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Ghosts of New Jersey

Friday, December 10th, 2010

As the Jets prepare for this Sunday’s pivotal tilt against the Miami Dolphins, they will be confronted not only by a middling contemporary rival, but a painful franchise history. Sure, the company line, whether player or coach, is to ignore the past. In a game defined by the imposition of will, mystical explanations for on-field occurrences are doubtless considered ridiculous by most. What cannot be controlled is easily dismissed.

 Even still, the potential panic is a factor. The Jets, thus far, have been a difficult team to define. Before the disaster at Foxboro, they were compiling an impressive record seemingly through smoke and mirrors. They definitely deserved credit for being in first place, swiping victory from the jaws of defeat on a near regular basis, laying the groundwork for a special season. But for a championship to be attained, everyone realized one basic truth: The Jets had to play better. Over sixteen games, magic is only a quick fix. New York needed more. They needed a rejuvenated running game to once again dictate tempo. They needed a revitalized secondary to remedy a disturbing susceptibility to the short pass. And they definitely needed the pass rush to awake and become capable of disrupting high powered opposing offenses.

Now, a storyline is finally emerging about the enigmatic 2010 Jets.  And it is not one they would have preferred.  Those weaknesses mentioned a few sentences ago? They are not getting better. A collapse currently lurks in the shadows, an apocalypse on the periphery.  The proverbial levy is cracking. Only a victory against Miami can stem the tide.

 The Jets have been here before, creators of elevated expectations, and destroyers of dreams. There have been many crushing disappointments in the past, birthing ghosts and ghouls swirling through the old Meadowlands, wearing Marino jerseys and faking spikes. With a new Stadium, and altered identity, these Jets were supposed to blaze a new trail. So it is only right that they be confronted by these demons, a natural narrative.

Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez will write their own tale. A week ago, this kind of question was inconceivable. Now, it’s completely reasonable. Will they transcend, or join these ranks?

Die hard fans like Fireman Ed have endured a few major letdowns over the years. Are these Jets about to add another chapter, or pen a new tale?

1986: Seeking vengeance for an infuriating home playoff loss to the surprisingly Super Bowl bound Patriots, the Jets charged into ’86 resembling a locomotive. They rode an incredible aerial attack, keyed by beloved quarterback Ken O’Brien, to a 10-1 record through eleven games. Among their successes was a victory in one of the finest games ever produced by the National Football League, a week two overtime triumph against Dan Marino and the Dolphins, 51-45. The Jets seemed to rally around this epic offensive display, producing a nine game winning streak. The highly anticipated week twelve rematch proved a nightmarish harbinger, as the Jets were bulldozed by Marino 45-3. They begin sinking, dropping successive games to the Rams, 49’ers, and Steelers, eventually benching O’Brien, and backing into the playoffs at 10-6. It stands as the worst swoon ever enacted by a playoff entrant. The Jets managed to beat the Chiefs, at home in the wild-card game, and behind backup signal caller Pat Ryan. O’Brien shared time with Ryan against the Browns in Cleveland, Head Coach Joe Walton playing roulette with a trip to the AFC Championship game at stake. Had New York not stumbled so tremendously down the stretch, they could have hosted the Divisional Playoff game. Considering they lost to the Browns in double overtime, after Mark Gastineau gave Cleveland a second life with an inexcusable roughing the passer infraction, the high flying Jets may have rolled at home. It was not to be. ’86 remains a stain within the psyches of long time Green and White fanatics, a Super Bowl invitation with the Giants left swirling in the cruel winds of the Dog Pound. 1987 would prove depressing, as O’Brien continued regressing.

1993: Fans quickly lost patience with Bruce Coslet, who gambled ‘92 on Brett Favre consolation prize Browning Nagle and lost in decisive fashion. Optimism once more returned in ’93, with new quarterback Boomer Esiason in town. Esiason had made a Super Bowl appearance with the Bengals, and was generally considered an upper-echelon passer. Though Nagle had placed him directly on the hot seat, Coslet had one more chance, working with his handpicked quarterback. Because ’93 featured two byes, the Jets headed into week seventeen with an 8-6 record, on the cusp of reaching the postseason tournament. Their opponent represented a challenge, the near dynastic Buffalo Bills. New York had been soundly thrashed one week prior by the team that kept Buffalo from reaching the inner-circle of greatness, the Dallas Cowboys. In terms of tough schedules, this had to take the cake. It would have been tantamount to playing the Eagles and Patriots back to back circa 2004. Except even harder… because the Bills were better than those Eagles, as dictated by conference Championships collected. Even still, the Jets gamely battled, falling just short against the superior Bills 16-14. The freezing game time temperatures probably equalized talent levels, but Jets kicker Cary Blanchard may have been adversely affected by the deep chill, missing three field goals, providing the margin of defeat. The final miss occurred with 53 seconds left, from 42 yards out. The Jets were shutout the following week by an unconscious Oilers team, who concluded their season with an eleven game win streak. They were, however, playing their backup quarterback Cody Carlson. And Rex Ryan’s dad, Buddy, caused a scene when he clocked fellow Oilers coordinator Kevin Gilbride on the sideline. It was an embarrassing end for the Jets, and the closest Esiason would come to playoff football in New York. Coslet was fired.   

1994: High energy assistant Pete Carroll became the Jets’ head coach after Coslet was dismissed. His initial season began exceedingly well, the Jets defense stout in a 23-3 road win against the Bills. A home opening overtime victory against the Broncos made Gang Green a momentary darling, but they soon proved inconsistent, sweeping the Bills, but dropping five other games before a pivotal showdown with Miami in week thirteen. The Jets were an exciting 6-5 though, and they raced out to a 24-6 lead against the Dolphins. Had they finally taken a definitive step upward? The lead disintegrated. Marino drove the Dolphins downfield, trailing by three in the waning moments of the fourth quarter, 24-21. As he operated the hurry-up offense, eight yards from pay-dirt, Marino seemed prepared to spike the ball. Aaron Glenn was certainly fooled by Marino’s lazy mannerisms, not jamming Mark Ingram at the line of scrimmage. Ingram loped into the end-zone, as Glenn, one of the best corners in team history, kept his back turned. Marino suddenly rifled a spiral to Ingram, who caught the pass for a touchdown, securing a shocking Dolphins comeback. There would be no overtime. And no more wins for a spiritually defeated Jets team in ’94. They fell apart, accumulating ten losses, leading to the dismissal of Carroll. The Jets would spend ’95 and ’96 wandering the wilderness. That, right there, is one tough loss.

1997: Bill Parcells had turned around franchises before, and he seemed to covet the opportunity to convert the Jets into consistent winners, allowing his impending departure from the Patriots to overshadow their ’96-97 Super Bowl appearance. Parcells molded the Jets with furious urgency, guiding them to an 8-4 record immediately following an atrocious fifteen loss campaign. Football fans and insiders knew Parcells was a hell of a coach, but here may have been his crowning achievement. After consecutive demoralizing years under the lenient hand of Rich Kotite, a maligned roster had resoundingly responded to Parcells, a true taskmaster. Unfortunately for the Jets and Parcells, win number eight against Minnesota proved the apex. The proceeding loss at Buffalo was understandable, but week fifteen’s setback was inexcusable, as they fell at home to the awful Indianapolis Colts. For a team with playoff aspirations, a full recovery could not be attained. A 31-0 thrashing of Tampa Bay left the Jets in control of their own destiny, but they would next have to beat Barry Sanders and Detroit at the Pontiac Silver Dome, with the Lions facing an identical must win scenario. The Jets lost 13-10, Parcells’ somewhat unfair assessment of high priced quarterback Neil O’Donnell becoming a deciding factor. An intense contest, wherein Barry Sanders rushed past 2000 yards, was settled in favor of the Lions via a disputed fourth quarter interception, courtesy of halfback by Leon Johnson. Earlier in the second half, Parcells allowed backup Ray Lucas to throw a crushing interception in Lions territory, with the Jets leading 10-6. O’Donnell could have done no worse. After a masterful season of coaching, “The Tuna” self-destructed, dooming an inspiring team.  

2000: Jets fans had the return of Vinny Testaverde to celebrate, as the veteran quarterback, so exemplary in a triumphant 1998 season, played his first games after missing the entirety of ’99 with a torn Achilles tendon. There was also a new coach to analyze, as Al Groh took over the post abandoned by Bill Parcells, who had decided to temporarily retire. It had been a chaotic offseason. Parcells unexpectedly departed, and Bill Belichick, the anticipated successor, instead resigned and decamped for New England. Groh was eventually installed. Brash, popular receiver Keyshawn Johnson was dealt to Tampa Bay for multiple draft choices. Disillusion among the fan-base was high, but it was immediately swept away when the Jets began the season 6-1, a run which included a historic comeback at home against Miami during Monday Night football; and an emotional victory against Keyshawn and the Bucs two weeks prior. Johnson had talked trash about his replacement on the depth chart, longtime uneasy ally Wayne Chrebet. The Jets had apparently gelled as a team, unified. They came unglued quickly, losing three straight, before showing a final flash of life with a three game winning streak. At 9-4, they were bound for January, until, bizarrely enough, they lost three straight again, to finish 9-7. The Lions bought the heartbreak once more, beating the Jets in a downright ugly 10-7 affair at the Meadowlands in week sixteen. A strange offseason had certainly been a harbinger. That irony provided little consolation. Groh was dismissed, and 2000 remains a curious chapter in Jets history.  

2008: The Jets had avoided collapses for most of the decade, though 2001 barely missed the cut, New York missing a chance to change football history with a win against a dreadful Buffalo team week sixteen. [They would have taken the division, New England would have settled for the wild card, no home game for them against the Raiders, no tuck rule, etc. etc.] The Jets, instead, lost to a dreadful Bills squad, but their succeeding dramatic win on the road against Oakland in week seventeen spared them from long-time ignominy.

