By Ernie Palladino
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Young quarterback, young cornerback, a bunch of backup wide receivers disguised as starters, and a blowout loss Sunday to the Bengals.
Was anyone seriously not expecting this year’s Jets to have a game or two like that 49-9 loss in Cincinnati? If it’s all a surprise, those sour-grapers need to retrace their mental steps back to training camp, when quarterback controversy, the search for a legit running back, and the sting of the Darrelle Revis trade were fresh in everybody’s mind.
If 4-4 at the midpoint of the season seemed doable back then to anybody, that person was either flying on some synthetic substance or just plainly, dumbly optimistic.
Yet, here they are, getting ready for New Orleans and Drew Brees, a quarterback whose history tells us he can mince a defense twice as fine as Andy Dalton on his best day, dead even halfway through the schedule. That automatically makes for — surprise! — a meaningful December, no matter what horrors the next four games against the Saints, Bills, Ravens, and Dolphins may hold. By going .500 the first half of the season, they have in all likelihood positioned themselves to remain in the postseason conversation the rest of the season.
And who wouldn’t have signed that for that two weeks into camp?
Rex Ryan certainly could not have expected it. At that point, he was in the process of deciding which quarterback was the lesser of two evils — the turnover-prone Mark Sanchez, or a cocky, one might say arrogant, rookie in Geno Smith. Ryan turned that into an easy choice a couple of weeks later when he threw Sanchez in with the scrubs in the preseason game against the Giants. Ryan’s decision became academic as soon as Marvin Austin took the incumbent to the turf.
The rest is history. Uneven history, perhaps. Ugly history, certainly, especially on days like Sunday.
But history nonetheless. The more negative among the faithful can talk all they want about luck and fortuitous calls and 2012 legal push plays that turned illegal in 2013 with a stroke of the competition committee’s pen. But the fact is, sometimes the ball bounces favorably. And football fortune has smiled upon the Jets this year. Sporadically, yes. But enough that they head into the New Orleans game with four more wins that virtually anyone thought possible.
As Bill Parcells always said, you are what the record says you are. And right now, ugliness aside, the Jets are a 4-4 team.
Might this be as good as it gets this year? Sure. They’ve alternated wins and losses the whole year, though Sunday could mark their season’s first back-to-back setbacks. Another showing like the one in Cincinnati could start the rock careering down the hill at an amazing speed, dooming the Jets to a two-win or worse second half.
With the Bills, Panthers, and Dolphins (twice) on tap for the second half, losses to all are not inconceivable. Not that the conference foes are unbeatable, but with a rookie quarterback and struggles in the defensive backfield, no game is a gimme. And the Panthers, on a three-game win streak and 4-1 over the last five, are proving they’re no pushovers, either, especially on defense.
Yet, the 4-4 start has left much hope. Smith has looked wonderful at times, though those times usually come when he has ironclad protection. Put a defender in his face, and the flustered rookie comes out.
The defense looked horrible in Cincy, but that hasn’t always been the case. If they get the pass rush cranked and the corner opposite Antonio Cromartie buttoned down, they’ll have a shot at something better than a losing season. Maybe even a playoff spot.
For now, be happy. The worst they’ll be heading into the bye is 4-5. Steal this one, and they’ll be right in the thick of the playoff picture with seven games to go.
Admit it. If the devil had walked into Cortland with contract that said as much, you’d gladly have pricked your finger and signed.
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