‘From the Pressbox’
By Ernie Palladino
» More Ernie Palladino Columns
Ernie is the author of “Lombardi and Landry.” He’ll be covering football throughout the season.
As the Jets finish up their bye week in far and near-flung places around the United States, they can watch Sunday’s game knowing they have put themselves in advantageous position.
Whether that 4-3 start is good enough to take a divisional crown away from New England, that’s another matter. But they can now dream, and hope, and hopefully perform to mount a serious challenge, if only to give their mouthy coach some measure of 2011 credibility.
All this will make the next couple of weeks very interesting around Gang Green’s Florham Park training facility. While the Jets rest and return, the 5-1 Patriots will have to work hard to keep a hold on the AFC East’s top spot. And it will all happen with a touch of irony, too, as the Jets will be rooting hard for the Giants to beat the Patriots on Nov. 6, exactly one week before the Jets host those same Pats.
So let’s dream a bit as we unpack this AFC East picture.
Forget about the Dolphins. At 0-6, and probably 0-7 after Sunday’s game with the Giants, they’re already a divisional non-factor. The fans have mounted a Suck-for-(Andrew) Luck campaign, praying that the Fish tank the season in exchange for the Stanford quarterback at the No. 1 overall pick. Tony Sparano has put his house up for sale, and owner Stephen Ross is making nice with former Flordia coach Urban Meyer, who could be Sparano’s successor.
That leaves us with the Bills and the Patriots, admittedly a couple of toughies.
The Bills sit at 4-2 after their comeback loss to the Giants. Chances are they’ll be 5-2 after Sunday’s game against the sagging Redskins in Toronto. At least they should be. With running back Tim Hightower and tight end Chris Cooley newly added to the IR and wide receiver Santana Moss out for an extended period with a busted hand, quarterback John Beck has little to work with. The Redskins may have problems winning another game this year.
Still, the Jets walk into Ralph Wilson Stadium next week with a perfect opportunity to pull into a tie with the Bills for second, while the Giants tend to some business of their own.
And here’s the ironic trivia for that week: When does a Jets fan become a Giants fan? When the Giants are playing the Pats.
If the Giants take care of business at Gillette Stadium and knock the Pats to 6-2 — New England faces a soft 4-2 Pittsburgh this week — the Jets will host Bill Belichick’s squad Nov. 13 with an opportunity to pull into a first-place tie.
And for those who poo-poo that idea, consider that beating Tom Brady hasn’t exactly been an impossible task under Tom Coughlin. Remember Super Bowl XLII.
Considering how the season started, a spot at the top just past the midpoint of the schedule would provide a huge mental boost for the Jets.
Now, that’s just dreaming, and certainly only temporary. Besides the rest of a schedule that includes another meeting with Buffalo, and non-conference games against Philadelphia and the Giants, the Jets have one other big opponent to face in this scenario — themselves. And they’ve shown thus far that they haven’t always been successful in overcoming their shortcomings. Had Miami converted those Red Zone opportunities last Monday night, the immediate future would have looked far different.
When they return to work Monday, the Jets will have to make sure their running game steps up from the 97-yard, one-touchdown effort they mounted against the Pats in a 30-21 loss Oct. 9. Shonn Greene must continue the work he did in a 112-yard effort against the Chargers, only this time against a tougher defense in Buffalo. And Mark Sanchez must continue to keep the turnovers to a minimum.
All pretty standard stuff, but items that have come at an inconsistent quality for the Jets this year.
The wins over Miami and San Diego gave them all sorts of hope to ponder during the bye week. Now it’s up to them to step it up.
Jets fans: what’s your level of optimism? Let us know in the comments below…