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Jets – Colts Preview: How the Jets can get to Miami

Saturday, January 23rd, 2010

What a long, strange trip it’s been.

The game's outcome depends on how many plays you can make, Mark. No pressure, kid.

We’ve had more than our share of downs over this season of Jets football, but this euphoric up we’re currently riding could erase nearly 41 years of heartbreak.

That’s the magnitude of what we are witnessing, folks.  Sure, the Jets were good when they met the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship Game 11 years ago, but everyone knew deep down that John Elway would not be denied a championship, and the “Same old Jets” mantra was still in play.

This time around?  Anything is possible.  Because this team is riding a wave that goes beyond conventional wisdom.  They were nothing more than a .500 club with considerable potential through the campaign’s first 14 weeks, with even their own head coach tossing in the towel on the team’s playoff hopes.

Now they are a team that has finally put it all together.  They have arguably the best offensive line in the game, and the league’s number one rushing attack.  They have a relentless defense that loves to put pressure on the quarterback, and they have an all-galaxy cornerback that can wipe your best receiver off the face of the earth for three hours.

Suddenly this team is riding a momentum the likes of which we’ve only seen from the great Cinderellas in sports history.  Cosmic forces are at work when the New York Jets take the field.  How else can you explain five missed field goals over two weeks, from two of the most consistent kickers in the NFL?   You can’t.

Call it luck, call it skill, call it whatever you please.  If you think the Colts will stroll through this one en route to their second Super Bowl in four years, you’re dreaming.  These J-E-T-S have the stars on their side, and when you add in the fact that every single member of this team truly believes they can win the whole ball of wax, whoever this team plays the rest of the season will be in for the biggest dogfight of their year.

So how can Gang Green keep these cosmic forces on their side?  Can they wear the glass slipper for three more weeks, or will the clock strike midnight on Sunday afternoon in Indianapolis?  We’re just one day away from finding out just that, but before the ball’s teed up, let’s get you prepped for the big clash with an AFC Championship preview, JetsInsider.com style

THINGS WE KNOW

Let’s take care of the things we know will happen Sunday:

The Jets will run the football, even if they can’t run the football. Do not expect them to abandon the run unless they are trailing by more than two scores.  The running game is what this team’s identity is built on offensively, and last week’s game against San Diego proved they continue to pound at the wall until they can eventually bust through it.  Expect 40 total carries from the two-running back tandem of Thomas Jones and Shonn Greene, and expect their big offensive line to do their best to wear down the smaller but quicker defensive front of the Colts.

The defense vs. Peyton Manning is the most important matchup in this game. The chess match between head coach Rex Ryan and Manning will be one for the ages.  A brilliant defensive mind vs. a brilliant offensive mind.  Ryan calls the plays for the defense, and Manning basically calls the plays for the Colts’ offense.  Heck, we can’t even really be sure he’s not coaching the whole team at this point.

The defense must disrupt Manning’s timing, be around his feet and in his face consistently, or they’re going to be in for a long day.  If he gets time to make throws, look out.  He’s the best in the league at making adjustments at the line of scrimmage, so the defense will need to vary their looks and blitz packages from play to play and series to series.  They might even take it one step further, and change things drastically over the course of the game to try and confuse #18.  If they can’t, he’ll pick them apart from their opening possession.

Somebody, anybody, has to stop Dallas Clark. I don’t care who it is.  Pull somebody out of the stands if you think he can do it.  Darrelle Revis is canceling out Reggie Wayne, or whoever the Jets decide to put him on from play to play.  So that leaves Clark, the tight end who grabbed 100 balls this season, as the primary weapon for Manning.  Antonio Gates torched the Jets last week to the tune of eight catches for 93 yards, though he didn’t reach the end zone.  A similar output by Clark would be a win for the Jets, as long as they can keep him out of paydirt.

The offensive line must contain the Colts’ talented defensive ends. This will be a tough task for the line.  Dwight Freeney is one of the best ends in the league, and Robert Mathis is no slouch on the other side.  Mark Sanchez needs time to make good decisions with the football, so if he’s getting hurried consistently, watch out for mistakes from the rookie.

This point brings me to the biggest variable in the biggest game of the season for Gang Green.  Just what, exactly, can we expect from the guy taken with the number five pick in last year’s draft?

He’s been rock-solid throughout the postseason, making very few mistakes and making all the plays necessary for his team to win.  But here’s where the wrench gets thrown in.  He was playing good teams before, with fine quarterbacks.  Phillip Rivers is even entering the conversation as a top-five passer in the NFL.  But neither one of the guys he’s faced is Peyton Manning.

