Archive for October, 2010

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.

Changing of the Guard

Friday, October 29th, 2010

A quick Google search of Jets Left Offensive Guard Matt Slauson will turn up some pretty damn intimidating pictures.

In a few snaps Slauson, clad in Nebraska red, cuts an intense form, borderline otherworldly. Face decorated in white and black paint, eyes etched into a fixed, intense gaze, shoulder pads nearly bursting from his jersey, this is a portrait befitting of an ancient warrior, dodging flaming projectiles from a faraway catapult, across a sword and shield strewn field.

Instead, these are modern times, and Slauson’s obvious, overflowing intensity found a place in professional football.

But first impressions are often proven incorrect, simplified caricatures. In terms of game-time temperament, Slauson may be perfectly suited to assist his fellow teammates blowing open holes in an opposing defensive line. But the carefully considering, humble second-year Guard interviewed this afternoon surely belied that frightening figure in old photos.

Slauson essentially replaced the departed Alan Faneca. Faneca, a Hall of Fame bound lineman, was a natural leader and magnificent run blocker. When assessing the spectacular successes of the 2009 Jets running game, it would be downright criminal to overlook the importance of Faneca. He was an excellent communicator, serving as a conduit between his lane mates before the snap, while also diagnosing opponent schemes. When it came to exploding off scrimmage and knocking onrushing defensive tackles and ends off their center of gravity, Faneca was still a virtuoso. Unfortunately for both he and the Jets, the veteran Guards’ pass protecting skills had slightly eroded, rendering him a liability. Considering his high price tag, and Mark Sanchez’s knee related fragility, the Jets parted ways with Faneca during the offseason, an unpopular move in the locker-room also panned in many media quarters. His potential replacements didn’t exactly enhance instant reaction to the maneuver.  Matt Slauson, labeled a disappointment following a minimally impactful rookie campaign, would compete with incoming neophyte Vlad Ducasse, drafted out of UMass in the second round. Ducasse, a touted physical specimen, was expected to win the job. But he developed more slowly than anticipated, allowing the overlooked Slauson to claim victory.

Many believed the Jets had unnecessarily tinkered with a well-oiled machine. The mere chance that Slauson could fail, thereby disrupting the entire line, may not have been worth the risk. In an uncapped season, Faneca could have been retained, rather painlessly in a financial sense. But the Jets, like the rest of the league, refused to alter their usual business methods in spite of these altered circumstances. They would gamble on youth, probably banking on Ducasse, but still believing in Slauson.

If the Jets indeed possessed unwavering faith in Slauson’s talents, and their actions seem to corroborate such a theory, then their respected offensive line coach Bill Callahan certainly was a factor in the decision-making process. Callahan was a brilliant addition to the coaching staff in 2008. A gifted offensive mind, he saw his coaching stock lowered while overseeing the downward spiral of an ancient Raiders team in 2003. Oakland fell apart after a crushing Super Bowl loss, to their former coach Jon Gruden and his Buccaneers. Callahan lost the locker-room, made controversial comments to the media, and was surprisingly ousted only a year after winning the AFC. He moved on to Nebraska for a short stint before hopping over to the Jets, a highly qualified Offensive Line coach. Among his many players at Nebraska was a guard named Matt Slauson. The two’s history together would lead the latter to New York, eventually a pivotal cog for team that just may prove special.

Slauson had high praise for Callahan. In a professional world of unending transience, the long-term coach and player relationship between Callahan and Slauson is unique. Slauson had high praise for his coach.  “It’s great,” he said when asked about their communication. “He knows exactly what I can do. He pretty much saved my life in college, because coming out of high school nobody really wanted me, and he gave me a shot. It was the same thing now. I really wasn’t sure where I was going to get drafted, if I was going to get drafted at all. And he kind of stuck his neck out again, and said, ‘I like this guy, I think we should bring him in.’ So it’s great working with a coach I know, I know the system, and that he has so much confidence in me.”

Slauson was consistently considerate in his responses. Players can’t be blamed for using doubters within the fan-base and media for sources of anger and motivation, but Slauson had a more mature, acceptant attitude, instead citing high standards within the organization as a catalyst for consistency.  “I was untested, I was unproven,” he said, acknowledging the thought processes of his cynics.  “I’m replacing possibly the best guard that ever played. There’s a lot of pressure for a sixth round pick, that no one knows who he is, to come in and take over. I know what I can do, Coach Callahan knows what I can do, so I think it’ll only be a matter of time before everyone says this guy’s doing a great job.” Slauson continued. “I kind of let it [doubt] fuel me. Because I do know that last year we were the number one rated offensive line and I have to replace Alan Faneca, so I kind of let it fuel me. And I’m terrified every week, I’m scared of going out there and being the weak link, I don’t want our o-line to drop off at all, I want to improve upon it, and continue moving in the right direction, and win a Super Bowl.”

Matt Slauson has answered the call, answering one very pivotal question mark for the New York Jets.

Imagine that. The Wildman in those images acknowledging his own fear. But there’s obviously more to Matt Slauson than snap judgments can provide. Perhaps if certain Jets fans had looked closer before the season started, they would have saved themselves a ton of unnecessary fretting. It just may have been the perfect time for a changing of the guard.

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Rex Ryan was in a comedic mood during today’s press conference. Perhaps jovial due to his team’s impressive 5-1 record; or a nearly clean injury report [Calvin Pace is the sole question mark for Sunday after being limited in practice], Ryan had some fun at the expense of special teams coach Mike Westhoff, who got into a minor war of words with embattled Denver Broncos boss Josh McDaniels. Westhoff eventually claimed that he had “invented” the onside kick, leading Ryan to hand out a jokey pamphlet today about the history of such innovations as the single-wing formation, the blitz, and yes, the onside kick. In place of the true originators, the pamphlet had cross out names replaced with Jets assistant coaches. So yes, Bill “Pop” Callahan may now be credited with the invention of the single wing, in place of Glenn “Pop” Warner, Bob Sutton should be acknowledged as the mastermind behind the blitz, instead of Don Ettinger, and cementing the theme, let it be known that in 1907, Mike Westhoff wrote the book on “The Forward Pass and the On-side Kick,” and not Eddie Cochems.

Game Story: Jets 24 Broncos 20

Sunday, October 17th, 2010

DENVER, CO – Santonio Holmes slowed down and turned his shoulders, in perfect position to retrieve a falling prayer. His streaking route had positioned him just short of the goal-line, a game changing receiver prepared to rescue his team from a potentially infuriating defeat. But Holmes lost his footing, tumbling downward into a prone, sitting position, unable to corral the turf bound football.  Something had gone wrong, and the confusion would be clarified almost instantaneously. A flag flew, justifying Holmes’ exasperated mannerisms. The former most valuable player of the Super Bowl had been the victim of pass interference, a ruling gracing New York, and dooming Denver to a painful home loss.

