Amid distractions, Ryan assures Jets fans: 'We're on a mission'

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- There's only one headline that Rex Ryan is interested in making this season.

That will come, the New York Jets' brash coach has repeatedly declared, sometime in February and accompanied by a parade. Until then, being 5-1 and at the top of the NFL standings after six hectic weeks is exactly what Ryan expected.

"Our record says we're the best team in the league," Ryan said, "but I think this team can really improve, and really improve in all aspects."

An unfinished product, for sure, the Jets have used a mix of solid play and luck to overcome off-the-field distractions and streak into their bye-week break with a five-game winning streak.

"I'm really looking forward to it, when we get back to work," Ryan said. "We're on a mission. We know what we want to accomplish as a football team and we're doing everything in our power to get better each week."

The fact that the Jets still aren't dominant on defense and have needed to sweat out some victories, yet are still one of the league's elite teams, speaks volumes.

"It's a good feeling, but we know that it's a long season, and in order to maintain that best record, we're going to have to continue to push on," left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson said. "Luckily, we kind of have a week to unload, relax a little bit before we go for our long haul."

After the last few months this team has had, it sure can use a breather. Since March, it seems as though the Jets have constantly been in the news -- for good and bad -- and become media magnets in the mold of the Bronx Zoo Yankees of the 1970s.

"We are going to make mistakes," team owner Woody Johnson said. "I hope that we can contain the mistakes. We are going to be focused on trying to be better at what we do."

There have been unpopular personnel moves -- releasing Thomas Jones and Alan Faneca, and trading Leon Washington -- as well as exciting pickups -- signing LaDainian Tomlinson and Jason Taylor, and trading for Antonio Cromartie and Santonio Holmes.

There was a summer in the spotlight as reality stars on HBO's "Hard Knocks," a five-episode series that gave the country an uncensored and expletive-filled look at the franchise.

There was the saga of Darrelle Revis' holdout that lasted until the week before the season and had Ryan throwing tantrums, wondering if his best defensive player would take the field for him again.

The team also was investigated by the NFL for its treatment of Mexican television reporter Ines Sainz, a situation that had many fans and media wondering if Ryan was encouraging a fraternity-house mentality.

Not helping matters were wide receiver Braylon Edwards' drunken-driving arrest and Revis' ticket for speeding and careless driving.

It all had Ryan sending his players off on their break with a clear message.

"They know that they represent the Jets on and off the field, and I think that's important to these guys," he said. "It is something that you remind them of. The No. 1 thing is to be safe. I understand that sometimes you're 5-1, people know it, and just to be smart out there."

Tomlinson echoed his coach, insisting his teammates have the ultimate goal in mind.

"We understand what's at stake," he said. "Nobody wants to jeopardize what we have going."

One of Ryan's stated goals was to have the league's best record.

So far, so good.

He also has said all along that this season is Super Bowl or bust.

"I really think we have the potential and the right type of guys," Tomlinson said, "to bring the trophy home."

There were major concerns about team chemistry entering this season, and for good reason with all of the personnel changes. Well, the Jets are winning -- and getting along just fine.

Tomlinson and Shonn Greene are leading a rushing game that's ranked No. 2 in the NFL, and quarterback Mark Sanchez has taken a huge step forward in his second pro season. His two interceptions against the Denver Broncos last Sunday were his first this season.

"I think having such a strong running game and the luxury of having an offensive line that can pass protect and run block," Sanchez said, "makes me pretty fortunate."

Throw in the fact that he's only starting to get on the same page with Holmes, suspended the first four games for violating the league's substance-abuse policy, and the Jets could become even better.

"We really have an offense that has very few weaknesses," Ryan said.

Tomlinson came to the Jets hoping for a chance at a Super Bowl ring after nine seasons with the San Diego Chargers. His resurgence is one of the major reasons for New York's early season success. Tomlinson ranks sixth in the NFL with 490 rushing yards -- or just 240 less than he had all of last season when many believed he was done.

"He's a great player," offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. "Again, we're not getting anything that we didn't think we were getting."

The Jets' solid start comes despite losing big nose tackle Kris Jenkins in the opening game of the season, not having linebacker Calvin Pace for the first four games because of an injury and having a hobbled Revis working through a nagging hamstring injury.

"In my opinion, right now, this defense isn't even close to where it's going to be by the end of the year," Ryan said. "I think we'll lead the league in defense. I think we'll have the best defense in the league. We just want to win, and we're finding ways of doing it."

They certainly are, and the Jets have served notice that distractions or not, they will take care of business on the field. They will just hold off on planning that parade route -- for now.

"We think we're definitely one of the best, but to prove you're the best, that takes time," Tomlinson said. "That's something that's accomplished over a full season. We're going to have our opportunities to prove to everybody how good we are, and we'll see then."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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