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Insider Report: Loss hurts, but hope should float on. Plus quotes

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

The Jets’ season came to an end last night in Pittsburgh, one step short of a Super Bowl for the second consecutive season. What will haunt the players and coaches, undoubtedly, well into the offseason, was the team’s nearly inconceivable performance in the first half. New York’s defense, arriving into this penultimate contest off an outrageously successful outing against the Patriots, appeared lifeless, unable to either overpower the Steelers’ maligned offensive line, or finish tackles. The Steelers’ dominated time of possession, leaving the Jets in a desperate situation, from which they almost miraculously recovered.

Of course, these facts, and other details, have been discussed and dissected plenty, already. Painful swings of momentum will be considered constantly until training camp opens, and even after. What if the punt does get blocked? What if the Jets scored that touchdown, instead of settling for an eventual safety? What if? Whenever a tough football game is lost, that question becomes a cursed mantra.

 These Jets were fascinating to follow in 2010. They created, and endured, multiple controversies. Their on-field performance radically shifted, almost on a constant basis. The style of play so carefully cultivated in 2009 was wiped away, replaced by a much more high-risk, entertaining approach.

And that’s been the thing, about these past two years. I received an incredible opportunity to cover a professional sports team. That would have been enough. But these Jets… they were a journalist’s dream, and, ironically enough, in this age of hyper image sensitivity, a public relations nightmare. [The Jets’ staff definitely had their hands full, bless ‘em]

See, people at this point might have forgotten, but last year was insane too, just for entirely different reasons. That team was declared dead countless times, though it did totally transform right before the playoffs began, finally reaching its ceiling when no one saw it coming.

Combing through my own archives last night, after this season came to a crashing end, a strange sense of perspective seeped into my thoughts. Sure, this loss will be remembered painfully, placed alongside other letdowns over the years. Think about it, though. The Jets were Conference Championship participants in ’09, but that was a fairy tale ride. This time around, expectations were sky high. They were however, a road team again. Their regular season had been disjointed at moments. They had not reached their apex until the Divisional Playoff, and, adhering to their rather inconsistent nature throughout 2010, the fall was swift, dramatic, and unexpected.

Even still… misplaced within the wailing, all the negativity about possibly not having such a shot again, keep in mind: the Green Bay Packers lost to the Cowboys three straight years in the playoffs before taking home the big prize in ’96-97. In basketball, the Chicago Bulls, at one point, could not get by the Detroit Pistons. The Kansas City Royals could never beat the Yankees, until they did, in 1980. Jets fans are going to be either drilling pessimism into themselves, or having the job done for them, over these next few weeks. They will be told repeatedly that these chances only come around but once every five or ten years. Say what? The Eagles lost THREE straight Conference Championship games, before making their Super Bowl appearance with Donovan McNabb. By the negative logic being applied to the Jets in some quarters, the Eagles’ window should have closed completely well before they made that Super Bowl. All the karmic stuff, the bad luck voodoo… its nonsense… If the Jets are one of the best teams in football next season, they will have a great shot to make the Super Bowl. Bottom line, end of story… Sports maintain an illusion of continuity. It’s not really there. Every day is different. Every year is different. These Jets now recede into the past. The new guys will be untethered to the past, capable of anything.

Now there were some interesting quotes spoken today. I’ll let the players take it away. One more thing before I go, and don’t forget it, ask those Eagles, or the early nineties Bills, or the baseball Royals, or hell, the Indianapolis Colts, who were supposed to NEVER get as good of a shot as they had in ’05: the better you are, the bigger that window is… open for a good long while, beckoning a fly through… The Jets will fly on.  And if management makes the correct moves, their window for ultimate success will remain wide, for a long time.

This blog will now be occasionally active. It’s been a pleasure blogging regularly throughout the 09-10 seasons. Peace.   

The horizon is uncertain, but what's possible will remain... possible

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Mark Sanchez:

On his development:   “The most important thing, personally, was trying to cut down on interceptions.  I cut down on turnovers (and) ball security (issues).  To improve like we did, to jump as many spots as we did in third-down conversions, on red zone efficiency, everything we improved in as an offense.  That just comes with experience.  I’m really proud of the coaches and the players for improving like we promised each other we would on this day last year.”

On Possible Changes:  “I don’t know. I just feel like there are probably more than a handful of guys, at least 10, that won’t be playing (here) next year because of contracts deals or age. Guys have played a long time and they’ve had great careers. LT (LaDainian Tomlinson) and Jason Taylor, I mean those guys are great competitors. They are nearing the end of their career, (but) I hope we get them back, I hope they have one more year in them because they’ve helped me. The reality is this is a tough game and these guys have played a long time, so we’ll see what happens.”

Bart Scott

On a Possible Emotional Letdown after beating the Patriots:  “That has nothing to do with it.  Whenever you have to play three games on the road, it’s tough-sledding.  The hardest thing to do in this game is win on the road.  Hopefully, that’s something we can look forward to.  Maybe we can try and win the division, so we don’t have to go that route.  That can also be a goal for how we can improve next year.”

Brandon Moore

On the first half:    “I don’t know.  We couldn’t get off the field on defense.  We couldn’t stay on the field on offense.  It’s as simple as that.  Execution in that type of game has to be at a high level and we didn’t execute very well in the first half.”

 

Rex Ryan

On Holmes’ criticism of play-calling:   “That’s not the way I like to operate, but it talks about the emotions that you’re feeling at the time.  Just like when I was saying nobody has a right to write negative comments about us.  That’s a ridiculous statement.  It was just raw.  That’s the emotion of it at the time. Those are things, obviously, you wish you had back.”

On the Labor Uncertainty:  “I just hope it gets worked out at the end of the day.  Obviously, I have a lot of faith that it will be.  Man, it’s some scary times.  As a coach, you want to know and you want to get your guys back as fast as you can.  Let’s get on to the new season.  It really is uncertain times.  That’s why I went and reached out to our players about holding each other accountable, whether that’s working out or whether it’s thinking football.”

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Friday Insider Report: Sanchez defies definition

Friday, January 21st, 2011

To those uninitiated within the realms of hardcore sports fanaticism, watching games is a vastly different kind of experience. When placed in comparison against those well versed in chicken wing devouring, coach cursing, rivalry courting, apparel wearing zealotry; the temporary fan reacts in a decidedly different manner.

 For the acolyte consumed by watching competition, a game unfolds following specific patterns, statistical indicators identified, karmic consequences weighed. They get nervous, when the unreliable kicker lines up to force overtime, processing all the relevant data.  Upon the mind being attacked by an endless amount of information, specific moments can become unbearable, their significance, in the grand scheme of life, temporarily elevated far beyond normal bounds of perceived importance.

 In big games, Conference title matchups, fun has nothing to do with it. A diehard fan makes an emotional investment, and that down payment becomes a paramount concern. Admirable as it may be, to care that much, these people are forgetting why they started watching sports in the first place. The carefree viewing buddy, maybe a casual friend from work dropping in to see what all this NFL fuss is about, eventually enthralled by the competition, far removed from the grip of fear, stands far closer to appreciating the game’s true beauty.

Because the die-hard is destined to attach meaningless thoughts and feelings to present circumstances unaffected by the past, their passion choking out the thrills. Sometimes, we are better off not knowing, or attempting to predict or project, obsess and anticipate. Not for the benefits presented by ignorance. Rather, for the pleasure of life viewed through fresh eyes, a relatively untainted perception.

 While the season ticket holding, message board registered, talk show calling fan sits breathless, the unapologetic bandwagon climber just watches, fascinated. And maybe the truth lies somewhere beyond the over-analysis, in this realm of reverie. They don’t get hung up on stats, team history; even the game’s rules. They just focus on the present moment, notice details lost amid seas of living room high fives. Certain players just jump out, pop off the screen, possessors of an inherent charisma.

When the committed fan, or professional analyst, watches Mark Sanchez participate in playoff games, they are constantly processing information. First, there’s the unique player history. The inconsistences common in young quarterbacks weathered by a championship caliber team in two successive seasons. There are the games he singlehandedly won, and others he totally marred. When the still inexperienced USC graduate struggles, he can rarely summon satisfactory results from the spiral. The incompletions mount, ugly and inaccurate throws. The pocket presence is compromised.