Their veteran defensive-back, Renaldo Hill, had been expertly shifted out of position by Holmes, a route running extraordinaire. Hill inadvertently grabbed the Holmes’ facemask, as the pivotal play unfolded. The Jets would resume their possession at the Broncos’ two-yard line, and take a fourth quarter lead in this turgid tilt.

The score would stand, New York heading into a perfectly timed bye 5-1 after a 24-20 success.  “I’d like to apologize for that win. No I wouldn’t,” said a joking Ryan afterward, acknowledging the game’s difficulty.

A variety of factors had pressed the green and white into a tough situation.  The quasi Hail Mary to Holmes occurred on fourth down, in the vanishing frames of the final quarter. Had Holmes not drawn the flag, the Jets, barring a miraculous twist, would have been saddled with their season’s second setback.

RB LaDaninan Tomlinson celebrates with teammates after scoring his first TD as the Jets went on to beat the Broncos 24-20 in Denver on Sunday. (JetsInsider.com Photo)

Mark Sanchez had been largely ineffective. His troubles began almost immediately, the previously surging sophomore nearly intercepted twice on the Jets’ opening drive. Later in the first, he was picked off by linebacker Jason Hunter, who lurked in front of Jerricho Cotchery. This mistake wouldn’t haunt the Jets, as the Broncos blew an ensuing field goal courtesy of a grounded snap. Broncos Long Snapper Lonnie Paxton had, in effect, kept the game scoreless, but Sanchez’s difficulties were just beginning. It seemed he had shaken his inaccuracy with a nifty touchdown toss to Braylon Edwards. The second quarter volley gave the Jets a 7-0 lead, a perfect thirty two yard strike lofted over a beaten Champ Bailey, who suffered a slight rib injury on the play. 

However, Denver returned fire, tallying ten unanswered points before the half. The Broncos were aided and abided by a temporarily floundering Sanchez, their second interception setting up kicker Matt Prater’s dramatic 59 yard field goal before halftime. Sanchez was picked off by rookie Syd’Quan Thomson as he sought Dustin Keller. The Jets had been driving for pre-halftime points, stopped at Denver’s twenty eight, making the gaffe even more frustrating. “If I could have taken it back, I know Schotty called a pass, I wish we would have just called a run. There’s no need to put the ball in the air… Nick will knock that field goal down… If I had any sense going back now, I’d just change the play call and just run it,” Sanchez later admitted.

 But Sanchez would surmount his struggles, rallying in the second half, especially on the deciding heave to Holmes, scrambling out of the pocket for extra time and hurling an extremely catchable ball. He avoided any additional interceptions and didn’t allow the adversity to spiral into total ineffectiveness. In this respect, Sanchez displayed growth, and further separation, from his rookie weaknesses.

 Sanchez’s opposite number didn’t exactly light up Mile High, himself. Kyle Orton entered the contest a highly praised signal caller, and with good reason. He had accrued enough total passing yards to rank second in the entire League. The former Purdue standout has walked miles from having his starting status usurped by Rex Grossman in Chicago. Indeed, Orton’s abilities were once considered so suspect that he was hooked while leading a playoff bound team in 2005, and the statistics supported that particular decision. Once seen as a liability, Orton is now the only explanation for the Broncos’ respectability.  He has mastered Josh McDaniels’ offense, and while other aspects of the franchise have gone awry, the faith Denver’s second year Head Coach displayed in Orton has certainly paid dividends.

But on a day where Denver utilized intelligent motion formations and heretofore theoretical personnel packages deploying Tim Tebow, their suspect running game actually outperformed Orton and the aerial show. The Jets’ deep secondary proved up to the challenge of shutting down scrap-heap gem Brandon Lloyd and speedster Eddie Royal, along with physically gifted freshman Demaryius Thomas. Sure, Revis and company were far from perfect, but considering how often the Broncos send it skyward, their collective productivity was vital. Orton did conclude with 209 yards and touchdown to Thomas, who used his height advantage in giving Denver an ultimately nullified seven point lead in the third quarter.

Denver’s last advantage numbered three points, on a Prater field goal in the fourth. They pushed the Jets to the edge, but the A.F.C. East leaders responded.

The Broncos’ efforts to put this one away were squandered, despite multiple opportunities. There were the two near interceptions on the game’s opening drive, immediately followed by a Knowshon Moreno fumble as Denver rushed to the Jets’ 22. The turnover was coerced by the combination of Jim Leonhard and Drew Coleman, loose pigskin recovered by Darrelle Revis. Here was the start of a theme. The aforementioned botched snap cost Denver three points. After nailing a 59 yarder before the half, Prater badly missed on a 49 yard attempt early in the third quarter. This allowed a proceeding Nick Folk 56 yard boot to tie the contest.  “Nick Folk, with a 56 yard field goal, that’s a New York Jet record and I’m really proud of him,” applauded Ryan.

  Hill’s pass interference should have been the coup de grace, a fitting finale to a game which just may have been decided by the Broncos’ costly collection of self-afflicted wounds. Instead, Denver had one more unforced error up their sleeve. With the seconds ticking away after LaDainian Tomlinson’s go-ahead touchdown, Orton passed Denver down to the Jets’ 44 yard-line. On a key third down, he would see his efforts ruined by another poor snap, this time arriving from center J.D. Walton. Orton tried to catch the wayward snap with one hand, but it rolled away, Denver’s star quarterback reduced to bobbling in vain for one last fourth and long. Dwight Lowery recovered the fumble, sealing a second straight game with a defensive turnover.

It was a strange showing by the Broncos, considering that they also excelled at several junctures. Tebow shined, tying the game in the first quarter on his first career rushing touchdown. The Florida Gators icon kept New York’s rushing defense off balance whenever he lined up under center, misdirecting the Jets’ defense and providing running room for an embattled running back corps. Moreno, returning from injury, managed a 4.0 rushing rate on twelve carries. Jabar Gaffney, whose father played for the Jets, and who also had torched New York in a Wild Card playoff while with New England four years ago, haunted New York again with six grabs. And most surprisingly, Denver’s secondary, filled with inexperience aside from Bailey and Hill, stymied Sanchez. A heady onside kick call by McDaniels, made after Denver tied the game, would have given the Broncos ample momentum had the recovery been cashed in for points.  “When they give you the opportunity, you take it, and they gave us the opportunity, like we studied on film, and it worked out exactly the way we thought it would,” said McDaniels of the special teams gambit.

The Jets’ top performers would have their efforts rewarded with a win. Tomlinson had two rushing touchdowns, Keller seventy-five yards receiving on just three catches. Holmes chipped in with four receptions. On defense, David Harris was a play wrecker all day, totaling seven solo tackles.

“It was an all-out onslaught, their fans, everything, they needed everything they had. They bought it, hats off to them, but it just wasn’t enough,” Sanchez said.