 The 2008 edition was not so fortunate.  Similar to 2000, the offseason, but more accurately, the preseason, had been a surreal treat. Chad Pennington was replaced at quarterback by pop culture hero Brett Favre, an aging player coming off a fine season with Green Bay. The Packers apparently wanted to move into the future with Aaron Rodgers, setting off a public relations mess, whereupon Favre, returning from a very brief retirement, was supposed to compete with Rodgers for the starting job. The predictable media circus made a trade very necessary, and Favre was dealt. New York was not considered a favorite to secure his services, but General Manager Mike Tannenbaum closed the deal. The response among Jets fans was ecstatic. This was an epic plot twist. And from the chaos seemed to spring beauty, as Favre, stretching the field with his powerful arm, aided both the Jets through the air and on the ground, running back Thomas Jones especially benefitting from increased running room. When the Jets marched into Tennessee week twelve and destroyed the heretofore undefeated Titans, upping their record to 8-3, they were hailed as the American Football Conference’s best team.

The Jets had peaked too early, once more. Eric Mangini’s defensive scheme unraveled after being exposed by the savvy Mike Shanahan in week thirteen, an unknown running back named Peyton Hillis detonating the Jets’ front seven. A lifeless loss to an unimpressive 49’ers outfit followed. After a flat out lucky win against the Bills that sparked foolish talk of destiny, the Jets continued their fold with a defeat to Seattle. Finally: A denouement. Like the ending of a particularly twisted Seinfeld episode, the Jets’ season concluded with a loss to Division Champion Miami… and their resurgent quarterback Chad Pennington.

Here lies a body of work. There hasn’t been much glory for Jets fans to soak up since Joe Namath backed up his words against the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. This year’s team can redefine recent history, rendering all the pain a prologue to an overdue achievement.

We’ll see. A loss to Miami; and some Jets fans will no doubt be covering their eyes…

…………………………………………………………………………………..   

Rex Ryan shared some news and views over his daily presser.

On the possibility of recent free agent signee at safety Emanuel Cook playing: “Yes. I hope he doesn’t have to start… but he’s coming in to play. That’s why instead of looking at someone else’s safety, we’ll bring one of our own back. He was one of the guys He was the choice to be up on our team.”

On the Dolphins: “I think their defense is getting better. I think Mike Nolan really has his defense going and playing hard…they are a physical group to begin with, and they are playing pretty well.”

On Cameron Wake: “He’s doing a great job… he’s a speed rusher and he’s got inside moves, and inside moves with power.”

On Sanchez’s interceptions: “He knows… our blueprint is protect the football… we’ve thrown a lot more interceptions than we’d like… I think we’ll tighten things down… I think he’ll have a big game.”

Will rain affect offensive game-plan: “I think we’ll have some success throwing the football against Miami… I always like to be able to run the ball.”

McKnight’s playing time: “With LaDainian [Tomlinson] and Shonn [Greene], two excellent running backs, sometimes those reps can be hard to come by. I think he’s ready to get more opportunities…”

……………………………………………………….

Damien Woody is questionable for Sunday with a knee injury.   

James Ihedigbo is out; another blow to the Jets’ depleted secondary.

New England Linebacker Brandon Spikes was suspended to the remainder of the regular season for violating the League’s policy on performance enhancing substances.

Just a Little More: A few thoughts on the Jets’ running game, plus Jim Leonhard’s injury

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

The Jets have turned a real incredible trick as this particular season has rolled along. They misplaced a previously reliable identity, centered almost entirely on a strong running game, and seem on the cusp of becoming an aerial oriented offense.

Usually, when a team switches philosophy within a season, it is an indication that plans have gone awry, and expectations must be rearranged. Instead, the Jets are having a great campaign, currently tied for first place in the AFC East, sporting a record seven games over the breakeven mark, all while compiling a collection of heart-stopping contests sure to sway the fair weather demographic of Metropolitan fans to their side.

And yet, despite the success, there are several disconcerting signs troubling certain observers, forecasters preferring a long range viewpoint on the proceedings. The Jets reached the AFC Championship game last January primarily because they found themselves. The defense flashed a top flight form, and the offense adopted a smash-mouth, safety first approach ideal for winning road playoff games.

 They reached the summit upon defeating an extremely talented San Diego Chargers team in the Divisional Playoffs, simply grinding the heavily favored homesteaders into a prone position, ultimately benefitting from mistakes and missed field goals. It was an emotional win of the highest order, a truly remarkable sight, a Jets outfit mocked only weeks prior, storming into sunny San Diego and dictating terms against a tremendously gifted opponent.

The Jets had won because they protected Mark Sanchez from himself, and relied heavily on bulldozing halfback Thomas Jones, and rookie sensation Shonn Greene. Greene was explosive against both Cincinnati and San Diego, seemingly poised to take the League by storm in 2010.

The Jets, of course, fell short of reaching the Super Bowl, and accumulated weapons for Mark Sanchez during the offseason. General Manager Mike Tannebaum may have realized that acquiring the services of Santonio Holmes could alter their approach. Braylon Edwards, a big play threat, was already in the fold. Tannenbaum did not balk at the opportunity to land a former Super Bowl Most Valuable Player. And he was right.

Holmes is a primary reason the Jets currently reside near the top of their profession. New York may have figured their strict adherence to a ground and pound offense had hit a ceiling, in what is now undoubtedly a passing league. What they could not have counted on is the running game becoming increasingly marginalized.

Greene was supposed to be the man, carry the load left by departed team leader Jones. Newcomer and future Hall of Famer LaDanian Tomlinson figured a supporting player, one hell of a third down back, capable of corralling receptions for easy first down yardage, a legitimate safety valve for Sanchez. As often happens in sports, the plan did not play out as anticipated. Tomlinson’s frenetic early season successes forced management’s hand. He became option number one out of the backfield, and while the Jets were not mercilessly attacking the opposition with sledgehammer force, the rejuvenated former Charger was doing more than enough to make people forget about Jones, and to a lesser degree, run blocking maestro Alan Faneca.

Sanchez needed to elevate his game, ever so slightly, curtailing interceptions and occasionally hitting Edwards, and eventually Holmes, for massive gains.

It was a different recipe than utilized in 2009, but last season presented extremely unique circumstances, a loaded veteran roster held hostage by an inexperienced quarterback. Sanchez grew, and the Jets’ shocked their critics with the playoff run. Setting the stage for a further evolution was the right decision. It would have been unfair to shackle Sanchez once more, set him in training wheels and rely on a style reminiscent of 1970’s football. It was all so practical, logical, and downright sensible.

The Jets, though, could not have realized how much they would ultimately be relying on Mark Sanchez and his playmakers. Hindsight suggests that we shouldn’t be surprised Tomlinson has hit a brick wall. He has collected a ton of mileage, and the placebo effect of joining a new franchise could not last an entire season.

Even still, the man has been a massive piece of this offense, pulling down 45 receptions, rushing for 741 yards at a 4.5 per carry clip, and providing early, perhaps season-saving stability. No, Tomlinson should not be criticized in the slightest.

Though they rank highly in league wide rushing stats, the Jets could use more production from their 'backs to become a truly elite team.

The slight disappointment has been Greene. Perhaps the postseason performance set expectations far too high, but while watching the stout blazer breakout, torching the Chargers’ front seven, and blasting through Antonio Cromartie, on the touchdown which gave the Jets a commanding ten point lead against San Diego, it would have been downright pessimistic to deny witnessing something special. Greene has certainly not been a bust by any stretch of the imagination. He has 575 yards, though the single rushing touchdown is a major letdown. Greene has chipped in nine catches, within the Jets’ receiving-back obsessed offensive set.

 All considered; he has not approached the realms inhabited by the likes of Chris Johnson and Maurice Jones-Drew. Sure, this is rarified air. And the loss of Faneca has probably hurt. But if the Jets were receiving a special season from Greene, a continuation of the saga first penned in the playoffs, they would be the consensus Super Bowl favorite. As it stands, they are simply not a dominant team… certainly a scintillating one, a unique organization, one of the most interesting in contemporary sports. The running game, however, vanishes far too often; it’s effectiveness in the red zone questionable.

Greene himself remains optimistic. When asked whether he can summon the excellence discovered during last season’s stretch run, the second year back was confident. “I think so,” he said simply. “I’m satisfied and happy,” Greene said, discussing the state of the Jets’ season.  “9-2. Better than we were last year.” He noted the importance of establish the run against cold weather foes. “Teams that run the ball good are going to be able to control the game in these late season games, and into the playoffs.” When queried whether the Jets had changed stylistically, Greene offered his opinion. “Yeah,” he said, “I think we got better. I mean, we got other weapons. We’re not just a running football team. So I think we got better.”

 Forget graduating from freshman to sophomore. Sanchez has had to play savior, probably far too often for the Jets’ liking. Those wins he manufactured from dire circumstances? They count, just the same as a satisfying romp. But can the heroics be sustained? Miles to go, yet…

This Jets-Patriots Monday Night melee may seem like the most important game ever played as it approaches, but plenty of challenges still loom on the horizon.

Fact is; the Jets need to rediscover their ‘09 roots. It need to be a complete reversion, just enough to control the clock and set the tempo against upcoming monsters like the Steelers and Chicago Bears. Brad Smith provides immense value from the Seminole formation. Too much would be asked, though, if he were counted on as a game pacer.

 As 2010 continues to develop, the Jets appointment at Solider Field becomes an increasingly more difficult task. They will be pitted against the top pass defense this League has to offer, on what will no doubt be a brutally cold afternoon.  

The Jets’ dramatic victories against Detroit and Cleveland should be looked upon happily by their fans. Even so, objectively, they provide proof that this potential steamroller is not yet at peak ability. And the time is running out.

 As currently constituted, these Jets are a damn good team. Being special will require just a little more, especially from the halfbacks.  

……………………………….

   The major news of the day involved Safety Jim Leonhard. Considering the Jets’ apparent communication issues within the secondary, the last thing they needed was for Leonhard, practically a traffic cop in the defensive backfield, to be struck with a serious injury. This nightmare scenario occurred after the media departed practice, as Leonhard collided with the tall, wiry receiver Patrick Turner while pursuing a deep pass. Leonhard’s malady was to his shin, the severity of which was not immediately known, but presumably dire, considering he was carted off the field. Head Coach Rex Ryan provided more details during his presser. “We have got some terrible news,” he began. “Jim Leonhard won’t play this week. Had a- he’s got a shin that is severe. I don’t know the extent of the injury right now. But he’s, you know, he’s obviously out this week… a huge blow to us.”

