THE FIFTH DOWN; Channeling Ryan

The beleaguered, blustery coach of the Jets takes the podium for his midweek news conference, his team coming off a critical loss and facing depressingly long playoff odds of their own making. He faces down the skeptical news media, a glint of defiance in his eyes, firm resolve in his lower jaw, bear claw and stale coffee on his breath. He did not give the following speech, but the world would be a lot more fun if he had:

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.

As you know, I usually stand up here and make snide remarks and left-handed compliments about our coming opponent. This week is unique, however, because we are not trying to make one team lose, but four or five of them.

Let me start by guaranteeing that we will beat the Dolphins and that the Bengals, the Titans and the Raiders will lose. Or, that we will beat the Dolphins and the Bengals, and the Titans and the Broncos will lose. Or, that we will beat the Dolphins and the Bengals, the Colts, the Celtics I cannot keep track of what I am guaranteeing anymore, but I guarantee that it will be something good. We will not be the baby brothers of the Broncos, or the great-nephews of the Titans, or the kooky Urkel-like neighbors of the Raiders.

I have nothing but respect for all of our competitors this week, as I hope the following comments make clear:

The Dolphins

Whoever is coaching these guys is doing a heck of a job. I’m not sure what Todd Bowles looks like: I may just ask Jason Taylor to point him out to me so I shake hands with the head coach and not the equipment manager or somebody. Bowles really did a heck of a job in the first half against the Patriots. Halfway respectable is better than not respectable at all. Brandon Marshall and Reggie Bush are very focused and motivated right now. Someone must have filled their plastic cups with extra Chuck E. Cheese’s tokens. Matt Moore looks like a whole different quarterback since we beat him in October, and really, what quarterback wants to look like Matt Moore? The Dolphins are going to be up for this game; Jets games are the second biggest events of the year for them, after the Grammy Awards. Say what you will about George Halas, but no one ever listened to him on their headphones while doing Zumba.

The Bengals

The Bengals deserve a lot of credit: it’s not easy for a third-place team to make the playoffs. Of course, the last time I saw a schedule as easy as theirs there was nap time in the middle of it. I sent four members of the scouting department to the last Bengals home game, and it doubled their attendance total. If the Bengals make the playoffs and face the Texans in the first round, the game will be reclassified a non-B.C.S. bowl and played on the Big Ten Network. The Bengals are like ”Gilligan’s Island”: Marv Lewis is the Skipper, Mike Brown is Mr. Howell, Pacman Jones is Gilligan, and Andy Dalton is Ginger. The only one missing is Lovie, who has his own problems in Chicago. Carson Palmer is the only guy ever to escape the island. That Jerome Simpson really can do impressive flips. I would hate to face the Bengals in a dance-off. If Simpson came to New York, he could star as Spider-Man on Broadway. Of course, playing receiver for the Bengals is probably safer. The Ravens are my old team, and I am sure they can beat the Bengals the way they beat most opponents: by boring them to death.

The Titans

Chris Johnson is a tough running back to prepare for. He spends so much time running sideways, I replaced Titans game film with a documentary on fiddler crabs and no one noticed. I always warn my defenders, watch out for Johnson because you can stuff him for no gain on 20 carries, but then he will gouge you for 6 yards on No. 21. That Matt Hasselbeck sure is a survivor. He reminds me of the G.I. Joe action figures that Rob and I used to melt over the campfire. I love cornerback Cortland Finnegan. That guy has the impulse control of a bear trap. He makes Ndamukong Suh look like Deepak Chopra. Besides Finnegan, the Titans’ best defensive player is Karl Klug, who I think was the boxer from Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out with the red mustache and lederhosen.

The Broncos

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