Friday Insider Report: Booming times for Weatherford, plus other news

Friday, October 15th, 2010

Punter Steve Weatherford had been a bit of a nomad after an impressive Collegian career booting for the University of Illinois. He was a first-team member of the All Big-Ten roster in 2004, his junior season, punting average ultimately ranking an impressive fourth in the nation. Despite these laudable credentials, the Indiana native went undrafted following his Senior season, eventually joining the Saints fresh from the free agent wire. Weatherford was New Orleans’ punter during their memorable initial campaign under new Head Coach Sean Payton, appearing in all sixteen of their contests. Weatherford’s production was solid for a rookie, middling overall, his 43.8 yards per punt placing him fifteenth in the League.

 Weatherford’s tenure with the Saints would conclude in October of 2008, whereupon he was released, eventually signing with the Kansas City Chiefs to replace their injured starter Dustin Colquitt. When his services were no longer required, Weatherford was dumped by his second team in under a month. But another injury to one of his contemporaries would reopen the window of opportunity, as Weatherford was tabbed by Jacksonville to replace their highly regarded punter Adam Podlesh, who had been placed on injured reserve.

Podlesh would recover from his injured knee in time to challenge his replacement during Jacksonville’s 2009 training camp. Another AFC team was holding a punting duel at the same time, the Jets searching, seemingly in vain, for a reliable leg to provide support for their touted defense. When Podlesh was declared the victor over Weatherford, the Jets swooped in immediately, inking the latter and installing him as their punter.

 Weatherford’s 42.0 yard average wasn’t exactly eye-popping, but he provided stability at a position which could have hurt a team relying on a conservative offensive approach. The first year Jet made waves after a minor heart condition prevented him from suiting up against the Bengals in the playoffs. Kicker Jay Feely was pressed into duty and responded admirably, firing off a few respectable punts and keeping the Bengals from exploiting an obvious deficiency.

 Feely would not return to the Jets in 2010, replaced by Nick Folk, who had seen his previously elite level skills disintegrate after a hip injury ruined his mechanics. Folk was a major question mark back in August, Weatherford a forgotten man. Both have turned in superb seasons so far, and it’s hard to determine which has been more of a surprise. The strong-legged Weatherford has racked up a career best 44.9 yardage average, while the newcomer Folk was an absolute key in the Jets’ emotional victory against Brett Favre and the Vikings on Monday Night Football.

Weatherford just may have found himself a home at the Meadowlands, overcoming his three team odyssey in 2008. But he must be getting asked a lot about his teammate, the resurgent Folk, jokingly saying, “Nick Folk is the best kicker ever,” before being asked a question on Friday afternoon in the Jets locker-room.

 Weatherford proceeded to give fellow Special Teamer Marquice Cole a huge amount of credit for his strong season thus far. “Marquise [is getting] down there, forcing fair catches,” said Weatherford. “I usually talk to him, he’s my go to guy before every punt… I try to let him know what I’m doing with the ball.”

Weatherford continued, explaining the vital interactions between him and Cole, a gifted sideline gunner. “We’ll have a general punt every time we go out there. If I feel like it’s a good returner and I need put it even more outside than usual, I’ll let him know, you don’t want him going outside if the ball’s going inside.” Weatherford has grown from his pro experience, and spoke about necessary rites of passage among punters.  “Over the course of my career in the NFL, I feel like everyone kind of goes through learning how to control the ball more. When I was in college I could hit the ball just as far and as high as I could now but I wasn’t as consistent and I couldn’t control the ball. Like I could hit the ball sixty yards downfield but now I’m able to hit the ball sixty yards down the field down the sideline.”

The maturing punter cited many reasons for his improvement. “ Its a combination of everything, preparation in the offseason, game preparation…. And routine. When one thing is lacking you’re not going to perform as good as you’re capable of doing. I drive my wife crazy because I have to go to bed at the same time every night. Make sure I’m getting X amount of sleep. With my diet at home everything is so consistent during the season, that kind of drives her nuts, until she gets back in the season groove.”

He also shared his thoughts on the new Stadium, and is well aware comfortable climates will soon be evaporating. “I love it. It’s really tough to say right now because it was easier to punt in the old meadowlands at this time too, as it got colder and windier there’s a degree of difficulty. But I think we had a decisive edge over people [in bad conditions] last season.”

Weatherford’s valued teammate, the aforementioned Cole, offered his opinion on the importance of sound communication among punters and coverage aces. “It’s huge,” Cole said. “Because if he comes up to me, and tells me, this one I’m going to go to the right, go to the left, I might have to go straight down the middle, ok I need to release this way, or if I release this other way I need to know that the ball’s going to get on me. I need to know where he’s aiming. That’s where the ball’s going.”

Special teams ace Marquice Cole has helped Steve Weatherford to the best start of his career. Weatherford just might be finding a home with the Jets.

Jets Head Coach Rex Ryan was positively ebullient about Weatherford.   “He’s been punting great. It’ll be interesting to see how he punts in that thin air,” wondered Ryan. “That air actually makes a difference, it really does. He’s been terrific. It’s funny, because I remember last year, to sit back and say,’ Man, we’ve got a good football team. We have no punter.’ I mean, we had no punter.” Ryan accounted for his team’s good fortune. “We kind of lucked in. We were looking at Jacksonville, they had two good punters, one kid they had drafted the year before. They kept the other guy, we got Steven, he’s just done a great job. I’m sure they look at the numbers, all that other stuff, I know Steve’s punting better then the other kid… we kind of lucked into that. He’s really done a great job.”

Ryan continued, ultimately commenting on the unique nature of his team. “He had a little surgery in the offseason, so hopefully he can punt in the postseason after missing that Bengals game or whatever. … but he’s really doing well. The guy takes great care of himself. This football team is funny. Because Kickers and punters are generally different kind of guys. They don’t fit in a lot of times with your team. But it’s just the opposite here. Our guys… you can tell… that the players all go out with Steve and Nick. So it’s kind of a unique situation with our kickers.”

 This camaraderie just may aid the quality communication. “Anytime you cross the 50, Steve’s come up with a new punt,” said Ryan approvingly. “It’s like a kickoff almost. We’ll drop the nose back down and almost kick it end over end, and he’ll communicate where he’s going with the ball, and Cole did a great job of downing that ball inside the five,” said Ryan, referring to a specific play against the Vikings.    

When a team talented as the Jets is also excelling on Special Teams, watch out. It reflects very well on the entire organization, from the General Manager and Coach who sought and discovered quality depth, to the specialists, one and all, kickers, snappers, holders. Weatherford just might be the difference this Sunday, launching footballs into the thin Denver atmosphere.  

Rex on Revis:

Obviously, the big news of the day involved Darrelle Revis getting pulled over on his way to practice for careless driving. Rex commented on the situation.

“First off, when I was aware of it, he was late to a team meeting. That was when he told me about the ticket. Really, we can all take notice of it. Obviously, you have to slow down. He was running late, [but] that’s not an excuse. You’d hate to see anybody be careless where you put someone else at risk and put yourself at risk. That’s a reminder for all of us.”