The Colts will score points Sunday.  Of that we can be sure.  They won’t score as many as they usually do, but they will certainly score enough so that there’s pressure on the Jets’ offense.

And that’s where Sanchez comes in.  At some point in this postseason, he is going to have to make plays that will win his team a game.  It’s just impossible that a team could go through an entire postseason and not have one situation where they need a big play from their qb.  Every postseason has those crucial third downs, those huge touchdown throws in a tight game, the huge scramble for a first down that keeps a drive alive.

Can Sanchez make those plays?  Can he lead his team back if they’re trailing late in the game?  Can he hang in a high-scoring affair which might force him to put the ball in the air?  These are the types of questions we might get answered Sunday.  And that’s why #6 is the biggest X factor in this game.

A 100 yard passing performance is not going to get it done against the Colts, unless the running game plans on running for over 200.  If they can’t, Sanchez will be forced to make big throws in the biggest game of his life.  Is he up for the task?  Funny you should ask…

Prediction: Sometimes, there’s just no explanation for a magical run.  The Colts are an unbelievable team, but they messed with the football gods by pulling their starters against the team they now face Sunday, and ruining a perfect season.  The Jets look like a team that’s finally put it all together, and it doesn’t appear the train is stopping any time soon.

Peyton Manning starts out on fire, but adjustments are made that forces the Colts offense to virtually stall for the remainder of the afternoon.  On the flip side, the Jets do enough offensively to hang with Indy, keeping themselves within a score throughout the day.

But the fourth quarter is won by Gang Green, with none other than Sanchez himself leading a two minute drill down the field, setting up a game-winning Jay Feeley field goal in the game’s final minute.

Pack your bags, Jets fans.  If this writer’s prediction comes true, you’ll be heading to South Beach.

Final Score: Jets 23, Colts 20.

Jets Insider Thursday Report

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

Ellis gives it a go, the most important matchup in Sunday’s big game, and a trip down memory lane.

Shaun Ellis was limited in practice Thursday due to a broken hand. He is expected to play Sunday against the Colts.

We’re just days away from the Jets taking on the Indianapolis Colts in an AFC Championship game nobody outside those who reside in the Jets’ locker room had in their preseason pool.

When you’re in a game of this magnitude, if you’ve got a pulse and won’t end your career by playing, you’re suiting up and giving it a go.  That’s exactly what defensive lineman Shaun Ellis will do Sunday, as #92 will be lining up against the Colts with a broken hand.

He took his first step towards the field Thursday, as he was upgraded to a limited participant in the late morning workout.  Ellis’ importance in Sunday’s matchup cannot be measured, due to the caliber of quarterback the Jets defense will be lining up against.

PEYTON VS. REX

Peyton Manning will be across the line of scrimmage Sunday, the reigning two-time MVP and master of orchestrating surgeon-like performances on the best defenses the NFL has to offer.  So how will the Jets disrupt #18?  As you might expect, head coach Rex Ryan plans on throwing the kitchen sink at the future Hall of Famer.

“He’s really good at recognizing what you’re in,” Ryan said.  “You can just change your back end.  You’ve got to change your front as well.  There are things that he’ll see with your defensive front and he’ll figure out what you’re in coverage-wise, not just by the back end but by the front as well.  That is something I really noticed him doing in this last game.”

The chess match between Ryan’s defense and Manning will be the single most important battle in Sunday’s contest, without question.  If the Jets want to stay in the game and have a chance to win it, they’ve got to keep the Colts off the scoreboard as much as they can.  The way to make Manning turn in a subpar performance is to get him to the ground.  The Chargers were able to show that in the AFC playoffs a season ago.  When you’re dealing with a player of Manning’s caliber, the only way you can truly take him out of the game is to make sure he’s got his back on the turf.

But if you can’t knock him down, you’ve got to at least make him feel your footsteps.  If the Jets’ rabid defense can’t sack Manning, they can still disrupt his timing and his reads by pressuring him, and collapsing the pocket he has to throw in.  Even when he is hurried, he’s not the same quarterback.  So for a defense that loves to create pressure, their ability to hurry and knock the Colts’ franchise signal-caller around will be the biggest indicator of whether or not they can pull off the upset and head to the Super Bowl.

SOUND FAMILIAR?

A New York team is regarded as the biggest long shot in the playoffs, but they’ve got a great defense, the number one running game in the NFL, and a quarterback who’s not making mistakes.  And they’ve pulled off two road upsets in the playoffs, including a shocking one against one of the top seeds in the Division Round.  Any of this ringing a bell?

