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Keefe To The City: High Stakes For Jets

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

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By Neil Keefe
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Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like this week flew by. It probably didn’t for Jets fans since they are still alive in the postseason and there is nothing longer than waiting for Sunday when you’re still playing. But for Giants fans like myself, who forget what it’s like to have a team in the second season, I think this was the quickest week of my life.

It seems like just yesterday I was playing beer pong on Monday night (to steal a line from Jim Nantz: “A tradition like no other”) and watching the special episode of Jersey Shore, so that MTV could have a nice lead-in to Skins, which was immediately switched off for Celtics-Magic. And now it’s already Friday and the Jets are two days away from playing for a trip to Dallas.

The same old Jets playing in the AFC Championship for the second year in a row. If you told me on December 20, 2009 (the day Rex said “We’re obviously out of the playoffs, and that’s unfortunate”) that the Jets would appear in the next two AFC Championship Games, I probably wouldn’t have talked to you anymore and put on the Trent Dilfer level of People That Make Delusional Predictions. But I wish someone told me the Jets would be playing in the next two AFC Championships because I could have shut Sportsbook down.

Last year it was a nice story that the Jets were playing in the AFC Championship Game. Everyone expected the Colts to win since they were the best team in the league in the regular season and no one really believed that a team staring a rookie quarterback with 12 touchdowns and 20 interceptions could go to Lucas Oil Stadium and beat the best quarterback on the planet. This year, it’s a little different.

The Jets were predicted by many to win their division and by many more to go to the Big D on the first weekend in February. Hard Knocks hyped up this year’s Jets like the release of Thriller and it was a rocky road for 17 weeks, but the same old Jets have been anything but that in the first two weeks of the postseason.

Two years in a row as the No. 6 seed Rex Ryan has made it seem like the Jets entered the tournament as the No. 1 seed. He doesn’t want to be viewed as the underdog by the media or Vegas. He wants to be the top dog, and I respect him for that. Now he has his team one win away from going into Indianapolis, New England and Pittsburgh and beating Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger (a combined six Super Bowls) on back-to-back-to-back Sundays.

My friend Mike Hurley had a meltdown and near nervous breakdown following the Patriots’ loss and without a championship for six years (let me get out my violin), he couldn’t handle life without success from his football team. It’s like seeing that The Backstreet Boys are performing at some night club when 10 years ago they could have sold out Giants Stadium for a month straight to teenage girls willing to sacrifice their lives to be up against the stage. It’s just sad when it all comes crashing down.

When Alfonso Soriano hit the go-ahead home run off Curt Schilling in the eighth inning of Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, I remember thinking, “The Yankees might never lose again.” They lost the next inning, and they didn’t win again for eight more years. How did I cope with the fall from success? Not well. I felt like MC Hammer after going bankrupt, trying to earn a buck and get back into the limelight by stooping low enough to appear on The Surreal Life. 2002-2008 were some devastating times.

Right now the Jets are on the rise. They went from having Brett Favre hijack their 2008 season and single-handedly destroy an 8-3 start to making consecutive AFC Championship Games. And I’m not here to rain on the parade of Jets fans that have had rain cancel their parades for four decades, but I am here to warn you: savor every second of Sunday’s game. I know that no Jets fan wants to hear that side of it right now, but these opportunities only come around so often, and you don’t know when the next time they will come around. Or if they ever will.

It’s obvious how much is at stake on Sunday for the Jets and their fans. My friend Tim, a Jets season-ticket holder who has probably sacrificed 10 years off the end of his life watching the Jets and is on track to have gray hair at the age of 29 because of the Jets (sorry if you are 29 and have gray hair) texted me last Sunday and said it was the best day of his life. I’m not sure what winning the AFC will do for him, and I’m actually scared he won’t survive if the Jets do win the Super Bowl. The two extremes of either reaching the winning Super Bowl and winning it or coming up short again are too intense for Jets fans that are just waiting to be one-outed on the river for another year.

The Jets need this win on Sunday. Their fans need this win on Sunday. For a fan base that has been beaten within an inch of their only to heal and then get beaten within an inch of their life again, a loss on Sunday will be another “One shot, bro!” scenario that will leave green-and-white fans scrambling for answers.

Inside the organization, there are members of the team that have a great deal at stake as well as the fans searching for success. Sure, it’s already a success that the Jets have won two road playoff games beating the best two quarterbacks in the world on back-to-back Sundays, but a win this Sunday is a win that can change the history, direction and image of the franchise forever. So with that, let’s look at five members of the Jets that have more at stake on Sunday than anyone else. (Woody Johnson and his ticket sales have been excluded from this.)

Rex Ryan
On what I believe was his first ESPN appearance last week, Eric Mangini talked about how his main job with the Jets was to build a team to compete with and beat the Patriots. (So, it’s no surprise he no longer has a job). Mangini’s teams were never even close to being on the level of the Patriots. He tried to run his team too much like Bill Belichick’s with inferior players, and it was never going to work.

Rex Ryan, on the other hand, called out Bill Belichick on Day 1 with the Jets, and has done nothing like Bill Belichick. And in two years, he is 2-2 against the Patriots in the regular season and 1-0 in the playoffs against them with four more playoff wins and two trips to the AFC Championship Game. I’d say the Jets picked the right man for the job.

Rex took a lot of heat this year when things weren’t going well and he was still running his mouth. I was part of that heat. But when the Jets’ play was inconsistent, Rex remained consistent in voicing his opinion on how good his team is and how they are still the team to beat. No one believed him except for himself and the guys in his locker room, but those are the people that need to believe in him anyways.

