The revitalized Jake Plummer hopes he can keep his first place Broncos on top for the rest of 2005. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
There couldn’t be two teams headed in more opposite directions than the New York Jets and Denver Broncos.
The Jets (2-7) are cellar-dwellers in the AFC East, aimed right at the top of next April’s draft. Meanwhile, the Broncos (7-2) are cruising toward the playoffs and are saddled atop the AFC West with a two-game lead.
Jake Plummer has resurrected his career and has thrown his hat in the ring for MVP consideration after nine games. The four-headed monster the Jets have had behind center – or should we say centers – has combined for a horrid seven touchdowns and 13 interceptions and is 27th in the league in passing.
Yet with all those disparities, the fundamental flaw in the Jets offense has been the Broncos staple for the past decade: the offensive line. As a result, Denver churns out 1,000-rushers each year. The Broncos could be the first team in NFL history to have two running backs rush for 1,000 yards in the same backfield.
“Their [offensive] line does a good job of really hooking your defensive players [and] getting to the second level,” Edwards said. “And the backs do a great job of running down hill…Then you get down two scores, with their ability to run the ball, [it’s] hard to catch them.”
Avoiding an early hole will be the biggest factor in whether the Jets are in the game late or if the fourth quarter is merely garbage time. If the Jets can mimic their game plan from the first two and a half quarters of the Carolina game, they have a punchers chance.
However, this will involve two things the Jets had trouble doing when they needed to: protecting QB Brooks Bollinger and running the ball effectively. Bollinger was sacked four times last week, which undoubtedly had him hearing footsteps. The end result was his throwing four interceptions in the second half.
Martin and backup RB Cedric Houston combined to rush for 138 yards on 29 carries, but most of Houston’s yardage came when the Jets were trying to kill the clock and any further embarrassment.
The key to that will be the offensive line, which has redefined the term revolving door. With T Jason Fabini’s torn pectoral landing him on injured reserve, 10-year veteran Scott Gragg is thrust into the mix. He was abused at times by Panthers DE Julius Peppers last week.
Miring the line’s uncertainty even further is guard-turned-center Pete Kendall, who is questionable with back spasms. He did not practice Wednesday and said he likely will grit his teeth while playing in pain.
“It’s my job to go out and play,” Kendall said Wednesday. “I don’t feel great. I don’t know what [my status] is going to be [on Sunday].”
Edwards was stunned in pre-game warm-ups against the Panthers after Kendall declared himself fit to play.
“He could hardly walk,” said Edwards, who later advised Kendall “don’t be a hero. If something happens we’ll get you out. He kept going. He had to do some things at halftime to keep going.”
Kendall later said he took a pain-killing shot to keep playing. “You don’t get to 10 years in the League…without seeing some needles,” he said.
Kendall practiced on Thursday and Friday and will likely be able to play however, if he can’t go, the Jets’ have few options. With Fabini and C Kevin Mawae already out for the year, Jonathan Goodwin will move to center and T/G Steve Morley who has virtually no game experience will play at guard. .
The Jets offensive line has shuffled around more than a deck of cards, but second-year T Adrian Jones said “you just got to go out there and adjust.”
The Broncos have had no such problems. Their five-man wrecking crew of Cooper Carlisle, George Foster, Ben Hamilton, Matt Lepsis, and Tom Nalen have started all nine games together. The cohesion between offensive linemen, maybe more than any other position, takes time to assemble. The Jets have not had that luxury.
“It’s hard to insert a new guy,” Kendall said, “even when it’s one guy.”
That continuity on Denver’s offensive has fortified a running game notorious for success over the last decade. Terrell Davis, Olandis Gary, Clinton Portis and Mike Anderson have each rushed for over 1,000 yards in the Broncos zone-blocking system. This year, Tatum Bell has eclipsed 1,000 yards and is averaging nearly six yards-per-carry. Anderson has 669 yards and the duo will likely make history.
Edwards and the Jets are concerned with other matters. As he walked away from the podium Wednesday, Edwards murmured: “Let’s try and get a win.”
As the Jets have proven all season, that won’t be easy.
Three Things Gang Green Must Do To Win
1. Rattle the Snake: Jake Plummer has been nearly flawless this season. His 13 to three touchdown to interception ratio is a mind-boggling reversal from his first six years in the league when, four times, he threw more interceptions than touchdowns. This year he is relying on the running game, and if he forced to throw can be mistake-prone. Make Plummer beat you.
