This Jets team, Ryan insists, is nothing like that one.
''Well, I know we're a better team,'' Ryan said Thursday. ''So, I don't care about if anybody else writes it or uses it.''
Ryan firmly believes his 2-8 Jets are a much-improved bunch from that mistake-laden group that came in at 1-6 and was done in early by interceptions by Smith on three consecutive possessions in the opening quarter.
Sure, the Jets are just 1-1 since, but the coach sees lots of things that suggest they're a lot better now as they again prepare for the Bills.
''In a zillion ways,'' Ryan said. ''Almost every way.''
Ryan went on to check off a few items: the team's improved communication in the secondary; ball security; good practice habits; the offense and defense being markedly better in the red zone; and more efficient tackling.
''Again, we know what it looked like the last time we played them and we got destroyed by them,'' Ryan said. ''So, we'll see if that's the same team this week.''
One big difference is that Vick is making his third straight start instead of coming off the bench. He has played two turnover-free games since mopping up for Smith against the Bills, and provided a clear boost.
''I don't know if it's a spark, but I know that we're playing better,'' linebacker Calvin Pace said. ''It's a credit to him. Obviously, he hadn't played a lot, and when he came in and really got a chance for it to be his show, he's done well. I expect him to keep doing the same.''
Right guard Willie Colon said Vick certainly provided ''the spark we needed'' since he took over as the starter.
''We're starting to jell and we're starting to believe in each other,'' Colon said. ''Not that we ever doubted each other, but I think we realize that we made this bed, we've got to lie in it and we've got to play football and the main goal is to finish this thing strong.''
The defense also was solid in its last game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, allowing them just three points on three red-zone possessions and forcing four turnovers after getting just three all season coming in.
New York is also still shuffling its secondary, with the cornerbacks in a competition during the practice week to start, but it has performed better. It was Marcus Williams and Phillip Adams against the Steelers, but Darrin Walls is also going to be in that mix after missing the two previous games with a calf injury.
''It's been crazy enough and unusual enough for me to, in a weird moment, think about coming out of retirement, because I only have about one play left in me,'' said defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman, a former NFL defensive back. ''But no, it's been different. There are years that you don't have any injuries. There's some that you have more than others and at certain positions. For us, it just happened to be cornerback this year. We've had to adjust defensively and schematically.''
Ryan acknowledged it has been a challenge for him and his staff to alter the schemes on defense because of the injuries in the secondary, but also said there's rarely a perfect situation at this level. He compared this situation to one he faced while he was coaching in Baltimore, when the Ravens lost all four of their starting defensive backs one season.
''You've got to find a way to give your guys an opportunity to be successful, and that's the challenge in coaching,'' Ryan said. ''But anybody worth their salt I think would appreciate those types of challenge and you move forward.''
And that's exactly what Ryan has tried to do in this lost season. It's what keeps his team motivated, too. Not to mention a chance to make up for a poor performance.
''We got crushed by this team before, but let's see where we're at now,'' Ryan said. ''Let's see how much better we are because we think we're a lot better and we'll need to be. The proof will be in the pudding.''
NOTES: S Jaiquawn Jarrett was limited for the second straight day with a calf issue. Every other player was a full participant. ... Ryan on whether he feels for what Bills coach Doug Marrone is going through with his snowbound team in Buffalo: ''I'll be honest, Doug's a good guy, but I haven't thought one second about his situation. I mean, that's the truth.''
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