By Jeff Capellini, CBSNewYork.com
NEW YORK (CBS 2) — It’s at about this time during any NFL season when many Jets fans get really nervous. It’s December, after all. Either the end is near or the true beginning is just around the corner. With this franchise you can never be too sure what you’re going to get. At least, that’s the theory.
Usually I reserve this time of the year to write about how little Jimmy will end up getting that toy nobody wanted in the form of a wingless plane. Or how a retired flight attendant somewhere would wake Christmas morning to find a tray table that won’t stay upright or a Queens mechanic would come home the night before the big day to find broken landing gear adorned with a big red bow.
All courtesy of the Jets and another lost season. They have in fact owned time shares on the Island of Misfit Toys.
But this year may be different. The Jets started to show me last season and I’ve been told otherwise by the players themselves this season and, gosh darnit, I’m holding them to their word. There will be no offensive line with square wheels, no quarterback who rides an ostrich and certainly no Rex in a Box.
The Jets have largely been stand-up guys all season. Granted, they have taken an extremely unorthodox path to a share of the best record in the league, but, hey, if winning in the NFL was all about style points the Marshall Faulk and Kurt Warner Rams never would have lost a single game during their heyday.
The Jets have walked a tight rope all season, no question about it. But in a league of parity they have proven to be quite adept at pulling the fans’ fingers away from the panic button at precisely the right moments.
They have been mostly a surprise on offense and somewhat of an enigma on defense, the exact opposite of what many expected heading into this highly anticipated season. Truth be told, who cares how they have won? All the fans want is the winning to continue and let the judges’ scores be damned.
The Jets are 9-2 and with their playoff seeding destiny in their own hands. If you had asked any fan of this team back in the preseason if they would have signed on the dotted line for this very scenario they would have held a battle royal for the pen.
Back in August I circled Dec. 6 on my calendar. It was the one date on the schedule that seemed to matter most. If all went according to plan, which it has for the most part, the matchup with the Patriots up in Foxboro would be the game that would tell the true story of whether the Jets were indeed ready to make the ascension from a very good team to one that was truly Super Bowl worthy.
There’s no questioning the fact that the Jets are a very good football team. They have flaws, of course, but the areas of concern seem to never be that big of a deal, mostly because hidden behind the mouths and bravado is a pretty cerebral bunch of players and coaches that know how to make adjustments when things aren’t quite going as expected. This team can look awful at times, but name a team that doesn’t during the course of an NFL season.
The difference between the Jets and most everyone else is they have that intangible that’s hard to describe but is readily apparent each and every week they take the field.
They simply know how to win. And considering what this franchise has been about over the last 40 years, that’s saying a mouthful.
The scary part is the Jets are not yet a finished product. They’ve yet to become all they can be. This is actually an encouraging thing, considering the fact that despite their shape-shifting shortcomings they have still managed to find a way. This “it” factor is driving the rest of the league crazy, too. Fans of other teams want so desperately for the Jets to fall flat on their faces they have invented asinine reasoning why this team continues to win.
So it comes as no surprise to me that many of those same misguided souls are now questioning whether the Jets truly have what it takes to win up in Foxboro with the division seemingly on the line.
They do and they should.
Sure, the Patriots have Tom Brady, the greatest thing since sliced bread, the advent of the wheel, the plastic ketchup bottle and the NFL Sunday Ticket, but the Jets to a man are simply the better team at this point. They are a united front loaded with more individual talent than probably any team in the league. They have coaching that’s right up there with any team.
Yes, even the Patriots.
So please allow me this one cliche when I say the Jets can only beat themselves on Monday night.
If you really look at it, the tale of the tape is largely pointing in the green and white direction. The Jets have the better running game and wide receiving corps. They also have the better offensive line, at least on the run-blocking side, and defense, which, as we all know, are the keys to winning during cold weather months and especially in the playoffs. They even have the edge on special teams, thanks to the incredible Brad Smith and the smarts of one Mike Westhoff.
I realize Bill Belichick is a master tactician who will almost certainly throw some kind of newfangled defense at Mark Sanchez. The difference between this time and the countless prior meetings between the two teams is Belichick has no choice now. His defense is 31st in the league overall, including the 32nd — as in dead last — unit against the pass. Meanwhile, Sanchez has emerged in only his second season as a quarterback who not only can beat you with his skills, but also his improving football IQ. Considering the low expectations many had for the kid coming into the season I find it hard to believe his name is not being mentioned more prominently in MVP discussions.
No, this is the Jets’ game to win or lose. Brady is likely going to put up points because the defense he will be facing has struggled to put consistent pressure on the quarterback and often forgets about tight ends and third receivers, which the Patriots have plenty of. When the Jets have heckled Brady in the past, they have beaten him. Look no further than the last two meetings at the Meadowlands. In the event the pressure doesn’t come Monday the Jets should still win the game because, unlike in past years, their offense is pretty much on par with what is largely considered one of the best defenses in football.
But yet there are still countless thousands out there who think Brady will simply step out on the field and win because he is Brady and the Jets are, well, the Jets, the same group of classic underachievers that they have been for decades.
It just goes to show how much the rest of the viewing public and a decent percentage of the media have actually watched the Jets this season.
All that aside, many Jets fans still have fears this week. They remember the 10-1 start in 1986 only to lose their last five, and the countless seasons this team started 8-3 or 7-4 only to come apart at the seams in December. They know what’s coming after the New England game, too. They know road games at likely playoff participants Pittsburgh and Chicago are on the horizon. They also know the Jets have had a habit of spitting the bit against teams they should beat in their own division. And they definitely know the Dolphins waxed the Raiders and the Bills came within God’s apparent failure of beating the Steelers in overtime this past weekend.
But that doesn’t mean history will repeat itself. Under Ryan something like this has yet to happen. Quite the contrary, actually. The Jets, whether you want to accept it or not, overcame a terrible start to last December to do what they had to do to earn their spot in the playoffs.
They gave everyone a reason to truly believe that the days of old were in fact in the past. No longer would Santa be parachuting in green and white presents on that Island of Misfit Toys.
Why not believe it again this season? This team is actually more well rounded than the group that got to last season’s AFC Championship game.
There’s really no reason to say the Jets will fail “because they are the Jets. This is what they do.”
That is no longer an acceptable answer. If anything, fans should be saying the Jets will, because they can.
And it’s really hard to argue they won’t.