Archive for November, 2009

Free Falling: Three Reasons why the Jets are fading fast, plus notes

Friday, November 27th, 2009

After all the bows had been taken and the metaphorical confetti was cleared, a few unpleasant observations could be gleaned from the Jets’ week three victory over a sinking Tennessee Titans team. They had been soundly outplayed after the first quarter, offense totally neutralized aside from the timely execution of a few low percentage plays. The defense, unfathomably stout to that point, overcame its initial cracks. And ultimately, thanks largely to a spectacularly horrendous performance from opposing return man Ryan Mouton; the Jets escaped unscathed, ledger perfect and confidence high.  

New York was praised for vanquishing a desperate, winless foe. The negatives could be duly disregarded, revisited only in the unexpected circumstance of a major crash down the road.

Unfortunately enough for the Jets, this nasty collision with reality has become a key motif. All the expectations, hopes, and dreams were just a prelude to a stomach wrenching rollercoaster drop.  The warning signs shrouded the summit, and once again, Jets fans would receive a cruel commission for covering their eyes. As this ride continues on full careen, the tracks appear close to running out. Pretty soon, there may only be twisted metal to inspect. What has gone wrong?

1. The Rookie played like one  – not a shock

Mark Sanchez could be singled out as the player most responsible for the Jets’ collapse. His carelessness with the football has been an issue throughout the campaign, and while unwavering confidence is always a plus for any athlete, mental concessions must be made for necessary adjustments to take root.  ‘”[There] is a term that Schotty [offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer] uses all the time, ‘You have to say uncle.’ The competitiveness of Mark has been getting him in trouble,” said Ryan after practice today, clearly supporting his quarterback, while acknowledging his flaws. 

Sanchez, and the coaching staff, attribute most of his mistakes to simple overzealousness. The fact is, even a casual football follower probably understands that interceptions are not determined by stand-alone factors.  A poor coverage read, a lurking safety, an athletic linebacker dropping back into coverage, a defensive lineman applying just enough pressure to force a throw, a gifted cornerback covering sloppy technique with speed, on any given interception, all of these variables may surface. Sanchez and the coaching staff are obviously simplifying his errors to the press. 

Now, all this in due consideration, one essential fact must not be forgotten, for it is a superseding force over all others in relevance when diagnosing the performance of Mark Sanchez: He is a rookie. Is he enjoying the most incredible run in the history of neophyte signal callers? Nope. Has he been the worst? Absolutely not… in fact, he is having a better year than number one overall pick Matthew Stafford.

 All of the different caveats have distracted people from that aforementioned, overriding freshman fact. 

The Jets do possess a great deal of talent. Their painful collapse in ’08, after a promising eleven weeks, prepared a table for redemption that this roster may not have been ready to occupy. And ultimately, that quick start was bound to skew even the most measured of perceptions.  Set it aside, even for a moment, and we are left dissecting a rookie year that is not exactly presenting a shocking outcome. The shallow type of conjecture, concerning hot dogs and late nights, will fade quickly, occasionally resurfacing like a low tide. Those other details outlined in the preceding paragraphs may remain through the year, but these too, will become footnotes. Whether it be impatient fans or trigger-happy analysts, those refusing to acknowledge Sanchez’s inexperience, for whatever reason, are not being entirely fair.  Be that as it may, the charismatic California product was simply unable to sidestep the trap doors claiming countless rookie voyages prior to his. And it is a major reason why the 2009 Jets have seen it slip away. 

The strong start set up a frustrating fall

The strong start set up a frustrating fall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2.  The established core did not deliver 

This heading may strike optimists [any of you left out there?] as overly cruel, but the facts are inflexible. Whether or not the underperformance could be traced to injury related absence, several of the Jets’ most valuable commodities have not enjoyed sterling success so far. Take Jerricho Cotchery, for instance. A reliable wide-out long underrated by the mainstream monster, Cotchery shot out of Training Camp primed to prove what many educated viewers already knew: That he was more than qualified as a number one option. And Cotchery stormed out of the gates, before being drastically slowed by a hamstring injury. The malady seemed to sap his explosiveness, and derailed what could have been a truly magnificent first tour with Mark Sanchez. Kris Jenkins, nose tackle extraordinaire, suffered a devastating knee injury, rendering him a total nonfactor. Dynamic scat back Leon Washington, a terror in the open field and constant special teams threat, broke his fibula in Oakland, his entire future with the Jets now in doubt. 

Leon Washington ended his holdout in training camp, willing to fight that battle another day. His Jets future is now in doubt.

Leon Washington ended his holdout in training camp, willing to fight that battle another day. Ultimately, this is why players should not be criticized by fans for demanding market value for their skills.

Meanwhile, in the inexplicable realm, Kerry Rhodes’ shocking decline just may be complete, his starting spot stolen by Eric Smith, an afterthought in August. My Jets Insider colleague Daniel Troisi was all over the story of Rhodes’ benching.

[Don't miss out on this quality work  ]

Whether the apparent collapse of Rhodes, who previously could have been labeled pro-bowl caliber, can be reversed is not a pressing short-term issue. Right now, it is in the Jets’ best interest that Eric Smith performs well in his new role, and that Rhodes maintains focus with reduced responsibilities. One big play, and Rhodes could be right back out there. Keep in mind though, that the Jets have been waiting for that play all season.