Ryan expressed confidence that heady backup Eric Smith could step in ably for Leonhard, as it concerns setting positioning. Smith and Brodney Poole are likely to start against New England, who will be definitely attacking the safeties.

Jets 30 Texans 27

Sunday, November 21st, 2010

After a game such as this one, the person tasked with providing a summarization must answer an immediate question: Where to begin?

Well, Santonio Holmes played hero once more.

 Moments such as these are special, because they transcend, meaning they have no definitive beginning or end. Holmes put the Jets ahead on this particular afternoon, but the overall effect was incredibly similar to other spectacular moments lodged in the collective unconscious of sports fanatics.

This is, after all, why games are played. Holmes joined a pantheon again today, this accomplishment comparatively trivial when compared against the magnitude of a Super Bowl clinching touchdown catch. Hell, it’s basically an encore from last week.

WR Braylon Edwards catches a bomb from QB Mark Sanchez setting up a TD pass to WR Santonio Holmes in the final seconds as the Jets beat the Texans 30 -27 (JetsInsider.com Photo)

At the moment though, in that one second span separating uncertainty and total delirium, these snapshots couldn’t be truly compared. All the memories become one. The game, the league, the situation, all simply stage setting for something more.

It all becomes a blur, a quick flash wave, an instantaneous avalanche. The comebacks, Brian Cushing forcing a fumble, Holmes breaking loose on a slant for a foreshadowing score, Mark Sanchez’s icy excellence and Houston’s defiance, each event is encapsulated into one instant of expression. Dreams, careers, game plans and press conferences, properly explained. “Personally, I had the lap band surgery, so I feel better about it,” said Jets Head Coach Rex Ryan afterward, alluding to his team’s penchant for high stress affairs. “I can already see the headlines –‘Far From Great.’ Who cares? We won.”

 There were no winners or losers as Holmes tiptoed the line. Only an explanation for why people care so much. The details would be provided when everyone regained their senses. Ironic, though, that sense isn’t why football exists.

 And the details, they were many. It appeared the Texans’ had achieved something special. They shut down the Jets’ running game, a plot pivot through which their painful defeat would ultimately be written, dramatically instead of mundanely. Because had the Jets been able to scrounge even a decent day rushing, this may have been a runaway. Mark Sanchez was dropping bombs on helpless Texans’ defenders, taking advantage of the ample talents belonging to Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes, ruthlessly exploiting Houston’s most obvious weakness. All the Jets really needed was a semblance of clock control, one run aided jaunt downfield in the second half, for their opponent to be completely worn down and defeated.

The Texans, however, maintained their impressive effectiveness against both LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene. They pretty much forced Sanchez to win the game by himself, a near impossibility when matched against another offensive unit capable of catching fire. Even so, the Jets looked like they might cruise. It was an illusion, but a convincing one.

After a very brief period of concern, in the second quarter, where their 3-0 advantage turned into a 7-3 deficit, Sanchez and the Jets began endeavoring in aerial artistry. Beginning with ten minutes and seventeen seconds remaining in the quarter, New York started slinging in earnest, probably supposing their temporarily stalled run-game would not have to be completely abandoned.

Sanchez hit Patrick Turner for a twenty one yard gain when faced with the tenuous prospect of a 2nd and 23. Turner was playing in his first game with the Jets, and his reception moved them to the Houston thirty nine. The drive was capped by four yard Braylon Edwards touchdown grab, as he easily beat single coverage on a shallow route within the paint. At this point it became clear that Houston’s deficiencies in the area of pass defense would not be corrected in these sixty minutes.

Sensibly, Sanchez’s onslaught continued. While dropping back to pass on the next drive, he found himself the victim of roughing, moving the New York to Houston’s sixteen. The Jets would settle for a field goal on this drive, Houston’s woeful secondary no doubt receiving much needed assistance from the close confines of a short field. They wouldn’t benefit when it counted most.

The score remained 13-7 though the half. The Jets moved the ball again on their first possession of the third quarter, but Nick Folk barely missed a 53 yard field goal, beneath the crossbar. Rex Ryan’s defense was excelling, rebounding from a disappointing first quarter to pitch shutout ball in the second. Matt Schaub and company seemed on the verge of setting the tempo, but the home team began clamping down. They were three and out on their initial second half drive. And when the Jets scoffed at the sheer inconvenience of regaining possession from their own eight, parlaying the less than ideal circumstances into seven points, on the metaphorical wings of Santonio Holmes [whose signature celebration was imitated by a jubilant Mark Sanchez] one would certainly be reasonable to believe the Jet dramatics on hold, at least until Thanksgiving. Weren’t they due for an easy ride, anyway? How many more defibrillator sponsored games could there be?

Most reassuring was the drive’s balance. Greene had legitimately contributed. A blowout was in the offing. The Texans responded negatively to the adversity, again going three and out. It was time for New York to do some salting. But a pivotal play occurred immediately thereafter, with an easy win practically in grasp.

Tomlinson, assuming running back duties, was stuffed on a third and one. With the third quarter waning, there would be no clock killing. The Texans’ defense would return to the sidelines, having made a stop, manufacturing positive momentum when they were primed to be demoralized. A Championship Caliber rushing attack cues up the laugh track. But Houston now had a shot. And they promptly fumbled it away. Chronically underrated playmaker Mike DeVito stripped Arian Foster, Jim Leonhard corralling the recovery.  The Jets took over at Houston’s twenty two. What their running game could not quite accomplish, Houston had offered on a silver platter. The ensuing field goal, as the final quarter began, may have been a letdown, but with the Jets’ defense playing at such a high level, the Texans’ stand appeared a footnote.  

And then the fun began.

 The Texans’ incredible offense, dormant for the duration of two quarters, awoke. They seized on a thirty one yard completion from Schaub to tight end Joel Dreessen , eventually tallying three points on a thirty eight yard field goal. The fourth quarter was far from over. The Jets had not driven in a proverbial stake, instead lightly chipping the ventricles. They now had work to finish. It began with promise. Tomlinson made an eight yard catch. He ran for four yards; then scampered for 21 on another reception. Shonn Greene lurched forward for five. Were the ground and pound ghosts being stirred from a mysterious slumber? The Jets ran it again, predictably, attempting to reorient themselves to a familiar philosophy. They were making progress, achingly close to icing the contest, at the Texans’ 41. Greene met resistance, spinning free, slamming directly into Brian Cushing, Houston’s halfback detonator. The hit caused Greene to fumble. The loose ball was recovered by Kevin Bentley, who would later grab a deflected interception. “On that play, there was some miscommunication,” Greene later explained. “Mark {Sanchez} had killed the play {and} I didn’t get the kill {call]. I didn’t get the kill, so it kind of was an off-play. I was running something different and Mark was running something different.”

On the Texans’ first proceeding offensive play, Schaub hit Dreessen for a 43 yard touchdown. Before catching the pass, Dreessen had been leisurely exploring wide open spaces downfield, the benefactor of blown coverage. Suddenly, it was Jets 23, Texans 17.

No more work to be done, just a crisis to navigate.

 The Texans had shockingly morphed into a freight train full of momentum, culling hope from a cauldron. They were a road team in a hostile environment witnessing, possibly, the denouement of a massively disappointing season. It was turning around, quickly, violently, indisputably.

New York tried halting the tide. Mark Sanchez scrambled for a first down. The Jets ran three more plays and had to punt. In a situation screaming for run plays, Sanchez handed off twice. Tomlinson notched a single yard after the scramble, and New York tried a different tact. They had to ask their defense to stop the bleeding, after two incomplete passes.

The Texans were now completely fulfilling their promise, even if for one single quarter. Here was David Anderson scoring thirty five yards. There was Andre Johnson pulling down a twenty yard catch. Matt Schaub delivering, Arian Foster heroically stretching the ball over the goal-line, Rackers drilling the extra point… it was all happening for Houston, a dream sequence. They led 24-23. And the fantasy continued, script totally flipped, Houston seemingly securing a win with an interception of Sanchez, the aforementioned Bentley pick.

No longer was there work to do, for the Jets, or a crisis to navigate… now a disaster now had to be overcome.

The defense finally affixed a tourniquet, holding Houston to a field goal. In the process two timeouts were burnt, and the Texans assumed a commanding 27-23 lead with fifty five seconds left. Their sideline was jubilant. And could they be blamed? One week after losing a mind bending, heart breaking game to the Jaguars, beaten by a prayer, they were about to triumph in a dramatic, faith affirming fashion.  “It’s an emotional game by nature,” said Schaub. “{It was} tough sledding for three quarters, and in the fourth quarter they were able to point some points on the board and get back in the game. Our defense gave us an opportunity to extend that lead, and we did. It’s an emotional game. It could’ve gone both ways.”

The Jets were staring at oblivion. Sanchez found Tomlinson for a five yard gain. Tomlinson, displaying his multifaceted adeptness, again provided his valuable pass receiving safety valve services, chewing up another nineteen yards of field. His second consecutive catch dragged the Jets to Houston’s forty eight. Sanchez spiked the ball, before finding Braylon Edwards, inexplicably open down the sideline for forty two, game changing, crowd invigorating, secondary shaming yards. “In the Cover Two I’m not the first option, but the safety cheated to the slot and I was there,” said Edwards.

 Houston called a timeout, delaying what was now inevitable. They would be the foil, once more, pawns of the football gods. Sanchez lofted a perfect pass over Glover Quinn, the unlucky Hail Mary tipper. Holmes made the catch, dragging his feet in the corner of the end-zone, in bounds. “He finds a way to get open,” Mark Sanchez would say later of Holmes. “He runs his routes really well and he’s always positive. He doesn’t say much, but when he does, it’s positive. The last drive, we’re going down, no timeouts left, less than one minute and he says, “Alright, let’s get it.” Holmes was equally appreciative of his quarterback. “I am absolutely amazed with the way [Sanchez] has been playing,” said the former Super Bowl MVP. “The way he stays in for film study. You heard him talk about film study, that’s all he talks about. When he’s supposed to be the quarterback in the huddle calling the next play, he’s running up and down the field in practice, getting on me, Braylon {Edwards} or whoever he is throwing the ball to.”

