Sources: Banta-Cain meeting with Jets

September 13th, 2011

Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News is reporting that former New England Patriot LB/DE Tully Banta-Cain is meeting with the Jets coaching staff and touring their practice facility today.

"Former Pats LB/DE Tully Banta-Cain is meeting with Jets officials today. (Google Images)

The 31-year-old Banta-Cain had off-season abdominal surgery but is fully recovered.  Though he is coming off a somewhat disappointing season in which he only started in six of 15 games for the Patriots, Banta-Cain would serve as a formidable pass-rushing a threat for the Jets, an obvious area of need.  Rex Ryan’s defensive-unit is also thin at the backup outside linebacker position.  Banta-Cain would be a definite upgrade over Jamaal Westerman and Garrett McIntyre.

Though Banta-Cain only made six starts last season, he recorded five sacks.  He is also only two years removed from a career season in 2009, in which he registered 54 tackles and 9.5 sacks.

FATE ROUTE: Once again, Plax holds ‘Key’ to Jets’ Super Bowl dreams

September 11th, 2011

“We had a 30 yard strip where I ran shuttles to get in shape, ran till I couldn’t run no more. I’d be out in minus 14, running sprints in the snow and lifting weights, with ice on the bar. Guys’d be at their windows yelling (bleep) the Giants! You need to sign with the Jets when you get out!”

Full circle.

In the fall of 1998, Keyshawn Johnson had New York City eating out of the palms of his hands.  The same giant, malleable appendages that the former USC Trojan used to haul in the pigskin 83 “damn” times that season.  Ten of those times were past the pylon, en route to the first Pro Bowl appearance of the then 25-year-old Johnson’s career.

Plaxico Burress' regular season debut with the Jets Sunday night has been 11 years in the making. ( Photo)

In the Jets’ divisional round victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars at Giant Stadium, those same steady hands snatched up nine receptions and an interception while filling in as an extra defensive back on the game’s final play, to seal the playoff victory for New York.

The New York Jets’ franchise had never seen an exceptional talent the likes of Keyshawn at the wideout position — a 6-foot-4, athletic specimen with the length and speed of a gazelle.  Johnson and the Jets would never soar to those immense heights again.

By the spring of 2000, following the departure of Parcells from the sideline to the front office as well as two frustrating seasons that terminated before the postseason, the enigmatic Johnson had punched his ticket out of the Big Apple.

April 12, 2000: The New York Jets send Keyshawn Johnson packing to Tampa Bay, three days prior the draft.  In exchange for the controversial high-priced receiver, Jets general manager Bill Parcells nets two first round picks from the Buccaneers.

In a draft pool abundant with talent, Jets brass has already eyed a potential replacement for the receiver formally known as “Me-Shawn”.  The 6-foot-5 Michigan State Spartan , Plaxico Burress.  Great size, exceptional speed. This seemed like a match made in football heaven.  Who better to replace Keyshawn Johnson than his clone? With an attitude problem and knack for driving his coaching staff nuts, to boot.

Except that fateful alliance of green and white never happened the night of April 15.  Before the Jets found themselves on the clock at pick number 12, Burress had already been gobbled up by the Pittsburgh Steelers at eight.  Parcells and Jets’ brass, unable to successfully package their multiple first round picks to move up for the Spartan receiver, were left to use their four first-round picks on two talented defensive linemen (John Abraham and Shaun Ellis), a future replacement for Vinny Testaverde (Chad Pennington) and a tight end (Anthony Becht).  The Jets would be forced to look elsewhere to fill the gaping hole at the receiver position.

For the past ten years the New York Jets have tried desperately to replace that leviathan void left by the departure of  Johnson in 2000.  From Laveranues Coles to Curtis Conway. From Santana Moss to Matthew Hatchette.  From Justin McCareins to Braylon Edwards, they’ve searched high and wide to recreate the magic of that one special January afternoon against the Jags in ‘98.  And failed miserably.

Except maybe for that one day during the spring of 2009.  That one fateful morning when Jets owner Woody Johnson and general manager Mike Tannenbaum made the four-hour, 230-mile trip from the Jets’ facility in Florham Park, New Jersey up I-87 North to Utica, New York.  Their final destination would be Oneida Correctional Facility.  Here, both men would visit inmate number 09-R-3260, Plaxico Antonio Burress, offering their words of support and encouragement to the 32-year-old through the thick prison glass.

“They were really the first to support me with everything I was going through at that time,” said Burress back in July.  ”I was able to sit down with them and talk to them. It really meant a lot to me and my family, especially, with all the events that we had going on at that time (and) not really knowing the fate of my situation or what was going to transpire. Just for them to be there at that time, it just really said a lot about them and I was really humbled by it.”

On draft day, the Jets were one of 31 NFL teams competing for the services of the 22-year-old Spartan receiver.  Now, nine long years later they were the only ones in the room.  That spring day  in ‘09, they were the only ones pulling for future of the fallen receiver.

Full circle.

Fast forward to late July, less than two months after Burress’s release from prison, the 34-year-old receiver was finally a free man.  And a free agent.  With multiple teams gunning for his services, including his former team the New York Giants, Tannenbaum and Johnson called on Burress once again.  In many ways, the Jets needed Burress as much as he needed them.  With Braylon Edwards half-way out of town, Tannenbaum was running out of options at the wide receiver position,with the frantic free agent market drying up by the second.  On the early summer morning of August 1, Burress answered their call, agreeing to a one-year contract worth $3 million.

“It just felt right for me to be able to come here,” says Burress.  ”With everything that I had going on a couple years ago, to have those guys support me the way that they did. Like I said, I just felt like I made the right decision…I just looked at all of the pieces to the puzzle that were already in place. A great owner, Woody has been doing a great job of running this organization since I can remember and with Mr. Tannenbaum and Rex Ryan, putting myself into this equation with what they have intact. Being able to play beside Santonio Holmes and play with (LaDainian Tomlinson) and Mark Sanchez, I just feel that it’s a great opportunity for me. I just want to come here to help these guys win.”

The right player at the right time for the right team.  The right team for the right player.  That’s the way Burress had seen it since that spring day at Oneida Correctional Facility.