3. This team is just weird

Never mind the bizarre press items constantly circulating about the Jets, from the refined literary styling of Kerry Rhodes and David Clowney, expressed via that bastion of enlightened communication known as Twitter, or private locker room speeches leaking onto notebooks, rookie passers dictating press conference terms, Head Coaches levying charges of attempted embarrassment against an opponent that his starting safety vowed to, yes, “embarrass” earlier in the season, shut off all that noise, even if it’s damn near impossible, just for now. Let’s take a moment to focus on the oddities engulfing this team within the white lines. Sure, the Jets can’t exactly be tagged as madcap. A supremely odd, season defining highlight has not been produced just yet. [An interception lodged in a helmet? A backwards touchdown? Place your bets!]

But does anyone play weirder games? It started well enough, with that win against the Titans, Ryan Mouton resembling a man with bricks for hands. But relying on weirdness is not exactly the path of champions. And, accordingly enough, things pretty much went downhill from there. Witness the tilt against New Orleans, where the high-octane Saints offense was nearly completely shutdown. Naturally, the Jets lost, and it wasn’t even close. Huh?  How about that defensive showing against Miami? For no apparent reason at all, the secondary played as if underwater… stunning stuff at the time, especially against a first-year starter. The debacle against Buffalo may take the cake, though. Three hundred yards of rushing somehow equaled a home defeat against a division rival. But another home disaster, this one the Miami rematch, sure gave that calamity some competition. A special teams breakdown, courtesy of a unit coached by Mike Westhoff, a guy who practically modernized that phase of the game, may have been considered pretty surprising. But at that point, we were all pretty much well caught on. Expect the unexpected out of these Jets… and bank on the negative. The fact that this team will play on a Thursday night in Toronto next week is cosmically perfect.

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Notes

Eric Smith has ascended, knocking Kerry Rhodes out of the starting lineup and carving out a place for himself. “He’s been a starter here in the past,” reminds Darrelle Revis, which is true, but never at the expense of Rhodes. That type of switch never would have been considered before this season, but Rhodes has been a titanic disappointment, and Smith seized his opportunity.

It’s a real notch for Smith, a noteworthy commendation considering his tenuous position in training camp. “A player’s role on a football team can change,” said Rex Ryan after practice. “When I got in, I never knew a whole lot about Eric Smith. He came in and was running with the third string safeties through the minicamps… I thought that was the right place to put him…. You have two ways you can react. You can feel self pity or you can grab your boots, pull them up, and say ‘let’s roll.’”

Smith has rolled to a promotion. For his part, the safety is anticipating the Panthers. “I’m looking forward to Sunday, just looking forward to playing more than I have,” said Smith after practice. Smith feels he has progressed as an overall player since last season. “Especially for this defense,” he elaborated. “You’re not as restricted. You’re freer to make plays.”

  Ryan on the future of Braylon Edwards: “I’d love to have him here past this year. I’d love to see him catch a ton of balls, come out and catch ten balls, be fantastic, and he just may.” 

Vernon Gholston has not made much of an impact following his disappointing rookie year, but Rex Ryan insists there has been progress. “As long as it’s going this way, that you keep improving, then he’s going to be just fine. It’s when you level off or start taking a nosedive, that’s when you have some issues. Unfortunately, he’s coming off an injury. I don’t know how much he’ll play.”

Ryan announced that corners Dwight Lowery or Donald Strickland will not be available this Sunday. Lowery is nursing an ankle injury, while Strickland is not suitably recovered from a concussion.

Coach and Quarterback Analysis, plus notes

Friday, November 20th, 2009

The characters are intriguing, the story-lines a complicated web weaved of both intention and pure randomness. The key faces forming one of the National Football League’s finest rivalries will be on display once more this Sunday. The Jets will attempt to complete a season sweep of New England for the first time in nearly a decade.  

The coach, the quarterback… these two positions often decide everything.

Subject: Bill Belichick

Occupation: Patriots Head Coach

Traits: Sports the look of an uncompromising genius. Hooded sweatshirt centric wardrobe cuts a vagabond figure. Enlightened men like this have no time to dress stylishly, damn it. Famous for monotone interviews. Loathes on-field photographers for unknown reasons. 

Rivalry Connection: Belichick is the epicenter. The seeds of this feud were planted by the defection of Bill Parcells from New England to New York after he guided the Patriots’ to their second Super Bowl appearance. For Parcells to coach the Jets in 1997, a complicated series of contractual obligations had to be dealt with, rendering the proceedings quite acrimonious.  When it appeared Parcells would have to take a mandatory season long sabbatical; due to these extenuating factors, the Jets insisted that his defensive guru, Bill Belichick, would be installed as head honcho. The charade was eventually avoided, but it foreshadowed a nasty bit of cosmic irony, far as the Jets are concerned, anyway. Belichick was respected league-wide for an innovative defensive mind, but after failing miserably while in charge of the Browns, it was believed he lacked the proper communication skills to handle a top spot. But Belichick would restore his reputation, revitalizing the Jets with Parcells, accomplishing enough to be handed the latter’s job after his ’99 resignation. Parcells was not leaving the organization, however, and Belichick may have been weary coaching in someone else’s shadow. So, while the Jets were shocked and dismayed when Belichick bolted to New England, to run the Patriots on his own terms, the decision does not seem all that surprising in retrospect.  If this somewhat bizarre sequence of events wasn’t enough to elevate tensions between the two franchises, the legendary success of Belichick following his New York exodus certainly stoked the flames to a fine boiling point.