 The scoreboard said 29-27. The crowd said football, and its players, had won again. Reality would be put on hold, but not forever. “Words can’t describe it,” Andre Johnson would say later, “I really don’t know what to say.”

 ………………………………………………….

There was no immediate update on the injury suffered by Damien Woody.

Rookie Update: Profiling three members of the Jets’ 2010 Rookie Class

Friday, November 19th, 2010

No matter if a player has an established track record; consistent performance is still a fragile proposition. Injuries are inevitable, and the degree of difficulty entailed with professional football dictates varying successes. Expectations numb our appreciation for just how supremely difficult these positions are. And no better confirming evidence exists than the rookie season. Even if a player’s talents are limitless, elevated expectations, truncated playing time, and a brutal learning curve can conspire to nullify any potential impact.

It’s a rare phenomenon for a prodigy to assert himself immediately, and permanently. For three members of the Jets’ rookie class of 2010, the familiar pitfalls have presented themselves. It’s a gifted group, high on upside, but in need of experience. They deserve the franchise’s patience, and will receive precious developmental time.

But when a freshman has not obviously emerged just past the halfway point, the draft is bound to be viewed as a disappointment, at least when viewed through an extremely short-term prism. Ideally, the picks will learn and grow while contributing to a winning effort. Unfortunately for the Jets, this scenario has not burst into fruition, except in the case of John Conner, who resides behind Tony Richardson on the depth chart.

Before the season started, the most important rookie appeared to be Vladimir Ducasse, a hulking left guard plucked from UMass in the second round. Ducasse was slated to compete with Matt Slauson, both bidding to replace departed run stopping mensch Alan Faneca. Faneca, a possibly Canton bound team leader, would not be easily replaceable, for reasons both obvious and intangible. Though he had become a liability corralling the opposing pass rush, his departure was not greeted with unanimous support within the locker room. In fact, the reaction was quite the opposite.

It appeared this monstrous task would be left to Ducasse. If he could adjust to a new, blinding game speed, and become a force knocking the opposition off scrimmage, Faneca would not be so sorely missed. It was a bold decision by the Jets, but definitely rational.

 Unfortunately for Ducasse, he just hasn’t logged much significant playing time, perhaps proving more of a project than the Jets anticipated. Regardless, his future outlook remains bright, playing under a Head Coach committed to strong offensive line play, and Bill Callahan, one of the best positional assistants in the League. Ducasse, for one, remains optimistic.  “It’s pretty much what I expected,” said the rookie of his pro indoctrination. “Every day we keep going out, keep working hard and getting better, at different things. So that’s about it.” But Ducasse did admit that this venture has been at least slightly removed from the realms of college, though he couldn’t put his finger on a concrete reason. “A little bit. I don’t know how to put it. But a little bit. In college it was like… the mutual thing is that you put it work. What you did in practice is what you’re going to show on game day, so that’s why you don’t want to messing up in practice.” With Slauson now entrenched in a starting role, Ducasse can only control his own improvement. “I’m still learning. I’m doing what I got to do. I keep on getting better. That’s all I can do right now.”

Though Ducasse was expected to be a major cog, fellow rookie Kyle Wilson was also worthy of attention this past summer in training camp. The Boise State product had been highly touted by draft experts, and the Jets were lauded in many quarters for their selection. Wilson excelled under heavy pressure back in August, shouldering the burden of Darrelle Revis’ absence, thrust immediately into a prominent position. Wilson impressed the coaching staff, not only with his superb agility in close proximities, but also with maturity belying his age. While questions have hovered around Ducasse through the preseason, Wilson was seen, nearly universally, as a sure bet to contribute mightily. Revis returned, sending his younger contemporary downward on the depth chart. It seemed to be the best possible sequence of events. Wilson, however, would struggle when the games counted, penalty prone and apparently overwhelmed. He saw his playing time decrease at the hands of Drew Coleman, who rebounded from afterthought status to secure more playing time. Wilson turned into ghost as the weeks accumulated, before flashing his considerable skills in limited duty against the Browns. Despite his initial struggles, Wilson may be poised to deliver down the stretch, reinforcing a currently, curiously disappointing secondary.  “Not really,” responded Wilson, when asked whether he was surprised by his individual performance. “You always expect adversity. I just try to stay positive, and keep learning. Try not to make the same mistake twice.” Wilson maintained that the pro game’s speed had not been his undoing. “Nah, probably just the mental part,” said the corner. “Knowing how people will attack you, and just anticipate that.” Wilson pointed toward consistency as the key. “That’s the big thing. I think that’s what a lot of people focus and that was one thing I was trying to be, which was consistent in my technique.  And that will lead to making plays.” Rookies face a challenging road, without the added pressure of their orientation negatively affecting a team with high expectations. The Jets are seeking a championship, plain and simple. This demand for excellence can make a rookie’s transition even more perilous. “Probably,” conceded Wilson. “You know, it’s just how it goes. I’m not sure how other places work, but definitely our standards are high here.  That’s how we like it. You can’t do anything but just adjust to it… and just get with it.”

Will Wilson start making an impact?

Fullback John Conner emerged as the star on HBO’s training camp program “Hard Knocks.” Dubbed “The Terminator,” although his namesake led the human resistance, the rugged fullback earned raves from Rex Ryan for his brutal blocks. Conner hits like a sledgehammer, garnering downhill momentum before viciously colliding with his assigned target. For a moment before the season began, it appeared that he had assumed the starting fullback role, as Tony Richardson was released. The Jets, though, decided to retain Richardson’s services, allowing Conner a whole valuable season to learn. It was the correct move, one that will have Conner prepared to wreak utter havoc in 2011. For now, the best member of this draft class is Conner.  “As a rookie it’s easy to be in a situation, where you’re kind of worried about what you have to do, kind of put pressure on yourself, but I’m just trying to relax and take every rep like it’s my last, stay in my playbook and be mentally ready in case they call my number,” said Conner.  “I’m learning a lot this year; especially from guys like T-Rich and LT… it’s been a fun experience. I haven’t played as much offense as special teams; my role’s been mostly special teams, so I’m taking on that, too.” Conner has no issue with this temporary arrangement. “I like it. I played a lot of special teams in college, even though I was a starter. It’s been fun, I’m just trying to help the team any way I can.”

Conner is. Not every rookie does.

Dispatches from Rex:

Rex Ryan met with a gathered media assemblage for his Friday news conference.

Injury Report: “These guys are going to be out for the game. Dwight Lowery, Marquice Cole and Jerricho {Cotchery} Those three did not practice today. Jerricho is looking pretty good, so is Marquice. Hopefully they’ll be ready to go next week, but they will not play this game. Guys that were limited, but all these guys are going to be listed as probable, so there’s like twenty of them… guys that were limited in practice {are} David Harris, that will be a new guy. He had a calf. Other new guys {were} Brad Smith. He kind of had a lower back deal, so he was limited. Then everybody else that I mention will be in practice full, nut they’re going to be probable. Nick Mangold, shoulder, Josh Mauga, hamstring, Calvin Pace, foot, Darrelle Revis, hamstring, Mark Sanchez, calf {and} Damien Woody, ankle. All those guys are probable.”

Dwight Lowery’s concussion: “Those things you really don’t know. We’ll see how he is. I think he’s better now than he was. Again our doctors and our trainers don’t feel like he’s ready to go yet. I saw him doing {well} dribbling a football today, so he’s back to being himself. We’re clearly not going to put any guy out there that still has symptoms.”

The Military visiting practice: “It was great. It’s funny because they get a lot of joy out of it and they’re like, “Holy cow! It’s so and so.” We’re looking at you like you look at these guys.”

Cotchery: “If we were playing the Super Bowl, he’d be playing, but we have more game to play this year and we have to make sure we’re doing the right things by him and for ourselves as well.”

Previewing the Jets vs. Texans

Friday, November 19th, 2010

There are different types of cryptic conditions.  Certain mysteries may appear wearing the friendly guise of a pleasant surprise. And if a condition, or occurrence, proves itself to be positive, certain inscrutable elements can be overlooked.

For instance, the Jets are 7-2. Hardly a shock, considering the roster is overflowing with talent and experience. But the path they traversed to reach this current perch has been filled with sudden, inexplicable turns.

These unexpected twists have landed New York in a favorable position, rendering the detours exciting. It was baffling when the Detroit Lions totally outplayed the Jets for three quarters and change, but Mark Sanchez rallied, and complaints about team performance, while justified, became ultimately superfluous.

The Jets’ weaknesses may be potentially crippling, but if the winning continues, they are a sidebar, factual and worth following into the future, but not the main story. Victory is capable of erasing mistakes. Even when certain penalties are dumbfounding, and entire quarters evaporate without the Jets leaving an imprint, success provides an instant cure, and also buys time. Their fans may know the team flawed in certain respects, but the optimism is safe, as it should be. Wins and losses rule this business. Guide perceptions. The Jets have made enough plays. And while the secondary has been an unmitigated disappointment, Darrelle Revis appears to be rounding into shape, seven wins already in the bank. He and his teammates fly into this home against Houston, stress free.

The Texans and Jets are practically foils. The two roster’s basic compositions are wildly divergent. Their offensive philosophies are practically in direct opposition. If Rex Ryan is justifiably disappointed with his defense, one viewing session observing the Texans’ efforts just may put his critiques in perspective.

 And yet, the two teams are similar for more enigmatic qualities. Just when their stories seem fitted for a reasonable narrative, the journey always assumes a different shape. The Jets still can’t be fairly viewed as a lockdown defender of home field advantage, not after their startling response to a sterling Green Bay defense just a few weeks ago. Save for two ugly, seemingly aberrational performances against the Ravens and Packers, the Jets would be, undisputedly, the toast of a League currently sporting a dominant team vacancy. Considering the hype which preceded their season, a rampaging Jets team could have been a media bonanza. Instead, questions rightfully linger. The Browns may be a franchise on the rise, but when Colt McCoy can march downfield against a previously vaunted defense, and all but win the game before Drew Coleman made a game-saving strip, one naturally wonders which image of the Jets comes closest to defining them. That record makes it a pleasant exercise.

