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Jets 20, Dolphins 7: Handing Out Game Balls After Jets End Season With Impressive Victory, Rex Ryan, Geno Smith, Dee Milliner, Bilal Powell, Sheldon Richardson, More

Geno Smith scores a rushing touchdown. (AP photo)
  By Brad Carroll  
The New York Jets finished the regular season on the ascent, beating the everything-to-play-for Miami Dolphins 20-7 Sunday afternoon. The Jets end the year with an 8-8 record, which feels better than it looks considering nobody wants this season to end. The Jets have played their best football right now, winning their final two games of the season, the first winning streak of the year, to finish second in the AFC East, and create a very positive future.

The Jets did enough this season for owner Woody Johnson and general manager John Idzik to tell Ryan before the game he would be back next season. All three refused to say whether or not there would be a contract extension, however, meaning right now, Ryan would be a lame duck coach next year. But that isn't a worry for the vast majority of Jets fans, who are ecstatic by the win and the fact they will have their coach back.

Sunday represented one of the most impressive games of the season for the Jets, dominating a Dolphins team that had the best chance to make the postseason. All the Dolphins needed to do was win and get either a loss by the Ravens or a win by the Chargers. The Ravens lost, but the Jets wouldn't allow Miami to even get close to pulling out the home win as solid favorites. The Jets' season ended Sunday afternoon, but they made sure to take out the Dolphins as well.

We'll have plenty of coverage of the Jets season as a whole, but here we'll hand out our final Game Balls of the season after the 20-7 win over the Dolphins. No Game Falls today, folks, for good reason.

Game Balls
Rex Ryan: He might not get a contract extension, but the fact he's returning next season as coach is a huge victory. Very few people gave Ryan much of a shot at returning, especially before the season and definitely not after the Jets lost three straight games after the bye week. But this team rallied around him the last two weeks of the season, playing some of their best football in victories over Cleveland and Miami. The Jets had nothing to play for, but made it a point to send Ryan out with victories. They did that. The players love Ryan, and that was evident when owner Woody Johnson announced in the locker room after the game he would return as the team's head coach. The players erupted in cheers and celebrated as if they just qualified for the postseason. The fans love Ryan too, as there might have been a riot at the Jets facility in New Jersey if general manager John Idzik gave him a pink slip. Ryan was told before the game he would be back next season as coach, but he needed to beat Miami to prove his point of this team being on the rise. The Jets had to finish 8-8 to set up what should be a promising season next year. Ryan gets another shot to bring this team to the Super Bowl, and everyone should be happy about that.

Geno Smith: If Smith played the entire season as he did the last two weeks, there would be no question he would be the starting quarterback next year. Heck, the Jets would be in the playoffs right now. But his play over the last two weeks might not be enough to make everyone forget just how poor he was over the first 14. Still, if Smith was playing for his job next year, everyone has to be impressed by what he accomplished. Smith played one of his best games of the season in Miami Sunday, completing 17 of 27 passes for 190 yards and ran for another 44 and a touchdown. He showed passion and desire to be the team's leader and starting quarterback. He delivered hits. He went airborne on a run to the one yard line, where he was flipped completely over. He had an incredible seven-yard touchdown run with three seconds left in the first half on a quarterback draw, where he bulldozed his way into the end zone when he was stood up at the one. He got late help from Bilal Powell, but by then, Smith was already falling into the end zone. The biggest thing Smith did in this game was give the decision-makers something to think about in the offseason. There's a very good chance Smith goes into next season with at least a great shot to be the starting quarterback.
Dee Milliner: Maybe Ryan was right all along, but for the rest of us, Milliner was a complete bust through the first 14 games of the season. The last two, however, have been a completely different story for the rookie from Alabama. He played well last week against the Browns, picking off his first career pass. But in this game against Miami, Milliner played like a future star. He intercepted two more passes in the game and had five pass defenses. Milliner did allow a touchdown to Mike Wallace, but this was by far the best game of his career. Considering where he has come from, the future is extremely bright for the cornerback. If he can continue to get better, and Antonio Cromartie regains his previous form (and he comes back to the team), the Jets defense could be great next season.

Bilal Powell: He made the most of the opportunity to get more carries after Chris Ivory hurt his ribs in the game, rushing 21 times for 76 yards. This was Powell's best game since Week 3 against Buffalo, where he went for 149 yards on the ground. Powell also had one of the biggest plays of the game, taking a shotgun snap out of the Wildcat and hitting tight end Jeff Cumberland on a 30-yard pass play. The Jets should be set at running back next season with Powell and Ivory as the two main rushers.

David Nelson: He was targeted six times and caught five passes for 66 yards. The one pass he didn't bring down, he was open in the end zone and Smith threw too high, one of his few mistakes in the game. Nelson, who probably won't be back, was a nice mid-season addition to the team.

Quinton Coples: He had just one tackle, which came in the Dolphins' backfield, but he was a constant threat around the ball. He had two quarterback hits in the game and played very well in the second half of the season. Coples, Muhammad Wilkerson, Damon Harrison and Sheldon Richardson is one heck of a core on defense for many years to come for the Jets.

Sheldon Richardson: The Jets defensive tackle should be the defensive rookie of the year. Maybe he'll get some votes as offensive rookie of the year, too, after scoring his second touchdown of the year Sunday. His second rushing score tied William "Refrigerator" Perry for most touchdowns by a defensive lineman.

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