just two years on the job, despite some questionable decisions in the draft and non-decisions in free agency. But Idzik recently insisted he knows his plan works because he has seen it do so in previous stops in Seattle, Arizona and Tampa Bay.
Johnson last spoke publicly on Oct. 2, when the Jets were 1-3, and made it clear he wasn't happy. But what if he signed up for a three-year plan for Idzik all along? And, what if he reset the clock on Ryan when he retained him before hiring Idzik, making this, in some ways, not the coach's sixth year, but the second year of his second tenure?
Those questions might not have any answers until Week 17 is done, and the Jets can certainly change the narrative - positively or negatively - during their last six games.
Michael Vick was asked after the game if he thought the Jets would have more victories if he had started all along instead of Geno Smith. The quarterback was diplomatic, insisting he didn't want his comments to be misconstrued. But, yes, he said, New York would be better than 2-8 if he had been playing from the start.
''I'm not going to look back and all that,'' Ryan said when asked about Vick's comments. ''I think as any type of competitor, you want to be out there yourself and you believe you can make a difference and things. So, that doesn't surprise me that Mike would say that.''
Vick will be the quarterback again when the Jets return from their break and play at Buffalo. And while some will criticize Ryan and the Jets for making that move too late to matter, they still crave victories.
Ryan laughed off the notion the win Sunday made his job - and life - easier. But there was no denying the coach is feeling a lot better about things right now.
No matter what his future holds.
''We needed a win, there's no question about it,'' Ryan said. ''This was basically a game, really, that we had worked so hard for. It's just like the sum of so many weeks of hard work among the coaches, players, the whole organization, and then finally we won a game. I think that's really what it was and hopefully it'll lead us to other victories as well.
''But, we needed that victory. There's no question about it.''
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