" The Sharp Decline of Bart Scott " ~ ~ ~
The Sharp Decline of Bart Scott
Coming back from a commercial break, NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth had a replay at the ready Thursday night so he could tell the nation exactly how the Patriots' Tom Brady had completed an easy 83-yard touchdown pass against Bart Scott and the Jets' defense.
There was Brady, pointing out to running back Shane Vereen that the Jets were aligned in man-to-man coverage. There was wide receiver Wes Welker, setting an oh-so subtle screen to delay Scott's sprint toward the sideline to pick up Vereen. And once Vereen ran his wheel route and Brady lofted the pass to him, there was Scott, losing ground with every step as Vereen coasted into the end zone.
"As soon as Bart Scott got in the game, they knew," Collinsworth said. "They started throwing it."
Aging Jets linebacker Bart Scott has been slowed by a toe injury.That touchdown, the second of the five that New England scored in its 49-19 victory, crystallized a question important to the Jets' present and future: How long can Scott remain one of their starting inside linebackers? Over his four seasons in New York, Scott has been a vocal leader on the NFL's most vocal team, his presence providing the sort of toughness and edginess that Rex Ryan sought for the Jets' defense upon becoming their head coach. (Scott had spent seven years with the Baltimore Ravens, where Ryan was an assistant coach and the defensive coordinator.) But he's 32 years old, elderly by the standards of pro football. After earning a guaranteed base salary of $4.2 million this year, he will have two years left on his contract, and his playing time has declined every season since he signed a six-year free-agent deal with the Jets in February 2009.
He sat out a game last month because of a hyperextended toe—the first game he'd missed since 2004—and the injury has made it harder to judge just how effective a linebacker Scott might have been this season, and might yet be. When Scott injured the toe, defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said, the Jets anticipated that he would miss three or four games. Instead, Scott has played despite the soreness."Before he hurt the foot, I thought Bart was playing really well," said Pettine, who added that Scott had one of his best games as a Jet in the team's Week 2 loss in Pittsburgh, recording eight tackles. "Some people will look at it and say there's a changing of the guard or we're phasing him out. That's not the case at all. We're going to get Bart healthy. We're in the business of winning football games, and if Bart can help us win football games, which he can, he's going to be out there."
Ryan and Scott's teammates remained loyal to him in the aftermath of Thursday's loss, defending him for his role in the play that resulted in Vereen's score. "He did a tremendous job in a lot of areas," Ryan said. "He was hitting people. We should have played him more." (Scott had three tackles in the game.)Cornerback Antonio Cromartie said that although Scott was responsible for covering Vereen and "was in a bad position because he was too far inside," the Jets' defensive backs should have recognized the mismatch and checked to a different scheme, one in which Scott would have covered another receiver and a safety would have taken Vereen."He tried his best to get over," Cromartie said, "but we as a secondary put him in a hard place."
That Scott's age and toe injury have slowed him, though, seems beyond dispute. Among the first 51 inside linebackers graded this season by the statistical and scouting service Pro Football Focus, Scott ranks last in tackling efficiency—that is, the frequency with which a player makes and misses tackles. And he has ceded snaps to rookie Demario Davis, suggesting that the Jets do understand they'll soon have to replace Scott in the lineup.In the Jets' previous game, a 27-13 victory in St. Louis, Scott had recovered a fumble by quarterback Sam Bradford and returned it 38 yards. But the Rams' Matthew Mulligan (a former Jet) tracked down Scott and tackled him from behind, preventing him from scoring a touchdown. Afterward, several of Scott's teammates guffawed over the play, teasing Scott for allowing Mulligan, a slow-footed tight end, to catch him. "I'll get some busting on the plane," he said.Four days later, Scott's lack of speed was again a topic of conversation—in the Patriots' huddle, in NBC's broadcast booth, in the Jets' postgame locker room. This time, no one was laughing.