Sanchez is a master masquerader. When he plays poorly, it is so unavoidable. His trials are completely convincing, all appearances pointing toward an inevitably disappointing player, weaknesses overpowering. Scattershot arm, too short, terrible decision-maker, these all apply. His obvious intangible abilities are forgotten, swept away in the name of harsh judgment, reserved for high draft picks surrounded by top shelf talent.

Because Sanchez represents a team widely reviled, a franchise daring fate to hand down comeuppance, his failures are always magnified. He becomes a conduit, an easy, real live symbol for an entire roster. When Sanchez is derided as overhyped, the Jets are brutalized in association.

In many ways, Sanchez is the Jets, on the field, anyway. When his imposter takes the reins, Gang Green is quickly revealed a fraud. Not only a disappointment, but a visually displeasing nightmare, sullying television screens with horrendous execution on routine plays, turning the mundane profane. It’s a bizarre show featuring overthrown outlet passes, indecision and penalties galore. And the football viewing contingent of America became disgusted, all the brash talk, the HBO special, the nonstop headlines, merely the setup for a punch line.

It’d be fitting for the Jets to reach the Super Bowl this season, if only because it has encompassed nearly every emotional level of their franchise history. High hopes, unholy hype, momentary glory, scuttled expectation, questionable personnel decisions, redemption, upsets. It’s all been there. And it revolves around the quarterback.  

Will the unpredictable Sanchez show continue?

Because, the fact is, Sanchez’s accomplishments as a second year pro have been utterly remarkable. Last season, the Jets were a seemingly delusional bunch who barreled into the Conference Championship game, on a magic carpet fitted with nitro rockets. They burned out. “Understanding what’s at stake, understanding how close we were last year, and really just the preparation this week feels so smooth and everything’s feeling right,” said Sanchez at his presser today, referring to the difference between the team’s, and his approach, to last year’s Championship game, and this one. “Where last year,” Sanchez continued, “I couldn’t really put my finger on it at the time, but things were going so fast and you’re just holding on, you know. This year I feel like I have a better grasp on things and I’m just a little more confident going in, and that’s the kind of confidence we need.” Sanchez continued, “So it’s come with a whole year of preparation and trusting the coaches and players around you. But I feel like we have a great plan, and it’s going to take our best effort this week.”

 It’s extremely difficult returning to the peaks the Jets surprisingly, momentarily inhabited last January, no matter how unexpected the initial visit. And yet, they have returned, haunting the haters. Sure, Sanchez’s statistics still have room for improvement, mostly due to a disappointing completion percentage. In reality, though, the quarterback is a primary reason why the Jets find themselves in this most opportune position. Strange, considering a regression had nearly taken hold by the midpoint of the season. Sanchez, though, righted the ship, and despite the missteps, his 2010 was filled with highlights. There were the resounding road victories against the Lions and Browns, looked upon with a critical lens due to the low stature of the opposing teams involved. Sanchez, though, was forging an identity. He is a playmaker, capable of culling magic in severe situations. This playing persona was cemented with a stunning comeback victory against the Houston Texans in November. He is far from a flawless signal caller, but Sanchez’s poise, mocked in many online quarters as a sports writing cliché, has to be considered undeniable. He has four road playoff wins in two seasons, as a second year pro. It’s an amazing feat. He could have easily crumbled in the face of either Divisional Playoff challenge, facing favored, homesteading, and highly touted Chargers and Patriots teams.

Some quarterbacks are inconsistent game to game. Sanchez can be an enigma from down to down.  Against the Patriots he began unbearably, overthrowing a wide open Jerricho Cotchery, his passes sailing. Suddenly, everything began clicking. Sanchez transformed, began hitting open targets, even finding Santonio Holmes on a corner end-zone route, a pitch and catch, practically poetry in motion.

Ultimately, Sanchez, right now, is everything besides definable. He’s the confident passer, burgeoning team leader, road warrior making history. He also remains liable to step backward. Why, following a bland performance in the season opener, Sanchez ripped off a hot streak that placed him near the top of leaderboards, then, without explanation, a drop off occurred, with the occasional theatrical comeback thrown in the mix. Keep in mind, the Jets nearly lost to the Broncos this season because Sanchez had a rough day. The Broncos, an utter mess of a franchise, nearly defeated a Conference Championship participant. Sanchez does have an injured right shoulder. How much of a factor has it been? Unknown… Could the malady still make its presence felt? Unknown…

 Now, Sanchez is on another postseason run, making another Conference Championship appearance, and has another chance to prove he’s a future great, instead of curious case. It’s hard to explain his career at this stage without reverting to at least a little bit of intangible analysis. And while it makes some followers of the game cringe, how else can this career really be analyzed? Isn’t it fair to assess a young player, with a career 54.4 completion percentage, finds a way to rise above his established level of play during big moments. Playoff games, game deciding drives, these are the situations where Sanchez has excelled.

 And before all his success is attributed to the defense and running game, this glib observation fails in the face of the Jets’ approach this season. They placed a ton on his shoulders, deviating from the ground and pound philosophy largely responsible for their heroics in the ‘09 playoffs. Sanchez was the difference in several essential victories. So, could he hold something indefinably special?

The aforementioned band wagon climber…? A big Sanchez fan, most definitely. He has a singular style, easily distinguishable from the other quarterbacks. When he fails, it’s not hard to tell. When he wins, it’s often exciting. He’s the young prince of New York, the big crown attainable. The hardcore fan may fret about all the incompletions, this marvelous road record due to slide. The casual fan, on the other hand, thinks Sanchez is awesome all year ‘round, on the same level as a Brady or Manning, not privy to all the evidence otherwise. As a few jilted Giants followers on the couch groan, Mark Sanchez’s new number one supporter, the dude who has watched a handful of games his whole life, is just enjoying the show… oblivious, and not pretending to know.  When it comes to assessing Mark Sanchez, this Title Game, his future, maybe that’s the right answer.

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Rex Ryan met with the media, two days before the Conference Championship game.

On the players listed as questionable: “They’re questionable… they’re playing… pretty much it.”

On today’s practice: “Today’s practice was outstanding… focus was great… as you’d assume it would be… guys are really working out there… They’re dialed in.”

On Hines Ward: “This guy’s a great football player. There’s no question about that… he’ll look for you now… there’s no question… let’s face it, they changed the rule [about] peeling back and hitting a defenseless player [because Hines Ward] I respect the heck out of Hines Ward.”

Friday Insider Report: Patriots have baggage, too

Friday, January 14th, 2011

Once the game starts this Sunday, all that will matter between the Patriots and Jets is the scoreboard. One team will win, the other will lose. The pregame hype and inflammatory quotes fade to dust, forgotten immediately upon opening kickoff. That’s the weight of the playoffs. Pregame antics can overshadow a regular season contest before it occurs. But they become, rightfully, a curious sideshow in the face of these stakes.

A whole roster of players, who dedicate their lives and bodies in the pursuit of success on the field, will either advance or taste uncompromising, irredeemable defeat. The coaches will either train their bleary eyes toward a new horizon, or be forced to acknowledge another fruitless chapter. Scouting staffs, coordinators, fans, writers, everyone is affected, by the outcome presented by sixty minutes. Because these hard facts would become repetitive if constantly hammered home by the media, [Most coaches try, bless them] intangibles are enthusiastically measured before kickoff. The effect of trash talking tabulated. States of mind considered. The past reviewed.

The Jets are riding into this game as perceived villains, and they have earned the designation. They wear the black hat like a crown. Instead of reconsidering the bravado, after being humiliated by New England in the team’s last matchup, a pivotal, very playoff like Monday Night tilt; the Jets organization has seemingly been emboldened by their underdog status. The Head Coach, Rex Ryan, set the tone, with enough flammable comments early in the week that he may have well been wearing an apron and chef’s hat. Ryan stoked the flames enthusiastically, though the grander plan appeared mysterious. What was the Jets approach, here? Were they prepared to go down swinging, or do they legitimately believe that Monday Night a fluke, not a byproduct of inescapable, easily exploitable defensive matchups?