$3 million is a modest price for the type of playmaker at the receiver position that an organization and fanbase have spent just over a decade starving for.  More importantly, the artist more commonly known around the Meadowlands as “Plax” is a difference maker in the red zone, an area of anemic offensive deficiency for Brian Schottenheimer’s offensive unit for the past two seasons.  In 2010, the Jets converted roughly forty-four percent of their scoring opportunities within the 20-yard line.

In his third season in the league, Mark Sanchez will finally be able to develop chemistry with his most dangerous receiver in Week 1.  And as Keyshawn used to say, Sanchez will make sure that Burress “gets the damn ball”.

The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Burress is the formidable weapon  Sanchez has never had at his disposal thus far in his young career.  A bullying-power forward of a receiver lined up on the outside, capable of leaving corners in the dust with his speed as well as being able to effectively post them up in the back of the end z0ne.  Don’t believe the hype?  Ask the Philadelphia Eagles.  Or Bill Belichick, who still is kept-up at night by the image of Burress blowing past Ellis Hobbs on a post route and hauling in the game-winning touchdown pass in Super Bowl XLII.

Or the Dallas Cowboys.

Tonight won’t mark the first time the number 17 has ran out of the tunnel at the Meadowlands to a raucous, sell-out crowd.  Won’t even be his first time doing it in the green and white jersey.  But it will represent something else, something far bigger than just the start of another season, with yet another name on the front of the jersey for Plaxico Burress.  Diligence.  Hard work.  Patience.

80,000 fans chanting his name, rocking his jersey, with millions of eyes from around the country glued to their HD screens.  To him. Inmate number 09-R-3260

The hot 16 hour days and cold nights in that 12- by 12-foot jail cell. The endless hours he spent mopping prison floors and serving food to inmates.  The extra wind sprints.  That four times a week he lifted weights, when no one was watching and no team was checking for him.  The routes he ran for no reason, catching passes from fellow convicts.

That November night at Latin Quarter in Midtown seems so far away now.  After 10 years of waiting, the Jets finally got their man.  After over 40 years of waiting, they might get their ring too.

Full circle.

NFL Announces Preseason Schedule: Jets open in Houston

April 12th, 2011

File this under the “lipstick on a pig” department.

In lieu of the ongoing CBA dispute between the owners and players, the National Football League released the preseason schedule for all 32 teams Tuesday for the upcoming (err…impending) 2011-12 season.

The New York Jets released the following statement:

An ESPN Monday Night Football contest at Houston on August 15 highlights the Jets 2011 preseason schedule that was announced by the National Football League today.  The slate also includes home games versus Cincinnati and Philadelphia as well as a “road” game against the Giants.

The preseason opener is scheduled for Monday night, Aug. 15, on ESPN against the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium. The next week the Jets return to kickoff their second season at New Meadowlands Stadium when they play the Cincinnati Bengals. The Jets finish the preseason against the Giants in Week 3 and then host the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday night, Sept. 1.

The ESPN opener marks the third summer in a row, all with Rex Ryan as head coach, and the 11th out of the last 14 that the Jets are being scheduled to play one of their preseason games on national television. It also stands as first time the Jets have been scheduled to play the Texans in the preseason.

All times and some dates remain to be determined for these games.


February 2nd, 2011

THEATER REVIEW:  ‘Lombardi’ shines on Broadway stage

A college psychology professor distributes a pop quiz to his class.  One question.

“What do you call an individual who is standing up screaming one moment, then sitting down crying the next?”

The classroom of academics is perplexed.  All except one student in the back, who promptly raises his hand and exclaims “football coach”.

The aforementioned witticism is one of many humorous couplets of dialogue from Eric Simonson’s “Lombardi”, and one that is equally synoptic of the Broadway production as a whole.

"Lombardi" on Broadway is a must see for any NFL fan.

“Lombardi”, based on David Maraniss’s best-selling biography of NFL coaching icon Vince Lombardi, “When Pride Still Mattered”, is more than simply an hour and a half production about football and the historic accomplishments of the Green Bay Packers.

The play, directed by Thomas Kail, stars Dan Lauria (The Wonder Years) as the enigmatic Lombardi and  two-time Emmy-winner Judith Light (Who’s The Boss?, Wit) as the coach’s amiable but sharp-tongued better-half. The story  of the play follows Michael McCormick (Keith Nobbs), a fictional reporter who is sent to Green Bay during the 1965 season to compose a feature story for Look magazine on the secret behind Lombardi’s success, the method to his proverbial (and literal) madness.

Predictably, at first, McCormick’s forays into the Lombardi household and onto the Packer practice field are met with much resistance from Vince and his team.  As the play unfolds, the young reporter develops a strong rapport with Mr. and Mrs. Lombardi and Packer players Jim Taylor (Chris Sullivan), Paul Hornung (Bill Dawes) and Dave Robinson (Robert Christopher Riley).  The past experiences of these players serve as underlying subplots of the story.  The play uses several flashbacks to chronicle Jim Taylor’s contract negotiations, Paul Hornung’s bar-hopping, pied-piper lifestyle, and Robinson’s steadfast quest for Lombardi’s approval.

While tackling the interactions of Lombardi and his players, Simonson’s script more effectively sheds light on the off-field life of the heralded Lombardi, giving audiences a deeper understanding of the manic, capricious, yet benign character of the gridiron luminary.

Lauria is simply brilliant in his portrayal of the protagonist, managing to successfully tiptoe the trapeze wire between Lombardi’s raging lunacy and his compassionate, tough-love, farceur persona.  While some of his maniacal tirades are a bit over-the-top, Lauria effectively captures the heart and soul of Lombardi, a religious Brooklynite with a heart of Packer gold.  Judith Light turns in an equally strong performance in the role of Marie Lombardi, serving as an entertaining level-headed counterpart to her volatile husband.  Mrs. Lombardi’s sarcastic and bewildered exchanges with Vince provide another ongoing humorous subplot to the production.

Broadway’s Circle in the Square Theatre provides an intimate viewing space for “Lombardi”, which hardly relies on much of a set or special effects.  During moments of game action, projection televisions are used to display footage.  Other than that all of the action of the play is set on the small central stage in the middle of the theater.  The minimalistic production approach and relatively small arena adds a cozy, comfortable element to the play.  The audience feels as if they are actually siphoned within the Lombardi living room for 90 minutes, establishing a strong level of unpretentiousness and personability with the actors.

