Last year, as the defensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens, Rex Ryan tried to convince head coach John Harbaugh to go "all in" with his postseason preparation, planning the details down to the parade route after a Super Bowl victory. In fact, he had it all typed up for Harbaugh, ready to be passed out to the team.
But Harbaugh passed on the brashness, instead playing on the theme he preached all season to the team: One game at time, do not look ahead, or behind, just take them one game at a time. That works for Harbaugh, but what works for Ryan is the brash mentality, never backing down, never running from a challenge. This year, all Ryan had to do was change the dates and location on his prepared victory tour, and the Jets were going "all in."
Ryan's team has assumed his personality since his first day on the job and has never looked back. Once the coaching staff figured out that they needed to rely on their defense to keep them in the game, they found the right recipe to back up Ryan's brashness.
The Jets started the season hot, and finished with some huge help from the Colts in Week 16 when they pulled their starters. But in between they came to the realization that as long as they can manage rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez and start to involve rookie running back Shonn Greene, they can win games. Greene's 263 yards in the playoffs ranks him second in NFL history for most rushing yards by a rookie in his first two playoff games.
This Jets offensive identity looked like the plan for next year, but with help from the Colts, next year is now and the Jets have found themselves. With a defense that can attack the passer from every angle and a shutdown corner in Darrelle Revis, they have hit full stride the last six weeks, holding their opponents to just seven points per game.
They might not have the star power of the 2000 Ravens, another defense coached by Ryan, but their ability to neutralize the best passing games in the league is very "Ravenish". Now, only one game stands between the Jets and Ryan's thoughtful planning.
The weekend's best
»New Orleans running back Reggie Bush went back in time to his USC days, running with power, showing rare speed and making one big play after another. It was the best game of his career, as he played with the one quality that has been missing since he was drafted -- toughness. He ran hard, he ran straight ahead and dished out punishment. This style makes the elusive Bush all the more elusive and the explosive Saints' offense all the more explosive.
»The speed and play of the Colts' defense was very impressive Saturday night. But their adjustment to the Ravens' game plan after the first drive made all the difference. They took away the first option and forced Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco to hold the ball.
»The Minnesota defensive line was the best in the divisional round. They pressured Tony Romo all game, and he never had a chance to make a throw. As good as the 'Boys' defensive front had been the last five weeks, the Vikings, led by Ray Edwards, were better.
»So much is made of the Jets' blitz packages, but the key to their victory Sunday in San Diego was the secondary's ability to cover and tackle. The difference in this game was not the pressure, but the coverage.
»You might think that one of the advantages of having a successful running game is making defenses commit to stopping the run, especially on first down, thus opening up easy throws. However, before they fell behind 20-3, the Ravens had 13 first-and-10s, yet they chose to run the ball 11 times and throw it only twice. The Ravens will regret their first-down play calls in this game. And perhaps many of their second-down calls.
»Chargers kicker Nate Kaeding had made his last 69 field goal attempts from inside 40 yards, including the playoffs. But on Sunday he missed two realistic kicks and one unrealistic. A missed field goal is a turnover. Therefore, with Kaeding's three misses and two interceptions by Rivers, the Chargers were minus five in the turnover-takeaway column in the game.
»The Cowboys offensive line had a bad day protecting Romo, but when the defense knows where the quarterback is going to set up on each and every throw, it makes him an easy target. The Cowboys needed to move the pocket to help their line and slow down the rush.
We might have seen the last of ...
»Cards QB Kurt Warner, who is really giving retirement strong consideration. My sources close to Warner say that one day he wants to retire, one day he doesn't want to leave, but the prevailing feeling is that he is very serious about saying goodbye. His play at 38 was remarkable this year and perhaps he will seek advice from 40-year-old Brett Favre, who is still playing well, and give us one more year.
»Safety extraordinaire Ed Reed of the Baltimore Ravens. He mentioned soon after the loss to the Colts that he might not return for another season. Reed is one of the best playmakers I have ever seen -- his hands are like glue and his range is endless. Injuries have put his return in doubt, but I really hope he decides to come back, because I love watching him play.
»Wide receiver Derrick Mason of the Ravens. He is still their best wideout and has had a wonderful career, but last year he was thinking of retiring and this year he might just actually do it.
If I were ...
»San Diego, I would move along without running back LaDainian Tomlinson, who is not the same back he once was -- not even close. These types of divorces are never easy because the player still feels he can play at a high level, but tape shows something very different. It will be a long off season for L.T. because he will generate very little interest from other teams around the league.
»Baltimore, I would make several calls to the Denver Broncos to check the availability of star wide receiver Brandon Marshall. The Ravens need a playmaker to help quarterback Joe Flacco and compliment their powerful running game.
»Arizona, I would be nervous about Warner retiring and thinking that Matt Leinart might not be the answer next year at quarterback. Based on his play late in the year, Leinart does not look like he has improved to the point where he can keep this high-octane passing game moving forward.
»Dallas, I'd reduce the role of running back Marion Barber next season, making him exclusively a short yardage back and use Tashard Choice and Felix Jones as the main running backs. Barber leaves too many yards on the field when he is the runner. Often times, after watching Barber gain four yards, this question crosses my mind: How many yards would Jones or Choice have picked up had they been in?
What I'm hearing
»Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier is the leader to become the next head coach in Buffalo. Based on the way his defense played against the Cowboys, you would have to feel he solidified his position.
Three-step dots ...
»I thought the Chargers' Shawne Merriman was supposed to be a difference-maker on defense. His play Sunday was lackluster to say the least.
»Speaking of Merriman, the Chargers will have a busy offseason, as they must re-sign running back Darren Sproles, wide receivers Vincent Jackson and Malcolm Floyd and offensive tackle Marcus McNeil. If there is not a salary cap, all those players will be restricted free agents.
»The Jets' opponents so far this postseason have missed five field goals, which is five additional turnovers in New York's favor.
»I really think the Jets should send Browns coach and former Jets coach Eric Mangini a game ball, because without his help through trades they would not have been able to draft quarterback Mark Sanchez.
»On a serious note, I would like to send my condolences to the family of Bears defensive end Gaines Adams, who died Sunday morning from an apparent heart attack at just 26 years old. The NFL has lost too many young people in recent years, from Chris Henry to Steve McNair, Sean Taylor and Darrent Williams; each death is sad and hard to comprehend.