Subject: Tom Brady

Occupation: New England Patriots Quarterback

Traits: Distinctive straight up stance in the pocket denotes the supreme confidence that usually arrives part and parcel with being one of the best players of your generation. Cloying smiles at press conferences reveal a hint of suppressed arrogance. Calmly plays catch while opposing teams drive downfield, usually with a convincing, stony disposition. Often spotted holding large trophies.

Rivalry Connection: For all those Jets fans out there hung up on relentless negativity, Tom Brady represents a focal point for disgust. It’s exceedingly easy to fall into the trap of questioning destiny, wondering why the Jets couldn’t hit the Tom Brady lottery. Hell, they would have even settled for another team outside the AFC East acquiring the Michigan product. Anyone but the Patriots, really… but so it was, and forever will be: New England grabbed Brady in the sixth round, figured he’d sure give Mike Bishop a run for his money, and the course of an entire sport changed. In comparison to this incredible fortune, the Jets haven’t been quite so lucky at the position. Vinny Testaverde was never the same after blowing out his Achilles, though he may have never been able to replicate the absolute magic of 1998. The next in line, Chad Pennington, seemed on a special trajectory. But a myriad of injuries and arm strength issues darkened his star. The new hope is Mark Sanchez, while Brady appears stronger than ever, even after a devastating knee injury.

Subject: Rex Ryan

Occupation: New York Jets Head Coach.

Traits: Ingratiating gregariousness has not faded with the fortunes of his team. This is a positive sign moving forward, that Ryan’s personality is not the least bit contrived, a claim he has consistently stood by.  While it would be interesting to analyze Super Bowl XXV with Belichick as it plays on dusty projector like the Zapruder film or something, [“They thought I was mad when I said we’d win if Thurman Thomas rushed for 100 yards! HAHAHAHAHAA!”], most people would probably prefer pounding a beer or two with Rex. Does this mean anything substantial in the realm of tangibility? Not really.

Rivalry Connection: Ryan’s high degree of confidence was especially shocking after the mumbling regime of Eric Mangini. He made waves immediately with his proclamation that he hadn’t taken the Jets job to “kiss Belichick’s rings.” The Jets, as an organization, seemed prepared to assume the aggressive tact of their new coach, no longer content to play proverbial, passive Washington Generals.  The strategy worked perfectly early, especially in week two, as a boisterous crowd and rampaging defense helped the Jets secure a home opening win against the Patriots.  But even if the confidence hasn’t frayed, New York’s play definitely has, leaving them in a make or break situation that will provide the first definitive chapter of Rex Ryan’s legacy against New England. 

A sweep of New England will certainly enhance Rex Ryans rep.

A sweep of New England will certainly enhance Rex Ryan's rep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Subject: Mark Sanchez

Occupation: New York Jets starting quarterback

Traits: Boundless youthful energy called charisma when the team wins and immaturity when the team loses. Carries a kinetic type of intensity that leads to fascinating exchanges whereupon he answers his own rhetorical questions at press conferences. Took this zeal a bit too far when dictating the terms of his postgame interview after a frustrating loss against Jacksonville, but the incident wasn’t a complete wreck, and he did take questions following the speech. [Though he was surprised any could be left. If I know anything about anything, it’s this: There will always be questions] Difficult to classify his quarterbacking style. Struggles with accuracy at times, though shows promising touch on intermediate throws. Soccer style end-zone celebrations are a plus.

Rivalry Connection: As eluded earlier in this piece, Sanchez represents what Jets fans pray will be a changing of the guard within the AFC East. He played a solid game against New England back in week two, but regressed as expectations exponentially rose. His immediate task is not to trade haymakers with Tom Brady. Being a reliable caretaker has proven difficult enough, at times. This is a certainty: If Sanchez goes to New England and emerges from the contest a winner, the perception of his entire season, on a mass media scale, will be altered.

Chill people

Chill people

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Notes

Damien Woody is well aware the Patriots will be highly motivated following their heartbreaking setback against Indy: “That could well be the case. I think they understand the situation, as far as the division. Miami is one game behind them and we are two games back. The division race is sill tight.”

On that tact, Fullback Tony Richardson doesn’t necessarily buy into New England playing better because they are perturbed. “I don’t think that necessarily matters… [look at us] We’re coming off a tough loss to Jacksonville. This is an angry game we play. We’re mad, they’re mad… we’re all pissed off,” said the honest Richardson.

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Jim Leonhard was still wearing a cast on his injured thumb when he met with the media today, but he expressed optimism about suiting up.

On practicing with the cast: “It was better than I thought it would be. It was nice to be able to get out there and see what I could and could not do and communicate that with Rex and the defensive coaches. If I wasn’t able to do that today, it would have been very hard for me to play on Sunday. It will be a game time decision.”