The immutable Lombardi himself once said, “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.”

“Lombardi” while not a perfect production, succeeds on its simplistic strengths and provides an enjoyable Broadway experience for both the theater aficionado and football fan alike.


January 23rd, 2011

Ryan and Jets look to erase last year’s title game nightmare, seize second chance in Steel City

A second chance.

All too often in professional sports, the window of opportunity for attaining the transcendental goal of a championship is cracked open for only a few short hours.  In the egalitarian National Football League, an association defined by its peerless parity, that window is even more diminutive.

5 weeks ago, Mark Sanchez and the Jets celebrated a statement victory in Pittsburgh. Sunday they aim to rejoice again by punching their ticket to Super Bowl XLV in Arlington. ( Photo)

Winning a Super Bowl is by far the most difficult achievement in all of sports.  The requisite recipe of talent, execution, health, and luck is a rare combination that has only been consummated by 18 of the league’s 32 teams since 1967.

Players and coaches alike can go careers without tasting Super Bowl glory or having even one legitimate opportunity to play for it.  It takes far more than individual greatness.  Ask Dan Marino.  Ask Barry Sanders.  Or Dick Butkus.

Legends in sports lore are ultimately defined by championships, with rings and trophies transcending any individual accomplishments as the barometer for true greatness. For all the Canton fanfare and NFL Films immortalization, all of the aforementioned hall of famers would undoubtedly sacrifice their personal records and historical milestones for that ever elusive ring. Or the second chance to return to their prime to obtain it.

On Sunday night, 24-year-old Mark Sanchez, in only the second season of his professional career, will get what Hall-of-Famers Marino and Sanders never got, a second chance as the New York Jets play in their second consecutive AFC Championship.

For Sanchez and the Jets, Sunday’s title game is far more than simply redemption for last year’s second-half meltdown in Indianapolis at the hands of Peyton Manning.

Sunday marks a second chance to end a 42-year Super Bowl drought for a championship-starved fan base. A second chance to finally exorcise the ghosts of John Elway,Vinny Testaverde’s Achilles tendon, Mark Gastineau’s late hit, Rich Kotite, Doug Brien, and Brett Favre. A second chance for the bombastic Rex Ryan and neophytic Sanchez to prove their diatribic naysayers wrong. A second chance to rectify nearly a half century of misfortune and embarrassment as the long-time running joke of the National Football League.  A second chance to finally liberate themselves from the dark, burdensome shadow of their fellow Jerseyan tenants, the New York Giants.

A second chance at history.

The setting, Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, is a place all too familiar to the Jets.  It was here seven years ago, that it all came crashing down for Gang Green in the Divisional Round of the playoffs, at the right foot of kicker Doug Brien.  But it was also here, that little over a month ago, Rex Ryan’s group posted their most impressive performance of the regular season, an emotional 22-17 victory over Ben Roethlisberger and company.

A victory that seemingly everyone in America aside from the Jets themselves, has chosen to conveniently forget about.  Just like a week ago, when football pundits across the nation misremembered the fact that New York had indeed handed the New England Patriots their first loss of the season back in September.

Minor details.

The blueprint (or shall we say green-print) for a Jets win on Sunday and a trip to Arlington, Texas for Super Bowl XLV, lies within that Week 15 victory in the Steel City.

Three words. Ground. And. Pound.

A second chance to execute that winning formula on Sunday in Pittsburgh.


  • AL-CRO-TRAZ: Back in March, Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum sent a then third-round draft pick to the San Diego Chargers in exchange for cornerback Antonio Cromartie.  In his first four years in the National Football League, there was never any question of the 26-year-old Cromartie’s freakish length, speed or athleticism.  Conversely, his character and effort on the field were definitely up for debate.  Despite the baggage the young corner came with, Jets head coach Rex Ryan believed he could make a winner out of Cromartie.  In the search for the Robin to Darrelle Revis’s Batman, Tannenbaum and the Jets brain-trust firmly believed that ‘Cro’ was their man.  Antonio Cromartie was brought here precisely for Sunday, to propel the Jets to the next level–a Super Bowl.  With Revis set to be matched up against the physical Hines Ward and aid in stopping the Steelers rushing attack, Cromartie will be asked to fly deep with the speedy Mike Wallace.  In their Week 15 matchup, Wallace went off for 102 yards with seven receptions.  While Wallace didn’t burn Cromartie deep, he came close on two occasions.  Cromartie must bring his A-game Sunday and negate Big Ben’s speedy deep-threat.  The Jets must also bring safety help over the top to cover Wallace. The Steelers were 7-1 this season in games where Wallace had a touchdown reception.

  • DINK ‘N’ DUNK/GROUND ‘N’ POUND: Mike Tomlin’s second-ranked defensive unit will not give up the big play.  Just like last time, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer must dial up short passing routes for Sanchez and the receivers–they’ll be available all day to move the ball down the field.  Look for tight end Dustin Keller to be a big facet of the gameplan on Sunday.  The Jets have already demonstrated they can run against this vaunted Steelers defense, rushing for 106 yards in their Week 15 meeting, the most allowed by Pittsburgh this season.
  • TONE TIME: Playing against the team that traded him just seven months ago for a mere fifth-round pick, Santonio Holmes will be out for revenge Sunday–and blood.  Holmes, who hauled in six receptions in Week 15, must be utilized as a big part of the gameplan on Sunday.  Sanchez should look often to Holmes, who has the game-breaking speed to be the deciding factor in a high-stakes game like this.
  • KEEP HEATH IN CHECK: Absent from the Week 15 matchup between the two teams was Steelers TE Heath Miller.  Miller is particularly effective in spearheading the running game with his blocking and has emerged as one of the most dangerous receiving tight ends in the NFL.  The Jets must do a solid job of shutting down the middle of the field, and taking away Miller, who acts as Roethlisberger’s safety valve in Pittsburgh’s passing attack.  Last week, the Jets linebackers and secondary did a phenomenal job of taking away Patriot tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, so they should be up to the task of limiting Miller.
  • THE SANCHISE: It all begins and ends with the kid from Long Beach, California.  His lights out, turnover-free play in the postseason must continue on Sunday.  If Sanchez can play a smart game and hold onto the football in the frigid conditions, the Jets will conquer and advance to Dallas.  If not, they will be in for a long night.  The success of Sanchez is strongly predicated on how well his offensive line can protect him. Nick Mangold and his band of merry men must keep Steelers linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley out of the backfield and off of Sanchez.


