They waited until the final week of the season to clinch their five previous berths (2001, ’02, ’04, ’06, ’09), so the fact that they did it Sunday, in the next-to-last game, put Coach in an unusual position.
His 10-5 team will enter the playoffs either as the No. 6 seed (more likely) or the No. 5 seed (less likely), meaning Ryan must decide whether to rest key or injured players in the regular-season finale against Buffalo next Sunday, most notably quarterback .
Immediately , to Chicago, Ryan indicated he planned to give several starters the game off against the . On a conference call Monday, he seemed uncertain.
“Eleven is better than 10,” Ryan said, referring to his team’s potential victory total. “That’s how I’m looking at it. I would like to get that win.”
Sanchez presents a special case. As he noted Sunday evening, he remains a quarterback in only his second season, one who relies on in-game repetitions that cannot be fully replicated in practice. But Sanchez also sustained a slight cartilage tear in his right, throwing shoulder against Pittsburgh, and after the Chicago game he described the shoulder as sore three times when answering one question.
While Sanchez would like to play, he said he would defer to Ryan’s judgment. On Monday Ryan gave little indication of his final decision and a glimpse into his thought process. He said safety James Ihedigbo would not play against Buffalo, along with other injured players. But Ryan noted that Sanchez “looked like a different quarterback these past couple of weeks,” then outlined his quandary. “Obviously his health is the No. 1 priority,” Ryan said. “The fact that he is in such a groove right now, we have to look at it as the week goes on.”
Ryan did not dismiss the possibility of starting Sanchez against Buffalo, then replacing him with .
The Jets’ clinching of a second straight playoff appearance Sunday represented a feat accomplished only in the history of the franchise. They did so with a second-year coach and quarterback, a rarity in the modern N.F.L.
Two factors dampened the celebration. The first was a defense that played poorly against the Bears and allowed more than 300 yards of offense for the second straight week. As a defensive guru, Ryan takes great pride in that unit — his unit — but he said Monday that his defense struggled with “Day 1 training camp-type things.”
Ryan chose to focus on his defense’s struggling fundamentals, the simple, correctable mistakes. He listed defensive backs failing to jam receivers and defensive linemen not using proper leverage among his concerns. But he said he believed the defense would improve, which, with an offense that awakened in the past two weeks, would render the Jets dangerous in the playoffs.
“We will get better,” Ryan said. “The answer is hard work, fundamentals. That’s the answer. It’s not in this call, that call, whatever. It’s in how we play the game.”
The other factor the Jets encountered Sunday had nothing to do with football. They spent Sunday night and Monday marooned in Chicago by the blizzard that hit the East Coast. Running back LaDainian Tomlinson said the players mostly kept to their rooms, resting, watching movies and ordering room service, “the typical stuff you do when you have nothing to do.”
A day after the game, the Jets tried as best as they could to replicate a typical Monday. They held meetings in the afternoon, and hoped to depart to New Jersey in the evening. They will resume a normal schedule the rest of the week.
Their exact playoff seeding is yet to be determined, which gives Ryan another reason to play his starters. If the postseason started today, the Jets would travel to Kansas City as the sixth seed in the American Football Conference.
If Baltimore beats visiting Cincinnati and Pittsburgh loses at Cleveland on Sunday, the will clinch the second seed, the A.F.C. North and a first-round bye. By virtue of their victory against the , the Jets would slide into the fifth seed, where they would face either Kansas City or the winner of the A.F.C. South, either Indianapolis or Jacksonville, on the road. The Steelers would fall to the sixth seed.
The last time a Jets coach faced the question of whether to rest players in the final week was in 1998, and in the finale against New England, which the Jets won. But even that situation was different because the Jets had a bye and Parcells did not want players to sit idle for consecutive weeks.
Ryan and Tomlinson said Monday that they believed in the necessity of momentum, especially for a team that had dropped three of its last four games.
“That’s important,” Tomlinson said, “to get into the playoffs confident and on a roll.”
Coach Rex Ryan announced several team honors Monday, including most inspirational (LaDainian Tomlinson) and most valuable (linebacker David Harris). He also named the winner of the Ed Block Courage Award (defensive end ).