On if he feels he will play: “It’s hard to say. I realize how big this game is. We need this one, so I am going to do everything in my power. If I feel that I can help the team then hopefully the coaches feel I can help us win.”

On the surest sign he will be able to play: “It’s a combination of everything. Ultimately, you want to be able to play to where you are not thinking about it – to where you feel that you can just play football and not worry. Last week there were times where I didn’t really want to throw that arm in there. I feel like with this cast on, the trainers have said that it should be protected. If I can just go play football and not worry about, that is ultimately what you’re going for.”

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It was an abbreviated press conference today for Rex Ryan.

He had a humorous response to a question pondering the game’s importance: “This one is not important at all,” said Ryan sarcastically, to chuckles from the gathered reporters. “I’ve totally flipped my [thought].”  There are tons of games left. This one doesn’t mean a whole lot. That’s our story. I’m going to turn my hat backwards,” Ryan continued, doing just that. “Let’s go to work. We’ll try anything.”

Ryan and Richardson had similar feelings about New England being fired up: “I’ve got news for them. We’ve lost five of six. What kind of mood do you think we’ll be in?”

Previewing Jets-Patriots, Part II

Friday, November 20th, 2009

Judging by the circumstances, the New York Jets and New England Patriots will roll into their second clash of the season in equally atrocious moods.

The Belichick brigade just suffered a horrendous loss against the Indianapolis Colts, primarily due to a baffling decision made by their usually peerless head coach.

 The Patriots were on the verge of a decisive victory against their undefeated rival, only to receive an epic dose of comeuppance, really typifying a new pattern of failure dating back to the 2006 AFC Championship Game. A few more soul shaking defeats in this vein, and New England just may relinquish a fearsome reputation they have not deserved for some time now.

Even still, despite the Patriots’ faltering status as a member of the league-wide elite, let there be no doubt they still possess total ownership of the AFC East. Nearly division winners last season despite losing Tom Brady week one, the Patriots are unquestionably the class of an otherwise inconsistent crop. This rematch against the Jets affords them the opportunity to further distance themselves.

Ah, and what of the Jets? Here we have a collection of talent taking a truly unique journey. If nothing else, no one following the team could possibly complain of boredom. Pain and suffering sure, disappointment perhaps, but true realists understood the difficulty of winning immediately with a rookie quarterback. Even they may have swayed slightly after New York started strong, but the high was temporary, a bipolar swing quickly reversed.

Indeed, it’s easy to forget the expectations were once low. Those sensible sentiments were eventually shoved aside, lost within a chaotic parade of penned speeches, tissue boxes, hot dogs and harsh quotes. The Jets’ have been consumed by the wild energy summoned by both their discordant play and brash behavior. The endless stream of high quality notebook filler has been well documented, with even the normally reserved Darrelle Revis joining the fray, reacting harshly to a question about whether he receives help over the top while covering Randy Moss. Suppose that was inevitable. Rex Ryan defended the skills of Revis. “I’ll just put it this way – having Revis allows us to do things that most people don’t do or have the courage to play against him,” said the head coach. “That’s man coverage, to man up and say, ‘Alright, here we are.’  Now, Kerry Rhodes covers a lot of ground.  What maybe looks like Cover Two because of the range Kerry has might have been Cover One.  All I can say is we’ve got the best corner in the League and I don’t think there’s any dispute about that.”

The shutdown skills of the Jets star corner will keep them in the game. But will it be enough?

The shutdown skills of the Jets' star corner will keep them in the game. But will it be enough?

The Jets’ instability has been most glaring where it really counts. Just take another look at last week’s defeat against Jacksonville. The defensive performance alone speaks volumes. They were, nearly collectively, terrible in the first half. But the rebound in the second was resounding… at least until the final drive, whereupon a particularly ill-timed regression took hold. Consistency has vacated the premises. 

So, here are the Jets, one practice away from hitting the road and adding another chapter to this increasingly surrealist tome. And honestly, how could anyone even entertain a prediction? Well, while others are certainly entitled to think better of it, some are compelled to at least try.

The Jets can certainly win this game. No question about that. They have a superior running game, always a considerable benefit for a road underdog. The big play capability of New England’s offense is severely compromised by the presence of Darrelle Revis, who has never been remotely outmatched by his burgeoning nemesis, Moss.

If the Jets are able to carry over the positive adjustments made by their run defense against Jacksonville, they could manipulate the game’s momentum, twisting it into a turgid, low scoring affair, mirroring the week two duel. And this is precisely where the perception and reality of New England could be misinterpreted.

These Patriots prefer an aerial showdown. There are very few teams able to claim comparable passing personnel, from the quarterback to wide receivers. Here lies their principal strength, and New England can still be a top-flight outfit using this approach.

But the championship-winning squads that so thoroughly gloried in bloodying opponents with ball control and tough defense are nothing more than a memory. Its no coincidence the Patriots have not won a Super Bowl since Corey Dillon passed his prime. His successor, Laurence Maroney, has been a mild letdown. It’d be a supreme overreaction to label him a bust, because Maroney is a productive player, toting a 4.0 rushing average into this game. But even Maroney’s staunchest supporters would have to admit the Patriots’ overall vision probably didn’t involve him sharing carries in 2009. Or nearly losing his starting job to a warhorse like Fred Taylor.