The comparisons between these New York Jets and the Super Bowl winning Giants of two seasons ago cannot be ignored.  We are witnessing a magical run that is beyond conventional wisdom, and fans are just along for the unbelievable ride.  Who knows how long it will last, but the Jets are just 60 minutes from the Super Bowl, facing a media darling quarterback (remember the Giants NFC Championship Game against Brett Favre?) who is looking to capture his second Super Bowl and move into the conversation of All-Time Best at his position.

We’ll know just how much these two teams are linked in football history in just a few short days, but as long as they stick to what’s got them here, they’ll have more than a puncher’s chance to replicate their fellow New Yorkers over these next three weeks.

INJURY UPDATE

The Jets will be at virtually full strength heading into Sunday, with Ellis the only notable injury.  Bart Scott and Kerry Rhodes were limited with ankle and knee injuries, and David Harris was also limited with an ankle injury.  All are expected to be ready to go for Sunday.

The team returns to the practice field Friday for a morning workout in their final preparations for the big game.  Be sure to check out JetsInsider.com for all your news and updates.

Insider Thursday Team Report

Friday, January 15th, 2010

Divisional game’s third phase could prove biggest factor Sunday in San Diego.

Brad Smith will need to help the Jets win the special teams battle against the Chargers on Sunday.

Much has been  made of the impending matchup between the high-powered offense of the San Diego Chargers and the number one-ranked pass defense of your New York Jets that will take place in Sunday afternoon’s AFC Divisional playoff showdown in San Diego.

The reverse matchup has also been a hot topic – can Mark Sanchez play mistake-free football against the Chargers, while making enough big plays to put his team in a position to win?

These points have been analyzed by all every corner of the football-speaking world.  But every pigskin fan knows there’s three phases to every game, and the contest’s third phase, the special teams battle, could prove the most important area of Sunday’s clash.

We all remember Ted Ginn Jr. of the Miami Dolphins streaking down the Giants Stadium sidelines faster than a speeding bullet when the fish returned two kickoffs for touchdowns against the Jets earlier this season.  And while that certainly wasn’t the norm for coordinator Mike Westhoff’s group, Gang Green’s kickoff wasn’t exactly anything to write home about this season.

The unit finished 22′nd in the NFL this season in average kickoff return yardage, giving up 24.1 yards per return.  The Chargers have their own version of multi-talented running back Leon Washington in dangerous runner Darren Sproles, who handles the kick return duties for the Bolts.  Sproles’ speed is well documented, as is his ability to break big plays whenever he touches the ball.  So, to say this has the potential to be a problem for Gang Green might be understating it just a tad.

“We’ve got to step up our game,” head coach Rex Ryan said.  “We have too much talent to let people be bringing the ball out to our 50 (yard-line) and past and into our territory on kicks.  That doesn’t make any sense.  Mike Westhoff does a great job every week.  He’s a great leader.  He’s got a great plan, but we’ve got to get it done.  Whatever that is, we’ve got to find a way to get better at that, because this team right here doesn’t need an advantage in the kicking game.  Their offense is as explosive as it gets.  We don’t need them to have a short field.”

The Jets defense will already have their hands full with a multitude of mismatches created by the Chargers offense.  So it’s very important for the defensive aspects of the club’s special teams to have a solid afternoon.

“I don’t know if there as good as I’ve faced, but they’re good though,” Westhoff said.  “I like them.  Sproles reminds me a lot of Leon.  I don’t think he’s as strong as Leon, but he’s fast like that.  He’s certainly a talented guy, so yes, they are very talented.”

Containing the return game of the Chargers will be a major key in Sunday’s tilt, but if you’re looking for a glass-half-full viewpoint on the special teams situation, the Jets create some problems of their own for the home team.

Gang Green finished up the 09′ campaign fourth in the league with an average of 24.4 yards per kick return.  Brad Smith has already taken one kick to the house since assuming the return duties, and anything close to that average Sunday will give the Jets solid field position anytime the situation should arise.

Kickers Nate Kaeding and Jay Feeley are both rock-solid, so we’ve got a positive and a negative for each club.  The tiebreaker goes to the Bolts, however, in the form of their punt return game.

The Chargers averaged just over 11 yards per punt return, second in the NFL, while the Jets had the 26′th-ranked average yardage per punt, at 42 yards even.  This could also spell trouble for the J-E-T-S – if punter Steve Weatherford can’t neutralize the punt return game of San Diego, this could be another area where the Chargers might have the opportunity to explode for big plays.

The task the Jets face in San Diego is certainly a daunting one.  But not for all the reasons everyone is talking about.  If they’re not careful, Gang Green could come up on the short end of this game by making miscues in the phase of the game that’s often overlooked by those on the outside looking in.