Ryan also provided some injury news.

“The guy that is listed as questionable is Darrelle [Revis]. Everybody else is probable. [Jim] Leonhard, [Nick] Mangold, Brandon Moore, Calvin Pace and [Jamaal] Westerman are all probable. Guys that were limited in practice today [are] Darrelle and Calvin Pace. Everyone else was full.”

Friday Feature: McDaniels’ Messengers

Friday, October 15th, 2010

Denver Broncos Head Coach Josh McDaniels is well aware of the challenges facing his team as they host a talented competitor firing on all cylinders. If not for a misfire from their passing game in a week one loss rapidly fading from view, the New York Jets would be undefeated, and undeniably the best team in football. For now they hover in the conversation, edging closer to earning unequivocal respect from their critics. But heavy is the head wearing the crown, or at least getting close enough to touch. As a team’s stature rises, so too does the perceived pressure surrounding each of their games. Stakes increase, and while players and coaches can contain themselves from the storm, an almost overwhelming swarm of negativity is just a single slip-up away. Such is life, for athletes, or anybody really, forced to shoulder the burden of great expectations. But while sportswriters psychoanalyze [with our imaginary degrees!] it’s the task of coaches to maintain an even keel. Momentum is a fickle beast, choppy surf to traverse, an erratic wave.

Within seasons, it always seems certain teams are capable of riding specific themes to spark themselves to victory, before adversity hits and morale dashed. Message teams are easy to identify. They are convinced “nobody believes in them.” They may have been “left for dead,” or rallied around their coach on the “hot seat.” Maybe they believe in their new coach, or want to prove an old coach wrong, or maybe they hate one particular enemy coach and live to see him squirm. There’s always some sort of storyline revolving around a coach, you can guarantee that. They might be looking to overcome an injury, or yes, the media, which, obviously, “doesn’t believe in them.” Give the 2010 Jets ample credit in this regard: They don’t seem to have a message, besides “we’re good.”  But man, we’ve seen some teams stoop as low as rising against their own fan-base. Whatever works… but these tactics usually don’t mean success for long…. Talent is ultimately the trump card, followed closely by discipline, camaraderie down the list.

Last season’s Denver Broncos were reminiscent of some of the brilliant, self-aware crime noirs which hit cinemas in the 1990’s. Like Pulp Fiction, they didn’t try spinning just one cliché plot or character element into utter brilliance; instead inhabiting them all. Featuring a new, often unfairly maligned quarterback, nobody believed in them. Indeed, they were left for dead, picked by many to finish last, and sure, their new coach, Josh McDaniels, quite shockingly found himself on the hot seat before commanding his troops in one regular season game.  But the Broncos definitely believed in him, forced to overcome his downright messy trade of franchise signal caller Jay Cutler. Driven by their grit, persevering through an unimaginable amount of clichés, Denver stormed the league, starting out 6-0. But, as message teams often do, they soon fell apart, imitating similar collapses under previous Boss Mike Shanahan. This one was real ugly, the Broncos sliding to a 2-8 finish.  Usually message teams reach the playoffs before receiving their comeuppance, but McDaniels, a highly regarded offensive coordinator plucked from the Patriots, would not even receive that feather in his hat.

After an exhaustive search, McDaniels received the job from Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, who had surprisingly dismissed Shanahan following the 2008 season. It appeared McDaniels had overcome the Cutler divorce upon his strong start, which included a victory against former mentor Bill Belichick at home, but questions about his methods lingered following the disappointing ’09 finish. He continued overhauling the potentially elite offense Shanahan had begun putting together before his exit, dealing off unhappy wide receiver Brandon Marshall to the Miami Dolphins. What could have been an explosive decade defined by downfield connections from Cutler to Marshall is now a muddy mystery. Is Kyle Orton, performing spectacularly in his second season operating McDaniels’ offense, the long term solution? Will the late first round pick expended on Tim Tebow, he of the questionable mechanics for a pro Quarterback, eventually pay dividends? Despite Cutler’s change of scenery, and Marshall’s departure, passing the pigskin certainly isn’t Denver’s weakness. Far from… in fact, the aerial attack piloted by Orton is one of the most dangerous in the league.

So, it’s an odd team McDaniels has assembled, currently 2-3, transcending narratives through their utter strangeness. They have no discernible identity. Building for the future would be a proper sell to the fans, considering the present isn’t exactly earning rave reviews.

McDaniels must now find a way to derail the Jets. He has certainly been impressed by the rejuvenated LaDainain Tomlinson. “He’s certainly is off to one of the best starts of his career.  He’s got great quickness.  Again, we’re familiar with him out here because we played against him a few times last year and I’ve played against him a number of times in my career.  He’s a complete back.  He can run with speed.  He can run with power.  His quickness has really shown up this year.  His ability to find holes behind that big offensive line has certainly gotten off to a good start this year. It’s going to be tough to handle.  They do a great job of scheming things for him and he does a great job of complementing the other back.”

McDaniels is well aware of the distinct lack of balance currently holding back Denver’s pass obsessed offense.  “It’s certainly not what we wanted.  I think we’ve really had to be one-dimensional in some instances and then in other instances we just haven’t been able to get our running game on track for whatever reason…  We’re striving to become more balanced and we’re working hard to do that during the course of the week.”

Bronco fans must want to believe McDaniels’ possesses a master plan, long term. The quick fix of an underdog, against the world mentality will not sustain a successful successor to the savvy Shanahan. In the ever precious present, here comes a tough team wearing green and white, carrying a message of their own.

Friday Notes: Pettine truly a player’s coach, plus other news

Friday, October 8th, 2010

A player like Randy Moss is so very dangerous because he can ruin an entire defensive game-plan without even touching the ball, forcing his opponent to allocate an excessive level of personnel toward stopping one-man theatrics. Suddenly the slot receiver is running free, or the tight-end is singled up against a linebacker.

 Sometimes a football team wins a game due to overwhelming talent. But often, it’s the creation of mismatches which bequeaths victors. Randy Moss, and other special talents worthy of comparison, will forever be highly sought for this precise reason, mere presence capable of tipping scales.

Yes, here resides the realm of players, where they match specific talents and wits against one another. Its essential sports, at the core, professionals plying a competitive trade. In an increasingly impersonal world, America can’t get enough, ratings for this reality show higher than ever.

 Coaches are required to make sense of all the potential madness. Coaches stick the best corner on the best receiver. Coaches decide whether a guy can masquerade at linebacker or thrive at safety. At their best, coaches are a clarifying force. At their worst, they succumb to the confusion and enhance a mystery. Just how, exactly, are football games won?

The answer is equally simple and complicated, an enigma trapped within contradictions woven into simplicity. No, this job isn’t easy. And Jets Defensive Coordinator Mike Pettine saw his get a whole lot tougher this week.  