The defense has improved, but is still unquestionably transitioning. It’s a group that hasn’t earned much yet, besides the apparent distrust of their coach.

As presently constituted, New England is very vulnerable when pitted against an opponent capable of curtailing their theatrics through the air. In this respect, the Jets match-up well with the Patriots, primarily because of Revis.

 The main concern facing New York, from here until their twisting and turning ride finally halts, is whether the interior defensive line can survive without key anchor Kris Jenkins. The Patriots are not built to properly exploit this weakness, with a continual barrage of rushing plays. They must throw.

How could it all play out? Wes Welker may have a huge game, a terror over the middle. Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine is well aware of Welker’s potential impact. Julian Edelman was lined up in Welker’s stead the last time these two teams met.  “It’s a big step up.  To me, Edelman was a poor man’s version of Welker and he did a good job filling in for him.  Now they are getting creative and going to some four-wide receiver groupings that gets them both on the field which is certainly a challenge,” said Pettine. “Welker is definitely a step up.  It’s easy to see that he’s really been a shot in the arm for the offense now that he’s 100 percent.  He’s averaging close to 10 catches a game in the last month or so.  Yards after catch are his usual.  Then, he ignited them the other night as well with the punt return as well.  He’s a weapon.  It’s certainly justified that the guy is a Pro Bowl guy almost every year.” 

The Patriots will also employ the services of star linebacker Jerod Mayo, another player absent from their week two defeat. Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer had some high praise for Mayo. “He’s a great player, began Schottenheimer. “With what he did last year, sideline to sideline player. I think he has a lot to do with getting people lined up, at least that’s what it looks like on film. He makes a lot of the checks. He and (Brandon) Meriweather are the two guys that you see doing a lot of the communicating. A big-time football player.”

I see Bart Scott neutralizing Faulk’s pass catching abilities. I see the Patriots adjusting to the Jets’ exotic blitzes, allowing Tom Brady ample time to find a target. And ultimately, I see the quarterbacks deciding this one. The Jets will hang around, maybe even controlling time of possession in a low scoring first half. But Brady will eventually assert himself, leaving Mark Sanchez to return serve some other day.

Patriots 21  Jets 10     

JAGS 24 – JETS 22

Sunday, November 15th, 2009

Jets come up short again as playoff hopes dwindle.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -  Maurice Jones-Drew darted through an open wound within a punctured Jets defensive line, bursting beyond the second level before blazing into the end zone. It was the first quarter, and the Jaguars had just converted a Mark Sanchez turnover into six points.  The sequence could have been aberration, but on this Sunday, a temporarily overwhelmed New York defensive unit was simply not able to reverse the negative momentum. This was a harbinger, a prelude to another dispiriting home loss, and perhaps, the first true signal of an entire season slipping away.  

This look by Jets QB Mark Sanchez sums up the game and team this season as NY loses another game in excruciating fashion to the Jags 24-22 (JetsInsider.com Photo)

This look by Jets QB Mark Sanchez sums up today's game and the entire 2009 season as NY loses another game in excruciating fashion to the Jags 24-22 (JetsInsider.com Photo)

Ironically, the signature moment of Jones-Drew’s virtuoso effort occurred when he voluntarily downed himself. Indeed, the ultra aggressive, tenacious tailback intelligently decided to burn more time off a ticking clock late in the fourth quarter as Jacksonville moved in for game winning field goal. The Jets, who wasted two timeouts on offense and defense due to mental lapses, could only watch dismayed as Jones-Drew’s maneuver allowed nearly every second left to bleed away until Josh Scobee booted the 21-yard game winner. 

Jones-Drew entered the contest as the undisputed star of small market Jacksonville, and his dominating performance did nothing to lessen his reputation. The pintsized battering ram, flashing blinding acceleration belying a battery-like frame, charred the Meadowlands turf in the first half, wracking up 93 yards.  “We are a young team and we fight,” said Jones-Drew when asked to assess his team. “The effort was never the issue, and that was something big I wanted to harp on the last couple of weeks.”

It seemed the loss of star nose tackle Kris Jenkins had finally caught up with the Jets, a thoroughly dominated defensive line rendering their linebackers powerless to stop Jones-Drew. In fact, Jones-Drew was barely touched on several plays before advancing into the secondary, an unabated locomotive.

As if the hammering rushes of this miniature terror were not enough to contend with for an obviously unsynchronized Jets defense, Jaguars passer David Garrard matched his running back’s scintillating first-half. Every facet of the multi-talented quarterback’s game shined, as he picked apart a staggering opposing secondary with precise intermediate throws. He connected with Mike Sims-Walker for a twenty-six yard touchdown strike on the Jags’ final first half possession. “It was a slant route and they were playing off,” Simms-Walker said. “I just tried to get in the hole as quick as possible. David made a good throw and I just broke a tackle and got up-field.” The score punctuated a ten-play jaunt. This successful turn had followed an eleven-play march that culminated with Garrard utilizing his able legs for an eleven-yard scrambling score. Garrard engineered the nifty run with a quick pivot outside a collapsing pocket.  