 So the Jets are fascinating, whether respected or reviled, with their ceaseless machismo, and Antonio Cromartie’s blunt soliloquy on Tom Brady. The Green and White formed an easy narrative: the underdog with enough self-confidence to risk absolute embarrassment. The Jets probably don’t give a damn, but they are hauling a bit of baggage into this contest, entirely through their braggadocio. Should they lose, convincingly, Rex Ryan would have used up some of his currency, as it concerns the credibility of his outlandish statements. A win though, would be legendary. Give the Jets this much: They don’t hedge.

Lost in all this Jet-related mania, though, are the ghosts following New England. When one considers New England in their mind’s eye, images of success doubtless pour forth. Super Bowl trophies being brandished on oversized stages; talented Colts teams floundering amid snowflakes, Ty Law nabbing an interception, Vinatieri kicking a field goal, another perfectly timed screen to avoid the Eagles blitz… the shine of championships is everlasting. However, it can also obscure. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick will not acknowledge it publicly. Even proud Patriots fans would be hard pressed to admit it. But New England has something to prove, this Sunday. They play a role slightly more complicated than the superior, classier outfit forced to knock down a particularly meddlesome henchman; en route to a predictable victory. The Patriots’ postseason history, since denying Donovan McNabb a title in his finest season, has been quite checkered. There have been a few specific, wrenching losses, two of which could have been described as potential franchise cursers, for a less successful operation. The players who suited up for those Patriots teams? Most are gone. Yet, if the Jets are going to be held accountable for reasons basically hypothetical [What if the Patriots get really angry, etc. etc.] the same measures should at least be considered on New England’s side.  Namely, can the Patriots overcome a recently painful postseason history?

 Consider: In 2006, the Patriots sought to avenge a disappointing campaign one year prior. Sure, going 10-6 and reaching the playoffs is a great accomplishment for many franchises, but in New England, the expectations are sky high, especially at this particular time. The Patriots, after all, were in the midst of a legitimate NFL dynasty. In a league supposedly driven by parity, they had taken home the ultimate prize in 2001-2002, 2003-2004, and 2004-2005. Their ’05 regular season was not the dominant affair Patriots fans had grown accustomed to, and despite an impressive win over Jacksonville in the Wild Card round, New England fell to Denver in the divisional playoffs. 

 The Patriots returned to being a force, immediately, chalking up twelve wins in 2006, only  missing prime seeding due to a few surprising regular season setbacks. [Week three to an inferior Denver team, week 10 at home to the overachieving Jets, week fourteen, at the Dolphins] The Pats silenced their doubters in the postseason, demolishing an upset minded Jets team, before shocking the loaded, homesteading San Diego Chargers to earn a berth in the Conference Championship. How huge was that win? Its ripples are still being felt, courtesy of Cromartie, who just may hate the Patriots due to their boisterous celebration on the Chargers’ home turf, after the matter was decided. LaDainian Tomlinson was furious after the game, too, but why would New England care? They were the underdog defying skeptics once more, with a receiving core totally devoid of any brand names.  Beating the favored Chargers represented an emotional win of the highest order. They rode it into Indianapolis against another favored offensive juggernaut, the Colts. The Patriots owned the Colts in the postseason. But this time Peyton Manning and company had home-field advantage. Even still, the Patriots raced out to a 21-3 lead. After a one year interruption to their glory days, the Patriots had apparently reclaimed their elite status. They would play Chicago in the Super Bowl, and most likely win easily. Shockingly, however, considering his hopeless past against the machinations of Belichick, maligned pressure performer Peyton Manning rallied the Colts to a 38-34 comeback win, in a second half featuring a mind bending amount of twists and turns. Ultimately, the Colts prevailed, and the Patriots were defeated, in the kind of grisly manner which can haunt a team for a few years, as if a cloud of negative karma were constantly hovering.

The Patriots would not let that kind of letdown happen to them, however. Instead, they revamped their weak receiving core with Randy Moss and Wes Welker, attaining their services through trades, which, in retrospect; appear laughably one-sided. Cue the fireworks. In 2007, Tom Brady threw fifty touchdowns. Randy Moss caught 23 touchdowns, complimenting the countless times Wes Welker corralled a short pass over the middle. Did the Patriots improve upon 2006? Well, they went undefeated. 16-0. Sure, they should have had a loss to the Ravens mixed in there, but were bailed out by an ill-conceived timeout, delivered by none other than the man coordinating Baltimore’s defense, Rex Ryan. History was suddenly at stake, and if New England wasn’t totally unstoppable, they were definitely doing a hell of an impression. Tom Brady had two incompletions against the Jaguars in the divisional round. San Diego was clock controlled into submission, falling in the Conference Championship game. The Patriots were a great team, one of the best ever. They drew the Giants in the Super Bowl, a defense with a phenomenal pass rush, and a team on a magic carpet ride. A Patriots loss was unfathomable. Surely they would fall to the 10-6 Giants, who had to win three road games just to gain entry into the big dance. Surprise! The Patriots would lose, and not in any customary manner. No, for a team attempting to go undefeated, they lost in appropriately epic fashion, all the pain inflicted on other teams returned in one spare moment, when a special teamer named David Tyree caught a fourth quarter pass against his helmet, flung by a Quarterback previously in the grip of about three different defensive lineman. And that quarterback: the little brother of the guy who beat them the previous season. This defeat rendered the AFC Championship collapse a mere prelude.

The pain continued in 2008. New England regressed to eleven wins, playing without superstar quarterback Tom Brady, who injured his knee week one. At 11-5, they missed the playoffs, a rare occurrence. Even more galling, they lost out on a shot to avenge the agony of 18-1, because the Miami Dolphins, a one win squad in 2007, won the division. As for 2009, it was pretty nondescript. A forgettable regular season, by, again, those ridiculously high Patriots standards, capped off by a Ravens beat-down in the Wild Card round.

A victory over Tomlinson and the Chargers in the 2008 AFC Championship represents a shining moment amid a checkered recent playoff past for the Patriots.

To recap: After winning their last Super Bowl, the Patriots blew an eighteen point lead to their most hated rival in a Conference Championship game, saw an undefeated season crumble because David Tyree made the greatest catch of all time, and saw their quarterback get wiped out in the opening moments of the sequel.

The Patriots…? Cursed? Ridiculous, right…? But a win by a big talking crew who got annihilated in their last matchup against the very team they are disrespecting… a team that is definitely the best football has to offer…. that’d be equally ridiculous, wouldn’t it?

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With the game a mere two days away [hurry up, once you’ve heard from Reggie Jackson, the gauntlet’s been run] Rex Ryan had his presser.

On the availability of Drew Coleman: “He will be listed as questionable, as well James Ihedigbo with his knee and ankle, and Brad Smith with his groin.”

Importance of the Divisional Playoff: “It’s the second biggest game in the history of the franchise.”

Chances of Isaiah Trufant being a factor in this game: “He may very well be active… he probably doesn’t know the defense as well as some other players…  I’m not saying he won’t be active.”

On the team being ready: “We’re going to show up. I guarantee you that.”

On Wes Welker’s foot reference filled press conference: “I think with Wes Welker, this is a huge rivalry type guy. Anything goes, and I can take it… anything goes this week. That’s the way it is.”

On Reggie Jackson’s comments:  “You know what, we’re always going to be who we are…. You know what, we could use Reggie’s bat this week.”

On the coin toss: “We’re going to defer, like we always do.”

The Possibilities Presented by the Playoffs

Saturday, January 8th, 2011

At the end of the day, Jets fans, management, and players would have little use for style points, should this season result in a Championship. Memories of nagging regular season inconsistency would immediately fade, inconsequential and forgotten.

Do Giants fans remember much about the 2007 campaign, besides that absolutely unbelievable postseason run? Eli Manning’s apparent regression evaporated. A particularly pitiful late season defeat to the Washington Redskins is now basically an amnesiac event. Jeremy Shockey broke his leg.  Manning threw a thousand incompletions. It could have been a deflating, defining loss.