INJURY UPDATE

Quarterback Erik Ainge was sent home from Thursday’s workout with migraine headaches, but was the lone casualty of the day.  Shaun Ellis was limited with a knee injury, and Howard Green (knee), David Harris (ankle) Mark Sanchez (knee) Thomas Jones (knee) Bart Scott (ankle) and Donald Strickland (quad) were all full participants, leaving the Jets ready to roll for Sunday.

MORE ACCOLADES FOR REVIS, MANGOLD

The awards keep piling up for all-world corner Darrelle Revis and dominant center Nick Mangold.  Both received first team NFL All-Pro nods this afternoon, with linebacker David Harris earning a spot on the second team.

Be sure to check back to JetsInsider.com throughout the rest of the week for all your news and updates leading up to Sunday’s big game.

Insider Monday Team Report

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

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.

Insider Thursday Team Report

Thursday, January 7th, 2010

Harris upgraded to limited activity in Thursday’s workout.

David Harris was limited in practice Thursday, his status still uncertain for Saturday's playoff game against the Bengals.

Jets linebacker David Harris, the leading tackler on the number one-ranked defense in the National Football League, stepped on the practice field for the Jets in their final practice before their AFC Wildcard playoff matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals Saturday.

It was a small step on the road to recovery for Harris, who sustained an ankle injury in Sunday’s victory over the Bengals.  He was only limited in practice today, getting out there pretty much to test the ankle and gauge how much mobility he’s currently working with.  But it’s a step in the right direction, leaving both the Jets and #52 optimistic he’ll be able to go on Saturday.

“David wasn’t full go by any stretch of the imagination, but I think it’s an encouraging sign, the fact that he was able to get out there and do something,” head coach Rex Ryan said of his impact linebacker.

“It’s getting better,” Harris said of his bum wheel.  “I’ve been up here all day getting treament, getting rehab and doing everything I can to get back on the field.  Hopefully I’ll be fine by Saturday.  It’s real frustrating to get hurt the last game of the regular season.  It’s the biggest game of my career so far.  It’s been tough on me this week, but I’ve been doing everything I can to get back and be out there with my teammates.”

If Harris isn’t able to go, it will certainly be a major loss for Gang Green’s defense as they look to keep their momentum going into the postseason.  Harris is one of the most underrated defensive players in the game – the fact he will not be on the AFC Pro Bowl roster has to leave you scratching your head if you’ve watched this team at all this season.  He’s a tackling machine, totaling 127 tackles and 5.5 sacks.  You don’t just find players like walking the streets.

The Jets do have suitable backups in Kenwin Cummings and Jamaal Westerman to name a few, but none will have the impact Harris could have on this game.  His importance to this defense cannot be measured, and his absence could potentially be a major blow to Gang Green’s D.  The fact he made it on the field today is a good sign, but his status for the game is still up in the air.

INJURY UPDATE

Cornerback Donald Strickland was also limited in practice with a lingering quad injury, and Braylon Edwards (elbow), Jerricho Cotchery (hip), Shaun Ellis (knee) Ryan Fowler (head) James Ihedigbo (neck) Thomas Jones (knee) Mark Sanchez (knee) and Steve Weatherford (hamstring) all participated fully in practice and are set to go for Gang Green Saturday.

A CURIOUS CHOICE

The Jets practiced inside today, an interesting decision given the frigid conditions expected during Saturday’s matchup.  The question was posed to Coach Ryan as to why he decided to hold the team’s final workout indoors, and the head man offered some insight into his call.

“I’m not a superstitious guy, but I’m not stupid either,” he said.  “We did the exact same thing last week.  I just feel like we have better attention to detail in there, we can pump the music in the there and get it really loud, so the communication has to really be spot on.  We had a really good practice today.”

FERGUSON WINS MAN OF THE YEAR AWARD

The Jets have announced their 2009 recipient of the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award is none other than #60, left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson.

Through his D’Brichashaw Ferguson Foundation and the New York Jets Community Relations Department, Ferguson has impacted many lives throughout the tri-state area.  As the award winner, #60 will receive $1,000 dollars to donate to his foundation.  He is now eligible to win the national Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, which will be awarded during the week of the Super Bowl in Miami.

Kickoff for the big game is scheduled for 4:30 PM Eastern Time.  You can catch all the action on NBC.


Insider Monday Team Report

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

The Dream is Alive!

Brad Smith ran wild orchestrating the "Tiger Package" in the Jets' 37-0 victory Sunday night. But will he throw the ball when the teams reunite Saturday afternoon in the playoffs?

The New York Jets are playoff-bound.