The second half proved another exercise in frustration for Gang Green. The defense slightly atoned for their wretched showing in the first two quarters, but could not close the show after being given a lead to protect. Meanwhile, Mark Sanchez and company had to endure the frustration of cashing in a key fourth quarter score before witnessing Jacksonville efficiently return fire.

The Jets entered the third trailing 21-13.  Offensively, an otherwise productive initial half was blighted by a Sanchez interception on the game’s first play, of which Jacksonville took full advantage. “The early mistake can’t happen. Just a physical mistake, an underthrown ball,” conceded Sanchez afterward, a specific admission he would own up to several times. Sanchez and the offense responded splendidly to the early frustration with a field goal and touchdown.  

After being held in check for nearly the entire second half, Sanchez drove the Jets downfield as the fourth quarter waned. Trailing the contest 21-16, New York dramatically converted three third downs, two delivered via huge gains through the air. “The last drive of the game. A great effort. The O-Line gave me a lot of time,” said Sanchez.

 They were pushed to the brink at the Jacksonville fifteen, facing fourth and one. Kicking a field would have been the conservative play, but Rex Ryan decided to go for the jugular. The decision appeared brilliant after Shonn Greene ran outside to the one-yard line, Thomas Jones breaking the plane a play later.  But this seemingly decisive shift was tainted by both an inexcusable timeout, called before the Jones run, because too many men were on the field, and a failure on the two-point conversion. Delivering on the two-pointer would have given the Jets defense, perfect in the second half, some margin of error. But a floating Sanchez heave intended for Braylon Edwards was broken up, and the Jaguars had their chance.  “I’ve got to get it to Braylon quicker,” admitted Sanchez, again acknowledging an underthrown ball. “The throw was a little behind me,” said Edwards, speaking about the crucial incompletion afterward. “The safety came in, hit me in the ribcage, he made a play.”

It would be difficult to describe the Jets’ defensive day as anything else but bizarre. They were manhandled in every single way through the first half, sliced and diced by Jones-Drew and assaulted through the air by Garrard.  There was absolutely no indication that they would be able to curtail the barrage. Yet, shockingly enough, the roles flipped, and suddenly the Jets were bullies, totally shutting down an offense that had appeared unstoppable.  “The Jets came out in the second half with a new agenda,” said Garrard. “Bring pressure strong and weak, overload everything. We were trying our best to pick some of those things up, but it seemed like they were always bringing one more guy than we could pick up.”

The redemption song was all cued up with five minutes left. Thomas Jones had just hit pay dirt. The stadium was rocking. The siren was blaring. The momentum was theirs. And then it was all gone. A key third down Garrard completion at the Jaguar 38 to Mike Thomas turned the tide. For, Garrard’s next completion would to a wide-open Mercedes Lewis down the seam, who had eluded Kerry Rhodes. The blame was not all his, however.  Rex Ryan obviously implied that Rhodes was not supposed to be singled up on the play, and fellow safety Jim Leonhard accepted responsibility for a communication breakdown. “I was trying to get a coverage switch,” said Leonhard. “In hindsight, we should have burnt the timeout.” 

These theatrics allowed Jones-Drew to take his knee, receive the due plaudits.

The Jets actually stopped Jones-Drew when they didn’t intend to. Ryan revealed the Jets tried to let Jones-Drew score on his first run inside the ten. This error cost New York their final timeout “We called a freeway,” said Ryan, referring to the specific play. Jones-Drew was stopped, accidently in hindsight, by Marques Douglas and Sione Pouha with 1:48 remaining.  “You try to make it look good,” Ryan said, before adding ironically, “That’s about the only time we tackled him.”

The Jets remained in the game partially because Quentin Groves fell down while returning a third quarter  interception, blowing an easy touchdown. “I saw Mark Sanchez raise up to throw the screen and I told myself, ‘just catch the ball.’ When I caught it I said, ‘get to the end zone.’ As I got closer to the end zone, it felt like it got further and further away.”  This bizarre occurrence set-up a whole strange montage, as the Jags and Jets exchanged ugly turnovers, first on a bubbled handoff exchange by Jacksonville, and then a muff by Braylon Edwards after a 41 catch and run.  ‘That’s football, you never know what’s going to come, when it’s going to come,” Edwards exclaimed.

When asked if it was frustrating to be losing so many games with New York after escaping Cleveland, Edwards probably summed up the thoughts of many when he said, “It sucks.”

Run to Daylight [Notes & Tidbits Included]

Friday, November 13th, 2009

Due to discouraging setbacks suffered within the division to arguably inferior teams, the Jets’ potentially promising stretch drive will now resemble a desperate scramble, margin of error positively anorexic. 

These unfavorable circumstances do not necessarily doom the proceedings, but with a rookie quarterback piloting the squad, denying at least the possibility of a total meltdown would be unrealistic. And the negative angle is an easy tact to take at the moment, New York sputtering after a strong start.

But, despite the overriding recent disappointment, positive developments were still unfolding. None was greater than a soaring running game. It may already be forgotten, but the offensive line was actually drawing grumbles in September, even provoking Rex Ryan to vouch his unwavering confidence in the assemblage.