Round 2 in the Steel City promises to be eerily similar to the pilot episode, a hard fought, grind-it-out battle.  Ultimately matched up against their mirror image, the deciding factor on Sunday will be who can get that elusive turnover or big play to swing the momentum of the game.  Gang Green’s running game is in top-form and will be able to impose their will on Pittsburgh’s stubborn defensive line.  On the other side of the ball, the Jets will be able to get into the backfield against the Steeler’s banged up and depleted offensive line and keep Big Ben in check. Roethlisberger and company have been here and beyond before.  The Jets, fueled by last years disappointment and the emotion of their win in Foxboro a week ago are hungrier than ever before.  The ghost of Doug Brien finally dies Sunday night.

Broadcast Info: Sunday 6:30 P.M. ET, TV: CBS (Jim Nantz/Phil Simms) Radio: 1050 AM ESPN Radio (Bob Wischusen/Marty Lyons), Westwood One (Dave Sims/James Lofton)


January 16th, 2011

Settling the score in Round 3 at ‘The Razor’

Trash talk begone. 45-3 begone. Week 2 at the Meadowlands begone.

No detailed discourse is necessary to gauge the less-than-stellar odds the visiting Jets possess against the New England Patriots on Sunday in Foxboro.

The Jets success on Sunday is strong predicated on how much pressure they can apply on Tom Brady. ( Photo)

No more needs to be said of the grandiose offensive orchestration of composer Tom Brady, whose MVP-worthy 2010-11 campaign has handily arranged the leagues most prolific offensive attack, restoring the Pats atop the Mount Everest of the NFL’s elite.

Redundant rehash of the inconsistencies of Rex Ryan’s group running congruous to their consistent season-long smack talk, week in and week out–need no more.

It’s all been said. It’s all been done. The only plausible explanation lies within sixty minutes of frosty January football at Gillette Stadium on Sunday.

For all of the diatribic prognostication that has been sent the way of the New York Jets in the week approaching their divisional three-match in New England, a shot at redemption and tough-talk vindication is tangible, not irrational.

Belichick and Brady, the class of the National Football League for three months and running, are far from unbeatable. No team with a shoddy secondary is. Or one with no semblance of a pass rush.

Rex Ryan has referred to this matchup as the “second-biggest game” in the history of the New York Jets franchise.  This comes on the heels of a dramatic, awe-inspiring triumph over Peyton Manning and the defending AFC champs in Indianapolis.  While the similarities between New England and Indianapolis are few and far between, the gameplan will be eerily similar.


  • PRESSURE, PRESSURE, PRESSURE: In the New Yorks’ 28-14 Week 2 victory over New England at the Meadowlands, the Jets were able to establish a consistent pass rush, keeping the heat on Patriots quarterback Tom Brady all game.  The result? Two interceptions and a passer rating of 72.5, Brady’s second-lowest of the regular season.  In the Week 13 debacle in Foxboro, Mike Pettine and Rex Ryan were much more conservative with the defensive gameplan diverting from what brought them much success in the first matchup.  If the Jets are to have any shot at a date with destiny in Pittsburgh next Sunday, it starts with the pass rush.  Four and five-man rushes, early and often.  The only way to slow down Brady is to prevent him from getting in the groove or establish any rhythm with his receivers.
  • PUT WELKER ON THE ISLAND: Since his arrival in Foxboro three seasons ago, Wes Welker has emerged as the league’s most dangerous slot receiver as well as the insidious key to New England’s aerial attack.  Under Ryan, Welker has served as one of the few consistent thorns in the side of the Jets secondary. There is only one possible foil to another gamebreaking performance by Brady’s go-to receiver. His name is Darrelle Revis.  Time and time again, No. 24 has proven to be capable of nullifying any big-time receiver in the NFL. Moving Revis to the inside to match-up against Welker would take away a majority of the underneath routes Brady relies on.
  • DON’T STOP GRINDING: Early on in their Week 13 matchup, the Jets offense exhibited a strong ability to move the ball on the ground against the Patriots’ defense.  Faced with an early deficit, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer abandoned that gameplan, forcing Mark Sanchez and company into panic mode.  Patience is key on Sunday, and Schottenheimer must ride-out running backs Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson as long as they possibly can, eating clock and keeping Brady’s unit off the field while taking the pressure off Sanchez.
  • FEED THE HORSES: The ultimate weak link of the young Patriots defense lies in an inconsistent and unproven secondary.  Receivers Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes were brought to New York for the big-time moments like this, with a big-time chance to shine.  Sanchez has demonstrated an ability to thrive when the deep ball is dialed up, most notably at the end of games.  Taking some serious shots downfield from the onset will keep the Patriots on their heels, forcing them to put less men in the box, opening up the ground ‘n pound running game for Greene and Tomlinson.  If there was any opportunity for Schottenheimer and the offensive unit to gamble heavily, it comes Sunday against the New England secondary.


It most certainly won’t be easy, but with a third look at Tom Brady and the Patriots offense, Rex Ryan and his staff will devise a defensive gameplan to limit the first downs and keep the high-volume Pats offense off the field.  If the Jets can stay true to their gameplan and identity, they can move the ball on the ground against New England all day, and control possession which in itself spells the ultimate key to the game.  The maturation of the neophytic Sanchez will continue Sunday, symbolizing the passing of the guard in the AFC East and sending the New York Jets to Pittsburgh next week.

Broadcast Info: Saturday, 4:30 P.M. ET, TV: CBS (Jim Nantz/Phil Simms) Radio: 1050 AM ESPN Radio (Bob Wischusen/Marty Lyons)


January 8th, 2011

Gang Green searches for life after death in Indy

Here were the New York Jets.