Pettine was a football player. A quarterback in High School converted to safety in college. His father was a High School coaching giant in Pennsylvania.  He coached the Ravens’ outside linebackers before earning the coordinator position with the Jets, after Rex Ryan, his boss in Baltimore, nabbed the top spot in New York.

 Pettine’s deadpan humor and blunt honesty were a highlight of the HBO Training Camp series “Hard Knocks.” His profile is rising, after the Jets’ first place defensive finish last year. While this season’s defensive unit may seem superior on paper, they still have to prove it through sixteen games, though their complete disposal of the Bills’ on the road last week is the latest signal that they could deliver on high expectations.

While Ryan works closely with the defense, Pettine is still highly regarded. A head coaching job could be in his future. For a man who took a motivational tact when faced with potentially heading into the season without his most valuable player, Darrelle Revis, the future may be bright.

 Ryan is certainly sold on Pettine’s acumen and approach. “Not much,” said Ryan with a sarcastic laugh, when queried about what Pettine bought to his coaching stuff. “Just want to say that cause I don’t want him going,” Ryan continued, explaining his joke, and continuing it by saying, “He’s a problem… For any organization, he is a major problem.” The jovial Rex did turn serious, sending ample plaudits Pettine’s way. “He’s the brightest, in my opinion, the brightest young defensive coordinator in the league. He’s been that kind of guy for me for years. One day we’ll definitely lose him. And you know what? He’ll deserve it. After we win a Super Bowl, then you can have him. We will lose him at some point. Without question. He has head coaching aspirations I’m sure, if he doesn’t he should have.  And he’s got that kind of talent. He’s much smarter than I am, I could tell you that much.  He’s a guy that’s always been my right-hand guy. It won’t be long. He won’t be here that long. He should rent, not buy,” Ryan concluded.

 Key defensive pieces such as Drew Coleman and Trevor Pryce were just as effusive in their praise. “Pettine as a D.C….” began Coleman, slightly suppressing a grin. “Man, Pettine is… one thing I love about Pettine is that he’s exciting… he’s always up tempo, always communicating with us. He never loses his cool, [that] type of guy. He’s one of the most sarcastic guys in the defensive room.” Coleman then offered a few insights suggesting that the realistic, yet still optimistic, natures of Pettine and Ryan may set the tone for the entire staff. “The whole thing about this staff, not just Pettine, [but] D.T [Dennis Thurman], Bob [Sutton], coach [Jeff] Weeks, those guys are very fun, fun guys to be around… they make it easier to learn… we communicate with the whole defense…  Pettine is the type of guy who [will say], ‘Drew are you talking to Bart, are you talking to David Harris?’ Having him around, man, has definitely influenced us and helped us tremendously.” Coleman respects the fact that this coaching staff treats their pupils with respect, acknowledging their errors without utilizing embarrassing tactics. “That’s with the whole coaching staff, even with Coach Thurman… he’ll tell you he’s not the type of coach to jump down your throat and yell at you and bitch at you… at the end of the day they know [the offense] [gets] paid too. They [are] going to make good throws. The thing that they harp on is you’re going to be doing what the coaches are doing… having all those guys around, man, you enjoy them.” Coleman then made an interesting comparison between the Mangini era staff, and this one. “The last staff I had they [were] more of yelling, getting at you… it’s like night and day… Mangini is one of the smartest coaches… I enjoyed my time with Mangini… Terrific coach…. [But] Rex is more of a player’s coach. Like everyone know.  You love playing for guys like that, that’ll come back and ask you what you did wrong, ‘you got it?’ then go out there and get  it done.’ Just as long as you’re competing, playing hard, doing what they ask, you’ll get no complaints out of them guys.”

Rex Ryan had nothing but positives to share about his defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. When Mike Tannebaum hired Ryan, he ushered in a new organizational approach toward coaching, and the players approve.

Trevor Pryce, who worked very closely with the Pettine and Ryan combo in Baltimore, echoed those comments, specifically complimenting his current coordinator. “A zen-like calmness,” said Pryce with a laugh, adding “And I don’t mean that, but put it in anyway.” Pryce complimented the freedom in Pettine’s scheme. “It’s detailed, but it’s also, it gives you an option. A lot of coaches say do it this way. He says do it your way… you have a lot of room to roam. What happens, when you have that, you don’t want to let them down, because you have so much freedom.  You do the best you can, sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t.” Pryce also thought highly of Pettine’s temperament. “He’s never going to berate you… and when he does get on you, he does it in a way you don’t feel disrespected.” Pryce held little doubt about Pettine’s future. “He’s going to make a great head coach someday… Rex would tell you that. He’s going to be a head coach in this league, I’d say sooner, rather than later.” Pettine certainly seems a beloved figure at Florham Park. He could make the ultimate difference against Moss, and the rest of supremely skilled Vikings offense. Should the Jets’ defense play as they did against the Ravens, Bills, and the second half against New England, Pettine’s stock will climb even higher. He’ll make those head coaching prognostications come true.

 Listen to Pettine at his Friday presser, and one would be led to believe all those concerns outlined by this author in paragraph one were simply a minor nuisance. Special player? Mismatches? Pettine wasn’t disturbed in the slightest, expressing faith in the Jets’ defensive system, and confidence in his players. “I don’t think it changes it much,” Pettine said, when asked how the Moss trade could alter his game-plan. The cool coordinator’s voice sounded as if it belonged to a doctor making small talk during a routine checkup, or a mechanic teaching the basics of a standard oil change. “Part of it, is we have a lot of calls in our inventory. Part of it depends on how they’re using him… calls that are designed to maybe eliminate a vertical threat, so we’ll have those options available to us on game-day…. We didn’t want to come in with an entire plan for him…. And have him come in, and he’s playing 15-20 snaps. At the same time, we didn’t want to shrug it off and say, ‘he’s not going to play much, there’s no way he’s going to be ready.’ Then he comes out and plays sixty plays against us… It’s built into the plan to handle it.”

Can the plan really handle it? That is uncertain. But one thing is. The players will believe.

……………………………………………….

Notes.

Rex Ryan shared a few nuggets of news with the media:

Who was limited in practice? “Shaun Ellis, knee; Wayne Hunter, shin; Nick Mangold, shoulder; Darrelle Revis, hamstring; {Jamaal] Westerman, ankle; and we’re adding Brandon Moore, hamstring; He’s played in {93} games in a row. He’ll play. That’s just him.”

Any doubt that Revis will play? “There’s some doubt on whether he’ll play. The doctors and trainers feel good, but until the player says, hey look, I’m ready to go, especially if you’re a corner, that’s important. We’ll never pit a guy out there that doesn’t think he’s ready to come back, without question.”

…………………………………………………..

Revis himself chimed in about the status of his hamstring. “I haven’t had no tweaks, and I’ve been out there running the past two practices, and I’ve been running full speed. And they’ve been monitoring me every step of the way… I think right now we’re just being cautious with every step I take out there.”