For the Jets to realistically reach the postseason in their rookie coach’s initial campaign, this undeniable strength must persist. All those fresh, interesting characters that had the city buzzing after three weeks are still in place, joined by Braylon Edwards, but the destiny of this team will ultimately be determined in the trenches. 

Perhaps the pessimists will look back and realize they should have seen it coming, an overflow of talent upfront leading inevitably to consistency. 

Over the past two seasons, very few halfbacks have matched the spectacular performance of Thomas Jones. There is absolutely no question that Jones is one of the most underrated performers in the entire league. Considering that he plies his craft for a rabid fan base in a huge market, was acquired a highly publicized draft day deal, and has been remarkably consistent since departing the Arizona Cardinals, Jones’ relative anonymity is pretty inexplicable. The marked lack of publicity could be traced to a variety of factors, but the answer may rest with his basic playing style.

To deem Jones a grinder would be a simplified undersell. He is a living, breathing antonym of flash. In a media era obsessed with provoking instant reactions, where hastily formulated scrawls by players on social networking sites can cause chaotic tempests, Thomas Jones is a complex case. Elusive to the press, citing his daily preparation, Jones expresses himself on the field with power runs and unrehearsed passion. This isn’t a player made for the highlights. Quite the opposite…

Similar to Curtis Martin, Jones may not impress on the basis of excitement; his excellence is proven by the stat sheet, rugged performance tracked by raw statistics that often end up surprising.

He had that many yards? Yes.  

With the devastating leg injury to ultra talented change-of-pace Leon Washington, the Jets will be leaning on Jones more than they ever have.

Often overlooked as an elite running back, Thomas Jones is the absolute key for the Jets. (JetsInsider.com Photo)

Often overlooked as an elite running back, Thomas Jones is the absolute key for the Jets. (JetsInsider.com Photo)

“I put him right up there,” said Tony Richardson after practice, when asked where he would place Jones among the other fantastic runners for whom he has quite generously blown open holes. “Thomas is no different… [His defining attribute] is his power. He’s not afraid… he can get tough between the tackles.” Richardson would add that Jones’ work ethic is one of the best he has ever seen. 

The Jets are running the ball down opponent’s throats, despite having steep odds stacked against them, opposing defenses daring Mark Sanchez to win the game. “It’s definitely gratifying to run the ball even though the other team’s stacking the box,” Richardson continued. “I think we can still be better.  I know I can block better. That’s good to know.” It’s hard to believe the Jets’ running attack could improve, but they definitely need it firing on all cylinders to mount a playoff drive.

Of course, for every great running back dashing downfield, there is usually an awesome offensive line still mauling defenders back at the point of attack. Remember when Emmitt Smith held out from the Cowboys in 1993?  Whispers at the time questioned whether Smith was simply the byproduct of an extraordinary line. Of course that theory was debunked when Dallas kicked off their first title defense with two losses, obviously a lesser team without Smith, an all-time great. Now, does this mean that Cowboys line was a subpar illusion carried by a once in a lifetime threat? Nope. The truth resides in a reconciliatory middle ground where good teams can, working together, become great together. The credit should have been shared back then, and the Jets present-day running game is a similar case, on an admittedly smaller scale. [No championships, though the run game is championship caliber]

The front office continued piling up talent upfront over several years, producing a high-priced, cohesive machine. For every plaudit received by Jones, the relentless efforts of Nick Mangold and crew should be kept in mind. “There’s a reason why great lines have been together for years,” said Mangold after the Friday morning run-through. “I’ve talked to guys on some of those lines who don’t even have to make [pre-snap] calls.”

This incarnation of the Jets offensive line may be stuffed with brand names, but the group is only now participating in their second full season together. Mangold admits that this line is not operating on a telepathic level just yet, though, judging by the last few weeks, they are getting close. “It’s a process. You’re continually trying to get there,” said the skilled center. 

Damien Woody shared similar sentiments. “Chemistry. There’s nothing magical about what we are doing. Working with the same group [again], it’s rare…. We’re trying to get better. Each individual has to find something to get better at, and collectively we should improve.”

Interesting to note that both Richardson and Woody cited the possibility for improvement in the run game. It is that kind of dedication that breeds a feared asset. 

 

The Jets can ill afford any injuries to the offensive line.

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Friday Tidbits

Dustin Keller’s breakout game was obscured in week eight by the Jets’ second horrendous loss to the Dolphins. Keller and Mark Sanchez seemed to be on different pages through week seven. Keller was not having a terrible season to that point, but considering his huge potential and advanced receiving skills, the steady barrage of under-five catch performances was disappointing. “Picking back-up,” said Keller, was asked to assess his year so far. “Middle of the season went slow. Me and Sanchez had a good connection last week.” Despite a job well done against Miami, Keller is still seeking something more. “There’s definitely a big game brewing,” exclaimed Keller. His reception production may be sporadic thus far, but Keller seems content with his blocking. “Very solid,” said the tight end, referring to that key facet. “It’s gotten better. I know the coaches have been happy. It will continue to get better.”