After being kept out of postseason play for the previous two seasons, Gang Green stamped its ticket to the tournament with a 37-0 drubbing of the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday night, capping one of the more unlikely runs to the playoffs in franchise history.

Now that they’re in, though, there’s a new question everyone’s asking:  How far can this team go?

There’s been talk of this team making some noise in the AFC playoffs now that they’ve snuck in the back door to the postseason, but in order to do that, they’ll have to beat the same team they dominated in the final game at Giants Stadium next Saturday in the opening round.  And you can bet they won’t be seeing the same team that had their quarterback post a 1-11 performance throwing the football.

“We know that Cincinnati is going to come back, look at that tape, and make some adjustments, so we have to get ready,” head coach Rex Ryan said.  “We’re going to face a different team.  Even though it’s the same team, we’re going to face a different one.  We don’t have our fans (with us in Cincinnati), behind us, so that’s going to be a little more challenging offensively.  (I) played a lot of games in Cincinnati, and I know those fans can get loud.  They do a good job supporting their team.  Again, we’re going to take our team up there and give them our best shot again.”

As a Jets fan, there’s no team you’d rather face in the opening game of the playoffs then these Bengals.  They’re banged up on defense – they were absolutely dominated up front by the Jets’ offensive line, with Gang Green rushing for over 200 yards on the ground.  On the flip side, they have no legitimate second wide receiver opposite Chad Ochocinco (or is it Johnson now after he was left stranded on Revis Island?) allowing for #24 to take Cincy’s lone vertical weapon out of the game.  Cedric Benson did not play for the Bengals last night, and that will certainly change the dynamics of Cincy’s run game.  But it appears as though this defense has really hit it’s stride, so it should be tough goings for Benson Sunday as well.

The Jets have an outstanding defense and an outstanding running game.  We saw how dangerous a team they can be when Mark Sanchez doesn’t turn the ball over.  In frigid conditions where throwing is a challenge, the Jets have the two key components to play in this environment.  If they can win the turnover battle, this game has a first-round Jets upset written all over it.

GOOD ENOUGH TO WIN

Winning the turnover battle really all depends on how careful Sanchez can be with the football.  The rookie was solid last night, making all the right throws – and none of the wrong ones – in the win.  But, again, he doesn’t have to be outstanding with the way the rest of this team is playing right now.   Which is why he got rave reviews from his head coach this morning.

He played a heck of  a game last night,” Ryan said.  “He really did.   Those were some tough conditions to play in.  It’s not just managing the game.  He’s a threat to throw it.  I thought he did a great job.  I don’t think we asked him to do a whole lot, but he was so confident and comfortable back there.  He was excited.  That’s great to see in a young quarterback.  That’s a lot of pressure.  You had to win to get in, and I thought he did a great job.”

While Sanchez didn’t screw anything up, there’s going to be a point during this postseason where he needs to make some throws to either seal a game, or pull his team back into one.  Can he do it?  We’ll have to wait and see.

THE TIGER PACKAGE

Another guy everyone’s wondering about is wide receiver-turned-utility man Brad Smith.  After his outstanding performance running the Jets’ version of the Wildcat offense last night, everyone’s wondering – can he throw the ball effectively?

Smith was a standout quarterback in college, so we know he can throw the ball.  But we also now know there’s pass plays in the package for Smith, plays that may come out Saturday afternoon in Cincy.

“I think it adds another dimension,” Smith said.  “It makes you have to play things a little bit more honest when you can throw out of it and you can all kinds of creative things out of that formation and personnel package.  With any quarterback that’s mobile and can do some different things, it makes the defense think a lot.”

A SEASON OF FIRSTS

Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez’ first season in New York brought a playoff berth to the Big Apple, something fans are hoping becomes a regular occurence.  That isn’t the only first being experienced after Sunday night’s victory.  Several Jets will get to experience postseason play for the first time, including linebacker Calvin Pace.

“I’m just proud, proud of everybody,” Pace said.  “I’m proud of the team, coaches, and the organization.  When things were bad, everybody stuck together.  In this season, there were a lot of times that we could have folded it in and said it’s over, but guys kept fighting and now it’s a new season.  We’re going to take it up another notch.”

The team returns to the practice field tomorrow to begin preparations for Saturday’s game.  Be sure to check back to JetsInsider.com for all your news and updates.

Insider Thursday Team Report

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

The Case For Rex

Take a closer look at the job Rex Ryan's done in his first season as a head coach. You'll see he's done far more good than bad.

We’re just three days away from the Jets’ all-or-nothing clash with the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday night, the game that will seal their fate as either a playoff team, or an epic disappointment.

It’s still a little amazing this team is in this position.  With all the ups and downs this roller coaster of a season has taken, Gang Green still holds their destiny in their own hands.

