Drinking the Kool Aid

Preach on, Rex - your troops are buying what you're selling.

Playoff victories can change an awful lot.

Three weeks ago, Rex Ryan was a coach too brash for his own good, a guy who wasn’t even aware his club was still alive in the AFC Playoff race.  Subsequently, you could have found hundreds – maybe even thousands – of Jets fans who would have driven offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer to train station to catch the first thing smokin’ out of the Big Apple, due to the apparent regression of rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez from week one to fifteen.

And now, twelve quarters of football has seen your New York Jets turn from a team that was “handed” a playoff spot in the season’s final two weeks, to a legitimate threat to wreak havoc on the AFC playoff landscape. Ryan is a genius, and Schotty is rumored to be a candidate for NFL head coaching gigs.

So how did we get here?  If you ask Ryan, he’s known this is where his team would be from the moment he stepped on the practice field in training camp.  And if you ask the players, it’s that unwavering confidence in his troops that’s made this run to the Divisional Round possible.

“It’s one of those things where it’s like a proud parent,” center Nick Mangold said.  (When you have) a parent who believes in you and wants the best for you, you want to go to school and get the good grades, to make them even prouder.  You want to go out there and be the best.  He comes and says, “We’ve got the best offensive line in football.” Us as an offensive line take that as, let’s make sure we don’t make him look really silly and not be the best.  We work extra hard to do that.  He comes out and says, “We’re going to win this,” or “We’re going to win that,” and you want to work that much harder to prove him right.  I think it’s a confidence level, it’s a trust thing and it’s a belief that he has in us that we’re going to do the right things to get the job done.”

Safety Jim Leonhard echoed the sentiments, adding that, “It’s always nice as a player to know that your coach has your back and that your coach has confidence in you as a player.”

So is it that simple that the power of positive thinking has allowed this team to get to the position in which it currently resides?  I wrote just before the turn of the decade that Ryan should be commended for the job he’s done this season, if for no other reason than the resiliency his club showed throughout the course of 17 weeks.  Think about all the times they could have packed it in.   All the heart-breaking losses that should have spelled the end for this team.  And here they sit, in a place nobody expected them to be but themselves and their coach – two wins away from the Super Bowl.

But that’s just it.  The coach expected this team to be here.  He didn’t just say it for the cameras.  He believed it.

And he made his players believe it too.

“He really believes it and when you have that confidence and any kind of knowledge as a head coach, you have to breathe that into your team,” wideout Jerricho Cotchery said.  He’s done that the entire year in all of those things that you talked about.  He felt strongly about those things and we felt once he talked to us about those things and we looked at the situation, we knew that we could be that type of team.”

Belief is an all-powerful emotion.  It can make you achieve things you might not have been able to achieve otherwise, even though you had the potential to all along.  Ryan’s confidence never wavered in front of the cameras, but more importantly, it never wavered behind them either.  People can spot empty words easily, especially when they come from someone trying to motivate you.  But if those words are genuine, they can invoke powerful emotions, and incredible results.

And that, in my opinion, is what we’re witnessing right now.  We have no way of knowing how far this team will go.  Heck, Sunday may be the end of the line.  But those guys in the locker room think they can go all the way.  Their coach has them drinking the Kool Aid, and believing in his gospel.  So if they’ve all been right all along, who’s to say they can’t, in fact, reach the top of the mountain?  As long as this team is buying what their head man is selling, anything is possible.

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