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Rex Ryan shared a few interesting insights at his presser:

Lito Sheppard will not start: “I don’t think we’ll start Lito. Even though he’s practiced fully, I don’t think Lito’s all the way back yet. We’ll evaluate to see how much he’ll play. I think we’ll start Dwight Lowery.”

Justin Miller may not be returning kicks: “That’s a real possibility. We’ll see.”

More on Miller: Is there concern about his speed? :  “Yeah, probably.”

On Rashean Mathis, standout star of a shaky Jaguars secondary: “I think he’s an excellent player. Like a lot of good ones, he’ll take chances. The first thing you notice is the hair.” 

On addressing the team yesterday about not wanting to hear excuses: ‘It is what it is.  I believe in being honest and telling the truth. Practice today, I thought was outstanding focus [and] attention to detail. We’re close.”

 

Learning to Fly

Friday, November 6th, 2009

It was one of those surreal sights provoking pondering about deep, existential manners, about destiny and such.

An image that could be interpreted a thousand different ways, a potential harbinger of failure, or beacon for the future. Guess it all depends on your perspective.

But why was a Mark Sanchez jersey hanging outside the visitor’s locker room at Yankees Stadium, on the night baseball crowned a champion? There it was, an unmistakable green and white apparition, keeping watch over an archetypical sporting scene, observing the bitter interview of a defeated World Series manager.

What did it all mean? Was this simple coincidence? A not so subtle message planted by Fox executives that the football season is just now gaining momentum? And if so, wouldn’t they opt for something on the bluer side? Nah, just doesn’t add up…

Whatever the explanation, probably mundane, Jets fans, or in this case, journalists covering the team, should be forgiven for seeking signs. [I'd forgive me]

 It’s difficult formulating a definitive diagnosis on this patient. Here is an inconsistent squad attempting a rare juggling act, breaking in a rookie quarterback on a playoff caliber roster. That borderline paradoxical conundrum has defined this season right from jump.

Before arriving in Cortland to cover a weekend of the Jets toiling in training camp, I was pretty positive that starting Mark Sanchez over Kellen Clemens was an easy call. This was mid-August, the peak of Summer, though Cortland was cloaked in an unseasonable chill. Different time, and the scenery shifts fast. I was momentarily swayed by the idea of starting Clemens, the far more experienced candidate, entrenched within the offensive system. The arguments were well reasoned: After spending a truckload of money on defensive upgrades for the second consecutive off-season, this team could contend immediately under Rex Ryan. A rookie quarterback could sabotage the entire operation. And Clemens had his moments, locked in rhythm. But his uncured tendency toward turnovers made the decision easy… Sanchez received the nod, started 3-0, fell down, and has been forced to pull himself upward.

This is all fine experience for Sanchez, far beyond what a hands-off apprenticeship ever could have offered. But is his development worth the short-term disappointment? Did his rookie lapses, especially against Buffalo at home, cost the Jets a shot at big-time success in 2009? The answer to both those questions will probably end up being the same: Yes. And that invites a word that every executive preaches and many fans simply loathe: patience.

The more you know...

The more you know...

 

The Jets sent expectations soaring with those first three performances. Damned if they just didn’t look like a great team. There was Bart Scott flying all over the field against the Texans week one, personally nullifying Steve Slaton. There was Sanchez week two against New England, the memorable home opener, sacrificing a sack in the pocket when a big play didn’t develop downfield, complimented by Tom Brady afterwards for his poise and intelligence. Maybe he was ready… it seemed definite. The cracks started forming against Tennessee, and ruptured thereafter, recalibrating most everyone’s view of the horizon.

Bart Scott may never tone down the tough talk. Mark Sanchez may radiate optimism. The fact is, when games are given away, they are not given back. When the Jets dropped that unfathomably ugly contest against the Bills, the penalty for another giveaway became positively lethal. Hey, this is football. Inexplicable losses are a yearly occurrence. Back in December of ’02, the Jets were white hot, stampeding down the stretch behind Chad Pennington, eventually capturing a division title. But even that group hit a pothole; falling in Chicago against a woeful Bears team that had nothing to play for. It happens. Those easy wins need to be stockpiled, insurance against the unpredictable.  The special teams gift-wrapping one for Miami didn’t exactly aid this cause. 

Can the Jets click? The occurrence wouldn’t be entirely shocking. Sanchez can grow more comfortable as the stretch drive approaches, guiding the air show with deft, composed touch. The offensive line may continue to utterly dominate, though the loss of Leon Washington has already been felt. The defense seems to have reestablished itself totally after a momentary wobble, though another costly injury, this one to Kris Jenkins, cools enthusiasm. Considering everything, this picture just does not seem complete enough for a Championship run.

Realistic fanatics will not have their hearts broken by that assessment. A spirited playoff sprint is definitely in play. But, in that scenario, those brutal losses being kindly painted as ‘learning experiences’ in the here and now could be haunting down the line.

These Jets are ready to thrill, but they are still learning to fly. The payroll, the investments, the voice mail messages, the new attitude, none of that changes basic roster composition, especially at the most important position at all.

Learning to fly, indeed… and will fly before long.

For the Phillies, it’s wait ‘till next year. Maybe that random jersey sighting signified a similar notion.