FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Doubts, uncertainty and lots of questions.
That’s what the New York Jets are facing as they begin preparing for their regular-season opener against the Buffalo Bills.
Is the offense really that inept? Can Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow co-exist? What exactly will Tebow’s role be? Has Mike Tannenbaum provided Rex Ryan with enough talent to return to the playoffs?
Always confident, Ryan has said this might be his best Jets team. Now, they all get to prove it.
“All that work that you’ve done, all the work that the players have done, the lifting and all the meetings and things, it’s for this,” Ryan said Monday. “It’s not to win a preseason game. It’s to be at your very best when the regular season starts.”
The Jets went 0-4 in the preseason and scored only one touchdown — last Thursday night at Philadelphia with all the backups and third-stringers in the game.
With Tebow expected to give a boost to new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano’s offense, the Jets showed little to ease fans’ fears that they’ll be able to put up enough points to be a playoff-caliber squad.
New York became the first team since the 1977 Atlanta Falcons to go through its first three games without getting into the end zone. Whether it was Sanchez or Tebow, the offense just couldn’t punch it in, and the Jets have been criticized for it for weeks on message boards, sports talk radio and by the media.
For games that didn’t count.
“It was kind of strange,” rookie wide receiver Stephen Hill said. “Like you just said, it is preseason. The games start this weekend, and we’re looking to put on a show.”
The way things went in the preseason, two touchdowns would qualify as a scoring barrage. Not that Ryan is concerned with any of that.
“I don’t care about how many we score,” Ryan said. “I just want to have one more point than the Bills do, and that’s every week. It doesn’t matter. The defense has to hold them to this, the offense has to score — we don’t care. It’s all about getting one more point than the opponent and that’s it.
“If that means we don’t score a touchdown and we still win, we’ll be happy and the Jets fans will be happy.”
But they might still be a bit uneasy.
That’s why the defense is going to have to be up to the task of dominating opponents and closing out games. Ryan and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine have had some terrific units with the Jets, but they believe this one has the chance to be special.
“This is the best defense I’ve been around — ever,” said defensive lineman Mike DeVito, entering his sixth season with the Jets. “This defense is incredible, so we’re excited to get started and we love proving people wrong. That’s our M.O.”
Because of all the questions surrounding the offense, many media members have New York finishing around 8-8 or 9-7 this season — and that’s even with the defense playing at an ultra-high level.
Some say it will all come down to how the defense performs and if it can carry the offense all season.
“We plan to be the best,” DeVito said. “It doesn’t matter what anybody else is doing. We plan to be the best defense. We plan to not let up scores and we plan to go out there and shut down offenses. That’s our deal, so nothing else matters. Not what anyone says or does. It’s all about what we’re doing.”
Rather than being one of the league’s powerhouses after being a win away from the Super Bowl in both 2009 and 2010, the Jets are now underdogs in many people’s eyes.
“I feel like it’s been like that since I’ve gotten here,” DeVito said. “That’s just the way it’s been here. I feel like it’s something that motivates. I mean, we know the team we have and the guys we’ve got on the field and we’re excited to get going. The confidence is there. You can feel it.”
Whether that lasts will depend largely on how Sanchez plays this season. After not taking the next step in his progression last season, the Jets are banking on their starting quarterback to thrive in his fourth year. Not only that, they expect him to be able to handle everything that comes with Tebow being around, too.
Ryan said Monday that the Jets plan to use the ultra-secretive wildcat package with Tebow against Buffalo after not running a single play of it in the preseason. Tebow adds a uniquely athletic — and unpredictable — dimension to the offense, and the fact the Jets kept that under wraps gives many hope that what they saw on the field this summer will be nothing like what transpires at MetLife Stadium starting Sunday.
“I said from Day 1, I thought Tim was an outstanding football player,” Ryan said. “And the fact we’re using him as a personal (punt) protector and the fact he can run the wildcat, we’ve said that from Day 1. We just haven’t put it out there in preseason games. I guess we’ll find out on Sunday how much we’ll use him that particular week.”
The Jets will need a big improvement from their offensive line, particularly at right tackle where Wayne Hunter is out and Austin Howard is in — with former St. Louis top pick Jason Smith as a backup, just in case. Also, the wide receiving group with Santonio Holmes, Jeremy Kerley and Chaz Schilens was banged up all summer and the three all getting on the field could change a lot of things in the regular season.
Starting with people’s expectations.
“Despite what people think, we’re out there wanting to play hard and win games,” Howard said. “And, we want to be there for each other. It’s not about focusing on what people think or what people are saying. We want to win.”
Notes: C Nick Mangold showed up to the locker room with his bushy beard and mustache shaved off, something he couldn’t remember the last time doing. Not that the baby-faced look will last, though. “I mean, I’m not going to continue shaving,” Mangold said, smiling. “It’s not going to be a long-term thing. I thought it’d be interesting.” … RB-KR Joe McKnight wouldn’t comment on a Los Angeles Times report over the weekend that claimed he was one of two former Southern California athletes who received gifts from an employee of the Los Angeles County assessor’s office. “I didn’t read the article,” he said. “I’m not going to get into that right now. I’m worried about the season. So, the article don’t mean anything to me.” … DL Sione Po’uha (back) said he went through almost an entire practice and feels “ready to go” for Sunday’s game. DeVito (calf) also said he’ll play against the Bills.
Do you believe Rex Ryan when he says this might be his best team? Let us know below.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)