By Jason Keidel
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Football announcers often fumble for boxing metaphors as a way to frame a lifeless game in gladiatorial tones.
Rather than call it a “slugfest” or a “knockout,” yesterday’s game at MetLife was more of an awkward, pawing, plodding, headbutting affair – like Butterbean vs Buster Mathis – with the final punch the fatal shot.
Call it a blow below the belt. Bad teams, like bad fighters, have a way of losing games they should win.
But, unlike the last two years, the Jets won a game they should have lost. While the shade slid across the field in the warm summer twilight, the game on the line, and the Jets actually showed some moxie, mojo, some fight last night, a game they would always gag in 2012, a year of eternal, anemic failure.
And it raises an essential question. Did the Jets win because of Geno Smith or did Geno Smith win because of the Jets?
No matter your answer, it’s clear the Jets played their asses off. They flashed some spunk that was impossible to miss. Was it the first-game adrenaline spike, the adolescent glee of Game 1? Or was it a tectonic shift in the depth chart?
If any grill on the Jets’ totem pole decided to be candid for five minutes, they would tell you the team flatlined under Mark Sanchez. They would tell you his time has passed, that his career arc, which seemed so stratospheric just two years ago, has crashed into that murky Meadowlands swamp, somewhere between Jimmy Hoffa’s body and the buried seasons under an endless line of quarterbacks who were summoned to slay the ghost of Namath.
From Richard Todd to Ken O’Brien to Neil O’Donnell to Browning Nagle to Chad Pennington, something always kept the Jets from nudging past their peers. No matter the age, wage, or health, the QB of the NYJ flamed out after a confetti-filled opening act.
So it is with Sanchez, who has gone from Golden Boy with four road playoff wins to a frat boy with a bizarre headband, vaporized confidence, and a clipboard. When John Idzik drafted Smith, he made it clear that the job was Geno’s the moment he was ready.
Funny thing happened on the way to the Jets’ cockpit. Rex Ryan inexplicably inserted his adopted gridiron son into the fourth quarter of a meaningless game. Once Sanchez took a snap from a scrub, he dropped back, fled a forest of behemoths rumbling toward him, tossed the ball and got drilled by some slobbering lineman, thus ending his preseason, season, and career as Gang Green’s lantern.
If Idzik needs an excuse, a pretext for handing the helm to a new, younger, less tainted quarterback to lead the Jets up into the high clouds of the AFC East, Rex Ryan – who will join Sanchez on the NFL landfill in February – gave the new GM a gold-plated path to replace the dazed and confused QB.
Geno Smith left West Virginia to mixed diagnoses. He was seen as someone with a fertile football tool belt, a high-end physical specimen with all the bona fides for a long NFL career. The problem, it seemed, was between the ears. He was branded a me-first, indifferent diva to whom “leader” was a four-letter word.
But maybe Geno is the strong, silent type. Joe Montana was never a pom-pom wielding public speaker who gave spine-tingling speeches before or after games. Indeed, leadership is a subjective, mutating quality that seems commensurate to a team’s total wins. Maybe Geno Smith is that guy. We know the other guy isn’t.
Geno could be the latest Jet to crash in the industrial muck of Northern New Jersey, somewhere between the Turnpike and the Timex Center, where so many Gang Green dreams end in gangrenous reality.
Or maybe not. Most Jets fans will take anything or anyone over the befuddled Sanchez, who has plunged from hero to zero in a New York minute. Sometimes a variable better than a sure thing, especially when that thing is Mark Sanchez.
At least Geno gives Jets Nation a dream, a glowing metaphysical portal into the future. At least yesterday they played with heart, an organ too often found in the bowels of the AFC East, while their Big Blue big brothers always make MetLife their personal marquee.
Either way, the Jets seem to have a new general to lead them from a Sanchise to a franchise. Maybe Geno Smith can captain Gang Green to a greener pasture. Let Mark Sanchez hold a clipboard. Let Geno hold the future, and let’s see what the future holds.