Mehta: Jets back in playoffs is Rex Ryan’s hope

By on July 23, 2014

Head coach Rex Ryan of the New York Jets walks the sidelinesJeff Zelevansky/Getty Head coach Rex Ryan of the New York Jets walks the sidelines

CORTLAND — The playoff drought stands at exactly 1,278 days or 182 weeks or, depending on when you’re reading this, about 1.85 million painful minutes.

Rex Ryan thinks about it all the time. The Jets have missed the postseason for three consecutive years after a magical two-year run to the doorstep of the Super Bowl, but he swears the misery is about to end.

Hope is an annual rite of summer in the NFL. Optimism swells across training camps everywhere. Belief binds players and coaches. The past is irrelevant. The future is often viewed through a rose-colored prism.

Ryan recently told the Daily News that he’s confident the Jets will make the playoffs this year. Geno Smith ripped off Russell Wilson’s “Why Not Us” rally cry. Demario Davis made it clear that missing the postseason is no longer an option, and David Nelson proclaimed that his team will definitely play beyond Week 17.

The Jets already have playoff fever.

Although it’s hard to envision Ryan’s team breaking the Patriots’ decade-long stranglehold of the AFC East (The Evil Empire has won five consecutive division titles and 10 of the last 11), the Jets should certainly be in the playoff conversation in 2014. It’s much too early to pour cold water on any postseason hopes.

The Jets open training camp in Cortland on Wednesday with an upgraded offense, a scary-good defensive line and one of the most creative defensive minds in the business.

“I believe this football team is a hell of a lot better right now than we were at any point last year,” Ryan told The News.

The Jets have gone backward since the 2010 AFC Championship Game loss to the Steelers. Ryan’s teams are 22-26 since that frigid night in Pittsburgh that could have very well been a celebratory moment if the Jets didn’t dig a 24-3 halftime deficit.

“You know what? We ran out of time in that game,” said Ryan, whose team rallied to within five points late in the fourth quarter. “People forget the fight that we had. They talk about, ‘Ohh, they laid an egg. Ahh, how could they?’ Dude, we laid our guts out there against New England (in the divisional round), who beat us 45-3 (earlier in the season) and was clearly the best team in the NFL that year. And we beat them at their place. So you put every damn thing you had into it. Sometimes it doesn’t fire like you want it to.”

Ryan may be coaching for his job for a second consecutive season, but he’s much better positioned to escape the ax now than a year ago when he squeezed eight wins out of a team with a rookie quarterback and a dearth of offensive weaponry.

The Jets still are loaded with question marks, starting at quarterback and cornerback, but Ryan has more talent at his disposal.

Scan the AFC. The Jets, on paper, are on par with four of the five other teams likely to be in the wild-card discussion throughout the season. The Chiefs, a wild-card team a year ago, are a cut above. However, the Chargers, Bengals, Ravens and Steelers — the others most likely to be in the wild-card hunt all season — aren’t that much different than Ryan’s team.

The Jets face land mines from Weeks 2-7, a pivotal stretch that could define their season. If they successfully navigate the brutal six-game span against some of the league’s most high-powered offenses, the playoff chatter will intensify.

Ryan’s familiar bravado has started to re-surface after a year of underwhelming, politically correct talking points. The mission is clear: Play meaningful games in January . . . and beyond.

“There’s nothing like it,” Ryan admitted. “You got to earn your way to get there though. And that’s the thing that I miss the most. I know we haven’t earned it these last three years. So, like, damn. Whatever it takes, man. We got to find a way to get in there.”

The future is always bright in July. 

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