 Because of their sheer inability to stop opposing offenses, the Texans have slid into the opposite end of the spectrum. Their lapses, and momentary, fleeting glories, have left supporters frustrated, instead of drawn to their seat edges. Every year, it seems the Texans are poised to take the next step. Ready to secure consistency, establish an identity, finally threaten the Indianapolis Colts. And yet here they are; 4-5, far from fearsome, still utterly beguiling. These results garnered despite the best efforts of quarterback Matt Schaub, who will probably play this week despite suffering a burst bursa sac in his knee. Schaub has a quarterback rating of 91.5, a completion percentage of 64.2. Also consider Schaub is merely providing an encore for a truly outstanding campaign in 2009, which he may never top. Last season Schaub finished with a quarterback rating of 98, along with an outlandish 4,770 yards passing.  Mario Williams, the ultra-talented defensive end, has tallied 5.5 sacks. Andre Johnson, arguably the finest receiver current plying his trade, has reeled in 52 catches and collected 781 yards.

Second year man Arian Foster seemed to have the most important emergence in the sport, as he sprinted through opposing defenses early in the season. The Texans hadn’t just stumbled upon a reliable, tempo setting running game, at long last. They had an unleashed a superstar. Foster has accumulated statistics of the eye-popping variety. He has 920 rushing yards, ten touchdowns, and is chewing up the turf at a clip of 5.3 yards. He has also chipped in 33 receptions. This is quite a dossier.

  So, how does it all add up to four wins, status beneath the breakeven mark? There have been soul wrenching losses, to be sure. Just last Sunday, the Texans were victimized by a Hail Mary, batted into the arms of Jaguars receiver Mike Thomas by their defensive back, Glover Quinn. He had made a fundamentally correct play, practically smashing the sailing pigskin toward the earth. Quinn and the Texans were not rewarded. Not in the slightest.

 But bad luck will not suffice as the singular explanation for the Texans’ woes. Gary Kubiak has had this team knocking on the door for a long while. Now it seems they have become stranded on the porch.

Houston’s remaining schedule is difficult. They will assume an urgent posture. But will it translate into strong play? After they began 2010 a thrilling 2-0, with Foster in tow, very few could have correctly predicted they would be in a familiar station by midseason, strictly on the periphery. In many ways, the Texans’ resemble the 2009 Jets, at least when measuring the quality of the depth chart against results. Games begin slipping away, the outcomes excruciating, one defeat topping the next, pain barrier pushed relentlessly. Considering the Jets had a rookie quarterback when they were 4-6, this was not a comparison anyone in Houston wanted to be remotely valid. But here we are. Two strange teams… one is successful. The other is desperate. Hey, the Jets ended up playing football in January. And to completely write off such a gifted Texans team would be foolish.

 Who will walk away with this vital victory?

Sanchez must be on his game for a possible duel with Matt Schaub, the Texans' talented, probable QB

Prediction:

The Jets are faced with a difficult assignment, here. First of all, another setback at home would make their struggles in New Jersey a trend. Should they fall behind early, the crowd could checkout, out of sheer bafflement alone.

New York’s front seven must slow down Foster, while simultaneously guarding against a big day from Matt Schaub. In fairness to the secondary, which is under the microscope, their performance in the second half against the Browns was strong – until that final drive. They will not only have to be more consistent against a high flying stable of Texans’ receivers, they just may have to elevate their collective game. The Packers’ loss was not without a few positives. Their receiving core was not the reason why they won. In fact, it was rendered a near nonfactor. Revis, Cromartie, and company must summon that type of effort once more.

The Jets also may need to make a few coaching adjustments. They seem to be getting regularly burnt on shallow crossing routes. If the same type of play keeps working for the other side, the players’ accountability slides just a bit. A different approach is necessary. Pressuring the quarterback is also an issue, here. The Giants and Cowboys handled the Texans’ earlier this season by owning the point of attack. The Jets had similar success all the way back in week one of last season.

The Texans really could take this one. Logic is pointing me in their direction. The Jets’ running game hasn’t been game-breaking of late. They seem to be entering a transition phase, from Tomlinson to Greene as the feature guy, except the rhythm of ’09 has not returned. This makes New York vulnerable against high octane offenses, which they would prefer keeping off the field.

The Texans can try controlling the clock, with a heavy dose of Foster, and a barrage of high percentage passes which has haunted New York in recent weeks against inferior offenses.  

But Mark Sanchez seems poised for a real big day, statistically. Who wasn’t impressed with his effort against the Browns? He can definitely convert that momentum into a breakout day slinging. The Texans’ are an ideal opponent for this scenario. Santonio Holmes, Dustin Keller, and Braylon Edwards present ample problems for their defensive backfield.

All told, it just may be a shootout…. Real close… And something spectacularly awful will befall the Texans, like Darrelle Revis nabbing his first interception, a pick six, in overtime…

Jets 30 Texans 24 [OT]

Why So Serious?

Friday, November 12th, 2010

After Rex Ryan took to the press conference podium wearing a long wig and Browns cap, resembling his defensive coordinator brother, the universal reaction was pretty predictable. Some people wondered whether the second year coach had embarrassed himself and placed his team in an undisciplined light. It was a hot topic on the talk radio shows. Of course, the alternate interpretation of his actions was more light-hearted.

The barbs traded between Ryan and the Browns had been, after all, an entertaining sideshow during an otherwise serious week, preceding an intriguing, and pretty pivotal contest, between two hungry franchises.

 Make no mistake, beneath the joking façade; this is an important tilt capable of answering many pressing questions, about both participants. Have the Browns truly been rejuvenated? Is Colt McCoy the answer at quarterback? Can the Jets’ previously vaunted secondary finally get back on track, and will the team in general deliver a complete performance?

Personally, all the superfluous debate about Rex’s comedic leanings was just fine, totally expected. Despite this game being loaded with storylines, a fun diversion from all the predictions and analysis is always welcome. In this day and age, stories really fly by instantaneously. Dearly deceased horses get beaten in record time. Everyone is searching for a fresh angle, sometimes difficult to discover without revisiting the obvious.

I’ve often found myself questioning whether the world needed another update on Mark Sanchez’s inconsistency. But it’s a constantly shifting story, and the fluidity of this entire sports scene can get to be overwhelming. It leads to convenient labeling. Like this coach or quarterback will never win a big game, or this franchise is eternally doomed to failure. The truth is much more difficult to keep track of, and, honestly, can begin to be wearying.

When I started this particular gig, I wasn’t sure what exactly my style would resemble, or how my writing would translate when placed within the context of a consistent workload. I made a promise to myself though, that I would never try simplifying a very complicated sport to suit my needs. In this, I am hardly alone. It’s a grind.

I was actually bleary eyed when I first spotted Rex rocking the wig, up too late with a college paper and taking a Twitter related break. The image really cracked me up. Ryan is not a perfect coach, by any stretch of the imagination. His clock management is sometimes suspect, most apparently against Jacksonville last season, and there’s been a few suspect challenge decisions so far this season. The Jets have been penalized at a surprising rate, and sometimes appear curiously adrift during games, as if searching for a forgotten rhythm. For these disappointments, the man in charge will absorb a large percentage of blame. But at the end of the day, the Jets are 6-2; four games over breakeven at the halfway point, with room for improvement. The AFC East does not feature an overwhelmingly dominant foe for which they must cower in fear. The Dolphins just changed quarterbacks. The Patriots are not impressively ranked in team-wide categories, and have an absolutely brutal schedule awaiting them in the immediate future. Oh, and they traded their best receiver earlier this season. Playoffs…? The Bills just want to win a game. While the Jets haven’t exactly soared through the skies, plenty of teams would trade places with them.

So when Rex was criticized in some quarters for rocking the belated Halloween costume, I understood, but also pondered. I considered an oft overlooked question, in this age of the constant controversy feeding frenzy: When did sports get so serious? Look, this is a multi-billion dollar annual business. Organizations prepare year-round for a season that could secure long term job security, perhaps even iconic status, or abject disappointment. There are dollars at stake, egos to be elevated, highlights to create and champions to crown. And besides the passion and emotion, there’s also the basic risk these players take each time they step on the field. The long-term effects of playing football just may be more dangerous than anyone of us wanted to imagine. What may be a lifetime debilitation for a player, serves as an inconvenience for those following the sport. The entire system may be flawed. And that’s what a player lives with… cheering fans that either possess an icy indifference in regard to their heroes’ health; or simply cannot come to grips with the potential consequences. Piling on the pads is a life coloring choice.

People who dedicate a ton of their time to watching and appreciating sports, especially football? I totally relate. In terms of sheer unpredictability and adventure, not many products can compete. Yet all that aforementioned, deadly serious business listed in the prior paragraph seems to have sucked a bit of life from the proceedings.

 While sitting down to watch a game, the viewer is bombarded by highlights of vicious hits. We get it… And in light of recent realizations its borderline distasteful. When listening to announcers discuss the feats of a talented quarterback, the viewer must stomach cliché terms such as “field general,” and how well the player can, “read a blitz,” and of course, his “leadership.” We get it. Trust me. Wherever coaches are being discussed, the viewer will certainly be educated on “schemes” and “packages,” conjuring images of coaches lurking in the bowels of Stadiums, not unlike the Phantom of the Opera, drawing on a blackboard deep into the night, cackling maniacally. We get it.

The Jets Head Coach contemplates wig options

The joy has been lost, ever so slightly. It’s become more than a game, which is a real shame, because that’s all it was ever supposed to be. Anything can happen. The Giants beat an undefeated Patriots team in the Super Bowl a few years ago because a Special Teams ace caught a deep desperation pass by pressing it against his helmet. The scandals seem to be constant, and they are troubling. But so is the response. We’ve become a rubber-necking nation, waiting to live vicariously through another car wreck, forgetting an imperfect world through an obsession with mistakes made by wealthy, over-publicized people. Where has the happiness gone? Take a look at baseball, for God’s sake, America’s zany, diamond shaped pastime. The Yankees have a huge payroll, and this fact alone seems to send critics into delirious fits of obnoxious incredulity every time they lose. When the Yankees get eliminated from the playoffs, New Yorkers simply attempting to be entertained are treated to terms like “collapse,” and “disaster,” as if the economy just crashed. [Oh, wait, that happened! So much for context…] We get it. We really do.

