Forked in the Road
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood / And sorry I could not travel both / And be one traveler, long I stood / And looked down as far as I could / To where it bent in the undergrowth; -Robert Front, The Road Not Taken
Sporting an even 2-2 record, coming off of two straight road losses of 10 or more points, the Jets find themselves at the possible apex of their season. Facing “That Team Up North”, the 3-1 New England Patriots, in a hostile Gillette Stadium on Sunday.
Rex Ryan and the Jets can be found standing in that yellow wood Frost so poignantly painted in his signature 1920 poem, with their two destinies staring them in the face. If they lose, the proverbial panic button will be all but pushed, sending out an S.O.S. about the shattered state of Jets Nation. While a win does not mean they are out of the woodwork just yet, but does serve as a signature performance the team can hinge their season on and pull themselves out of the abyss.
Ryan understands what is facing him and his team.
“We’re 2-2. That’s where the team is, that’s where the coaches are. We want to be base on wins and losses. And at the end of the day, that’s all that matters. Right now, we’re 2-2 with a huge challenge in front of us,” he said.
Is the challenge a Patriots team that has not lost a regular season home game with their soon-to-be Hall of Fame quarterback, Tom Brady, under center in 29 chances?
Brady is building on his MVP 2010 season by leading the league in nearly every passing category, with help from his slippery slot receiver Wes Welker — who, coincidentally, leads most receiver categories this season – and his two-headed tight end monster, Aarob Gronknandez (Aaron Hernandez & Rob Gronkowski).
However the challenge isn’t so much the Patriots, as they have shown they can confuse the usually-unflappable Brady and dictate their game plan when executed properly. The challenge stares right back at them when looking in the mirror.
Can the Jets find their true identity? Prided by their gritty ‘ground and pound’ style offensive persona coupled with the ‘I’m gonna give you a swirly’ attitude of a bully on defense, the Jets have been far from that in three out of their four games this season.
After seeing their running game grounded and pounded while the defense was hung by their underwear in the bathroom by the Raiders and Ravens, an identity crisis is the last thing this team needs before taking aim at the Patriots in front of a rowdy New England crowd.
Ryan has made it a point of emphasis to make sure the team gets back to ‘playing like a Jet’, citing a dedicated return to the ground game. For the thirtieth rank rushing offense, it couldn’t come at a better time. They are expected to have their All-Pro center, Nick Mangold, back starting — which offers a huge boost not just to their rushing attack, but protection formations as well.
Add the loss of Patriots’ defensive captain, Jerod Mayo, and the ground game may be ready to break out of their funk. Mark Sanchez believes it all starts with his play calling.
“It’s my job to put us in the right play.” he said. “It’s the offensive line’s job to create holes and the running back’s job to find the hole and get through there. We’re going to do our best to get back on track run-wise, but at the end of the day, we want to win the game. So whatever that means, whether running it or throwing it, we need to be able to do both.”
As far as the defense goes, who’s still morning the loss of linebacker Bryan Thomas to an Achilles’ tear, it’s about regaining that confident swagger that defined Gang Green. It starts with how the Jets cover Welker and their explosive tight ends.
“[They] have a one-two punch & have great chemistry [with Brady]. They work well together,” cornerback Darrelle Revis said, who seems ready to cover Welker although Ryan would not confirm the match-up.
Frost famously ends The Road Not Taken by taking the ‘road less traveled’. For Ryan and the Jets they hope to take the road that hasn’t been traveled since 2006 — the last time the Patriots lost at home with Brady at the helm. But the emphasis is on ‘less traveled’, for they have been down this road before. The last team to beat the Patriots and Brady at home?