By Kimberly Jones
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Ten days before Thanksgiving, and we have a football season in the metropolitan area.
Who would have imagined three months ago that the Jets would be in the wild-card hunt in the AFC? (Sunday’s blowout in Buffalo notwithstanding.)
And who could have thought one month ago that the Giants would be back in the NFC East race? (Besides Antrel Rolle.)
First, the Jets. Geno Smith’s teammates know they have to live through his inevitable rookie mistakes. The problem is that they snowball.
The question for Rex Ryan – and, really, for Marty Mornhinweg – is whether there is a winning game plan in the final six games that enables the Jets to maximize Smith’s strengths and minimize the damage. That likely means a heavy does of Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell.
As Kellen Winslow told us Friday in the locker room, “We’re a running offense now. That’s our winning formula.”
True. And then it’s up to the Jets defense to keep the game close so Geno & Co. can run the rock. The Jets defensive players we’ve spoke to embrace the idea that they have to be great; they know that’s part of the responsibility when a team has a rookie starting at quarterback.
As for the Giants, it is testament to their belief in themselves and some not-so-subtle modifications of a defense that now has a flow and a plan that they are back in this thing.
And, if you haven’t noticed, the message from Rolle, their vocal leader, has changed. When the Giants were in despair, he spoke of big-picture success, of putting together a winning streak, however unthinkable that really was.
Rolle knew what he was doing, including in his weekly, can’t-miss spots with Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts. He was giving himself pep talks, when necessary, in order to provide hope to his teammates.
Now, Rolle knows the Giants are back in it. The pronounced optimism, which sometimes bordered on hyperbole, isn’t necessary anymore.
And Rolle recognizes that. Which is why you’ll hear him preach one game at a time. Each individual game is now what’s important for the Giants.
JPP IS BACK
After barely practicing during the week due to a shoulder injury, Jason Pierre-Paul suited up vs. Green Bay.
And made the play of the season.
As Packers quarterback Scott Tolzien said after the game, “(He) jumped up and made a nice play, game-changer. When I evaluate myself on that one, you see the arms up in the air, can’t throw it. Get rid of it, run it, make a play. You can’t throw it.”
Tolzien’s trouble started when Pierre-Paul knew – in the huddle – that he was going to throw it exactly where he threw it.
“I read the formation, the tight end, how he was set, and I caught the ball,” JPP said.
Said Antrel Rolle: “He called that out. He said that he was going to pick the ball. I guess that’s what you call speaking into existence. I hope he speaks more to existence.”
JPP: “I knew that it was a touchdown. As soon as I caught it, I knew it was a touchdown. I’m not a receiver or anything, but I knew it was a touchdown.”
Watching Pierre-Paul make an incredible catch at such short range –catching it clean, no bobble – and run 24 yards to the end zone conjured memories of JPP, circa 2011.
Said Tom Coughlin: “The athlete (he is), there’s no question about that.”
GENO’S GROWING PAINS
Geno Smith has shown toughness and displays an even-keel demeanor. Those qualities will be tested now.
Smith has 20 turnovers through his first 10 NFL games. Of the Jets’ 21 turnovers, he is responsible for all but one. And Sunday was just plain ugly, as Smith threw three interceptions and lost a fumble on a strip-sack against the Bills. It was his second four-turnover game.
“The way I can sum this game up for myself is awful,” Smith said. “I know I can play better. I know this isn’t who I am or who I want to be.”
Remember the Jets magic on that Monday night in Atlanta, a win over the Falcons where Smith was 16 for 20, 199 yards and three TDs, no picks? He was 8 for 23 for 103 yards and a 10.1 passer rating in Buffalo, where EJ Manuel was clearly the best quarterback on the field.
That Smith didn’t keep building on that Oct. 7 win in Atlanta isn’t surprising; rookies are bound to have slumps. But in five games since that game, he has completed 52.8 percent of his passes and his one touchdown is offset by eight interceptions.
“I hate using the word growing pains, but that’s exactly what it is for me,” Smith said. “And I know the situation we’re in with this team. We can’t have that, so I’ve got to clean that up.”
Smith was bad enough Sunday that Rex Ryan was asked postgame if he would start next Sunday in Baltimore. Ryan said yes.
These are a critical six games for Smith as the Jets continue to evaluate. They’re even more critical if this Jets team really does shock the world and make the playoffs.
NARROW WINS, BIG LOSSES
After the loss to the Bills, WR David Nelson attributed the Jets inability to record consecutive victories to immaturity.
“We have to just grow up,’’ Nelson said. “We’ve got a young team, but we can’t let that be an excuse.’’
Whether it’s a sign of youth or not – and it surely plays some role – the Jets results point to a team that lacks … something.
Consider: In their five wins, the Jets have won by a total of 19 points. In their five losses, they have lost by a combined 104 points. The 40-point beatdown by the Bengals does skew that number, but that is a dramatic different in outcomes, isn’t it?
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“The credit goes to the coaches and the players for the job that they’ve done week in and week out when things were not pleasant and we weren’t getting the result that we wanted, but we stayed together and we worked hard at it. We recognized our issues and our problems and the key being the fact that the leadership, the captains, the veteran players that have experienced some great results here, that were a part of a great feeling of team; those are the guys that have held this thing together and allowed that we would continue to try to grow and to solve our problems and to stay as one. I’m not saying that it’s easy, but that’s what had to happen and it did happen.” — Tom Coughlin, on his team’s turnaround from 0-6 to 4-6.
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