Negativity is threatening to overtake the sprawl. Back in my younger days, I was a constant critic of ESPN. My qualms were valid, but also fashionable. This is an age of faceless criticism. I don’t care as much anymore, barely do, really. When considered in the context of the sporting marketplace, a network monolith was bound to emerge. They read the market, years ago. Good for them. As the years crawled by, I experienced an unexpected change. I actually started to become a Chris Berman fan. Sure, why not? In an era featuring virtually zero separation between public relation bores and the completely scandalized; Berman started becoming a breath of fresh air, with his ridiculous nicknames, Police Academy-esque sound effects, and his steadfast commitment to an ancient routine. Remember when this was all a good time? A diversion, not spoken in the all-important, reverential tones reserved for primetime panelists who say the word football thirty times a sentence? Hey, I don’t want to sound hypocritical. I’m all for romanticizing and rhapsodizing sports events, but let’s not forget: this is supposed fun, too. Rex Ryan must still be having some. Lighten up. Should the Jets lose this week, it won’t be because of a wig. Though there’s no doubt a few will make the connection…   

Coach Notes:

Speaking of the coach, he did have some information to share today:

On the latest injury news:   “Marquice Cole is out (with a) hamstring.  He’s out (and) will not play.  Josh Mauga is questionable with a hamstring.  He was limited today, but questionable.  Guys that are probable (are) Shonn Greene.  He was out today (and) did not practice (for) personal (reasons).  Guys that were full (were) Calvin Pace (foot), (Darrelle) Revis (hamstring), Matt Slauson (knee) and Damien Woody (knee).  All were full.  They’re all probable.  All those guys, Shonn Greene, Calvin, Revis, Slauson (and) Woody (are) probable.  In other words, they’ll definitely play.”

On Mangini returning fire: “I understand Eric Mangini took a shot (at me).  He took a shot at me and it wobbled me,” said Ryan with a smile. “There’s no question about it, he staggered me, but I’ve got one message to say to Eric Mangini, ‘You just made the list buddy’, Ryan continued with a laugh. “That’s it.  Name the movie.  Come on, we all know it.  “Stripes.”  ‘You just made the list buddy.’  He’s on there.”

On practice penalties:  “Bob Golic and Clay Matthews, those are the two guys (joking).  You know what’s funny, I’m not going to say they’re well-coordinated.  I think that would be overstepping the lines and all that.  I think (Matt) Roth, the kid they got from Miami, he’s a mean sucker.  He’s tough, he plays the run, he rushes the passer (and he is a) relentless guy.  If going back (in) the Jets days, a Gerry Philbin-type guy, just (a) relentless guy with a bad attitude.  You have to love him.  He plays tough.  The young safety (T.J. Ward) is playing well and he’s physical.  They just do a good job.  They have a bunch of guys contributing.  You know how we say it’s all about the decal, what are you going to say about Cleveland?  There’s no decal, so it has to be something about the uniform or something (joking).  They play hard.  They really do.  They get after it and they play as a unit, a prideful unit, just like we do.  They have a lot of good football players, but I think the Roth kid is the guy that really stands out to me.” 

On Kyle Wilson and Drew Coleman sharing reps this week:  “We’re going to play both those guys.  We’re going to alternate Drew (Coleman) and Kyle in there.  They’re both going to play nickel (and) dime.”

Previewing the Jets vs. Browns

Friday, November 12th, 2010

The Cleveland Browns have, by and large, been a bore since returning to the National Football League near the turn of the century. They had been previously erased, relocated to Baltimore under a new moniker, in a decision which devastated a loyal fan-base. Proving once more that favorable Stadium deals far exceed an organization’s appreciation for legitimate city connections, Art Modell shipped his Browns elsewhere. They became the Ravens, ultimately winning a Super Bowl. Modell was defended by fellow owners. Stunning…

 As for the replacement Browns, there has been an occasional flash of interest, a spark of revival briefly flickering before fading once more. In 2002, an ultimately forgotten cast of characters sent Cleveland on the precipice of the AFC Divisional playoffs, as they ran up a seemingly comfortable lead in the wildcard round on the road against Pittsburgh. Kelly Holcomb was on fire, and the Browns were suddenly playing Cinderella. Unfortunately for them, and Head Coach Butch Davis, who couldn’t have imagined this would be the height of his professional coaching experience, their advantage gradually disintegrated. Tommy Maddox became unstoppable, big-play threat Dennis Northcutt dropped a pivotal, potentially game salting reception, and the new Browns, following in the twisted tradition of their predecessor, collapsed in January, epically. A resounding win announcing their reemergence had mutated into a crushing defeat.

 Since then, the Browns have never really recovered. First overall pick Tim Couch engaged in a quarterback battle with the aforementioned Holcomb, the Franchise ultimately suffering a loss. The organization failed to secure an identity, but surprisingly caught lightening in a bottle with a waiver wire project named Derek Anderson in 2007. Anderson, a gigantic archetype pocket passer, could not parlay his spectacular ‘07 into sustained success. Soon, another major regime, featuring Head Coach Romeo Crenel and General Manager Phil Savage, was tossed aside. It’s hard to conjure recent, notable events involving the Browns. They hired Mike Holmgren this past offseason, granting him executive powers and control of football operations. It was strange, considering Holmgren had been regarded as a far better Coach then General Manager. He, in fact, and seen his personnel machinations halted with the Seattle Seahawks.

 So just about everyone, coming into this season, was pretty much expecting Holmgren to fire Eric Mangini, the former Jets Head Coach, after another lackluster sixteen games. Mangini, in his second year coaching the team, had collected momentum at the end of ’09, ending an otherwise disastrous campaign on a winning streak. Mangini earned points for decisiveness, jettisoning the Browns’ signature talent, searching for a fresh start. If he’d been given the keys, for whatever reason, possessing enough notoriety to run the entire show, then his daring moves, made for the long-term, may have earned plaudits. But, as it stood, with the Browns looking like an outfit that needed all the help it could get, Mangini assumed the appearance as a desperate coach. It may not have been fair, but considering his nightmarish finish with the Jets, and the Browns’ performance until December, the negative labels were understandable.

And though it has been a difficult trip, Mangini has managed to coax his Browns back toward relevancy. They stand at the precipice of one of those precious flashes, where possibilities burst open, and long-suffering Clevelanders can at least consider the possibility for consistent excellence from the beleaguered Browns. The hope is legitimate. When considered in conjunction with the strong finish to ’09, and their enhanced level of play following the stage exits of Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace [Wallace is a favorite punching bag, but his numbers are actually quite good] the Browns have to be in the discussion reserved for young, rising teams. After all, their primary ‘back, Broncos castoff Peyton Hillis, is 24. Starting signal caller Colt McCoy is a rookie, playing extremely well. The defense has generated play-making, especially against the Saints. Indeed, the Browns just may be a rising force.

But there are two sides to this coin. Just because a team is on the cusp of securing respectability does not mean that they are impervious to regression. Peyton Hillis, who absolutely obliterated the Jets in 2008, officially setting off that team’s death spiral, is an injury risk every week due to his battering ram style. McCoy will inevitably be confronted by rookie challenges, and must not be fazed. Unless he is really special, this weakness alone may torpedo the Browns’ post-season aspirations.

This is a promising collection of talent, and it will be fascinating to witness their journey throughout 2010. Whether Mangini can elude Holmgren’s hammer will be interesting, as well. But in the short-term, the Browns remain a team that simply cannot misfire, relying singularly on talent. The Jets, frustrating to watch at times despite their 6-2 record, have constantly demonstrated that talent can overcome dire situations, even self-imposed struggles bought about due to poor execution. The Jets seem to be aware that they cannot survive, let alone thrive, throughout the remainder of their schedule without fortifying their weaknesses, and addressing a distressing tendency toward drawing penalties. They have said all the right things this week, preceding a potential swing game. More than anything, both the coaches and fans would probably duly appreciate a steady performance. New York has been forced to abandon their complete commitment to a ground and pound offense, due to imported offensive talent, and an adjusted running game which has recently lost some momentum.  In an affair such as this one, where the opposition will attempt contorting all four quarters into a physically brutal, defensive struggle, the Jets sure could use a dominant rushing day. Whether they can generate this type of blunt attack just may determine their success or failure this Sunday.

Mark Sanchez, struggling with his accuracy and decision-making of late, aside from a highly impressive final frame against the woeful Lions last week, will be confronted by the complicated defensive packages of Mangini and Browns defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. Cleveland will try wearing the Jets out with Hillis, and New York may be forced to answer in kind.

Prediction:

The importance of Darrelle Revis returning to form cannot be understated. Last season, the matchup between McCoy and the Jets secondary would be a slam dunk advantage for New York, potentially the difference in the game. They’d rely on their corners and stack the box to shut down Hillis. This year, however, the secondary has slumped. The explanations are surely many, ranging from Revis’ rust and absence to Cromartie’s penalties. Regardless, should the secondary rediscover last year’s aptitude in the second half of 2010, watch out.

In fact, that’s the primary reason I’m picking the Jets in this one, and by a pretty large margin. I think McCoy will finally struggle. The Browns will be forced to pass. The Jets will support Sanchez, with Shonn Greene belatedly breaking out.

Greene would earn kudos from Jets fans if he can still the spotlight from Hillis.

New York is clearly better, and remains due to play a solid game.

Jets 31 Browns 10

Developing Stories

Friday, November 5th, 2010

In succeeding weeks, the Jets will take to the road against opponents which, on paper, possess inferior talent. Individual football games are often determined by a myriad of factors beyond the abilities of the opposing teams. Coaching enters into the equation, luck certainly a factor, but trends and statistical regressions also play a major role. For instance, sometimes a team seemingly clicking on all cylinders may see its successes exposed as a mirage. The games pile up, breaks even out, and usually, the answers become obvious through the course of an entire season. This is why single game results can be deceiving, and constant rumination over four quarters sometimes unnecessary. This upcoming Jets-Lions game will be rightly dissected by a wide variety of analysts, [and I’d recommend Christopher Nimbley’s preview:  http://www.jetsinsider.com/blogs/christopher_nimbley/?p=497 ] but beyond these Detroit and Cleveland contests, which storylines, and the players around which the operas revolve, will ultimately determine the fate of this 2010 edition of the Jets? At this juncture of the campaign, it’s timely to at least begin considering the question.   