A 9-7 team that had no business being here, in the postseason–nevermind the AFC Championship Game.  Heck, they were only here because the team that they were facing had pulled their starters four weeks earlier.

Mark Sanchez and the Jets will look to avenge last year's AFC Championship loss in Indy on Saturday night. ( Photo)

A rookie head coach who couldn’t detach his foot from his mouth?   An erratic rookie quarterback?  No chance in hell a team that barely squeaked into the playoffs was taking down Peyton Manning.  In his building?  Go take a walk.

Except they were.

For 27 minutes, the team that didn’t deserve to take the field with Manning’s squad, had the four-time NFL MVP on his heels, gasping for breath.  Rex Ryan’s team had kept Manning just where they wanted him for one half of football: Out of the end zone and staring down at the prospect of a 17-6 deficit heading into the halftime locker room.

With just under two minutes remaining in the second quarter and the Indianapolis Colts offense set back at their 20, the Jets could taste blood.  They had effectively bewildered and bruised Manning for five straight drives, one stop away from sending the Indy coaching staff and the entire state of Indiana into a 20 minute panic attack at the intermission.

Except that one stop, it never came.  On 2nd and 10 from his own 20, Peyton went to work.  His weapon of choice?  A rookie receiver from El Dorado Hills, California named Austin Collie.  Collie did his best Lassie impression, selling Jets corner Drew Coleman on a hard inside fake from the slot position, bolting to the outside with grace, where his quarterback found him for an 18-yard gain.  On the very next play, Collie broke up the middle of the field on a deep seam route, where Manning connected with his receiver once again. This time, it was for a 46-yard gain on a perfectly thrown ball, which the 11-time Pro Bowler precisely lofted between Coleman and safety Kerry Rhodes.

In typical Peyton fashion, the Jet defense had no time to react. Manning hit Collie for the third straight play on a 16-yard pass in the back of the end zone.  4 plays, 80 yards, 58 seconds.  Just like that, the Colts offense had new life, while the Jet defense was left for dead.  Manning’s end-of-the-half heroics cut the Jet lead to 17-13, while setting the table for a run of 24 unanswered points, sending Indianapolis to Super Bowl XLIV in Miami and the Jets back home to watch.

Here they are again.

349 days following their title game collapse, the New York Jets head back to Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday night, aspiring to ardently avenge last January’s loss to the Colts, while revamping their 2010 cemetery into their 2011 Super Bowl springboard.

This is no rematch though.  In fact, besides the logos on the helmets and front of the jerseys, these are two vastly differently teams matching up in Indianapolis for round two.

For the Jets, Saturday’s Wild Card matchup is yet an opportunity for the belated coming-out party of an enigmatic 11-5 team.  Exit Thomas Jones, the stalwart backbone of Gang Green’s ”ground and pound” attack from a year ago.  Enter LaDainian Tomlinson, Santonio Holmes and a capricious offense which has failed to live up to sky-high preseason predictions, failing to score a touchdown in four of their five losses this season.  Defensively, the Jets have taken a step back as well, as the league’s leading pass defense from a year ago has fallen to 22nd in the league, despite the offseason additions of Pro Bowl cornerback Antonio Cromartie, veteran safety Brodney Pool, and first-round draft choice cornerback Kyle Wilson.

In spite of taking definite statistical step-backs on both sides of the ball, the Jets have somehow scratched and clawed their way to 11 wins.  They have shown a flair for the dramatic in last-second wins against Cleveland, Detroit, and Houston while also demonstrating an affinity for overcoming adversity, racking up six victories on the road.

Meanwhile, their counterparts, the 10-6 Indianapolis Colts, have proved to be equally difficult to gauge.  Peyton Manning and company are a far cry from the 14-2 squad which dominated the AFC a year ago.  While still dangerous, these Colts are a much more precarious bunch, marred by countless injuries and inconsistency all season long.

While Manning’s receiving core has been decimated by the loss of receivers Austin Collie, Anthony Gonzalez and (TE) Dallas Clark, the Colts’ quarterback has found solace in Clark’s replacement, the 25-year-old, relatively unknown Jacob Tamme.  Tamme, a third-year player out of Kentucky, has taken the league by storm this season, emerging as Manning’s new favorite and arguably most dangerous target.  The 6-foot-3 tight end has hauled in 67 balls for 631 yards this season with four touchdowns.

Things certainly won’t be easy for the Jets inside the dome, but when has this team ever taken the easy way out?  Revenge against Peyton Manning is by no means out of the question.


  • Tame the Tamme: The main weakness of the Rex Ryan’s defensive unit this season has been its weakness to defend the inside of the field.  In losses to New England, Baltimore, and Miami the Jets have been struggled to match up with athletic tight ends and slot receivers.  Jim Caldwell’s gameplan will no doubt include a heavy dose of tight end Jacob Tamme, early and often.  The Jets linebacking core and safeties must contain Tamme and force the action to the outside where the strength of their secondary lies, with corners Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie.
  • Ground ‘N’ Pound: Peyton Manning can’t beat you if you keep him on the sidelines.  Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer ought to take a page out of Tony Sparano and the Miami Dolphins’ playbook from a year ago.  The Jets must establish the run early and often with a steady diet of last year’s postseason hero Shonn Greene and L.T.  It shouldn’t be too difficult against an Indianapolis defense which has struggled to defend against the run this season (25th in the NFL).  Gang Green must control possession and turn this into a grind-it-out defensive battle, in which they would hold the advantage.
  • Play Action: If the Jets can establish a consistent ground attack early, it will open up the play-action game which is such an important facet to the success of their aerial attack. Against a middle-of-the-pack secondary like Indianapolis, Mark Sanchez should be given some free reign to throw the deep ball to his big-play threats, Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards.
  • Pressure Peyton: Against the Indianapolis offensive line, getting to Mr. Manning is easier said then done, but it is not an impossibility. Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine must bring the heat on Peyton and dial up constant blitz packages to disrupt his rhythm. Under duress, any quarterback in the National Football league is human, even Peyton Manning. Turnovers could end up being the difference in this one.