Nope.

 Tom Coughlin’s job was supposed to be in jeopardy. All this ugliness was swept away, immediately, following a win on the road, against the Buccaneers in the wild card round.

 The playoffs are sudden death, sure. They can also be salvation, a second chance; a redemptive chapter. Why, just a year before the Giants shocked the world, a maligned Indianapolis Colts outfit, criticized for their lack of heart, tenacity, and anything resembling a run defense, launched themselves to a Lombardi Trophy, sustaining a late season transformation through the Super Bowl. Peyton Manning and company, once labeled choke artists, landed the ultimate prize, just around the time their truest believers abandoned ship.

These two tales reveal some kind of obvious truth about sports, and football specifically, that somehow is consistently overlooked. New formulas are created, advancements in statistical studies procured by fine minds, fascinated by all the possibilities presented by a one hundred yard field. Pregame shows remain a staple, predictions and opinions demanded and delivered. But sometimes, within this cauldron, novelty can become lost in a chaotic mist.

Recent history shows the Jets can take flight in the playoffs.

 Forget analysts, message board visiting fans work themselves into a total frenzy, practically digging a trench to defend their viewpoints. Upsets become inconceivable. Sudden shifts in momentum imperceptible. The sheer randomness of life, an often unpleasant, sometimes wonderful, but altogether unavoidable fact of our existence, is set aside, an undividable denominator, hieroglyphics on a talking point studio sheet. Often in our country, and the modern world, really, what does not make sense, is junked. We want to understand everything, and many are willing to put in the work, an admirable trait within a fast paced society, suited toward easy answers and instant reactions. Even still, for as much tape can be broken down before game-time, along with the intellectual machinations poured into understanding NFL probabilities through advanced numbers crunching, there still exists a pulsating, invigorating strand of unpredictability, coursing through every event governing the game. The game, itself, can be construed as nonsensical.  

 This is not to say all that hard work is for naught, that the excellent coverage is meaningless, that the number crunching football junkies are charting a purposeless course. Not in the slightest. However, it also should be acknowledged that sometimes, the inexplicable becomes reality, the unpredictable a rule.

And that leads us to the Jets. There’s this misconception going around that the Jets are indeed a stylish outfit, bereft of substance. This is getting it all wrong. The Jets would love to be more stylish. They would have savored a dynamic aerial attack, at the expense of diminished running game. This strange plan, wherein the strength of the team would be purposely under-utilized, was set into effect for the benefit of Sanchez, a talented second year quarterback. Maybe the Jets figured the ground and pound philosophy a potential crutch, a short-term fix in a passing league. It could have impeded Sanchez’s growth. So New York traded for Holmes, and often appeared rudderless, an offense in transition. Sanchez and his weapons did show dynamic flashes. He and Holmes outright won a couple of games, which ultimately, was the difference in this team making the playoffs. 

When the Jets lost, though, it was really ugly. A shutout at home to Green Bay, a thrashing on the road against archrival New England, a total Debbie Downer, Buzz Killington fusion against the Dolphins in a soggy Meadowlands. Loses like this affect people’s perceptions, and rightfully so. Not only were the Jets braggarts, practically overflowing with hubris, but they were sometimes aesthetically unpleasing, to an extent that all the hype felt decidedly a fraud.

The road ahead may feel insurmountable, for New York, first a date in Indianapolis with Peyton Manning, a future Hall of Fame signal caller currently riding a four game winning streak and increasing familiarity with backups like Blair White and Jacob Tamme. Should that test be surmounted, Tom Brady awaits. While a case could be made for the Jets defeating the Colts, due to their numerous depth chart advantages, they would be massive underdogs against the Patriots. A serious breakdown of this hypothetical tilt should be eschewed at the moment, for being presumptions. We should consider similar matchups, for the purposes of hope, more than anything else. The aforementioned Giants were supposed to have no chance against Dallas in the ‘08 Divisional playoffs. Their previous visit to Texas resulted in a loss where they allowed 45 points. But because they established the run, and scored a key touchdown before halftime, the Giants pulled out a memorable upset. In the ’06 Divisional Round, the Steelers were supposed to have no shot whatsoever against a juggernaut Colts team, who one year later would win title. The Steelers had been decisively beaten at Indianapolis during the regular season. Lo and behold, two early touchdowns ultimately led to a wild Steelers victory. What about the Carolina Panthers, their ’04 playoff jaunt? They took to the road while shocking the Rams and Eagles. It can be done.

 Football is an exceedingly difficult game to predict. The biggest strike against the Jets is their decided lack of a definitive offensive identity. That Panthers team was predicated on the run. Their approach was simple, and it worked. Surveying the Jets’ offense is a cryptic task. They are definitely not an air show, but also decidedly not a strict ground and pound team. If New York can rediscover something vital within; perhaps against an altogether average run defense like the Colts, they may yet scrounge momentum, becoming a freight train. Stranger things have happened. Look it up.

Jets 38 Bills 7

Sunday, January 2nd, 2011

The football floated in the air for a few moments, and Marquice Cole shot his head skyward, searching with his eyes for a big play opportunity. He caught sight of the pigskin as it began a downward trajectory. The special teams ace alertly made the catch, scoring a pivotal interception in the second quarter. But the punt gunner was hardly through, making the most of his chance to truly shine. He jetted thirty five yards toward the end-zone, converting the turnover into six momentum establishing points.

New York would take a 10-0 as a direct result of Cole’s efforts, and would not look back, eventually downing a beleaguered Buffalo squad by the score of 38-7.

Head Coach Rex Ryan was predictably boisterous after the victory. “We were able to accomplish a lot of guys getting rest,” said the second year Boss, making his second consecutive playoff appearance. “I felt great about the performance of an entire football team.” Unsurprisingly, Ryan was giddy about the tournament getting underway. “We’re ready to go… we’re not happy getting to the playoffs… They’re [opponents] gonna get my best shot.”

In addition to his superb tipping and receiving of the interception, Cole broke out an impressive touchdown dance, combing the archives of American culture and producing a Saturday Night fevered styled bit of choreography. It was a bit of joy expressed in a contest which ultimately did not matter much, featuring Mark Sanchez not even making a pass, and Kellen Clemens admirably scrambling for a fourth quarter score. After the game, Clemens was complimentary of a genuine mentor, Mark Brunell. “You know, it was neat. He was up, he was excited.”  

It was a big afternoon for Cole, but now the Jets look toward the playoffs

 Among the other Jets inactive players were the principal running backs, LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene, joining starting safety Eric Smith and offensive lineman Damien Woody. It was Joe McKnight, the often maligned rookie, who performed impressively in the stead of the halfback starters, collecting 158 yards in his first career start. The Jets, in fact, had not produced a 100 yard rusher since way back in their week four matchup against these same Bills, when Tomlinson and Greene scorched the turf in Orchid Park. This time Buffalo was burned by McKnight. The target of criticism over his unfortunate bout of sickness during minicamp, which inspired slights against his work ethic, and an object of derision due to his place on the roster, especially following the expulsion of fan favorite Danny Woodhead, McKnight definitely flashed a tantalizing sliver of potential against a porous Bills run defense. When Woodhead became a genuine star with the archrival Patriots, McKnight became even more unpopular among the Green and White faithful. While this individual performance will not keep the criticism permanently at bay, it does display why the Jets possessed such belief in the former USC standout. “I feel like I still got more to do,” McKnight admitted afterward. “It was hard… but I feel good.” When asked whether he would be sore after such a long period of inactivity, McKnight replied, “I won’t know ‘till tomorrow morning, when I wake up.”

Other notable performances from this preseason sequel included Braylon Edwards and Brad Smith. Edwards capped off an impressive campaign by catching 52 yard touchdown pass from the experienced, but rusty backup quarterback Mark Brunell. Edwards celebrated his end zone visit by mimicking Santonio Holmes’ signature airplane homage.

