By Sean Hartnett
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The new NFL season may be just dawning, but the Jets showed maturity under fire of a playoff-hardened, battle-tested squad capable of going the distance. Their dramatic 27-24 victory over the Dallas Cowboys has given credence to expectations of a championship run.
I’ve often viewed Rex Ryan as an overly arrogant head coach who plays up his team to be something more than they actually are. Similar to a railroad worker fueling a charging locomotive, Ryan has fed the New York media plenty of hype throughout his first two seasons guiding Gang Green.
When the Jets’ Super Bowl train appeared to gather its highest pace in 2009, it was derailed during the second half of their AFC Championship Game at Indianapolis. Leading 17-13 at halftime, the Jets’ offense was stopped cold by the conference-winning Colts who kept New York off the board for the entire second half.
After again reaching the AFC Championship in 2010, the Jets were dealt a sobering loss by the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field.
NFL experts circled to pounce on Ryan who had delivered himself to the wolves through his own boastful remarks. The Jets were widely viewed as a team that talked like champions but failed to live up to their own self-inflated backing. Inside the Jets’ locker room there is a completely opposite opinion, as Ryan’s players never wavered in belief of their inspirational head coach and are even more determined to prove him right.
A different kind of pressure presented itself before the Jets as they kicked off their 2011 season at the newly-anointed MetLife Stadium. Ryan spoke of his team’s responsibility to win the game for the city they represent on the tenth anniversary of New York City remembering the victims of 9/11. To make the challenge even more intriguing for Ryan was that his twin brother, Rob lined up on the opposite sideline as Cowboys’ defensive coordinator as their legendary father, Buddy watched on.
It would be hard to imagine a season opener with so much on the line for both a head coach and his team. The first three quarters didn’t go plan and something special was required for the Jets to mount a comeback.
All eyes were on Mark Sanchez to rally the Jets from 24-10 down in the fourth quarter. Sanchez had thrown a costly interception in the New York’s previous series that led a Cowboys’ touchdown. Sanchez proceeded turn that adversity into a cool three-minute touchdown drive that ended in Plaxico Burress reeling in his first TD reception since 2008.
Burress had gone missing during through three quarters but came alive at a critical stage in late in the game.
The Jets still needed a bit of good fortune trailing 24-17 with five minutes left on the clock. Their defense’s determination paid off as Joe McKnight blocked a Mat McBriar punt which Isaiah Trufant recovered and ran into the end zone. Although the score was tied, it seemed that the Cowboys were ready to begin a field goal drive with a minute remaining.
With their backs against the wall and Dallas in control of their own destiny, Darrelle Revis swung the game in the opposite direction by intercepting Romo and advancing near field goal range. A 50-yard attempt certainly wasn’t a gimme especially with only thirty-two seconds left in regulation but Nick Folk sent it through the uprights. Folk, who was vilified while in Dallas had clinched the game-winning kick against the team that waived him.
Sanchez later described the victory as “the ultimate team win.” That may sound like a well-worn sports cliché but it’s entirely accurate as many individuals contributed to result and the Jets played mistake-free football without registering a single penalty.
More than that, Burress and Folk conquered some old demons. As a whole, the Jets cleared an early hurdle against a difficult opponent on a night that had the tension and feel of a playoff atmosphere. Ryan’s past proclamations may have been premature but are now looking realistic in his third year in charge of Gang Green.
Jets fans – what do you make of your team’s dramatic season opening victory? Does it fill you with belief that a Super Bowl run is possible? Share your opinions below and send your tweets to @HartyLFC.