Previewing Jets-Vikings

Friday, October 8th, 2010

Rarely can a professional football team pull off a trade that totally obliterates any developing perceptions and exceptions surrounding their season. The Vikings seemed an easy mark for regression. Casual followers may have surveyed a defending division champion, and conference runner-up, quite favorably before the games counted.

 Brett Favre, the cannon armed ancient, returned to the fold after his annual bout of preseason waffling. He wavered for a good while, but shocked absolutely no one by returning for one more grasp at vanishing glory. Adrian Peterson, an all-world halfback, was in the prime of his career. A dynamite defensive-line had remained largely intact.

Indeed, the Vikings may have appeared sturdy at first glance, but for the fan or analyst seeking to dig deeper, flaws rapidly become apparent.  For instance, would Favre and his receivers be synchronized from the first snap, considering his absence for most of August? Were Adrian Peterson’s fumbling woes serious? Could playmaker Percy Harvin overcome his vicious migraine affliction? How sorely would the dependable, and departed, Chester Taylor be missed? With his varied skillset now being utilized by Chicago, would Minnesota be more predictable, especially on third down?

These concerns may have been bubbling beneath the surface, but Vikings related fretting justifiably exploded following the announcement that Sidney Rice would undergo hip injury, correcting a preexisting condition which could no longer be ignored.

Rice, Favre’s number one target and the Vikings’ most indispensible receiver, would miss at least eight weeks.  A dark karma cloud followed Minnesota into their regular season schedule, and while their 0-2 beginning may have been a slight surprise to those more optimistic about their redemption quest, it was hardly a shock to the realists who had already diagnosed their numerous distresses. Favre was lost without Rice, primarily honing on ascending tight-end Visanthe Shiancoe. When Minnesota fell to Miami at home in a week two upset, all signs pointed toward an ominous future. A victory against Detroit in the succeeding week hardly assuaged the dire forecasts. A bye was their temporary reward, to be quickly mitigated by a schedule best described as cruel and unusual. The gauntlet would begin on Monday night, October 11th, against a resurgent Jets outfit. The Vikings were slipping off the National radar, highlights bound to become disposable. But then– as Alonzo Harris once said in the classic cop noir “Training Day”: Boom.

Earlier this week the Football world was rocked with rather shocking news, concerning a mercurial talent by the name of Randy Moss. Moss’ employer had decided to exchange his services for future rewards, in the aftermath of an uplifting blowout on the road against a divisional foe. It was a bizarre machination, a debatable decision, pure Belichick, respectably gutsy and asinine at the same time.

Yes, Randy Moss had resurrected himself with the Patriots following an off year with the Raiders. Because of his controversial reputation, Moss’ stock fell ridiculously low following a shiftless ’06 with Oakland. He had gained one thousand yards receiving the previous season, but, quite like athletic compatriots such as Alex Rodriguez with the Texas Rangers, or David Wright with the contemporary Mets, the best player was unfairly blamed for the failings of an entire misfiring organization. So Moss was done and finished according to more than a few talking heads, instead of merely bored.

Misconception became reality, as inexplicably, rival general managers watched the savvy Patriots pluck him from Oakland. Oh, the Packers tried, but not hard enough.  From ‘07 until this very week, Moss had been obscenely productive, arguably New England’s most reliable weapon.  Why was Wes Welker running free over the middle? And this season, why were the rookie tight-ends enjoying so much room to roam? Why hadn’t a neglected running game bitten the Patriots in the regular season? It’s the Moss effect.

[Go ahead and check what kind of impact Moss had on the 1998 Vikings. And I’m sure it was just coincidence that his arrival coincided with a perfect New England regular season in 2007.]

This mobile, agile, once in a generation talent possesses the power to elevate an entire offense. A focused Moss transcends comparison. A malingering Moss frustrates, more than the less gifted players, because he seems so utterly intent to display disinterest, committed to his own ego. His gifts set him apart, and often, Moss undermines himself by positioning himself on an island against all sorts of foes, whether coaches, the press, or team management. This could explain his travels and travails.

But it doesn’t minimize his potential impact. With nine catches through three games, a statistical correction looms. Moss will breakout, and soon, his obscene one-handed touchdown catch against the Jets in week two indicative of attributes still resistant to age-related erosion.

Moss may have had an attitude problem. Could be misunderstood, unfairly labeled, the latest victim of a former dynasty obsessively intent on minimizing the player and elevating their system.  Whatever the case, the numbers are not mysterious.  There’s an injury related aberration in ’04, the meaningless output in ’06. Otherwise, the yardage and reception totals explode like fireworks against a dark, blank slate sky. Seventeen touchdowns here, twenty-three there… this is a special performer.

Forget everything previously thought about the Minnesota Vikings. Moss changes the game. As for Peterson and his fumbling troubles, well, it’s a bad memory at this point, for all involved with the team. A particularly painful botched exchange with Favre in the NFC Championship may now be identified as the nadir. Person has yet to fumble this season.  He has accumulated 392 yards and a 5.6 yard average. And if Favre is not reinvigorated by a pairing with Moss, then he is truly finished.

 The Jets realize that this game’s degree of difficult has been significantly ratcheted. The quotes give it away. A football lifer like Rex Ryan doesn’t attempt underselling Moss. But New York is certainly capable of winning this duel. Mark Sanchez’s exceptional play gives them a chance to taste victory in any given week. The second-year quarterback is forging a connection with Dustin Keller, and will get his first opportunity to integrate route-running extraordinaire Santonio Holmes within a flourishing passing attack. Holmes, who caught the game winning catch against the Arizona Cardinals’ in Super Bowl 43, will no doubt be attempting to steal the spotlight from Moss, and is certainly capable. Darrelle Revis also gets an early rematch with his chief rival, after losing the last round by technical knockout.

 The Jets’ offensive line, still blowing open holes but besieged by penalties, will be tested by Jared Allen and company.

 What cannot be underestimated when attempting to predict this contest is the Vikings’ expected level of desperation, and how the ensuing intensity could shape their evening… here is a team with high aspirations that has been taken on several emotional trips, between Favre’s retirement antics and a more recent, alleged, potentially embarrassing controversy. Not to mention starting 0-2 and being forced to answer very logical questions about team chemistry. Brad Childress could be a damn good coach, but to this outsider, he doesn’t convey total cool when confronted by these issues, his calmness a little canned. Childress would probably benefit by loosening up, but that could be said about many coaches in this league.

Despite all that, this trade offers the Vikings’ a perfect opportunity, considering their already turbulent 2010. Here is a chance to start over, split the screen, create a before and after snapshot. Will they?  

Prediction:

Wow, did this one get a whole lot harder for the Jets. Before the Moss trade, it had all the earmarks of an easy win.

Yes, it’s possible that the Vikings could present problems to New York defensively, and Adrian Peterson is a force capable of taking over any game he is involved in. But the Jets still would have been an easy pick, considering how well they have been playing, how convincingly they stuffed the Bills’ underrated set of running-backs, in addition to having a rabid home crowd behind them. Favre would be pressured relentlessly, forced into a few predictable mistakes, and… scene.