1. Two Mark’s

In sports coverage, nothing beats a good label. When a player’s performance becomes increasingly impossible to predict, he is naturally identified as inconsistent. It’s really an all-purpose adjective, an easy escape hatch from unsightly predictions. When nary a rhyme or reason for an athlete’s successes or failures, writers such as I are liberated from accountability, while trying to assess future performances. Mark Sanchez is a young quarterback, which may easily explain his near weekly veering between brilliance and putridity. But youth and inexperience were hardly factors as he piloted the Jets to a Conference Championship last January. Judging from Sanchez’s quotes, he seems eager to be liberated from youthful tags, which could be interpreted as ready-made excuses for poor play. For this, the second year slinger from USC should be congratulated. He holds himself to high standards. But it’s difficult to explain the peak and valley nature of his performance without resorting to the sophomore card. The Jets are attempting something special in 2010, a season which may ultimately remembered as the one preceding an infuriating lockout, raising the stakes even higher. And they may be ultimately defined by which Mark makes his appearance when it matters most. Who will emerge from the tunnel with more regularity for the remainder of the calendar? Shall it be Sanchez as finished product, deftly mixing laser beam intermediate spirals with downfield bombs, the expert collaborator with Dustin Keller, exposing a weekly mismatch in the defensive secondary? Or will the other Mark make more appearances, struggling with questionable decision-making, operating an offense out of tune, susceptible to interceptions as a result of inaccuracy? As illustrated up until the tilt with Denver, which the Jets were extremely fortunate to win; this seems to be an elite team when its quarterback is in rhythm? But, as opposed to last season, where they managed a victory or two in spite of Sanchez, the Jets now seem very lost when he is off his game. Which makes his story number one; without dispute.  

2. The Unheralded Hit Man

David Harris appeared very special immediately, totaling 90 solo tackles during a rookie year in which he only started nine games. He also jarred free two fumbles, and collected five sacks. More than anything, he crystallized John Vilma’s struggles within Eric Mangini’s defensive scheme, and summarily replaced the departed star in 2008. Ever since that machination, Harris’ reliability has slightly overshadowed his massive presence. Before the year, as Darrelle Revis held out, many associated with the team opined about his irreplaceability. Considering Revis was primarily responsible for the 2009 Jets making the playoffs, it was a fair tact to take. But for all the Jets incredible depth on defense, especially in the secondary, where Revis roams, how much would the linebackers drop off without Harris? Bart Scott is an affable, honest player, a go-to quote and Rex Ryan stalwart. But Harris has to be considered the most valuable ‘backer.  After a spectacular 2009, which included five sacks, two interceptions, three pass deflections and two forced fumbles, Harris receded into the shadows, lost amid Sanchez’s wild rookie ride and Revis’ contractual concerns. The Jets silently rely on him, and when he tweaked his back this past week while lifting weights, the fright had to be off the charts. Despite missing five games in 2008, Harris always seems to be there. For New York to make a run deep into January, he must be.  

The Unheralded Hit Man

3. The Straw that stirs the Drink

The Jets defense was robbed of deserving plaudits after completely shutting down the Green Bay Packers’ aerial show. Because their own offense struggled so mightily, Darrelle Revis and company received the empty kudos of consolation. The Packers represented a fascinating test for the Jets’ secondary, considering their ineffective run attack, sans Ryan Grant, would force them to attempt pitting their team strength against a road opponent’s peak capability. And with Revis rounding back into shape, following a predictable nagging injury after his holdout, the Jets’ secondary is the class of the league. The pass happy Packers were indeed stifled.  Revis may not be the most popular Jet at the moment. His contractual stance was logical, but ill-timed in the eyes of a fan-base desperate for a championship, and stoked by an advertising campaign, and front office, going for broke. Revis was attacked for putting his interests ahead of a team on the cusp, but in the business of sports, it must be remembered that the team always put their interests ahead of the player, so messy incidents such as these simply even the ledger. The disappointing aspect of these holdouts occurs when nothing tangible arrives from the contentious circumstances. The player doesn’t get a shiny new contract, the fans stay angry, and the team remains steadfast within their projected budget. In Revis’ case, this reporter finds it odd that such a special player hasn’t been unequivocally forgiven for such an understandable transgression, especially considering that the Jets ended up paying. Isn’t it obvious that Revis and his agents had a point, if the Jets caved? And yet, a degree of iciness still must thaw between the best corner in the league and the fans. Aside from public relations, Revis is an essential piece to the Jets’ puzzle. With sacks once again at a premium, as Revis continues returning to full strength, his deft coverage skills will allow Rex Ryan and Mike Pettine to create complex packages designed to confuse, and eventually trap, the opposing quarterback. And, as has been consistently proven, the flood blitzing Jets rely heavily on their corners, when their machinations are identified and neutralized by the opponent.

Notes from Rex:

Rex Ryan held his daily presser and shared a few insights:

  • On the injury report: “Probable on the injuries, David Harris, Calvin Pace, Brodney Pool, Darrelle Revis (are) all probable.  Brodney is fine.  All those guys were full (participation) today.  Nobody missed anything.” 

 

  • On Brodney Pool:  “He checked out.  We gave him the finger test, how many fingers and things and he’s fine.  I’m kidding.  Really though, when any player gets hit in the head or has that kind of collision, his helmet kind of smacked him in the eye a little bit, but you’re cautious.  As soon as (you see) Brodney Pool, out with a head injury, everybody’s like, “Oh, there’s that concussion thing.”  Really, we haven’t seen (that).  He’s been great and he’s physical and all that kind of stuff.  We’re happy with Brodney and he’ll be ready to play well this week.” 

Three Diagnoses for a Struggling Offense

Friday, November 5th, 2010

Tis the season where the fall foliage swirls down deserted city streets, the first traces of severe winter chill zip subtly through crisp Autumn breezes, and being cursed by festering, cough inducing, sneeze producing sickness becomes a near unavoidable consequence of calling New York home.

Yes, the big freeze resides just beyond the horizon, but a rather bipolar climate has made staying in perfect health a near possibility, even before sub-zero temperatures become the norm. Why, one day the car requires an outlandish amount of heath to offset teeth chattering, and the next, the air conditioner still must be utilized, in late October, lest sweat drop from the forehead. It’s been a strange forecast, and our bodies don’t quite know how to cope. This time of year we are often stricken by symptoms suggesting a far more serious infirmary which often [hopefully, knock on wood] is not delivered.

But still.

A runny nose, persistent cough, headache, these are disconcerting, and must be dealt with.

The New York Jets haven’t quite resembled the scrambled weather, all the positives produced by a 5-2 ledger weighing down a few noticeable negatives. And yet, if they were a patient undergoing a routine checkup, potential viruses afflicting key members of their outfit would be revealed, maladies lethal enough to quarantine Super Bowl dreams.

 As the automatic panic fan contingency begins their yearly prowl, attempting to sense the first sign of palpable terror so they can claim legitimate worry all along, allow this allotment for me to make an unbiased diagnoses. Why, I still believe the team is still riding high. But you won’t be able to claim this doctor unconcerned. You also can’t say I’m a doctor, but that never stopped countless counterfeit members of the stethoscope brigade.

Hi Everybody!

And luckily, this patient is far from a delicate subject. The quack hat is on. To the charts!

Patient: Mark Sanchez

History: Battled a particularly difficult case of “rookie,” in 2009. All evidence of his struggle was seemingly washed away after a productive Sunday stay in San Diego last January. The poor decisions, interceptions, and general inconsistency had begun abating through December and the Wild Card playoff round, creating real, undeniable hope among his many fans.  A related affliction, causing his admirers to selectively remember only times unrelated to the “rookie” misfortunes, created unfairly high expectations for the patient in just his second season.

Current Symptoms: Patient now regressing back toward poor downfield reads and turnovers, in addition to a downright disturbing tendency for inaccuracy. Throws just not flying crisply from his hand, for reasons unknown, possibly related to poor footwork,  a surprising setback given the patient’s excellent athletic ability.

Recommended Cure: Patient simply needs more experience to combat this issue. Also deserves total support from the coaching staff and fellow teammates, due to a commendable work ethic and natural leadership abilities. Speaking of which, such platitudes awarded for intangible contributions, while truthful, fall short of being even a placebo, as it concerns the patient’s game-day improvement. Raw statistics will tell the tale, including a completion percentage that should rise as the affliction vanishes.

Outlook: Mixed. Patient shows a willingness to strive for success, but may struggle in his windy home-field environment. If footwork, accuracy, and decision-making have been undermined by case of “rookie” [aka, inexperienced] woes, then these are multiple issues to correct, which cannot be attacked with one quick fix.  

Recommended Dosage: Try establishing the ground game, to make roving play-action passes a staple of the offense, in a similar vein to the system Mike Shanahan recently operated with Jake Plummer in Denver. Failing this doctor’s potentially idiotic comparison between two admittedly different players, try a new tactic to get the Patient more comfortable, and within the flow of the game. Perhaps more short routes for Dustin Keller, so he and the patient, showing signs of physic connectivity, can ease into a rhythm early.

Under the weather?

Patient: Jerricho Cotchery  

History: Ultra talented receiver was overlooked after a history making career at N.C. State. His measurable attributes may not have exploded off the scouting report, but his superb route running and pure physical strength made him an ideal candidate to thrive in the National Football League. Patient briefly owned the spotlight early in 2009 as the undisputed number one receiver. Production slipped along with his quarterback’s. Now in the curious position of being the third biggest name on the receiving depth chart, trailing more famous teammates. Still getting open, but…

Symptoms: Football often presents its viewers, and participants, with situations not easily explained with logic. Why was this previously reliable patient saddled with a severe case of “butter-fingers” in the fourth quarter of last week’s disappointing setback against Green Bay? It may have been bad luck, or a team oriented player attempting to do too much. Either way, this incidence of “butter-fingers” was undeniably debilitating, especially on a potential game winning catch in the corner of the end-zone, slightly disturbed by a beaten defensive back.     

Recommended Cure: This patient needs to get right back on track, lest this issue snowball. He is a fundamentally sound asset, capable of corralling valuable yards on third down, essentially laying the groundwork for points, which were in short supply last week. Used creatively in motion formations most memorably in ’06, another player who could use more touches for tempo purposes.

