By Jeff Capellini
You’ll have to excuse me for sounding like an alarmist, but until the Jets prove they can actually win in a spot like they’ll be in this weekend I have no choice but to assume the worst.
And unless something changes in a hurry, Sunday’s game in Baltimore has disaster written all over it.
If there is one place where they don’t play well, it’s M&T Bank Stadium. The Jets have never beaten the Ravens there and have often looked puny in the process. To put it in perspective, the Jets are 4-19 all-time against the Steelers, but have beaten them in Pittsburgh one more time than they have beaten the Ravens in Baltimore.
The Jets are 0-4 on the road in this series.
To make matters worse, the Jets, for whatever reason, just don’t match up well with the Ravens. They are 1-7 all-time in this series, winning 19-16 at home back in 1997, the first time the Ravens played the Jets as the Ravens following splitting Cleveland. But since then it’s been a series of forgettable experiences, mostly on the road but not precluding a 10-9 loss to open the 2010 season, the Jets’ first at MetLife Stadium.
The first real bad one at M&T Bank I like to call the Christmas Eve nightmare of 2000. Needing a win to keep their playoff hopes alive, the Jets, in true green and white fashion, blew an early 14-point lead in an eventual 34-20 defeat. The loss featured the Ravens’ Chris McAllister taking an interception 98 yards to the house just as the Jets were poised to grab possibly a nine-point lead heading into halftime. Amazingly, it got worse from there, as Jermaine Lewis poured gasoline on the fire by returning punts of 54 and 89 yards for Baltimore TDs in the second half.
When the ice finally thawed the Jets had outgained the Ravens 524-142 in yards and 22-5 in first downs, but committed six turnovers.
Another exceptionally bad loss happened in 2011. Mark Sanchez committed four turnovers and the Ravens scored three defensive touchdowns in a 34-17 victory. That was the game that told everyone that the days of the Jets game managing their way to AFC Championship Game appearances were over. Everything for Sanchez pretty much went downhill from there.
So, like I said, as far as the Jets are concerned, nothing good seems to happen in Baltimore and they’d likely be better off playing in Siberia this weekend.
The fans love Rex Ryan in that town, for he was one of the architects of the team’s defense during its first Super Bowl championship back in 2000, a philosophy the Ravens have been known for since.
But they love beating him more.
Now on Sunday, those same fans will also get to welcome home native son Ed Reed, who only developed the reputation as possibly the greatest safety to ever play during his 11 years with the Ravens. Again, they worship Reed, but all bets are off once the opening whistle blows.
The atmosphere the Ravens have at home is what the Jets should be striving for at MetLife, because, in my opinion, there’s really no comparing the two places.
Once inside, M&T Bank Stadium is intimidating in every way, much like Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. The fans are obnoxious and push the boundaries of good taste right up to the point where it could be deemed as going overboard. Only they rarely do go overboard. Simply, they know how to get under your skin. They make it uncomfortable for opposing teams and fans that are brave enough to make the trek. Sound tends to have feel, if you know what I mean.
Right now the Jets don’t seem like a team that will do too well in those conditions.
Though they currently hold the sixth spot in the AFC playoff standings, the Jets don’t look anything like a playoff contender. Last week’s humiliating loss up in Buffalo, a defeat reserved for the semi-pro football player in all of us, took a lot of steam out of the fan base. The loss gave the Jets the dubious distinction of being the first team in NFL history to alternate wins and losses in its first 10 games.
Overall, the Jets have won just one of five road games this season and were blown out by a combined score of 124-36 by Tennessee, Cincinnati and Buffalo.
So what’s supposed to make me think they will beat the Ravens in Baltimore on Sunday?
Sure, these are not the same Ravens who won the Super Bowl last season. They are 4-6 and their trademark defense is a shell of what it used to be, but a lot of that was to be expected considering legendary linebacker Ray Lewis retired, and because they had to reward quarterback Joe Flacco in a big way following his incredible body of work in the playoffs. That massive contract along with an obvious need to get younger at certain positions left few dollars to bring back all-time franchise greats Anquan Boldin and Reed, among others.
But with the tail end of the AFC playoff picture being made up of mostly mediocre to below-mediocre clubs, the Ravens are very much alive with six games to play and will treat Sunday’s game as such. That’s yet another issue the Jets will have to deal with. The Ravens are not the Houston Texans or Jacksonville Jaguars playing out the string. They need this one and they’ll likely sell their souls if need be to get it.
So we have a stadium that’s overly intimidating, an opponent that’s even more desperate than the Jets and Rex’s bunch looking like they are on the verge of beginning the downward spiral many expected back in September.
Again, tell me how they are winning? Because some freak trend says they should? I get that the 11th game should mean a win according to the inconsistency calendar that the Jets follow, but a loss Sunday could easily send this thing spinning out of control, regardless of how soft the schedule mostly looks on paper the rest of the way.
That’s because the Jets, as we all know, are not immune to the late-season collapse, and they don’t necessarily have to appear fairly ensconced in the playoff hunt to have things fall apart. The Jets have always been equal opportunity heartbreakers. They don’t discriminate based on the time of the season. We just pay more attention to the free-falls when they happen in December.
For the Jets to win this game they’ll simply have to come to an agreement among themselves that says while it’s nice that they have exceeded expectations to this point, they simply can’t be satisfied. It’s time to grow up, put the big boy pants on and forget that they have a lot of young players prone to the big mistake or currently incapable of going above and beyond.
If the Jets and their fans want to single out Geno Smith for this team being stuck in neutral, so be it, but it really wouldn’t be fair to all involved considering the fact that most aspects of this team have broken down at some point this season — and usually when the Jets could least afford it.
The Jets need to unzip themselves and step out as a team ready to take the next step, or they could very well lose a lot of the progress they have made. If this team folds over the next six weeks the media machine will be uncontrollable and the fans that once saw hope will once again put on the cloaks of pessimism they have worn as a badge of honor for seemingly ever.
The stadium in Baltimore is a house of horrors. How about for once not writing a new chapter?
It might be too much to ask considering what history suggests.
But the Jets better damn well try, or there will continue to be a reckoning in the court of public opinion.
On Ryan, on Smith, on everyone.
Read more columns by Jeff Capellini and follow him on Twitter at @GreenLanternJet
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