Brad Smith concluded another scintillating season with sixty yards rushing, notching a notable 12.0 average. For Smith, who performed even more impressively against the Bengals’ in last season’s finale, it was another showcase, exhibiting why he will be a highly sought after free agent following the playoffs, despite being slightly in the shadow of Edwards and Holmes, as it concerns an impending rendezvous with the free market.

 Mark Brunell was not perfect by any means, providing the Bills with their only points on a poorly thrown; and terribly timed interception practically hand-delivered to Jairus Byrd at the start of the second half. The play seemed to temporarily galvanize the Bills’ sideline, before the Jets resumed work on a rare blowout. Brunell rebounded from the mistake, finding Edwards’ with that aforementioned bomb, his second touchdown toss of the afternoon. He had found Holmes earlier on a 17 yard needle thread through coverage.

The Jets defense was the star of the show. They did not allow an entirely overwhelmed Bills offense to notch an offensive point. Their starting quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick, was given the finale off, a precautionary measure in response to his knee injury. Brian Brohm, a former second round pick of the Packers, and a highly thought of signal caller while plying his trade at Louisville, got the start. Brohm appeared impressive early, firing off a few notably crisp passes, and assuming a comfortable posture in the pocket. He and the entire Bills offense appeared to disintegrate however, following Cole’s game changing pick six. Brohm was drilled by Calvin Pace on the play, unfurling a genuine wobbler. For the Jets, the leading tackler was the day’s hero, Marquice Cole, with six. Cole even scored a second interception during the Jets’ dominant fourth quarter. Cole later notched another interception, and just may have secured legitimate playing time in the playoffs, especially with the Jets now slated to play the pass happy Colts. Jason Taylor’s sack tied him with pass rushing icon Lawrence Taylor on the all-time list. Pace had his best game of the season, recording a sack and a rare interception. Overall, this was a satisfying afternoon for the Jets, but it must be recognized as a mere prelude to the excitement ahead. The Jets finish 11-5, and playoff football is on the horizon.

Lockout would raise questions ignored for far too long

Friday, December 31st, 2010

It all seems so mythological, perfectly running machinery forming memorable narratives. With relentless consistency, the National Football League has inspired, entertained, and enthused fans. No modern sports operation can compare, in terms of sheer popularity. The Super Bowl is a mainstream, cultural event. And those developing legends have been unfurled without any unpleasant interruption.

When an entity is this consistent, it acquires an air of invincibility. Nothing, it seemed, could derail a business this profitable, besides enemies from within.

To potentially damage an apparently impenetrable fortress, the primordial strength of all the positive virtues embellished by writers and broadcasters through a generation would have to be equalized and nullified, archetypical forces conjured from permanent realms. Only malignancies like greed and ego could overshadow decades of glorified winners, the modern day gladiators who had utilized strength, speed, and heart.

Perhaps it was all inevitable, an inescapable ledger balancing. The NFL has operated on a higher plane, somehow beyond reproach, despite sporting a unique set of troubling issues. The owners and players will very shortly commence digging hypothetical trenches, maybe firing off doomsday quotes, and potentially sacrificing a season’s worth of games due to an inability to communicate via screaming across wide chasms.

It has happened before.

The NHL ceased to exist for a while there, rinks rendered ghost igloos.  Major League Baseball survived a tidal wave of criticism following the destruction of their 1994 campaign. The NBA endured a work stoppage in the beginning of the decade, as player salaries actually began approaching market value. [Come on, five players to a starting lineup, usually one super-star per elite team, it’s a dream scenario for a player’s union. By the way, they are facing problems again, because player salaries need to be scaled back… again… hmmm… someone better not bring up the free market, they’ll never play again]

While other sporting enterprises became tangled in multiple public relations nightmares, due basically to unavoidable briefcase battles between owners, agents, and the represented talent, the NFL, comparatively, sailed through this past decade.

Sure, reports of broken down players were disturbing, especially among younger retirees, forced into difficult lifestyles to accommodate shattered bodies. The concussion issue, and the League’s reaction to it, was one of the most fascinating stories of 2010. Rule changes were made right in the middle of the season. Vicious hits, previously overlooked by commentators, are now the object condemnation, as if it were fair to expect players to adjust their instincts within weeks. As the hypocrisy became apparent, and the consequences of a violent sport made plain, the NFL’s magic scepter began collecting cracks.

This kind of negativity can be overcome, but should there be a long period of inactivity on the field, where serious issues are rendered mere distractions by victory obsessed performers, coaches, and an engrossed public, the consequences may actually be severe.

 The sports of America can present a vivid reflection of the country itself. Football grew with television. The game was perfectly tailored to the medium. Football became part of the changing portrait of a growing Nation. It has been propelled to the forefront of our consciousness due entirely to excellence. A hardened critic of the game may see no value in the competition. They would not be swayed by a demonstration of superb play. Aside from the bone jarring hits, previously, and ridiculously, overplayed by sensationalistic networks appealing to the lowest common denominator, there is one overriding reason for watching professional football: quality of play. Without that, everything associated with the game collapses. The players are most important. They made it all happen, through black and white, color, and high definition. Logos are plastered upon jerseys and midfields, team histories tabulated and celebrated, yet ultimately, football is popular because of the men behind the facemasks.

Proponents of the salary cap glorify a league where “dead weight” is released, basically consequence free. Most individual players are considered disposable. If his performance and paycheck are even slightly unbalanced, franchises will not hesitate to substitute a younger, cheaper, replacement. This is all good business.

The analysts and fans who have ceaselessly trumped parity, as a result of the salary cap, probably possess no second thoughts about this system. After all, the League lives in the now, and so do its followers. Fantasy league heroes are labeled zeroes the second they stop contributing to rotisserie rosters, from playmakers to punch-lines, very quickly. This columnist does not intend to make a moralist stand; I only try pointing out an obvious perception.  Fans don’t have to be loyal to players. Neither do the owners. It’s funny then, just analyzing the recent reaction to Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis, who considered himself underpaid and sat out the majority of the Jets’ training camp. Many Jets supporters were left infuriated, venting their frustrations on message boards, assaulting the integrity of a player simply bargaining for a raise. If Revis were to be injured, and rendered an ineffective player, even for a single season, many of these aggrieved fans would support his jettisoning. This does not mean they personally dislike the human, hardly. They are simply going along with the game, and the culture it has produced.

 It’ll be interesting to see how NFL fans, and the media covering the sport, respond if this lockout does take place. Especially segments of the media which have been resolutely effusive in their praise for the league’s business model. They may have to ask themselves: Was the salary cap created because the owners were just desperate to keep player salaries down? So they could pocket more money? Did the resulting parity, a debatable drawn conclusion anyway, justify it all? Is the League all about competitive balance, or was that just a sweet little ancillary benefit of all their cap related machinations? It could be argued that the League, in effect, doesn’t sweat player safety, at least to the extent of recognizing this proposed eighteen game campaign as terribly flawed. The hierarchy has gone so far to suggest fans are clamoring for the change, when evidence of such a movement is in short supply.

See, the players are all about now, the coaches too, unless the season is already lost. And the fans are very about now, and playing pretend executives with their fantasy teams, casting aside players turned outdated models. There’s nothing to question, when so little is remembered.

But has anyone ever really considered the merits of the salary cap? Has anyone ever really considered whether parity ever existed, or is it just a matter of finding a quarterback? Has anyone ever really thought much beyond what a hugely successful corporate entity filtered out via talking heads? Has anyone ever really thought about the long term ramifications of player safety, how that could change the game? What about the hypocrisy of changing rules for the sake of safety, while still pushing a longer regular season?

Well, everyone might have time to think, pretty soon, for a long while, amid the ruins of Camelot.  

Will the Jets be drawing up plays next year?

Rex Ryan shared a few team related details during his presser:

Injury Report: “James Ihedigbo and Damien Woody did not practice, and they’re out for this game. Guys who are doubtful, Shaun Ellis with his back,* Eric Smith with his concussion… [questionable] Antonio Cromartie with a groin, Sione with a back, Trevor Pryce hip, Darrelle Revis with his hamstring.”

