Archive for January, 2011

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

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mark Sanchez:

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

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

Bart Scott

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

Brandon Moore

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

 

Rex Ryan

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

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

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Friday Insider Report: Sanchez defies definition

Friday, January 21st, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will the unpredictable Sanchez show continue?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday Insider Report: Patriots have baggage, too

Friday, January 14th, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Possibilities Presented by the Playoffs

Saturday, January 8th, 2011

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

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

Nope.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jets 38 Bills 7

Sunday, January 2nd, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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