By Jeff Capellini, CBSNewYork/WFAN.com
NEW YORK (WFAN) — In a season of disappointment, inconsistency and one weird event after another enveloping the Jets, Plaxico Burress, of all people, has been one of the few members of this organization who has performed as advertised.
Once the lockout ended and it became readily apparent during the free agency free for all that the Jets were moving in another direction at the wide receiver position there were divided opinions on the team’s pursuit and eventual signing of Burress. Some rightly saw the potential for big things in the red zone, while others were convinced the former Super Bowl champion was nothing more than an over-the-hill cancer, one that was sure to if nothing else destroy the Mark Sanchez growth process.
Well, 11 regular season games later this much is not open for debate: Sanchez is definitely still a kid, but it’s certainly not Burress’ fault. He’s been everything the Jets could have hoped for and then some.
If those fans that supported the signing had any preconceived notions that Burress would come in and become a dominant player as far as statistics should suggest, they are probably a bit disappointed right now. But they shouldn’t be. He’s done precisely what he was brought here to do.
If you were preparing yourself for a 1,000-plus-yard season and upwards of 75 catches you had not paid attention to what Burress had become as a player prior to the nightclub incident back in 2008. Burress had never proven to be statistically dominant, reaching the 1,000 and 75 levels in just four and two of his nine seasons, respectively, before going to jail for two years and then re-emerging with the Jets this past summer.
Gaudy numbers have never been what this player has been about. Scoring big touchdowns and making the great catches during crunch time have.
And he’s still doing it, despite for the most part not getting the attention he’s deserved because the Jets as a whole have been enigmatic and frustrating to watch.
Burress is currently on pace for around 55 catches and 800 yards. That sounds about right when you look at his career seasonal averages of 56 and 871. And it stands to reason if Sanchez had made more of a leap in his third season, as many had hoped, Burress would end up closer to if not exceeding the 1,000-yard plateau. There’s still time for both players to get there, but the current state of affairs seems to suggest what you have is what you are going to get. But as far as Burress is concerned, what’s not to like?
Make no mistake, Burress endured a serious adjustment period, one that featured him looking all of his 34 years. Over his first six games with the Jets his route running was poor and he had lots of trouble getting separation in single coverage. Many of those who supported the signing quickly did an about face, joining forces with the full-time naysayers in echoing the ridiculous mantra that somehow the Jets would have been better off meeting Braylon Edwards’ demands and bringing back a player who also rarely put up astronomical stats but had what Burress most certainly didn’t at the time — a fine rapport with the young quarterback.
But have you seen what Edwards has done for the 10-2 49ers this season? He’s played in just seven games, and has 14 catches for 172 yards and has not found the end zone once. You could argue his adjustment period has been tougher with Alex Smith than Burress’ with Sanchez, but I have a more simple explanation:
Burress is just better, a lot better.
Sure, Edwards could have stayed and furthered his relationship with Sanchez and probably would have put up numbers matching what Burress will end up with, but would he be the clutch performer? Would he be the red zone threat? Would he be the guy to pick up the slack while $50 million wideout Santonio Holmes muddles his way through what will likely be the worst statistical season of his very good career?
I don’t think so.
Over the last five games, Burress’ stats have been pedestrian by the standards set by the Calvin Johnsons of the world. No question about it. When your high-water mark for receptions and yards in any one game is 5 for 79, as he did three weeks ago in Buffalo, you’re not exactly setting the league on fire.
But Burress has been every bit the scoring threat the Jets envisioned when they signed him. He’s on pace for double-digit touchdowns and his play over the last month has proven he’s gotten through his adjustment period no worse for wear. Plus, his own rapport with Sanchez is growing.
You could make the case that Burress saved the Jets’ season on Sunday against the Bills. He not only scored a big touchdown, but he also prolonged what ended up being the winning drive late in the fourth with two huge third-down receptions, including a spinning, circus one-handed grab on 3rd and 11 from the Bills’ 36 with two minutes to play that almost certainly set the stage for Holmes’ eventual 16-yard scoring grab. That series of events put the Jets ahead for good and kept them in the thick of the AFC wild card race at 6-5.
See, to many fans and the Stevie Johnsons of the world, Burress is still a cocktail party joke. How else does one explain how certain people immediately associate Burress with the incident in which he shot himself in the leg in that Manhattan club a few years ago, instead of as the often fantastic moving target on the gridiron?
His teammates know. They know all too well what Burress is really about these days.
“I don’t know if words could do it any justice,” Sanchez said of the monster grab after the game. “It was a big-time catch in a crucial situation.”
“It was crazy,” Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis added. “He’s 6-foot-5 and he’s got those `Go-Go-Gadget’ arms. It was probably one of the best catches I’ve seen in a while.”
Added Bills coach Chan Gailey: “It was an unbelievable catch.”
One that proved once and for all that Burress is indeed the same guy who led the Giants to the incredible Super Bowl win over the Patriots back in 2008 and is the same player who deserves his opponents’ respect each and every time he steps out on a field.
Call me crazy, but I think the Jets need to make sure Burress is re-signed in the offseason. He had just one year to prove himself again. At this point, do you honestly think he hasn’t? Do you worry that next year, at 35, he’ll suddenly stop being what he’s always been?
If so, you need to have some faith. The Jets showed it in Burress and he has delivered. You live with his balky back and troublesome ankles, ailments that force him to miss a lot of practice. He still brings it when it matters. While he may not be the fantasy stud you want, he’s really never been that player.
But he knows how to shut up his critics and still knows how to do what 90 percent of the studs out there don’t:
And on a team that sometimes loses track of the difference between winning and what it takes to win, I’ll take Burress every day and especially Sundays.
Read more columns by Jeff Capellini
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