On trying to win against the Bills: “Will we do some things we maybe haven’t done…? Yeah… looking at different personnel… there’s only one way to play the game. And that’s full tilt… shoot, we want to win this game.”

On the $ 100,000 dollar fine levied by the League over trip-gate: “Quite honestly, we’re just looking to get through the season right now… our focus is trying to beat the Bills, and then get ready to move forward in the playoffs.”

Sanchez’s playing time this week: “I don’t believe it will be long.”

*Ellis is actually listed as questionable.

Bears 38 Jets 34: Jets reach playoffs despite loss in Chicago

Sunday, December 26th, 2010
While watching football, we become accustomed to adjustments, constantly recalibrating our expectation, and basic reactions, tailoring them to shifting circumstances. The situation matters most. Today’s shootout between the Jets and Bears presented an uncommon scenario. An emotionally draining tilt, featuring multiple lead changes and NBA styled scoring streaks by both teams, saw its ultimate result rendered nearly painless for the losing side, due to events after the fact.

The Jets had surely made many mistakes in this game, and the coaching staff deserved the majority of blame. The Bears exploited favorable matchups, parlayed an inexplicable fake punt into seven points and locomotive momentum.

Rex Ryan, who made a few thoughtless decisions, was lucky to receive a Christmas gift from the Washington Redskins, but more accurately, Jaguars quarterback David Garrard, whose overtime interception sealed Jacksonville’s fate and punched the Jets’ playoff ticket.

 Ryan has now delivered the Jets into the postseason for a second consecutive season, while enduring the growing pains of a young quarterback. This is a commendable achievement. Ryan, however, did not exactly coach his finest sixty minutes in this particular loss. Had this defeat created more serious ramifications, he would have been under fire for a variety of offenses, most unforgivable the aforementioned fake punt, which seemed to reignite a previously slowed Bears offense.

The dubious risk occurred at the beginning of the second half. The Jets went three and out on their first possession, or so it appeared. After falling behind 10-0, New York exploded in the second quarter, piling on 24 points, moving the ball at will offensively. The Jets were clicking on all cylinders, a feat they had not approached in quite some time, due to the inconsistent natures of their running and passing attacks.

On this day, however, Mark Sanchez was flat out marvelous. And Shonn Greene finally flashed the explosive form which so convincingly impressed during last season’s playoff run. Sanchez was accurate on both intermediate and long passes, and exploited the Bears’ inability to cover tight end Dustin Keller. It was Keller, in fact, who cost the Jets a more expansive lead before halftime, dropping an easy touchdown catch. Despite this disappointment, New York still must have been buoyed emotionally, performing admirably on the road against fierce competition for the second straight week. They were in control. With Greene pounding the rock effectively, and halftime adjustments to be enacted defensively, it was not a stretch to assume the Jets would win comfortably.

 For all these reasons, and quite possibly more, if one really meditated on the subject long enough, the fake punt made absolutely no sense.  The Jets were at their own 40, with a 24-17 lead. Sanchez received the snap from center on fourth down, the Bears defense momentarily surprised. The element of shock was quickly scuttled when Sanchez rolled out, given the momentarily stunned opposition time to adjust. Sanchez flung a short slant to Brad Smith, who was covered by Rashied Davis, a special teamer. Davis contested the pass, and Smith dropped the ball. The Bears took over in Jets territory, and Jay Cutler wasted no time nailing Johnny Knox on a forty yard touchdown volley, beating the coverage of novice safety Dwight Lowery. Lowery tripped and fell while pursuing the pass, making the grab easy for Knox.     There was plenty to dwell on at this juncture. Keller’s drop had come back to haunt the Jets. But the fake punt stood at the forefront. The fact that Sanchez’s pass toward Smith was a five yard attempt, not some sort of bomb obviously conjured during game-planning sessions, specifically tailored toward a weakness in the Bears’ special teams approach, made the mistake even more frustrating, from a New York perspective. Lowery had swung the first half toward the Jets with a pick six of Cutler. Now he was a momentary goat, thanks to some poor decisions by his coaches. New York was hardly through providing second guessing material. After deftly avoiding damage from return man extraordinaire Devin Hester in the first half, they decided to really try him, after the proceeding drive stalled. Hester duly returned the punt to the Jets’ 32. This time it took the Bears three plays to score, Cutler finding the emerging hero, Hester, for a 25 yard touchdown connection. As Drew Coleman tried in vain to stay close with Hester, matched up with the burner in a single coverage on the touchdown, the shortcomings of this defensive scheme seemed apparent. 

Rex dodges some heat after being given a present by Washington.

The Jets would tear through Chicago’s defense once more, tying the game at 31 on just four offensive snaps after assuming possession at their own 34. This frenetic drive was capped by a Santonio Holmes 23 yard touchdown catch. Holmes had quite mysteriously come open near the right sideline. Without their sloppy decisions and execution, New York could have been opening up a lead. 

Unbelievably, the Jets kicked to Hester again after tying the score. He promptly blazed forty yards downfield, stopped by Nick Folk. Chicago started in Jets’ territory again, and Johnny Knox gave his team the lead once more with a 26 yard touchdown catch. Throughout his aerial theatrics, Jay Cutler stood unbothered in the pocket, the Jets’ pass rush providing all the pressure of a falling feather.

The score was 38-31, and continued fireworks were expected. Instead, the defenses finally clamped down.  The Jets began a long, clock winding drive, ending the third quarter at Chicago’s twenty. They would have to settle for a Folk field goal, though, after the Bears finally delivered a stop, breaking up a pass intended for Holmes on third down.  When usually reliable Robbie Gould shanked a thirty five yard field goal on the Bears’ next drive, the Jets could have stolen another victory. It was not to be.  Charles Tillman knocked down a pivotal third down throw for Braylon Edwards, and Rex Ryan decided to punt from the Bears thirty five, counting on favorable field position for a penultimate drive. The Jets hit a brick wall again, though, and punted again, Steve Weatherford delivering, pinning Chicago at their own five. The Bears would pick up a first down, chewing up the clock and costing the Jets all their remaining timeouts.  New York faced an uphill battle to begin with, before Marquice Cole muffed the punt and pushed them back to their own 28. With under a minute remaining, Sanchez finally made a mistake, throwing an interception downfield to Chris Harris. The game was over, and New York would be facing an absolute hailstorm of criticism over their decision-making. Instead, Rex and company received a reprieve, from no less a dysfunctional franchise then the perpetually bewildered Washington Redskins.

 And to all a goodnight…!

It’s a Wonderful Season. Nah, you know what, it’s just kind of weird.

Saturday, December 25th, 2010

It was the waning hours of a quiet Christmas night, when the figure approached washed within the flickering street light. The suburb block had been assaulted by a blizzard, but this round runner galloped by magic, a genuine wizard. He was practically graceful, belying rumors so distasteful. Indeed rotund and hustling mighty proud, the man repeatedly mumbled the phrase ground and pound.

Myself a failed poet I panicked but wouldn’t show it, no case of the yips for a man hardened by rejection slips. Still this was a genuine curiosity, and the situation grew weirder as the stranger unleashed his verbosity.

Anonymous coached up the Jets and I surveyed his personal affects. He rocked a headset and white shirt, sporting a smile suggesting a lesson learnt. I had been shoveling snow and taking stock, and here came this odd character claiming his team was a Super Bowl lock.

 I’d watched football all my years, in the past enduring grief drowned by beers. After all, being a fan can be pure confusion, a potentially diagnosable delusion.

Perhaps it was all a nonsensical dream, but I had to get in a word edgewise, forcing a loud scream.

“Hey man, stop talking about playing like a Jet for just one minute, I’ve heard it before and reached my limit. Now about this scandal, here’s how you can turn around and win it.” Coach suddenly appeared disengaged, a sullen shadow of the caricature filled with fire and rage. “No, you don’t understand; the script’s been reversed; the controversy was just a temporary curse.” I processed this rebuttal with a sigh, honestly prepared to say good luck and goodbye. “What are you doing then, on my front lawn, Christmas is over and it’s almost the crack of dawn!” Coach replied, “It’s a Wonderful life type theme, I’ll explain the meaning of this scene!”