So just how big would it be for a first-year head coach to make it to the playoffs in the biggest city in the world?

“It’d be a great accomplishment,” Ryan said of making it to the playoffs in his first year as a head coach.  “Clearly this is what every team is gunning for, it’s what your goals are.  We expect to be in.  It’s going to be a huge disappointment if we don’t make it.  But again, we know we’re playing the best the North has to offer this year, so it’s going to be a big challenge.  But I think our guys are preparing well.  We know it’s going to be the Cincinnati that plays a very physical brand of football, and it’s going to be an old-fashioned NFL game.”

A great accomplishment is an understatement.  There’s been points where Ryan has shown his inexperience as a first-year head man, from misusing timeouts to poor clock management.  You can also point to the collapse his team suffered after the scintillating 3-0 start, plummeting all the way to 4-6 through the season’s first ten weeks.  Rookie signal caller Mark Sanchez also hasn’t improved much at all over the course of his first season as a pro, seemingly turning the ball over more than he’s making a productive play in recent weeks.

But take a look at the big picture, and you’ll see just how remarkable  a job Ryan has done in his first year as an NFL head coach.  We all knew he could coach defense, but he also had two NFL Defensive Player of the Year winners on the same unit in Baltimore.  Sure, the Jets added Bart Scott who’s had a fine season, and Jim Leonhard, a safety who knows Ryan’s system and has also been solid.  But it’s awfully impressive what he’s been able to do with a defense that brought back a majority of the same players from a year ago, turning them into the number one statistical defense in the game.

And then there’s the job he’s done changing the culture within the locker room.  His bravado has trickled down to his players, who’ve done as much as guaranteeing victories over the course of this season.  He’s changed the way the players view this team, and made them believers, which cannot be ignored.

That belief could be the major reason why this team now sits one victory away from postseason football.  Think about the soul-crushing losses this team has had throughout this season.  Any one of them on the road to 4-6 could have caused this team to fold its tent.  The loss to the Falcons two weeks ago could have meant the end, but instead the team picked themselves off the mat and defeated the previously unbeaten Indianapolis Colts, on the road no less.  Their never-say-die attitude resonates throughout the team in every corner of the locker room, and it all comes from their coach.

They have wins over New England, the Colts, and the Texans, all either playoff locks or teams on the verge of the postseason.  Everyone seems to be looking at the negatives surrounding this team, but we need to start looking at all the positives Ryan and his staff have achieved over their first season in New York.  If they can pull off this last victory, it will cap a season that is a testament to his ability to lead NFL players, and more importantly, to get them to follow him.  I think they made the right choice when they hired Ryan to take the reigns of this team, and it’s clear he’s building something potentially special.  A win Sunday will be the first step towards validating the job the rookie head coach has done.

INJURY UPDATE

Gang Green will be at nearly full strength when they welcome the Bengals to the swamps of Jersey Sunday night.  Darrelle Revis, Thomas Jones and fullback Tony Richardson all participated fully in practice today, while cornerback Donald Strickland was the lone Jets player to miss the workout with a lingering quad injury.  Rookie running back Shonn Greene returned to the practice field and was a full-go, and Shaun Ellis was limited in practice with a knee injury.  Sanchez participated fully in practice as well.

It appears Strickland will not be able to go Sunday, leaving the Jets one short in the secondary.  Otherwise, the team will be at full strength as it takes on the Bengals Sunday night.

The team returns to practice for a workout Friday morning.  Check back to JetsInsider.com for all your news and updates.

INSIDER MONDAY TEAM REPORT

Monday, December 28th, 2009

Just win, baby.

The Jets are just one win away from the postseason after Sunday's victory over the previously unbeaten Colts.

There’s no way this is possible, right?

The New York Football Jets – the team that has tormented their rabid fan base for 16 weeks (at least in terms of the 2009 season), the team that has let a seemingly endless amount of opportunities slip away, now controls their own destiny with just one game left?

That’s in fact the scenario, no matter how unbelievable it may seem, after yesterday’s 29-15 upset victory over the previously unbeaten Indianapolis Colts.  The Jets find themselves at 8-7, and the sixth seed in the AFC playoffs heading into the season’s final regular season game.  While they share the same record as several other AFC teams, through the magic of the tie-breaker system the J-E-T-S will clinch a playoff berth with a win Sunday against the Cincinatti Bengals, a game that’s been flexed to primetime on NBC at 8:00 PM Sunday night.

