Rex Ryan, besides being the Jets head coach and a spokesman for lap band surgery, positioned himself as the team's mind and body guru today after welcoming his players and coaches back from the bye to the Atlantic Health Training Center for the final push to wherever we're heading.
"I know I was excited to be back in the building," Ryan told reporters late this afternoon, "and I think our team is, too. I think our team feels good to get a little rest but also feels good about getting back in to work and to face the Buffalo Bills, albeit on the road. Here's your next opponent, your next challenge."
The mental part of this "second half" of the season is indeed fairly exciting with possibilities as the Jets sit at 5-4 and get ready to tackle a final seven games that, before the Dolphins' game tonight at Tampa Bay, features just one team with a winning record — hot Carolina at 6-3 — and a combined opponents' schedule strength of .452 (28-34).
But Rex the Guru was walking a fine line in keeping separate the excitement his team has for the Bills and the growing enthusiasm of players and fans at what many still think is pie-in-the-sky talk of a playoff challenge.
"We're in contention to match up against Buffalo and to play Buffalo and to beat Buffalo. That's where our focus is, 100 percent," Ryan said. "All the stuff down the road, you'll never get there. If that's where your focus is, you'll never take care or handle your business. And ours is right now. It's about this team, this team only. That's where the prep is and that's it. Nobody's thinking about 'Let's run seven in a row off.' Hey, I'll sign up for it."
But, he said, the only way to get there is a variation of playing them one game at a time.
"The only way to get there is to handle your business and that's what we have to do," he said. "Obviously, Buffalo beat us at Buffalo last year. We know their crowd gets into it and all that stuff. But it can't be about us. We've got to focus on getting better as a team and also knowing our opponent and I think that's where every bit of our attention is."
Focusing on the physical health of our roster is every bit as important, and for the most part that seems to be improving as one would have hoped through the bye week.
Regarding WR Santonio Holmes, for example, Rex said, "I think he'll play. He looks good to me. ... I know he had a big game the last time we played Buffalo. Hopefully that'll be the same this time."
Also adding to Geno Smith's receiving corps was the return to the active roster today of TE Kellen Winslow after serving his four-game league suspension plus one week on the exempt list. (S Rontez Miles was released to make room.)
"I think it's great to get him back," Ryan said. "The guys were happy to see him and I know he's happy to be back."
"I'm ready," said Winslow after practice. "We're going to peak at the right time. Guys are coming back healthy, including myself, so we're excited."
Ryan's take wasn't as upbeat on WR Jeremy Kerley, who suffered a very painful bent-the-wrong-way elbow injury when Saints LB David Hawthorne inadvertently fell into it while diving over bodies two Sundays ago. On the other hand, the whole-body report on JK also could have been worse.
"It doesn't look good. He's still in a sling or something. I don't know if it was a cast or whatever, that's off," the coach said. "I'm not going to rule him out right now, but I would say it doesn't look good."
Some would say the Jets shouldn't count on looking good coming off of the bye because under Rex, their record from 2009-12 is 1-3 after byes. What shouldn't be overlooked is that the one win came in 2011, Week 9, at Buffalo by 27-11.
But what really counts, Ryan said on this return to NFL normalcy, is what kind of a team he and his players now have. After trying to measure it by run defense and run offense, he settled on this description:
"We're a team, that's who we are. I think that makes us dangerous because I think if maybe the defense isn't up to par, I think the offense knows and we feel good that we have the ability that the offense can pick it up for our team. I think the defense feels that we're good enough that maybe we can pick it up if the offense isn't having a great day. And we feel great about our special teams.
"I think that's who we are. We're a complementary football team. We play team football. I think that's probably our strength."