 Ah, ok, I was beginning to empathize, yet what had prompted this classic movie realized? Coach had indeed been running to and fro, sharing redemption high and low. However, he had been thinking just prior, that maybe this gig was not worth all the ire. “What if I never gotten this chance, could I have avoid taken the dreaded ‘it’s personal,’ stance?” When he was shown a vision of the team without his insight, Coach was overtaken equally, by thankfulness and fright. “So it would have ended with a franchise again losing stained, hoping for a Parcells sequel and paradise regained? Well damned if I’m not doing better than that, we have ten wins, and I won’t give any of ‘em back!”

So this prompted a Coach revitalized, still attempting to conjure the team he advertised. Sure, he may have benefitted from being blander, the rumors and videos thinning his currency gained for candor. And yeah, the hopeless fanatics addicted to panic would now have someone to blame if the ship turned Titanic. Oh, the owner too, with the ominous vote of confidence, may repeal his providence, should the team completely cede on-field prominence. There’d been drunk driving, and less seriously swearing and tripping, an organization’s reputation slipping. This without mentioning the need for gender based etiquette practice; and a former quarterback’s alleged cell phone seduction tactics.

Even still, the huge victory against Pittsburgh bought some time, and the man in charge had not committed a crime. It was still all ahead for the 2010 Jets despite their infractions, even for a coach forced to cope with an unnecessary distraction.

 This yearbook was still being amended, potential glory there to be apprehended. The moment should be attacked, wrested from the feeble, but oh that epilogue… it may be most unpleasant…. For certain people.

 As Jets fans celebrated the Holidays and spread their good cheer, they hoped Gang Green would be scandal free… at least until the New Year.

Friday Insider Report: Deep Freeze and Football.

Friday, December 17th, 2010

Ah, the joys of winter.

You are kicking back in your warm living room with a few friends, devouring chicken wings. And yes, of course, they are muy caliente. Perhaps you are drinking a cold beverage to wash down those artery clogging Sunday snacks. Maybe you are fortunate enough to own a Flat Screen television. There is doubtless a football game on, featuring the New York Jets. As both their schedule and divisional location dictate, you are most likely witnessing them battle both an opposing team, and the elements.

Thus represents an all encapsulating portrait of this American entertainment age. Technology and sports were a perfect marriage, and as the advancements continue, rightly uninterrupted, the fan lifestyle is becoming increasingly rooted. For this reason, the man watching football is bound become an archetypical image. Maybe it already is.  

So it’s routine, and with a clearer picture than ever before, even more entertaining. We all watch these incredible athletes overcome vicious winds, hardened turf, and sometimes even serious precipitation, all in the name of simply playing the game to usual capabilities. It’s only expected.

And yet, therein resides the rub. Atrocious weather conditions are a football fact. This is undeniable. What cannot be determined is how much a slick field or subzero temperature actually affects gameplay.

Weather is a variable, and games which are governed under Mother Nature’s harsher whims obviously demand to be judged on an individual basis. There are, though, differing schools of thought on just how much a team must adapt its game-plan to the elements.

Jets defensive tackle Sione Pouha was questioned if a player is capable of getting used to playing in freezing conditions. “Until I put a lawn chair outside in the cold, I don’t think that’s ever happening,” said the University of Utah Grad, with a smile suggesting incredulity. Yup, cold is cold, football player or not.

 Sometimes a snowfall will appear devastating on television, only to have a minimal impact on a high flying offense. For instance, Kerry Collins, a strong-armed passer and gambler, often intercepted, had one of the finest games of his career in a seemingly vicious snow-storm. Collins was with the Raiders at the time, and the date was November 28th, 2004. The veteran threw for 339 yards and four touchdowns. His opposite number, early retiree Jake Plummer, equally talented and erratic, flung for more modest numbers: one touchdown and tallied 245 yards. It was a true shootout, eventually won by the more impressive Collins, who engineered a comeback 25-24 victory. The results may have been no different on a sunny afternoon in Oakland. Or would they have been? Was it possible that the defensive backs in this particular contest were slipping and sliding, and not the receivers? Could it have been easier to plant and explode off the line of scrimmage, as opposed to setting feet and making quick shifting hip movements? Did the field ultimately favor the receivers, and badly cripple the corners and safeties? It’s an interesting question, and reveals the unpredictable nature of these types of games.

We can all definitely agree that the weather is a standard deviance that must be accounted for, whether your concern is playing, coaching, reporting, or gambling. [Not recommended] The extent of which may be debated, along with how exactly the players respond. As aforementioned, a snowflake fest in Denver would not usually inspire thoughts of 339 yard throwing day. Surprisingly, that is exactly what occurred.

One can easily consult the NFL record books for an instance which conforms exactly to expectation. The 2004 Chargers were a high powered machine of an offense. Whether it was the emergence of second year Tight End Antonio Gates, simple maturation, or a greatly improved offensive line, this was the season where Drew Brees became a brand name. He’s transcended even that haughty label now, but back then, it was jarring to see the previously maligned Purdue product evolve into an elite level passer. Brees was scintillating throughout the campaign, and the Chargers were on a roll when they visited an inferior Browns team week fifteen. The contest was played in an artic state. The Chargers managed to pull off a victory, but for one week, they were not the dynamic new force terrorizing defenses. The Siberian state of play had entirely dictated this turn of events. Brees passed for a minuscule 85 yards. LaDainian Tomlinson, at his absolute peak, ate up 111 yards and scored two touchdowns. A forgettable Browns team was shut out 21-0. Among the Chargers’ victories in ’04, this was definitely an outlier. Why, aside for one big play to Antonio Gates, they resembled a one dimensional ground and pound outfit. The game time temperature in Denver, where Collins lit it up, was twenty four degrees. The game-time temperature in Cleveland, where Brees only attempted an astonishing six passes? 24 degrees… OK, Norv Turner, who helmed the Raiders in ‘04, was more apt to throw it around then noted proponent of conservatism Marty Schottenheimer. Still, it’s tough to figure. The difference may have lied in the winds, the fields, who knows?

Certainly organizational factors play a role. The warm weather Chargers may have found adjusting to severe elements particularly difficult back in 2004. And aside from geography, stylistically, they weren’t a perfect match for the cold. But just last week, Tom Brady and a strictly finesse Patriots offense shrugged off the chill at Soldier Field and dynamited an overmatched Bears defense, as if they were playing on a beach without pads.   

As it concerns the Jets, their impending sub-zero rendezvous will say plenty about their playoff worthiness. First of all, last season, New York possessed a flashback offense, adhering to a ground and pound philosophy that would have been perfectly positioned in the 1970’s. They did this mainly to protect rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez. Eventually, though, their addiction to the run-game created an identity, which they rode to the Conference Championship. Sanchez was expected to grow in his second year, surrounded by playmakers at the skill position. The departures of pivotal ground and pound parts Thomas Jones and Alan Faneca would certainly have on-field ramifications, but they were symbolic, as well. Sanchez would have to step up, no longer cocooned by the league’s finest rushing attack. The moves were defensible at the time. Now, though? Sanchez is toward the bottom of the league in completion percentage. The running game was hardly expected to be a liability. It was envisioned as dynamic, less one dimensional, and inevitably, more of a support system for Sanchez, instead of a crutch capable of hindering his development.  The plan has not exactly bloomed into fruition. Tomlinson and Shonn Greene couldn’t be labeled as disappointments, but their efforts, and those of this edition’s offensive line, are currently falling far short of last season’s achievements.

Faneca helped the Jets build an all weather rushing attack last season.

Coupled with Sanchez’s regression, the Jets’ offense has become a serious problem. With January rapidly approaching, it is inexcusable for a team so previously braggadocios to be utterly adrift, in terms of who and what they are. Who are the Jets, offensively? What are they trying to do? How exactly will they go about winning these upcoming tests, especially in the cold? Sanchez, the USC Graduate, is perilously close to being pegged a warm weather quarterback. Those accusations were nearly laid to rest permanently after ’09, but they are returning with a vengeance.  Will he be able to answer them in a satisfactory manner? The weather is tough to figure. The impact of the weather on games is tough to figure. And these Jets, well, they sure are tough to figure.  Last season, they could rely on the run in any conceivable situation. Sweltering heat, nightmarish cold, domed indifference, it did not matter. Should this already struggling offense be further reduced in effectiveness by the climate, then their many fans will find this playoff season especially stinging. They’ll still have the wings, the television, the beverage, all that good stuff… except a team to watch.