Offensively, the Jets should have no problem running on a very average Colts defense. The two ‘X’ factors in this game will be the Jets offensive line and Antonio Cromartie. If the Jets can keep Mathis and Freeney off Sanchez, it should be smoothing sailing for the offense. Cromartie must at least limit Pierre Garçon. Last year’s 11-catch, 151-yard performance by Garçon is the reason why Cromartie was brought here.  He needs to earn his money Saturday.

Broadcast Info: Saturday, 8:00 P.M. ET, TV: NBC (Al Michaels/Chris Collinsworth) Radio: 1050 AM ESPN Radio (Bob Wischusen/Marty Lyons)

JETS-BILLS PREVIEW: The finale about nothing

January 2nd, 2011

A preseason game in January.

Following a 31-yard field goal in overtime by Washington Redskins kicker Graham Gano last week, that’s what the Jets have set up for themselves Sunday in their regular season finale against the Buffalo Bills.

Rookie Joe McKnight could see some serious action in Sunday's playoff dress-rehearsal against Buffalo. ( Photo)

With a playoff spot already locked up, what exactly does Gang Green have to play for?  According to their head coach, a whole lot.

“We’re going out there to try and win the game, first off,” said Rex Ryan Friday.  ”Is it a kick start to the playoffs?  I guess it is the last game we play, so you’re trying to go out there and get some things done.  Will we do some things that maybe we haven’t done? Yes, absolutely.”

Coming off losses in three of their last four games, there is definitely some work to be done for the 10-5 Jets. A win Sunday would restore some mojo to a team that will seemingly limp into the playoffs. Both literally and figuratively.

“There’s only one way to play the game,” said Ryan.  ”And that’s to go full tilt.  If you don’t, that’s when injuries do happen.  You have to be playing at that kind of tempo.  You’re a professional.  We want to win this game.”

Being professional is one thing.  Putting your star players at risk with a playoff run in sight, is quite another.  Mark Sanchez is likely to have his playing time severely limited Sunday with backups Mark Brunell and Kellen Clemens getting the majority of the reps.  Meanwhile starting corners Darrelle Revis (hamstring) and Antonio Cromartie (groin) have been listed as questionable for Sunday, with a good chance that they both will not suit up.

Another Jet who is likely to see his workload lessened immensely against Buffalo is running back LaDainian Tomlinson.  Tomlinson, who comes into Sunday needing only 86 yards to become only the fifth running back in NFL history to record nine 1,000-yard seasons, likely will not get the chance to do so.  It’s possible that Tomlinson could be held out of the entire game with rookie Joe McKnight taking the bulk of the carries.

Despite the uncertainty of playing time for himself and many of his teammates Sunday, the 31-year-old back agrees with his head coach that closing out the regular season should count for something.

“You definitely want to end (the season) on a good note,” said Tomlinson, earlier this week.  ”You want to be, as we talked about all year long, playing our best football at this time, so you want the momentum of winning the game and also, it’s a dress rehearsal to make sure you’re covering everything you need to do at this time to be ready to go for next week.”

Regardless of who exactly steps out onto the field for Gang Green Sunday, a win is definitely attainable.  It’s been another long, dreary campaign for the 4-11 Bills, making Chan Gailey’s first season in Buffalo a forgetful one.

While the Bills record is not truly indicative of how competitive they’ve been in the second half of the season, they certainly have some major flaws.  The key to Buffalo’s undoing this season has been a severe inability to stop the run, as the Bills rank dead last in the NFL in rush defense, yielding a whopping 162.5 yards on the ground per game.

However, Sunday’s finale in the Meadowlands does hold some serious clout for Buffalo.  But obviously it has nothing to do with the postseason.

The Bills enter Sunday’s game against the Jets, currently in the No.4 slot for April’s draft.  Depending on the league-wide outcomes of Week 17, Buffalo could finish as high as the second pick, or as low as the ninth.

PREDICTION: With the backups in, this one could get ugly. But then again, this Jet offense has been inept basically all season. The offense will struggle to score once again, even against the porous Buffalo defense. However, with the possibility of Fitzpatrick sitting this one out, the Jet defense will feast on Bills third-year backup quarterback Brian Brohm. At least three forced turnovers for the defense, two for scores. JETS 20, Buffalo 3


Matchup history

Sunday marks the 99th meeting between the two clubs with Buffalo holding a 53-46 series advantage.  However, the Jets have had the Bills’ number as of late, posting wins in four of the last five meetings.  Gang Green is coming off a Week 4 shellacking of the Bills up at Ralph Wilson Stadium in which the Jets dominated possession of the football for over 40 minutes en route to a 38-14 victory.

Goin’ for 11

A win against Buffalo Sunday will give New York their eleventh win of the season for the first time since Bill Parcells’ squad did it in 1998.  It will also mark only the fourth time in franchise history that the Jets have surpassed 10 wins in a season.  Furthermore, 11 wins would add up to 29 combined wins for the Jets since 2008.  This would tie the 1967-69 Jets for most wins by the club in a three-year span.

Injury Report

Safety James Ihedigbo (ankle/knee) and right tackle Damien Woody are out for the Jets.  Safety Eric Smith (concussion) is listed as doubtful.  As mentioned earlier, cornerbacks Antonio Cromartie (groin) and Darrelle Revis (hamstring) are questionable along with defensive end Shaun Ellis (back), defensive tackle Sione Pouha (back), and defensive end Trevor Pryce (hip).  Listed as probable are wideouts Santonio Holmes (quad) and Brad Smith (hand), quarterback Mark Sanchez (shoulder), center Nick Mangold (shoulder), guard Matt Slauson (illness), and linebacker Bryan Thomas (ankle).

For Buffalo, guard Cord Howard (shoulder) is out along with wide receivers Donal Jones (head) and David Nelson (ribs).  Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (knee) is questionable.  Listed as probable are linebackers Mike Balogun (illness) and Chris Kelsay (knee), defensive tackles Torell Troup (back) and Kyle Williams (hip), cornerback Terrence McGhee (head), safety Jon Corto (illness) and offensive tackle Demetrius Bell (knee).

Broadcast Info: Sunday, 1:00 P.M. ET, TV: CBS (Gus Johnson/Steve Tasker) Radio: 1050 AM ESPN Radio (Bob Wischusen/Marty Lyons)

JETS-BEARS PREVIEW: A snowy skirmish in the Chi

December 26th, 2010

28 degrees in the snow and wind against one of the most feared front-sevens in the National Football League, in their building.