2. Miller Time: Rookie KR Justin Miller, despite his struggles at cornerback, has been itching to break a return loose for a touchdown. He is a threat on special teams and it might be time to throw him in the fire returning punts. He is fifth in the League with a 26.3 return average on kickoffs. He’s going to have to break one for the Jets to pull off the huge upset.
3. Defensive Score:There isn’t much more the Jets defense can do. With the offense’s woes, the defensive unit has been hung out to dry all season. They have produced 13 interceptions, which ties them for fourth in the AFC. If one gets run back in this game, the Jets will be in good shape.
The Broncos are the complete antithesis of the Jets. Denver can run the ball, stop the run and has a tremendous home field advantage with the altitude. The Jets, try as they may, can’t run or throw the ball. If the defense grows wary from spending too much time on the field, the Broncos will score a ton of points. The Broncos have beaten San Diego, Kansas City, New England and Philadelphia – all formidable foes – at Invesco. Unless the Broncos suffer a let down, this may take another Herm Edwards miracle.
Broncos 34 Jets 13
FINAL OFFER: Herm Edwards has always been known as an amiable, players coach. With the rumors surfacing about his potential migration to Kansas City, DE John Abraham went as far as to say “he would like to be anywhere” Edwards is.
Which makes you scratch you wonder why two years ago John Lynch, who was a free agent after spending his entire career with the Buccaneers and the godfather of Edwards’ son, didn’t flock the Jets.
“The Jets, Broncos and Patriots were in that mix. From day one [Denver coach Mike] Shanahan pursued me from day one,” Lynch said. “In New York it kind of took a while. Obviously the opportunity to play for my buddy Herm would have been great. A lot of things factored in. Denver felt right for me.”
Lynch and his family lives in San Diego, and the commute there is much easier. Edwards didn’t take it as a knock.
“When we all huddled up together, it was best for him and his family,” Edwards said. “He wanted to come here. I wanted him here. When we all sat down, it was best for him and his family.”
Edwards didn’t ride Lynch with guilt, rather he supported him, which is why everywhere he goes, he is liked.
“He’s a genuine person,” Lynch said. “What you see is what you get. All those things contribute to guys wanting to play for him.”
Asked if he thought Edwards would leave the Jets after this season, Lynch said: “I don’t even want to speculate about anything like that.”
Edwards’ wife Lia and Lynch’s wife Linda will be watching the game together in the stands of INVESCO Field this Sunday.
HERM CLEARS THE AIR: After his strange rant at Wednesday's press conference where he seemed for the first time to cast doubt on his future with the team, Edwards later clarified his statements to the media.
“I'm going to be here as long as I can,“ said the Coach. “And hopefully it's my whole career and I don't have to go anywhere else."
FIEDLER MAKING PROGRESS: Jets backup QB Jay Fiedler has made progress this week in his comeback from a separated shoulder suffered in September. He is throwing the ball with less pain and could be available as early as the December 11th game in Oakland. However, with the way the season has gone don’t expect Edwards to rush Fiedler back.
OFFESIVE MINDS REUINITE: Broncos coach Mike Shanahan and Jets OC Mike Heimerdinger are old buddies. In fact, they were college roommates and football teammates at Eastern Illinois University. They later worked together in Denver as Heimerdinger was Shanahan's receivers coach from 1995-99 before going to Tennessee as the Titans' offensive coordinator.
ROSTER MOVES: The Jets on Friday signed fullback Luke Lawton from their practice squad to the active roster. In his place, they signed RB Terry Butler to the practice squad. Butler, a rookie free agent from Villanova, was in Jets training camp this past summer. Lawton, spent time with the Buffalo Bills last season.
Starting CB David Barrett who has been out since last week with an eye injury will miss his second game in a row. Rookie Justin Miller who played well last week will again replace Barrett. RB Curtis Martin has been listed as probable all week still nursing the sore knee that has bothered him all season but will undoubtedly play on Sunday. FB BJ Askew has a sore ankle is listed as questionable but will not play. LB Kenyatta Wright is also nursing a sore ankle but practiced and could play. WR Harry Williams Jr.’s knee is improving and he has been able to run routes this week. He won’t though be active this week or likely anytime soon.
-QB Jay Fiedler (shoulder): Out
-RB Derrick Blaylock (foot): Out
-CB David Barrett (eye): Out
-LB Kenyatta Wright (ankle): Questionable
-FB B.J. Askew (ankle): Questionable
-C Pete Kendall (back): Questionable
-WR Harry Williams (back): Questionable
-RB Curtis Martin (knee): probable
Gametime is 4:15 p.m. Sunday. Local TV is CBS 2. Local Radio is 1050 ESPN AM. Be sure to check back to Jets Insider.com after the game for a recap.