………………………………………………………..

Rex Notes

From the Friday Presser

On whether the Jets feel desperation: “Pretty much. We need to win. There’s no question about it.”

On Brian Billick’s contention that Ryan knew about ‘the green wall’: “I wish he would have asked me. I would have told him the truth. I think he made an assumption there, but he’s wrong.”

On whether Pittsburgh’s excellent run defense will alter the Jets’ game-plan:  “You don’t want to run your head into a brick wall all the time, but I still think we’re going to be able to run the football. I believe that. It’s remarkable, statistically, what they’re holding opponents to rushing.”

On Sione Pouha having a shot at the Pro Bowl: “He absolutely should… let’s face it, it’s hard to pronounce his last name, but he’s an outstanding player.”

Choose Your Own Adventure: 2010 Jets Style

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

Trust me. I might be a journalist, but I know this feeling. You don’t write about sports without having diligently followed them for years. Whenever a team enters a crisis, the fan gets especially frustrated because the solutions appear to be so utterly obvious.

Why can’t the dilemmas be fixed? When one is an outsider, the complex issues facing other people are simplified. Allow me an article to relate. It probably resembles a model like this:

Choose Your Own Adventure, Jets! [yeah! High Five!]

You are a second year quarterback plying your trade in world’s biggest and most famous city, attempting to reverse the fortunes of a long suffering franchise. While your flashes of brilliance temporarily satiated a fan-base thirsting for success, a potential heart breaking finish to this campaign will leave many searching for a scapegoat. Being the most recognizable face among mainstream followers, you will no doubt be targeted should this situation continue spiraling out of control. What can you do?

  1. Get it together. Regain faltering accuracy. Fix haywire footwork. Manage the game, instead of forcing passes, searching vainly for success now appearing increasingly elusive. Regain inexplicably vanished psychic chemistry with Dustin Keller.
  2. Continue trending downward. Maintain that distressingly poor body language. Embody all the inconsistencies currently blocking any legitimate hopes for a championship.
  3. Go halfway. Look phenomenal at times, fallible during others. The most likely path.
  4. Flip back thirty or so pages to the start of your journey, during this heavily anticipated second season. Give your General Manger a phone call, assume a serious tone. Tell him that it may sound crazy, but in spite of strong additions, including headline names like Santonio Holmes, the running game will still determine the fate of the Jets. With this in mind, remind him that everything, absolutely everything should be done to preserve the elite level which the offensive line achieved in ’09. Kindly suggest it was the one facet, on that side of the ball, where the team truly possessed a distinct advantage over opposing outfits. Hey, you are a very young quarterback. Full of potential sure, but still bound for unavoidable mistakes. Should so much be laid upon your shoulders?

You are a second year coach facing your toughest challenge. A team you have personally hyped for months, without the slightest pause or reflection, stands, well, staggers really, toward the brink of brutal collapse. With two brutal road games ahead on the schedule, it is your primary job to rediscover your team’s lost identity.

Plan Z

This whole tripping scandal has been an embarrassment. Not the type of scandal worthy of serious leadership questioning, but a stain all the same. The character of this entire organization has been placed under fire, and rightfully so. Simply goes with the territory. Sure, it’s no Spygate, but it is an unnecessary distraction at a most inopportune time. Your offense can’t score in the first quarter, reflecting negatively upon preparation. A veteran leader seemed displeased with your defensive assessments, voicing his opinion after a crippling defeat. What can you do?

  1. Present a sturdier façade to the viewing public. While veering between wildly braggadocios to borderline sullen, the team will no doubt take notice. Sure, what you show to the media may not correlate with your private handling of players and practices, but it seems your emotional nature is liable to spill over to the players. Calmness would be required, but that’s already out the window. If you have been a confident, borderline zany personality throughout the season, abandoning such an approach at this crucial, defining juncture would be tantamount to an admission of confusion. Adjustments may have to be made, but sane, successful organizations execute these changes within a reliable framework. This creates an underlying sense of logic behind every action, instead of revealed panic. Don’t radically change on an emotional level, because external scenarios and perceptions have altered. Former Yankees manager Joe Torre was a master at this strategy, until he too became a victim of panic, penciling his best player to hit eighth during an elimination playoff game. That was in 2006. He was hired in ’96. It took a long while. A head coaching tenure built upon quick burning passion and instant headlines will surely fade quickly in this city.  
  2. Continue on this current path. Perform grandiose actions, such as burying footballs, instead of facing reality and attacking team weaknesses. Express genuine befuddlement after humbling defeats, claiming the team looked great in practice before getting absolutely annihilated before a National audience. Threaten your starting quarterback with benching during a press conference, instead of behind closed doors.
  3. Return to the beginning of your journey, all the way back on page one. Change a few actions, over these accumulating months, to reflect a more humble approach. Believe it or not, it’d have undone most of the impending damage, should an incomprehensible slide become the conclusion to 2010.  

You are the New York Jets offensive coordinator. Within the world of professional football, a realm inhabited by players, coaches, and executives, you are no doubt a respected individual. Not to take away the merits of this achievement, but the simple fact is; anyone who has reached your position is given proper due by a majority of his contemporaries. These jobs are not easy to come by, no matter what your last name may be. Unfortunately for you, New York Jets fans do not view the sport through this same prism. Fair or not, they blame the coordinator for everything under the sun, in times good and bad. Paul Hackett may be a revered name among men who have earned a living studying the fine art of quarterbacking, but his play-calling was loathed among Green and White loyalists for years. It’s a familiar tale of cognitive dissonance: When someone is perceived as incompetent, every instance of failure can be credited to his malfunctioning thought processes. When you, the New York Jets Offensive Coordinator, assumed this post, you were assuming this burden. Sure, the opinion of the fans may be irrelevant… in most cities. Not in New York, though. They buy the tickets, the newspapers, pay for parking, feeding the sports monster with incredible enthusiasm. A huge population, obsessed with athletics… it’s a dream scenario for owners; however, it also breeds an irresponsible perspective. Frustrated fan-bases are ignored throughout the country; here they can become a factor in personnel decisions. “Can a guy handle New York?” It’s an idiotic question to many, especially those who believe established performances deviate only under tangible variables, but executives here take it seriously.

The criticism of a coordinator may be wholly irrational. After all, when a guy is calling plays and directing personnel, for his livelihood, a pragmatic perspective accepts he at least has a decent idea of what the hell’s going on out there. I know I don’t, compared to guys who spend hours watching film.  Doesn’t matter… fans are irrational. And when they are given legitimate evidence to support their reactionary theories, watch out.

Jets fans have plenty to be grumpy about. The quarterback who displayed so much potential last January has not taken a giant leap forward. The running game, previously vaunted, has regressed. The first quarter, where the offense usually follows scripted, prepared plays, has been an utter nightmare. When the criticisms of a coordinator become reasonable, that is the precise moment where his job security becomes just a little tenuous. So, what can you do?

  1. For heaven’s sakes, give the ball to Shonn Greene and—
  2. Stop relying so heavily on LaDainian Tomlinson. The latter has done a fantastic job, no question about it. But he is aging, undeniably, and cannot be depended on for sixteen games of high level production. Greene, so spectacular during the postseason, should not be pushed aside. And Tomlinson, at this stage of his career, need not be taxed so heavily.
  3. Opt for shorter passing routes early in the game. Execute this plan with the wide receivers. The Jets appear uniquely obsessed with throwing to halfbacks. Sanchez would benefit from completions to his wide-outs early in the game, quick strikes which can prop up his obviously sagging confidence. It’d also help establish a rhythm.
  4. Stay with this current game-plan. And if so, um, good luck on ye Adventure!