By Jeff Capellini
Now we’re going to see what the Jets are really made of.
About 10 days ago Rex Ryan’s team took the country by storm with a primetime performance in Atlanta worthy of Monday Night Football. That victory left the Jets lauded, admittedly misunderstood and certifiably underestimated.
A week later they are back to being a team in need of an identity in the face of rebuilding.
That’s how quickly these things happen. Whatever euphoria the Jets’ fans felt heading into Sunday was pretty much gone by the opening minutes of the third quarter in the eventual 19-6 loss to Pittsburgh.
I’m not going to lie. I expected a hell of a lot more than what we saw, too. I went off a bit on Twitter, and was questioned over why I was flip-flopping on the Jets.
Well, the truth is I realize I’ve said over and over that expecting consistency from this team is asking a lot, given its youth, inexperience and middle-of-the-road-at-best talent level. But heading into last week’s game there was something about how the Jets were playing, what they were saying and the mess that their opponent was that suggested it was OK to abandon the wait-and-see approach and actually ratchet up the expectations, at least for one week.
It’s a familiar trap we all fall into from time to time. I should have known better.
It appears that the Jets are not ready to make believers out of anyone, because they’ve yet to really convince themselves that they are anything more than a .500 team. They’ve alternated wins and losses since Week 1, and while it’s nice to hear Stephen Hill call this Sunday’s game against New England a must-win, he’s not really breaking news in the process.
The difference between the teams on Sunday was the Steelers played like their season would end with another loss, while the Jets were complacent, uninspired and not the least bit imaginative. It’s hard to fathom such a young football team coming off such a tremendous victory being all those things with so much on the line, but yet the Jets were.
I don’t know how they didn’t feel the need to play with conviction with the prospect of a 4-2 start staring them in the face, especially with an absolutely crucial three-game stretch against first-place teams starting the following Sunday.
Some will say being .500 through six games is more than any Jets fan could ask for considering the makeup of this roster. I don’t know. I think you can make the case for the Jets being 5-1. Why should the fans take solace in the Jets’ record when they have lost games that, let’s be honest, they should have won? As far as I am concerned the Jets gave their first meeting with the Patriots away and were way too conservative early against the previously winless Steelers, considering their recent penchant on offense for being balanced and somewhat explosive.
I’m not saying the Jets are a 5-1-worthy football team. I’m not crazy. But there were singular moments in at least two of the games that they lost where they came up woefully short in the ingenuity and guts departments. And often times those are things you can’t teach, the know-how needed to turn a game’s momentum in the opposite direction.
So from where I am sitting, if you think you can handicap what will happen this Sunday with any accuracy, you’re a better man than me. I have absolutely no idea what the Jets will do against New England. I have a pretty good idea of what they might try to do, but we can all look at this matchup and reiterate the basic things a team needs to do to win. Regardless of our individual levels of football acumen, we all, to a man and woman, know the Jets have to pressure Brady to have any chance.
But it’s like when they amended the rules to “Wheel of Fortune” some years back. Pat Sajack now automatically gives you R, S, T, L and N. That’s how it is now with a Jets-Patriots game. The analysis starts with “sacking” or “disrupting” Brady, but those are freebies.
I’m waiting to see who steps up to do the dirty work — get that needed yard, make that big block, knock down that pass. We know Muhammad Wilkerson and comrades on the defensive line will be going after Brady. But what are the rest of the Jets prepared to do?
The Patriots have won five straight in this series and their performance in Week 2, while by no means a thing of beauty, started to reveal what may very well be a painful truth: No matter how beat up they are, they’ll always find a way to beat the Jets.
If that’s not the case or an overreaction, then the Jets better show something Sunday, because I’ve seen them lose to the Patriots with supposedly strong teams, veteran-laden teams, very young teams and short-on-talent teams.
Don’t let the Patriots fool you. They are not the team you are used to seeing dominating the AFC. I’d be shocked if they go far in the playoffs with that running game, especially if the Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola injury sagas continue. Their defense is ranked 14th overall in the league, including a rather woeful 24th against the run. It’s a defense that also will be without mammoth tackle Vince Wilfork, linebacker Jerod Mayo and possibly corner Aqib Talib on Sunday.
What more could Ryan’s team possibly want?
Considering the potential the Jets have shown through their first six games, I don’t think it’s asking too much for them to begin learning from their mistakes. I’m not saying they should play above who they are, but there will come a time when using words like “young” and “developing” as an excuse won’t have the teeth they once had.
A lot of people figured they could use that reasoning all season, as evidenced by the sheer multitude of experts and laymen that picked the Jets to be the least threatening team in the league.
The truth is they have the potential to be very threatening and have already shown as much. It’s time for them to ascend beyond the plateaus of inconsistency and become more of a constant than a potluck band of 53 with only moments of clarity.
It’s time to beat a beatable Patriots team and act like they’ve done it before. It’s that simple.
Read more columns by Jeff Capellini and follow him on Twitter at @GreenLanternJet
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