Sanchez and Woody

Sanchez will need the offensive line to step up and protect him against a tough Vikings front seven.

Moss throws everyone a curveball.

For instance, now the Vikings could go to a max protect scheme and still make a big play. Now Shiancoe may be less accounted for. So long Favre isn’t gun-slinging interceptions all over the joint; the Vikings will be right in this game.

Meanwhile, the Jets, at least offensively, may be in for the slightest of letdowns, which could ruin their night. How long will Mark Sanchez remain interception free? Will Tomlinson really maintain this pace? Holmes is a fantastic addition, and makes this one all the more tougher to call. That pro is liable to corral eight catches his first game back. He’s that good. Not to mention the rest of the returning Jets, including pass rushing specialist Calvin Pace.

Because the Vikings are desperate, and Peterson is arriving into the New Meadowlands fresh off a bye, I’ll go Minnesota, halting a Jets comeback in the fourth quarter.

Vikings 27 Jets 17

Friday Insider Report: Reverse

Friday, October 1st, 2010
Against a secondary appearing unimpressive on paper, the Jets’ passing game exhibited more than enough incompetence in their first game to warrant serious worry. Had all the momentum established during last season’s playoff run vanished? Was the callous dismissal of run blocking mensch and line captain Alan Faneca bound to prove a detrimental maneuver, for a team which seemed finally on the verge of establishing a definite identity? Without Thomas Jones available consistently for twenty plus carries, could the clock be as effectively controlled? And most importantly, with more responsibility obviously being foisted onto his shoulders, would Mark Sanchez, whose downright fanatical quest for improvement during the offseason drew raves from both inside and outside the organization, succumb to an unfair burden?

As he audibled with the maniacal zeal of Peyton Manning injected with adrenaline, Sanchez fed fuel to his doubters in week one against the Ravens. Seemingly switching every single play at scrimmage with a disconcerting growl sounding, “kill!”, only to ultimately play right into the hands of a cunning Ravens defense, it appeared the Jets may have seriously erred. It’s a league of snap reaction feeding frenzies, and nothing sprinkles plasma into the water quite like an embarrassing prime-time, curtain raising defeat.

Sure, the Jets had only been defeated by a single point, but for a team hyped to the heights of nausea before the season, the basic aesthetics of the game were unacceptable. Hype is designed to beget big plays, memorable performances, satisfied fans, and a satiated media. New York may have simply played mediocre, but they looked far worse. And without a reliable set of established standings to lean on, image is everything at the birth of a season.

The agreement was mostly mutual throughout the land. Although Antonio Cromartie had collected penalties with dispiriting ease, and Kyle Wilson had gotten exposed when singled up, not to mention Kris Jenkins being lost for the campaign on a freakish fit of terrible luck, if anything were to throw this Green and White train completely from the tracks, it was the discombobulated offense. Brian Schottenheimer was under fire. Mark Sanchez was once again labeled a liability.

 Here were cast-iron proclamations, a few no doubt echoed in this column space, which aren’t easily altered. Indeed, it would take a mountain of evidence to convince critics.

So, naturally, the Jets had into week four 2-1. Mark Sanchez has yet to throw an interception, while flinging six touchdowns. The offense line has drawn an unacceptable amount of flags, but they have encouragingly stepped forward in two consecutive second-halves, where a suddenly rejuvenated LaDainian Tomlinson has taken flight. The mild disappointment accompanying Shonn Greene’s statistical output could easily be mitigated if he, sharing a balanced workload, explodes down the stretch, mimicking 2009. And what of Dustin Keller, the tight-end who crystallized week one’s letdown with his inexplicable decision to step out of bounds before the first down marker on a last ditch completion from Sanchez? Keller, a gifted athlete and charismatic personality, is fast emerging as a legitimate star after shredding an overmatched corps of Dolphins linebackers and defensive backs on Sunday Night football. His dominating first half harkened a prime level Tony Gonzalez, or the rookie version of Jeremy Shockey.  He flashed that rare combination of attributes associated with number one options, and Sanchez may have actually risked danger constantly locking onto number eighty-one, as the game flowed onward.  But Rex Ryan is impressed with Keller for reasons besides his receiving abilities. “I think the number one thing that jumps out at me is the way that he’s blocking. I think that’s something. He’s always had great receiving skills. Before I got here, when [Brett] Favre was the quarterback, you knew he had great receiving skills, but the blocking, I think, has really come on. It looks like Mark and him have a great connection, like he knows where he’s going to be. Mark knows how he’s going to break his route off, so those guys are clearly on the same page.”  

With this kind of adept assemblage, it can now be labeled downright panicky overreaction, all that doom and gloom. But the key has been Sanchez. If he were ineffective, weapons like Braylon Edwards, whose alleged irresponsibility has provided a sole blight in the aftermath of that unfortunate Monday Night, or the incoming Santonio Homes could have stagnated, or become decoys for a team attempting to force a ground and pound philosophy, instead of correctly adapting to their personnel.

Why is this man smiling? Blink and you may have missed the Jets' offense elevating from weakness to, at least temporarily, team strength.

 And the personnel can clearly make huge moves. All of a sudden, a fascinating shift has taken place, a potentially temporary condition, ever so noticeable all the same. The Jets’ offense has become the most reliable cog in their machinery, their suspect pass defense, without Darrelle Revis, severely damaging their overall defense. Kyle Wilson is being seriously pressed by Drew Coleman, and while the latter certainly deserves credit, fighting for a larger role and earning the start this Sunday, one imagines this was not the ideal cornerback situation envisioned by either Mike Tannenbaum or Rex Ryan.

Three games into a year that is still wide open, possibilities limitless, the Jets’ championship recipe is becoming quite clear. Get back Revis and Pace. Return the defense to the realms of 2009. Maintain the offense’s rapid development, while also determining a clear dynamic between Tomlinson and Greene. Stay healthy. Book the parade. For Jets fans, it must be tantalizingly simple to envision. But as we have already witnessed, that fleeting feeling could slip away just as easy with one game, and next up is Buffalo.

………………………………………….

Aside from the due praise heaped on Keller, Rex Ryan also shared some thoughts regarding newcomer Trevor Pryce, and corner Drew Coleman.

Rex on Pryce:

 How did he look in practice? “He looked like Trevor to me. When I was watching him on tape, the big thing when you have a veteran player is, can they move anymore? Can they run? He definitely showed that on tape he can still move. We’ll see. He won’t play as many snaps this week as he normally would because he got here late. We’ll have some things dialed up for him, for sure.”      