Your erratic second-year quarterback will be playing with a sore right throwing shoulder and has passed for one touchdown, tossed five picks, and coughed up the football five times in the past four games.  Oh and by the way, this game has playoff implications.

Rex Ryan most likely didn’t fantasize about this back in Chicago.  Mercy mercy me (that Murciélago).

Nick Mangold and the Jet offensive line cannot afford to turn in a shoddy performance Sunday against the vaunted Bears defense. ( Photo)

And so goes the script for the 2010 “It’s never easy” campaign of the New York Jets: Another week, another likely dogfight.  Legit canines wouldn’t have much of a shot against the Chicago Bears linebacking core of Brain Urlacher and Lance Briggs, and the newest bully on the block, defensive end Julius Peppers.

“Julius Peppers is an unbelievable player,” said Jets head coach Rex Ryan, earlier this week.  “It’s ridiculous.  A guy shouldn’t be that fast and that athletic.  I guess he’s right there in the discussion of the Defensive Player of the Year.  He is every year.  He is a tremendous player and you certainly need to know where he is every snap.  No question about it.”

The indomitable 6-foot-7, 285 pound Peppers is the weapon of choice for a Chicago defense which boasts one of the most impressive arsenals in the NFL.  Lovie Smith’s defensive unit has returned to prominence this season under the direction of Rod Marinelli.  Through Week 15, the Bears find themselves at the top of nearly every defensive category: 3rd in the NFL in points allowed per game (17.3), 8th in total yards allowed (310.9), and third in rush defense (89.8).

The secret of Chicago’s defensive revival lies within their ability to get constant pressure on opposing quarterbacks.  While Peppers has only registered eight sacks on the season, his presence on the field goes beyond the numbers.  The need to double-team Peppers has drawn one-on-one matchups for fellow end Israel Idonije and defensive tackle Anthony Adams all season.  The success of the Bears Cover 2 zone defense hinges on this pressure.

The Jets offensive line, thought to be the team’s strong suit before the season started has been a picture of inconsistency all year.  Another underwhelming performance on Sunday could end in disaster.  Despite their public denials, Briggs, Urlacher and Peppers are licking their chops, primed for a diabolical assailment of the right shoulder of Mark Sanchez.

If the pass protection is up to the challenge, the Jets have a fighting shot as offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer is likely to employ an offensive gameplan similar to last week in Pittsburgh.  A steady diet of short passes and a consistent running attack.  Patience.

The ultimate weakness of the Cover 2 zone that Chicago rolls out is its susceptibility to passes in the deep middle zone and the underneath zones, three to four yards past the line of scrimmage.  The ‘dink and dunk’ attack is best suited for Sanchez, rather than force a big play and put the second-year quarterback in a position to make a bad decision.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Bears aren’t quite as intimidating.  Mike Martz’s offense is the statistical inverse of the defense, ranked near the bottom of the league in nearly every category.  As inconsistent as the offense has been, quarterback Jay Cutler remains a formidable threat with his cannon right arm.  The 27-year-old Cutler has been impressive this season, limiting his turnovers considerably from years past (13 interceptions in 2010).

Jets linebacker Bart Scott has taken note of Cutler’s improved play this season. “He’s streaky, but when he’s on, he’s on, says Scott.  “He can fit the ball into a hole.  We like to say that he can probably sink a battleship.  He’s strong enough.  He has that type of power.  He can throw the ball off balance.  He’s playing well.”

The Jets defense, who have stepped up their pass-rush in recent weeks, must look to expose the Bears offensive line which has struggled with protections all season.


In the cold, and likely snow, the Jets will struggle to move the ball against the Chicago defense.  Whether Sanchez can play and how effective he can be with the sore shoulder are too big of question marks right now.  Especially in the arctic conditions. D’Brickashaw Ferguson will be the ultimate key for Gang Green on the offensive side of the ball.  If he can keep Julius Peppers in check and off Sanchez, there’s hope for Schotty’s unit.


Sunday clincher?

The Jets can clinch a playoff berth win or tie in Chicago Sunday.  Gang Green also clinches with either a Jacksonville loss or tie ( at home against Washington) or an Indianapolis loss or tie (at Oakland).

A Jets playoff berth would mark only the fifth time in franchise history that the team has qualified for the postseason in consecutive seasons.

Matchup history

Sunday’s tilt at Soldier Field marks the tenth meeting between the two teams, with the Bears holding a steady 6-3 all-time advantage.  Chicago also currently holds a two-game series winning streak against the Jets.  Sunday will mark a return to the state of Illinois for the Jets, where the team hasn’t played since 2002.  In ‘02, Gang Green fell to the Bears, 20-13, at the University of Illinois’ Memorial Stadium, during the renovation of Soldier Field.

Last time they met…

Brian Urlacher and the Chicago defense blanked the Jets in a 10-0 victory at the Meadowlands in November of 2006.  Jets quarterback Chad Pennington was intercepted twice on the day, once in the red zone.  The knockout blow for Gang Green came at the beginning of the fourth quarter, when then-rookie corner Drew Coleman tripped up while in one-on-one coverage on Mark Bradley, leading to a 57-yard touchdown reception for the Chicago receiver.

Injury Report

For the Jets, defensive end Trevor Pryce (hip) and right tackle Damien Woody (knee) have been ruled out for the second straight week.  Safety Eric Smith (concussion) was limited in practice on Friday and is listed as doubtful for Sunday. Safety James Ihedigbo (knee/ankle) is listed as questionable.  Corners Drew Coleman (groin), Darelle Revis (hamstring), and Antonio Cromartie (groin) are all listed as probable, along with center Nick Mangold (shoulder), quarterback Mark Sanchez (shoulder), and receivers Santonio Holmes (turf toe) and Brad Smith (hand).

Listed as probable for Chicago are receiver Earl Bennett (ankle) and linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa (knee).

Broadcast Info: Sunday, 1:00 P.M. ET, TV: CBS (Jim Nantz/Phil Simms) Radio: 1050 AM ESPN Radio (Bob Wischusen/Marty Lyons)

JETS-STEELERS PREVIEW: No keys, push to start (the Jet offense)

December 19th, 2010

Who are the New York Jets?