Some have said Gang Green has been put in this remarkable position due to the Colts resting most of their starters, including quarterback Peyton Manning, for the final quarter and a half of play yesterday, essentially saying the game was “gift-wrapped” for the Jets.  Head coach Rex Ryan doesn’t feel the same way, but is quite content to be unconcerned with the world’s perception of the win.

“That’s a heck of a football team,” Ryan said of the Colts.  “They don’t have to apologize to anybody about anything, and neither do we.  We won the game.  We ended up doing what we had to do, (regardless of) whoever was in the Colts jerseys.  I think that there’s very little credit that our football team’s given, and that’s unfortunate.  But again, we really don’t care.  All we have to do now is find a way to win this game, which is no easy task.”

It would be foolish of me, and make me sound incredibly ignorant, if I said the benching of the Colts’ impact players had no effect on Sunday’s outcome.  Clearly, the Colts offense isn’t going to be the same without Manning, Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark in the lineup for nearly 20 minutes of play.  But the Jets still had to come back in that football game yesterday.  They were down five points when the starters were pulled.  They’d also played right with the Colts for two and a half quarters, trailing only 15-10 when Manning made his exit.  They scored two touchdowns over those final 20 minutes, one on each side of the ball.  They scored an offensive, defensive, and special teams touchdown in the win, finally having all three phases come together for one of the rare times this season.

The Colts pulled their starters, and maybe that opened a door for the Jets to take the game that might not have been in open in, say, week five.  But just because the door’s open, doesn’t mean you don’t have to walk through it.

The Jets played extremely well yesterday, and if they can keep it going into next Sunday’s all-or-nothing tilt against the Bengals, they’ll have an outstanding shot to claim one of the final two playoff spots in the AFC.

PLAYER’S REACTIONS

Nearly nobody outside the Jets’ locker room believed this team would be in the position it’s in.  So what do the guys that’ve believed all along have to say now that they’re one win away from the postseason?

“We have a great opportunity in front of us,” running back Thomas Jones said.  “It’s so funny how things can change in a week in this league.  Last week after the Atlanta game guys were obviously upset and frustrated about the opportunity that we didn’t take advantage of.  We came into the team meeting the next day and found out, ‘Hey, we’re still in this thing if we take care of our business.’  The first step was to win yesterday, which is what we did.  We know what is ahead of us on Sunday.  Guys are excited about the opportunity; excited about the chances that we have.”

It’s an opportunity very few thought this team would have.  But, with just one game to play, the Jets are a playoff team.  They’ve gotten the help they needed.  Now all they need to do is win.

Jets Insider Thursday Team Report

Thursday, December 24th, 2009

Handing Out the Hardware

Linebacker David Harris won the Ed Block Courage Award Thursday.

Linebacker David Harris won the Ed Block Courage Award Thursday.

Christmas Eve featured an early schedule for your New York Jets Thursday, with head coach Rex Ryan’s press conference being held before the team took the field for practice.

The organization announced their team award winners for the 2009 season today, with cornerback Darrelle Revis earning the team’s Most Valuable Player award.   Running back Thomas Jones took home the Dennis Byrd Award, given to the player who most inspires his teammates, for the second consecutive season.  James Dearth took home the Kyle Clifton Award, given to the player who’s regarded as a “good guy” by the staff members who do not control his playing time.  Linebacker David Harris earned the Ed Block Courage Award, given to the player that best displays perseverance and overcoming adversity.

SIZING UP THE COLTS

After publicizing the winners, Ryan got down to the business of sizing up the Indianapolis Colts.

Indy has not let their plans known as to how much their starters will play Sunday, leaving the Jets to not only prepare for their regulars, but also for their understudies as they enter this must-win affair.

“We can’t take anything lightly,” Ryan said.  “We’re fighting for our playoff lives.  We actually have an opportunity to still make the playoffs.  With everything that has happened to us and we still have that opportunity.  It’s right in front of us.  We’ve got to win these two games.  It doesn’t matter if Tom Matte is the running back.  We’re going to play them.  We’re preparing for Peyton Manning.  We’re preparing for Reggie Wayne and all those guys.  If somebody else is in that position, so be it.  We’re preparing that Peyton is going to play the whole game, that (Dwight) Freeney is going to play the whole game and everybody else.”

The Jets’ secondary will be in a lot better shape than in previous games Sunday, with all hands on deck and healthy for their biggest test of the season.

“I feel a heck of a lot better going into this game than I did a couple of times when he had back up corners in there,” Ryan said.  “That much I can promise you.  We don’t have our back ups in there.  We’ve got our starters.  We’re ready to roll.  If they beat us and they’re able to pummel us like I’ve been pummeled before by them, then ok.  I know one thing, they’re going to get our best shot.”