Outlook: Patient possessed all the appearances of a rising star in the years preceding Mark Sanchez’s arrival. This is hardly to blame our previous patient for Cotchery’s descent, especially considering he had a higher amount of yards per catch in ’09 opposed to ’08 [fourteen less grabs], but it seems the current game-plan is not properly tapping into his abilities. Even if increasingly lost in the shuffle, he will become a steady five catch, first down reception specialist, debatably an unfair fate for a former thousand yard performer.

Recommended Dosage: More motion patterns… and should this doctor’s opinion about play-calling be absolutely unfounded, a simplistic reaction to recent events perfectly emblematic of a medical degree “earned” on the outskirts of Mexico, allow him the luxury of being blunt: Get this patient the damn ball. Or, more kindly, don’t forget his value amid a crowd including a Super Bowl MVP, a big-play threat, possible Pro Bowl tight-end, and pass catching, Hall of Fame halfback. Patient was a go-to receiver on a comparatively makeshift offense in 2006, and should be thriving while surrounded with more talent, not stagnating.

Patient: Brian Schottenheimer   

History: Son of a legendary coach. He and Chad Pennington beguiled opposing defenses to the tune of ten wins in 2006, a shocking season which made the patient an immediate candidate for head coaching vacancies. Perhaps unfairly maligned in 2008 as the offense sputtered late, piloted by an injured quarterback. Often criticized, the critiques will become less dismissible should the current attack, loaded on paper, continues languishing.

Symptoms: Patient is cursed with an advanced case of “Paul Hackett Blues.” Hackett, a longtime whiz universally respected around the league, became a reviled figure in many quarters of Jets fandom, as those disenchanted with his approach emphasized any and all negative results. His case was not helped by criticism from beloved, marginalized receiver Wayne Chrebet, and a crew which took enough pride in winning games ugly to respond favorably to the nickname “Team Shrek.” Folk hero Vinny Testaverde was a poor fit for his offense.  Since these halcyon days, when Paul Hackett could be blamed for just about anything, including the economy, it appears Jets fans heap a disproportionate amount of disgust on the offensive coordinator, when events just aren’t breaking their way.  In Schottenheimer’s case, it has begun. But really, what coordinator isn’t under close inspection?

Recommended Cure: Schottenheimer’s offense needs to score some points. What precisely he is dialing up will become increasingly less pressing at that juncture. The Jets could be using ladders out there for all their fans care.     

Recommended Dosage: Patient should avoid message boards. Maybe read Sanchez extremely closely for signs of discomfort, prepared to call a high percentage pass should a downward spiral appear imminent. But should that advice have been so utterly obvious as to closely resemble redundancy, perhaps this doctor can make an even simpler suggestion: Shouldn’t Brad Smith throw a pass or two out of the wildcat?

PACKERS 9 – JETS 0

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

Dustin Keller caught the short pass on first and twenty and fell to the turf, corralled by the Packers’ all world cornerback Charles Woodson. But first impressions of this seemingly mundane fourth quarter play proved deceptive. It was very quickly revealed to be one of those rare, unforgettable momentum twists only football can provide. The crowd cheered for positive yardage and anticipated a Jets rally. Maybe Brian Schottenheimer began calculating his next move. In the press-box, a few reporters undoubtedly gazed back downward toward their laptops, temporarily removing their eyes from the field. Then in an instant, Woodson was wrestling with Keller, emerging with precious possession of the football, and racing downfield. It was hard to determine immediately what had occurred, but when a questionable interpretation by the officials became stone cold fact, a dry death grip seized the Stadium.

The Jets could not challenge this turnover, although it appeared that Keller had been down when Woodson executed his heist. This game, a putrid offensive affair matching a misfiring group against an entirely unbalanced one, was now totally tilted toward the road Packers, and the Jets, arriving off a bye and carrying ample momentum, were staring at a shutout.

It’d be a troubling loss on their own turf, in front of a festive gathering celebrating both Halloween, and a talented team. Several signs pointed toward disaster throughout, and all the ill omens would eventually be confirmed. New York fell, forced to acknowledge a second straight subpar game, and another more disappointing truth which just may have long term consequences: the offense has gone awry, in spite of showing definite signs of dominance in three convincing victories against divisional competition.

The Jets wouldn’t be able to reverse their wayward fortunes after Woodson’s pivotal theft, no doubt allowing portions of the fan-base to engage in the time tested tradition of referee excoriating.

But the demise of New York’s thrilling five-game winning streak could not be attributed to this singular shift, no matter how jarring, or ultimately unjust. A myriad of issues doomed the Jets, very few attributable to a stout defense, which manhandled the pass happy Packers. No, if blame must be foisted upon a particular party, it falls directly on the offense. Quarterback Mark Sanchez continues the mysterious regression characterizing his recent performance, a disappointing turn of events considering his spectacular stretch immediately following an initial misstep against Baltimore.

With the heavily hyped Jets stumbling to a loss week one, their sophomore quarterback’s critics quite rightly sharpened their blades and began taking jabs, winding up a haymaker. The signal caller often becomes a symbol for his squad, associated with the entire operation’s successes and failures. And in this case, the connection was quite apt. Like his team, Sanchez had been inconsistent in 2009, finishing strong and shouldering high expectations for the immediate future, leaving many wondering whether the improvement had been real, or the laurels deserved. Sanchez answered the pressure, rallying in the second half of the home opener against New England, and parlaying that forward step into legitimate progress, right up until his success vanished in the thin air of Denver, before the bye week.

The Jets had won that game, despite Sanchez, his completion percentage rapidly sinking into the realm of unacceptability. Against Green Bay, the second year slinger did nothing to alleviate worries. He went an ugly 16 of 38 while collecting two hundred fifty six yards passing, compiling two interceptions and a 43.3 rating. “It’s tough to pinpoint,” Sanchez said afterward. “I’m going to go back and look at the film. I felt good in the pocket. I thought our offensive line did a good job and gave me plenty of time. Sometimes you just have days like this. When we’re playing poorly like that and their defense really gets after it and takes two picks that makes it hard on us. I just have to get better,” he concluded.

 Sanchez was not helped by his receivers, who dropped multiple throws, or a shockingly stalled running game, which inexplicably crumbled against the Packers’ front seven. LaDainian Tomlinson amassed 54 yards on sixteen carries, and Shonn Greene made even less of an impact, converting six carries into twenty-two yards.

 Green Bay, dogged by numerous maladies and forced to rearrange their depth chart, managed to completely dictate tempo. “You have to give credit to Green Bay,” Jets Head Coach Rex Ryan acknowledged. “They did an outstanding job. They’re a good football team. They were better than we were today… We just didn’t get it done as a team.”

  Applauded for a high powered, aerial oriented offense before the season, Green Bay has not quite met the wild expectations laid at their doorstep, forced to conjure an altered identity after losing halfback Ryan Grant. They proved apt grinders on this afternoon, failing to connect on a couple of downfield strikes, but summoning just enough plays to secure an unlikely road victory.

Aaron Rodgers had an uncharacteristic game, completing only fifteen passes out of 34. But he, unlike Sanchez, avoided the interception, and was generally far more accurate when receivers were open.

Mark Sanchez's body language pretty much summarizes the Jets offensive performance against Green Bay as they are shut out for the first time since 2006 9-0. (JetsInsider.com Photo)

Sanchez was a scattershot on a wide array of pass attempts, from intermediate lasers and lobs, to screen passes driven into the ground, and deep bombs woefully underthrown. Tomlinson led the team with five catches, Jerricho Cotchery nabbing four. Cotchery, though, would see his day marred by multiple drops in the fourth quarter, including a crucial near reception lost in the corner of the end-zone.

There would be no heroics from this unit. Santonio Holmes appeared ready to take the game over, but stalled out with three catches and forty three yards. Keller was stripped by Woodson, and his potentially game changing thirty seven yard catch and run, delivered by a scrambling Sanchez during a desperate fourth quarter drive, ultimately went for naught. The offense was again flagged for costly penalties, most significant being a holding call on Keller, which set up his unpleasant rendezvous with Woodson.  “If you win the turnover battle, most of the time you’re going to win the game,” said Woodson in a postgame interview. “To have as many turnovers as we did today, to take away momentum when they were driving on a couple of occasions, we got to put points on the board.” The Packers had quelled the Jets’ momentum. All three turnovers occurred in Green Bay territory.  

For as inefficient as the Jets’ were on offense, the Packers’ defense also deserves plaudits for their showing. Their coverage schemes in the secondary obviously baffled both the Jets’ personnel and coaching staff, as significant playmakers such as Keller and Braylon Edwards hardly made an impact throughout the afternoon, aside from a single play or two. Linebacker Desmond Bishop was a constant menace, finishing with ten tackles. Sack specialist Clay Matthews crunched Mark Sanchez late in the proceedings, and Brandon Chillar also contributed pressure. “Anytime you come in here and can hold your opponent to zero points, it’s great to do,” said Matthews. “Especially for our defense {playing} against such a high power offense. We are happy about it.”

 But most impressive were the interceptions. Tramon Williams’ made a steal similar to his teammate Woodson’s earlier in the contest, ripping the ball from Cotchery’s grasp. The Williams turnover had huge ramifications. Jets Head Coach Rex Ryan, who had already burnt a challenge in the second quarter on a Brad Smith fumble, threw the red flag again, questioning the legality of Williams’ pick. The play was upheld, same as the Smith review. The Jets were out of challenges for the game, which proved a mortal wound after Keller was not ruled down in the fourth quarter.

  Indeed, it seemed every phase of the game had backfired on New York. Even their normally reliable special teams unit sputtered. Steve Weatherford made a long distance run on fourth and long in the first quarter, nearly converting his faked punt into a first down, coming a mere one yard short. The original ruling on the field granted the Jets’ a crowd pleasing chain movement, but it would not stand.  Weatherford, an outstanding athlete, scampered for seventeen yards, but needed eighteen, and a Mike McCarthy challenge cancelled the Jets’ success on an admirable gamble. Nick Folk, previously thriving, missed a thirty seven yarder in the third quarter which would have tied the game. He was outplayed by his opponent, Mason Crosby, who went three for four.