After 14 weeks of heroic comeback wins, anemic offensive exhibitions, and one of the worst drubbings in franchise history, the 9-4 Jets are the ultimate enigmatic Rubik’s Cube of the National Football League.  Multi-faceted, unable to crack, and one big box of frustration for their fans and football pundits alike.

Mark Sanchez and the Jet offense needs to get going against the Steelers after being stuck in the mud for two-straight weeks. ( Photo)

The highly-sought after answer to this polysemous puzzle  may finally arrive Sunday in Pittsburgh, the setting for the proverbial crossroads of their season.

Losers of two straight to divisional opponents in deplorable fashion, the Jets find themselves in desperate need of a win Sunday to restore confidence to both their deflated offensive unit and their post-season dreams.  A season which began with much optimism and fanfare has begun to fade, faster than one can say “Black and Yellow”.

While a win on Sunday is not out of the question, it most certainly will not be easy.  In the Steelers, the Jets see everything they wish to be — a highly disciplined elite football team which prides itself on a hard-nosed running attack and a shutdown defense.  First in the league in rush defense, second in points allowed, fourth in total yards allowed, Mike Tomlin’s defensive unit appears to be anything but the perfect remedy for a Jet offense which hasn’t reached the end zone since Thanksgiving night.

Jets receiver Santonio Holmes sure knows a thing or two about the Steeler defense after going up against in practice every day for four years in Pittsburgh.

“These guys run to the ball, said Holmes on Thursday.  ”They’re eleven men attacking the football.  They don’t try to give up any big plays.  They try to keep everything in front of them.”

“They use the strength of their defensive line and their linebackers to get pressure on the quarterback and cause a lot of confusion with zone blitzes and things like that. That’s probably one of the biggest aspects that we have to focus on with that game.”

In order to have any shot, the Jets must beat Pittsburgh at their own game.  The same game that Rex Ryan has been spitting since July–ground and pound.

“We have to be ourselves and go out and be the team we put together,” said Ryan, Friday.  The team we had envisioned for this season.  (We want) to be a physical football team, a team that will play sound and great defense and a team that (has) an all-weather offense.”

“If we do those things and we’re true to ourselves, we’ll be just fine.”

It’ll definitely be easier for the Jets to “do their thing” with Steeler’s star safety Troy Polamalu likely to be sidelined with an Achilles heel injury.  Polamalu aggravated the injury last week against Cincinnati and is likely to sit out until the playoffs.  Without Polamalu manning center field, the Steeler secondary becomes a lot more average than it already is (232.9 passing yards allowed per game).

Offensively, Pittsburgh has had similar struggles to that of the Jets.  The Steelers have scored all of two touchdowns in their past 31 drives, while settling for 9 field goals.  Regardless of their recent struggles, Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger remains a sizable threat out of the pocket with his arm and has demonstrated an affinity for making plays with his feet.

“He’s a big guy, said Jets linebacker Jason Taylor, Thursday.  ”He’s like a defensive end playing quarterback.  He’s strong.  He’ll shrug you off (and) he’ll stiff-arm you.  He keeps plays alive with his legs very well and he can throw the ball down-the-field.”

“Their offense almost becomes kind of street ball-ish after it breaks down.  A lot of quarterbacks try to do it, but none as effectively as Ben.”

In the end, Sunday’s outcome will once again come down to the Jets being able to get out of their own way, offensively.  If Sanchez and the offense can establish any semblance of a rhythm and put some points on the board, the Jet defense should be up to the task of shutting down Roethlisberger.  With Polamalu out, Brian Schottenheimer must go to the air early and often and test the Pittsburgh secondary.  Looking to feature guest-of-honor Santonio Holmes wouldn’t be  a bad idea either.

Establishing the passing game early will open things up for Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson to see some daylight in the running game — the bread and butter of the Jets’ gameplan.


The Jet defense holds up for the second-straight week, while Sanchez finally pilots the offense back into the end zone–at least once.  The Jets win a hard-fought slugfest, which definitely won’t be pretty.


Matchup history

Sunday’s scrap at Heinz Field will mark the 19th meeting between the two teams.  Pittsburgh has historically dominated the Jets, posting an all-time record of 15-3 against New York.  In fact, the Jets have never registered a victory in Pittsburgh, posting an 0-6 lifetime record in the Steel City.  As far as recent history goes, the Steelers have also won seven of the last ten meetings.

Last time they met…

The then 1-8 Jets, with Kellen Clemens at quarterback, squeaked out an improbably 19-16 overtime victory over the Steelers in the Meadowlands on November 18, 2007.  The Jet offense was led by 117 yards on the ground by running back Thomas Jones.  After exchanging punts in the first two possessions of overtime, a 38-yard field goal by kicker Mike Nugent sealed the win for New York.  This victory would serve as one of the few bright spots for Eric Mangini’s Jets in an otherwise disappointing 2007 campaign.

No place like Holme

One of Sunday’s underlying subplots is the return to Pittsburgh for Jets receiver Santonio Holmes.  Holmes, who spent the first four seasons of his NFL career in the Black and Gold, downplayed the notion of Sunday being an emotional matchup for him.  ”I honestly don’t know,” said Holmes on Wednesday. ” Right now, I’m focused on the (plan) that we put in this week, how we’re going to practice, how we’re going to prepare for this week and I’ll let all the emotions out come Sunday.”

Injury Report:

For the Jets, S Eric Smith (concussion), OT Damien Woody (knee), and DE Trevor Pryce have all been ruled out for Sunday after missing practice this week.  S James Ihedigbo, who was limited in practice all week (ankle and knee) is listed as questionable. C Nick Mangold (shoulder), DT Sione Pouha (finger), CB Darrelle Revis (hamstring), and WR Brad Smith (hand) are all probable.

Along with Polamalu, listed as doubtful for Pittsburgh is DT Steve McClendon (stinger).  Steelers DE Aaron Smith (triceps) has been ruled out.

Broadcast Info: Sunday, 4:15 P.M. ET, TV: CBS (Jim Nantz/Phil Simms) Radio: 1050 AM ESPN Radio (Bob Wischusen/Marty Lyons