Archive for December, 2010

Lockout would raise questions ignored for far too long

Friday, December 31st, 2010

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

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

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

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

It has happened before.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will the Jets be drawing up plays next year?

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

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

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

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

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

*Ellis is actually listed as questionable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 And to all a goodnight…!

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

Saturday, December 25th, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday Insider Report: Deep Freeze and Football.

Friday, December 17th, 2010

Ah, the joys of winter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

………………………………………………………..

Rex Notes

From the Friday Presser

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

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

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

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

Choose Your Own Adventure: 2010 Jets Style

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plan Z

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ghosts of New Jersey

Friday, December 10th, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Damien Woody is questionable for Sunday with a knee injury.   

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

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

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

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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