If the Jets win, Rex will have two full weeks of media coverage leading up to the Super Bowl that will be as entertaining as Ricky Gervais taking Robert Downey Jr. to task. If the Jets lose, Rex will have another team to make it “personal” to beat in 2011.

Mark Sanchez
“Mark Sanchez is the winningest road quarterback in NFL playoff history.” We are one Jets win away from that sentence being a fact. Shots, anyone?

On Wednesday, I talked about Mark Sanchez being put into an ideal “sitch” (hat tip to Pauly D) with the Jets, but given his “sitch” he now has the chance to do something NO OTHER QUARTERBACK in the HISTORY of the NFL has done. I had “throwing 14 interceptions in a game” as the thing that I thought Mark Sanchez would do that no other quarterback in the history of the NFL has done. Not winning five road playoff games.

We are one Jets win away from Modell’s finishing in the black for 2011 off of just Sanchez jerseys this year and two Jets wins away from Eli Manning’s 2007 run being put on the back burner. I’m not sure if I’m mentally and emotionally prepared for Sanchez to justify “The Sanchise” tag or for him to start being called Broadway Mark. But it’s becoming a very real possibility.

If the Jets win, Sanchez will be a hero and one win away from never paying for a drink in New York City for the rest of his life. If the Jets lose, he’s only 24 years old and there will probably be more opportunities.

Mike Tannenbaum
Mike Tannenbaum became an unlikable personality to me during Hard Knocks and I think anyone that’s not a Jets fan feels the same way. But I know how sensitive people can be about their team’s general manager. I think my feelings about Brian Cashman cost me a dozen Twitter followers the last few days.

I didn’t think the Jets bringing in a cast of superstar mercenaries would work. It didn’t work for General Hummel in The Rock. In fact it ended with everyone turning on General Hummel and on each other. I thought after the loss to the Patriots in Week 13 we were just another loss or two away from a similar situation taking place in Jets locker room with guys like LaDainian Tomlinson and Jason Taylor turning on the younger Jets that bought into Rex Ryan’s system.

But the opposite has happened. Tannenbaum brought in a group of mercenaries with egos and mouths as big as their coaches and it only helped make the team more of a … well, team. We were supposed to think that a group of veterans with stacked resumes chill chasing a ring would never work, but it did. So far.

If the Jets win, Tannenbaum is the architect for the Jets’ first Super Bowl in 41 years and will validate calling himself “a smart of SOB” in Hard Knocks. If the Jets lose, he will have to go back to the drawing board and figure out what needs to be done to win the one game that has kept him from the Super Bowl two years in a row.

LaDainian Tomlinson
I liked LaDainian Tomlinson a lot more when he was scoring touchdowns in bunches and helping hit teasers and parlays for me. I didn’t like him so much when he was sitting on the sidelines milking injuries and letting the Patriots walk into the Super Bowl. But I guess I have to thank him for that or the great day of February 3, 2008 would have never happened. So, thank you, LaDainian.

I still don’t respect LaDainian the way I don’t Deion Branch for complaining about a team celebrating on their field after a postseason win. If I heard a Yankee complain about the Red Sox celebrating on the field after Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS I would have thrown my remote through the middle of the TV if I hadn’t already done so after Ruben Sierra grounded out to end the game. If you don’t want people celebrating on your field, don’t lose at home. How hard of a concept is that? Apparently Deion Branch is still having a problem with it since he is still talking about not shaking Jets hands.

LaDainian came to the Jets to the chase the ring and prove that his career wasn’t finished after a couple so-so years in San Diego. And I think he has done that by proving there is still some old LaDainian still left in the tank.

If the Jets win, LaDainian will play in his first Super Bowl with the chance to win that elusive ring. If the Jets lose, he will probably be seen sulking on the sidelines with an oversized coat on and his helmet with tinted visor on as well.

Bart Scott
I’m stretching things here since Bart Scott is likely not one of the main Jets with a great deal at stake on Sunday, but for personal reasons I had to put him in. If you didn’t see what Scott did after the Patriots game, you have either not been on the Internet since Sunday or turned on a TV, but here it is once again.

That happened after a divisional playoff game! Sure, it was against the Patriots, but it was the divisional round! We are talking about the AFC Championship now. We are talking about a trip to the Super Bowl. We are talking about the New York Jets going to the Super Bowl. What will this man have in store following a win in Pittsburgh on Sunday? And if the Jets do win, the over/under on how many reporters try to steal a play from Sal Paolantonio’s playbook and race to Bart after the game is at a lofty 16.5.

If Rex Ryan were a football player in the NFL he would be Bart Scott. And the same goes for Scott if he were a coach. They have the same personality, one just happens to be coaching the other one. And when the Jets were playing inconsistently during the regular season, it became a tired act. But now that they are winning, it has become a gongshow and I’m loving every second of it. A wise man once said, “Winning cures everything.”

Now Scott is a hero to Jets fans and a favorite of football fans everywhere outside of New England where his sensational interview has been viewed fewer times than Bernard Pollard closing the book on the Patriots’ 2008 season in Week 1.

If the Jets win, Bart Scott will probably have his own reality TV show on Spike this offseason. If they lose, he will probably whine to the media like Deion Branch.

I said last week that my Giants fans for Jets was a one-day thing. A one-time thing. A never-ever-again-will-I-want-the-Jets-to-win thing. But a funny thing happened on the way to me wanting the green and white to go down in flames. Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers made it back to the AFC Championship Game, and if you think for one second I am going to sit there and pull for someone with the scummy resume of Big Ben, well you’re wrong.

Giants fans for Jets continues this Sunday. J-E-T-S! JETS! JETS! JETS!

Follow Neil on Twitter at http://twitter.com/NeilKeefe

pixy Keefe To The City: High Stakes For Jets