A funny anecdote about Tony Siragusa, as it relates to Pryce’s playing time: “I could give him the [Tony] Siragusa deal I gave him once. When he held out, I said he’d play 15 snaps. We were playing Pittsburgh and it was about 100 degrees on the field opening day… He had 15 snaps and we were shutting them out. He goes, ‘What’s that about? 15?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, that’s 15. Let’s go.’ [He said] ‘I thought you said I was only going to play 15 snaps.’  I said, ’15 plays a quarter.’ I forgot to mention a quarter in there, I guess.”

On Drew Coleman starting: “Really, I think Drew has earned the start. I think Kyle [Wilson] has looked really good this week, but I think Drew has earned it. He started off on the bottom of the totem pole and worked his way up. You have to earn it and I think he’s done that.”

Previewing Bills – Jets

Friday, October 1st, 2010
The Buffalo Bills once were a fearsome collection of talent, a ferocious franchise which dominated the American Football Conference nearly through the entirety of the nineties. Sporting a simplistic blue and red uniform design, and dynamiting their opponents within the mundane confines of Ralph Wilson Stadium, the Bills’ consistency eventually became boring, an explosive offense and stout defense always falling just short of all the ultimate professional glories represented by a championship.

 Four times consecutively, the Bills fell in the Super Bowl, and American Football fans had to strain to suppress their yawns. In the moment, the Bills resembled failures. But hindsight has proven undeniably kind to the likes of Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Bruce Smith, and Darryl Talley. Capturing four straight AFC Championships was a truly historic accomplishment, and fate has conspired to elevate the Bills’ past, at the expense of a pitiful present.

Let's be honest here. The Bills' old uni's were much nicer. That's been the least of their problems this past decade or so, though.

A highly regarded contemporary running back committee couldn’t hold a candle to the dynamic Thomas. Trent Edwards was worlds away from Kelly, and has actually been released, vaporized off the roster in a move challenging common sense, perhaps a symbolic gesture to a disgruntled fan-base. Indeed, these Bills, who will attempt protecting their home-field against an onrushing Jets team this Sunday, provide evidence that team cycles can provoke celestial comparison, bright and shining stars turned into black holes.

The Bills are many things, but they most definitely are not middling. From the late eighties to the mid-nineties, they stood at the apex of their Conference. A gradual slide degenerated into total collapse. Buffalo has not appeared in a playoff game since the famed Music City Miracle Wild Card Round loss to Tennessee in January of 2000. For perspective, this was the first year Tennessee adopted the moniker “Titans.”  

Buffalo, behind the machinations of legendary executive Bill Polian and Head Coach Marv Levy, had reached dizzying heights at their peak, the burden of second place replaced by pride, in due time. Where are they now?

There’s an odd phenomenon occurring in football analysis, sometimes propagated by columnists and anchors, but usually belonging to fans. It’s a baffling; and almost always asinine tendency, to get unrealistically excited about a team’s close loss to superior competition. See, this observation really only applies to bottom feeding teams, overwhelmed rosters pitted against perfectly conceived machines and unfairly expected to compete. Because football players are, by and large, an extremely physically and mentally tough collection of humans, the outmatched team is sometimes able to lose with dignity, well deserving of compliments for a commendable effort. Their fans, however, usually take it a step too far. In a sport where only sixteen games comprise the schedule, there is almost always zero value to losing, aside from the aforementioned securing of pride. Any other optimism gleaned from a loss is usually junk; proliferated by coaches attempting to maintain morale. For some reason, though, if these types of defeats occur early in a campaign, fans are often guilty of whipping up some quality delusions and denial. Hey, the team can’t be this bad, can it? This season isn’t going to be a total disaster, will it? These are fair questions… that usually have highly inconvenient answers.

This trend has held true in 2010, as the San Francisco 49’ers hoodwinked an amazingly tolerant public for one last time, this season anyway, collecting a valueless moral victory against the Saints in week two. Because the game was on primetime, and the heavily hyped 49’ers kicked a win against the defending champions, there’s no doubt certain blinder sporting San Franciscans believed a big turnaround afoot. 0-2 was surely a small sample size illusion. Nope. The 49’ers took the road in week three, and retroactively reminded a nation that squandered home games are irrevocably toxic, perceived overachievement against a favorite be damned. The Chiefs squashed San Francisco, and an important lesson was revisited. Or was it?

Oh, the temptation is there, isn’t it? For bettors, for Bills fans, for those that flat out loathed the quality August programming on HBO. Didn’t Ryan Fitzpatrick riddle the Patriots secondary and nearly lead a stirring comeback? Didn’t a maligned Bills offense resurrect their reputation, against the ingenious tactics of Bill Belichick, no less? Could this team pull it together and salvage a season once thought to be spiraling into an abyss of disinterest? Has Marshawn Lynch been rejuvenated? Isn’t C.J. Spiller due to break-out? All the negativity is suddenly mitigated by another loss somehow more acceptable, strictly cosmetic satisfaction opening possibilities innumerable, overshadowing one simple fact. The Bills were beaten.

The Jets arrive into Buffalo with an opportunity to completely eradicate their own disappointment, still bubbling from week one. With an offense performing simply decently against Baltimore, the Jets would be undefeated. As it is, Mark Sanchez and company emerged from that quagmire to carry the team, rescuing a spiraling secondary against Miami last week. LaDainian Tomlinson has shockingly emerged as the number one running back, racking up impressive second half yardage in both of New York’s pivotal wins against divisional foes. The Jets pass rush, already a question mark assuming the health of its key components, has struggled mightily without sacks leader Calvin Pace. The secondary, meanwhile, has been routinely exploited by opponents; rookie Kyle Wilson displaying poor ball awareness. Those touting a successful Jets secondary in August, sans the services of all-pro corner Darrelle Revis, who was holding out at the time and has recently suffered a hamstring injury, have had their arguments proven patently absurd. After being complimented mightily throughout training camp, Wilson could be benched in favor of Drew Coleman.  Antonio Cromartie has shined occasionally, but inconsistency mars his game, the corner often incurring penalties. Overall, the Jets may not play as originally designed, but they are finding success, largely due to Sanchez, who has shouldered his burden commendably, a second-year Quarterback playing like a fifth year Most Valuable Player candidate.

And that’s no losing delusion.

Prediction:

The Bills are pretty banged up. For a team without much proven talent behind its front-line starters, maladies to Marcus Stroud, Terrence McGee, Andra Davis, and Paul Posluszny can really ruin a Sunday. Fortunately for Buffalo, the talented Posluszny will probably suit up. The Jets are also dealing with their share of pain, with Pace unlikely to play, and Revis also sidelined. Ultimately, Ryan Fitzpatrick will be asked to throw the ball far too much, as David Harris, Bart Scott, and the other Jets linebackers assert themselves strongly against the run. And though Fitzpatrick is able to move the ball once again against a quality opponent, the Jets will tighten up their defense in the red-zone, win the time of possession battle handily, and ultimately dominate, slightly deceptively, on the scoreboard thanks to a big day on kick-offs from Brad Smith. He’s going to take one to the house.

Jets 35 Bills 17