By Jason Keidel
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Sunday night. National Television. The only game in America. The rancorous Ravens on the road. Popcorn, pizza, root beer or real beer plied to your palm. All that planning, just for the appalling performance last night from a Gang Green that played like it had gangrene.
When you run for 38 yards, pass for 112, hold the ball for 22 minutes, and gain 7 first downs, you expect to lose, particularly when nearly all your mistakes are paraded back for touchdowns. When Joe McKnight and David Harris provide your scores, you don’t care to see the scoreboard.
Mark Sanchez was a case study in careless quarterbacking last night, staring down his receivers so heavily that it seemed he were trying to hypnotize them. He passed to Santonio Holmes 12 times, completing just 3 of them. Maybe he forgot that Plaxico Burress, Dustin Keller, and LaDainian Tomlinson are quite competent players whose jobs are to get open in case No. 10 can’t.
Vince Lombardi often lamented the disproportionate responsibility given quarterbacks. Sanchez showed why, producing a painfull, 30.5 QB rating (11/35, 119 YD, 0 TD, 1 INT).
A quarterback’s third year is historically the portal to progress. Sanchez can’t hide behind the platitudes reserved for rookies, or bury his head in the semantic sand with bromides about learning a new system or adjusting to the accelerated rate of play that comes with his rate of pay (despite the jokes that USC alums suffer a salary cut upon entering the NFL).
Perhaps the same can be said of his coach. Rex Ryan is already coaching in a crucible (New York) where the bottom line beams in the five boroughs and beyond. No doubt the affable Ryan found the laughable outing less than humorous.
Ryan, whose bombast has become his coaching blueprint, will find that his charm is commensurate to his ability to change the Jets’ 40-year mantra of mediocrity. Joe Namath called Ryan out recently, questioning the coach’s means of preparing his men. Perhaps Broadway Joe was out of line, but he stands on his prerogative as the only Jets QB to wear a Super Bowl ring, something Ryan has guaranteed New Yorkers with Namath’s bravado. Until Ryan produces on that promise, Namath will always be the darling of the team’s devotees.
The Jets entered the season with the third-toughest schedule in the NFL, and still must play New England and the suddenly surging Bills twice each. They must also play the Chargers and the Giants at home, with road games against Washington and Philadelphia. The team can whine about its offensive line, but Gene Upshaw, Art Shell, and Mike Webster wouldn’t have stopped the Ravens, or stopped Sanchez from fumbling and bumbling his way to defeat. The Jets’ deficiencies lie deeper than the injury report.
Ryan, like most head coaches, plants his flag on one side of the ball (defense). And since most coaches are former coordinators, they delegate their unfamiliar side to a coaching consigliere. But Ryan holds the bag for the entire team, and you can’t praise your defense for allowing 13 points when your offense surrenders 21.
It was assumed that the Patriots and Jets would joust for the top spot in the AFC East, much the way the Yankees and Red Sox would battle for the AL East, with the loser assured a wild card birth. But with Buffalo shoved into the playoff tango, we can’t assume that anymore. Besides, you saw what happened in baseball to the heretofore, unbeatable Bostonians.
Part of Ryan’s power is selling his team and town the notion that they can’t win without him. Yet we’ve noticed the Ravens are fine without Rex running their defense. With two trips to the AFC title game under his considerable belt, Ryan’s vocational noose is still loose. But you’d hope he’s learning that confidence wins Super Bowls, while arrogance rarely even gets you there.
Ryan knows (better than we do) that in order to win you must run and stop the run. Yet the Jets have done neither, ranked 30th and 28th, respectively. Those are the rankings of a wretched team, not one reserved for the red carpet Rex promised us would lead to the White House while Barack Obama were still president.
And Ryan is in the midst of a seasonal sermon his father Buddy never quite memorized. No matter how much bluster you muster, no matter how many dynamic defenses you design, being the leading man is a mighty burden. Papa Ryan couldn’t scale that mountain once he stopped hiding behind his 46 defenses and Mike Ditka. For all the chatter from the charming football family of Buddy, Rex, and Rob, the next Super Bowl won by a head coach named Ryan will be the first.
That’s not to say Rex Ryan can’t (or won’t) do it. But the clock is ticking on his tenure if you, the fan, don’t see more walk than talk. And while 2-2 is not the time to panic, it warrants a little worry. Your beloved Jets jaunt to most unfriendly confines next Sunday, playing a Patriots team eager to grind the boot in the boastful Ryan’s throat.
By contrast, the Jets’ roommates, the Giants – now a silent but salient 3-1 – operate with a quiet, corporate cadence, preferring to talk inside the chalk. It extends a decades-long narrative between the teams that share a city and a stadium, while trying to conquer the wayward fans looking for a home. And last night’s nightmare won’t win the Jets any swing votes.
A man who coached both teams, Bill Parcells, said you are what your record says you are. If 2-2 speaks volumes about the Jets, it’s time to raise the volume on a team that teems with confusion and complacency, a squad that seems to believe the preseason hype.
No one expected the 49ers to be 3-1 or the Eagles to be 1-3. If the Jets aren’t careful, they will soon be 2-3, with the Patriots and Bills stampeding toward the playoffs, leaving the Gang Green grounded. A league built on parity can reduce the Jets to a parody.
Feel free to email me: Jakster1@mac.com