Can the secondary slow down the Colts’ outstanding group of wide receivers headlined by Reggie Wayne?  Ryan never had a great deal of success against Manning during his time as defensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens, and Manning’s audibles at the line of scrimmage will make disguising their blitz coverages extremely tough.  He’ll have to dial up some exotic packages to try and confuse Manning, because it’s really the only way at this point you can even slow him down.   It will certainly be an entertaining chess match between coach and quarterback on Sunday.

INJURY UPDATE

The Jets were at full strength on both sides of the ball for today’s workout, with wide receiver Braylon Edwards (knee), safety Jim Leonhard (thumb), cornerback Dwight Lowery (ankle), quarterback Mark Sanchez (knee) and guard Robert Turner (knee) all participated fully in the workout, while defensive end Shaun Ellis (knee) was limited.  All are expected to play Sunday against Indy.

The Jets will take tomorrow off for Christmas, and will travel Saturday to Indy for their do-or-die matchup with the Colts.  Be sure to check back to JetsInsider.com for all your news and updates.


Not So Fast, Rex

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

The New York Jets, believe it or not, are still alive in the AFC playoff race.

No so fast, Rex - Your Jets are still alive in the AFC playoff race.  Barely.

No so fast, Rex - Your Jets are still alive in the AFC playoff race. Barely.

After all the heartbreaking losses, after Sunday’s soul-crushing defeat against the Atlanta Falcons, these Jets are still, miraculously, alive.

Their coach, Rex Ryan, acknowledged as much yesterday during his Monday address to the media, after he’d unceremoniously buried his team during Sunday’s postgame press conference.

“You would think the head coach of the team would know the situations and know the playoff scenarios.  The only thing that I knew is, in my opinion, I thought we had to win out.  We just had a single focus that we were going to have to win six straight games.  That’s it, so when I found out this morning, even when I heard, ‘That’s not true, the Jets still have a chance.’ I was thinking, Baltimore has to lose twice and Pittsburgh has to lose twice, which is impossible.  That’s not the case at all.  We’re actually in a better situation right now this week than we were last week at this time.  That’s unbelievable, but again, we’re there.  We’ve got a chance to make the playoffs.”

The Jets still sit just one game back of the final AFC Wild Card spot in the midst of a slew of clubs who all sit at 7-7.  The Denver Broncos and Baltimore Ravens hold the remaining playoff spots, but each have very losable games coming up over the next two weeks.  The Ravens travel to Pittsburgh next week for a tough divisional game against the Steelers, who also sit at 7-7, and the Broncos travel to Philadelphia this week to take on the red-hot Eagles.  The Jaguars, another team who sits at 7-7 and a club that holds the tiebreaker over the Jets, travels to New England with the Patriots having the opportunity to clinch the AFC East with a victory on Sunday.

So all these Jets need to do is win this weekend, and if those teams fall, they’re right back in a tie for the final playoff spot.

The only problem is, they travel to face the undefeated Indianapolis Colts, in Indy.  What a time to try to slay Goliath.

“For us, this is our Super Bowl,” wide receiver Braylon Edwards said.  “No if ands or buts about it.  This is, for us, going to decide what we really want to be on offense.  Can we come out and execute.  When all the chips are on the line, can we put it together and win a game that we need?  Can we be a team that can win in December?  Everything we have we need to put on the line in this game.  If we don’t make it to the playoffs, we still showed that we were willing to take that step.  We don’t need to worry about anything but beating the Indianapolis Colts.  They’re a great team.  They are the best team in football.  It is going to be a tough matchup any way you look at it.”

A tough matchup is an understatement.  The Jets defense might be able to at least slow down the high-powered Colts offense and Peyton Manning, but how will Mark Sanchez respond in a huge game, on the road, with everyhing on the line?  The Jets will have to play a perfect game in all phases to beat the Colts, the type of game that has eluded them all season long.

While the team has a chance to pull off the monumental upset, those chances might be heightened by the Colts’ not playing their regulars for four quarters.  Unfortunately, the Jets won’t know their plans until Sunday, meaning they’ll have to prepare for the top team in the NFL’s best game.

“You prepare for all of them to play and if they don’t, that’s good for us.  You have to prepared that they are going to play the entire game.  They have a bye, they have that bye coming up.  You expect them to continue to play their players and if they decide to take them out then that is what they decide to do.  If you go out there preparing for a backup quarterback and end up facing Peyton Manning, you are in trouble.  You prepare for all of the all stars that they have and if they chose not to play certain guys, that will certainly help us.”

With the playoffs on the line, the Jets have the opportunity to resurrect their season with a signature victory.  Will they pull off the upset of the season?  We’ll know in six short days.