By Steve Lichtenstein
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Sure, Sunday’s dreadful 37-14 Jets loss in Buffalo had me tossing inanimate objects and slamming doors. Once again, Gang Green looked prosperity in the eyes only to run away in the opposite direction.
For Jets fans like me, this tease is such a common occurrence that it’s become a cliche.
The temptation is to want anyone associated with yesterday’s debacle immediately stripped of their Jets identification badges. Coach, quarterback, both corners—many fans want them all led away in disgrace.
This only two weeks after Jets Nation was flying high from their 26-20 upset win against the Saints. Way back then, many Jets fans were sure that their squad was going to make an improbable run to get into the postseason tournament.
And that’s the problem—many Jets fans, and I will include myself, often have a tendency to evaluate the season as if it ended today. Since the Saints game, the Jets were obviously a team on the rise capable of winning out the necessary games to make the playoffs. After Sunday’s pitiful effort, which remarkably didn’t drop the Jets out of the sixth spot in a down AFC, they must be awful.
So now the Jets are 5-5 and heading into a proverbial lion’s den in Baltimore next week to face one of the many teams in the conference which are thankful to the Jets for receiving a new lease on life in terms of their own playoff eligibility.
Never mind that this Jets season has been a win-one, lose-one march for 10 weeks, based on what we know today, the Jets must be in shambles.
But the season doesn’t end today, the same way it didn’t end immediately after those glorious victories over Atlanta, New England and New Orleans or the disastrous blowout defeats in Tennessee, Cincinnati and now Buffalo, games in which the Jets were manhandled in every facet.
We have to understand that there’s still a long six weeks to go in this season. So I implore you–let’s wait until it all plays out before we make any more definitive judgments.
Then we can proceed with a fair evaluation—one that doesn’t include excuses. Forget that the Jets were disregarded by virtually every media analyst back in training camp—NFL seasons are usually rife with surprises, both good and bad. The Jets have shown that they can compete with top teams when they play well, so they can be assessed using a higher curve than we initially thought.
I don’t want to hear about injuries—that’s also the norm in this most violent sport. Yes, the Jets have had to overcome some significant player losses, especially at the skill positions, but then again I had never even heard of some of today’s starting quarterbacks now in charge of teams in the hunt for the postseason.
And as for the Jets quarterback, we are nearing the point where Geno Smith shouldn’t be judged as the wide-eyed rookie who continues to make the same mental errors that yield four-turnover outings like yesterday. We’ve already been forced to live through one Mark Sanchez era.
These last six games will give us a better indication whether Smith is indeed the strong-armed quarterback of the future or if general manager John Idzik has to go back to the drawing board. Despite some awful performances, Smith has produced enough to relegate Matt Simms to garbage time for the season’s remainder.
Of course, as coach Rex Ryan stated in his post-game press conference, there are positions in all three phases that have to be looked at. The offensive line did not allow the Jets to sustain the running game they needed to balance the attack, which put Smith in positions where he took regular beatings from the Bills’ pass rush.
On defense, the Ed Reed addition at safety did little to settle the Jets issues in the secondary. When the Jets’ corners weren’t playing 10 yards off the Bills’ receivers—allowing Buffalo quarterback E.J.Manuel (also a rookie) to complete 71.4 percent of his passes–they were getting beat over the top, with Dee Milliner and Antonio Cromartie again victimized for touchdowns.
Ryan, whose four-plus seasons at the Jets’ helm have seen more ups and downs than the stock market, will also be graded in a similar manner at year end. He’s had some marvelous triumphs in his tenure, including the games mentioned above this year. The consensus is that the team has always played hard for him and he is as knowledgeable as anyone about defense.
On the other hand, Ryan has always had his haters, with many turned off by his past grandiosity or other items like the organization of Saturday’s team outing at Dave and Busters.
My concern has always been that Ryan’s lack of expertise in offensive football has put him at the mercy of his offensive coordinator, some of whom could have used better strategic guidance.
For instance, while it would be unfair to kill Marty Mornhinweg for devising a game plan yesterday featuring a healthy dose of runs against a low-rated rush defense when we spent the first few weeks ranting about Mornhinweg’s obsession with the passing game, you can certainly fault the Jets staff for not making proper in-game adjustments. It was obvious that the Bills were stacking the box and blitzing Smith from all angles, yet the Jets often did not appropriately adjust their protection schemes and pass routes. Empty backfields, or having running back Bilal Powell take on linebackers, often made Smith a sitting duck.
Though Bill Parcells famously stated that “You are what your record says you are,” I believe the final take on Ryan should be as much qualitative as quantitative. Has he had the Jets properly prepared to win games? Has he led a staff that developed young players? Has he managed the games properly?
All of these evaluations on players and coaches will eventually fall on Idzik, who did well to get the Jets out of salary cap hell but will be tasked in the offseason with getting the Jets to the next level.
It would be much easier if the Jets sported a more extreme record, like 11-5 or 5-11. Then you’d have reason to either be tinkering at the edges or blowing it all up. Based upon past performance, however, that’s unlikely to happen this season, with the Jets projecting to fall somewhere within a game of 8-8 purgatory.
Of course, very little about the 2013 Jets has gone as planned so far. I’ll just have to sit back and watch the games, making sure my projectiles don’t hit unintended targets.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1
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