Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.
Once the rumor leaked Sunday shortly before game time that head coach Rex Ryan reportedly told his team to “fight with him” since his job was thought to be in jeopardy, the Jets’ 24-13 win against the Cleveland Browns had a different feel to it from the beginning.
Neither Ryan nor his players would confirm what was actually said – or if anything was said at all – but it threw into the mix a juicy storyline and some drama to an otherwise meaningless late-December tilt.
Early on, the unseasonably warm weather and empty seats at MetLife Stadium, combined with some incredibly lackluster play, made the game seem as though it were taking place in the preseason as opposed to being a matchup with a supposed added element to it.
With the way the Jets looked for much of the first two quarters, Ryan might as well have started to pack up his office at halftime.
Regardless of whatever presumed effect the motivational ploy was believed to have had on the team, the Jets won because they strongly finished two drives in the second half and got contributions from a variety of positions.
Geno Smith played one of his most complete all-around games of the year. Smith threw for two touchdowns and ran 17 yards into the end zone for another – without getting sacked or turning the ball over. He made smart decisions most of the afternoon and looked calm doing so.
In his second-to-last start of 2013, Smith finally got into a rhythm and seems to have developed some chemistry with Jeremy Kerley and David Nelson. The two receivers combined for nine catches and 103 yards, with Nelson recording his first two touchdowns as a member of the Jets.
Nelson, in addition to tight end Kellen Winslow, seemed to have an extra pep in their step against the team that once released and traded them, respectively.
Questions have lingered all season long about what the Jets were going to do with their passing game moving forward, but Kerley, Nelson, and Winslow have done a great deal in cementing their spots on the team next season.
Credit must also be given to Smith’s offensive line. They gave him plenty of time to throw and opened up more than a few holes in the running game.
Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell, the beneficiaries of the line’s hard work, continue to be one of the most underrated running back tandems in the league.
Ivory added to his solid season with 109 yards on 20 carries, while Powell broke off a huge 39-yard run just before halftime to get the Jets closer to field goal range.
As good as Ivory has been, rookie cornerback Dee Milliner has been that bad. But Sunday was likely Milliner’s best performance of the season.
Tasked with covering Josh Gordon – the league leader in receiving yards – Milliner showed awareness that we hadn’t seen from him all year.
Gordon did drop a few passes that he certainly should’ve caught, yet it was still an encouraging performance from Milliner.
The fact that Milliner recorded the first interception of his career made it all the more special.
Not to be forgotten, even though it seems like he has been for much of the season, linebacker Calvin Pace recorded his 10th sack of the season for the first time in his 11-year career.
The Jets now have two players with double-digits in sacks – with Muhammad Wilkerson being the other. The last time the Jets had teammates in the same season record 10-or-more sacks was when Joe Klecko and Mark Gastineau did it back in 1981.
Draft positioning be damned, the Jets put away an opponent unlike so many other times this year. It certainly helped that the Browns aren’t a very good team, but that hasn’t stopped the Jets from underwhelming us before.
Despite the promising win, Ryan’s status for next season still remains unknown. His team certainly enjoys playing for him and regardless of what speech may or may not have been given, effort was never really an overall issue.
Tough decisions are going to be made in the coming weeks on the fate of Ryan and many of his players. And while Sunday's home finale provided the Jets with a feel-good happy ending, it is the entire body of work that is going to be considered most when those decisions are reached.