By Ernie Palladino
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The NFL’s schedule maker obviously has no heart.
If he did, he would have made the Jets’ opening six-game stretch a lot easier, for one thing. And he wouldn’t have plopped a Thursday night game against AFC East neighbor Buffalo in Week 2.
It’s bad enough that Todd Bowles’ club lost by a point Sunday to Cincinnati, the first of five playoff teams it will face before Sunday victor Baltimore and Week 1 losers Cleveland, Miami, and the Los Angeles Rams bring a little sunlight to the gloomy opening. But now the Jets must face their ex-coach, who devised a way to beat them twice last year, on a super short week.
It’s bad enough the NFL instituted Thursday night games at all. Objections to the league’s money grab have been well-documented in this space along with certain players’ concerns about the physical dangers of a three-day prep week with no off day.
Then again, this is the same organization whose officials allowed Denver to batter Carolina quarterback Cam Newton’s head with impunity last Thursday. That had nothing to do with short weeks, of course. And that made the argument against short weeks and Thursday night games seem almost inconsequential.
Yet, the inherent unfairness of this one could bear dire consequences for the Jets. Saddling a team striving for its first playoff spot since 2010 with the league’s toughest opening and its seventh-hardest schedule overall is harsh enough. Throwing a pressure-packed Thursday game into an early stretch that could leave the Jets in a huge hole seems downright inhuman.
There’s no changing any of it, however, so Bowles has been left to figure out how to get his team past ex-Jets coach Rex Ryan, whose collective defenses just happen to own quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to the tune of 8-2.
Add to that the questions about Darrelle Revis that cropped up as A.J. Green abused the Jets’ star cornerback in a 12-catch (out of 13 targets), 180-yard afternoon on Sunday. Included in the carnage was a 54-yard touchdown catch where Green left Revis two steps behind as the cornerback waited for safety help that never came.
On Thursday, Revis will probably get Sammy Watkins. Though Watkins could be slowed by a foot injury that turned his playing status uncertain early in the week, Revis should also remember that the Bills’ best receiver mounted a virtual Week 17 occupation of Revis Island while catching 11 passes for 136 yards, as the Jets lost not only the finale, but a playoff spot.
A pass rush that recorded seven sacks against Andy Dalton will get suspended defensive end Sheldon Richardson back to add that much more fierceness, so that should take some pressure off the secondary.
But then, there is young, mobile quarterback Tyrod Taylor and veteran running back LeSean McCoy to worry about.
History hasn’t sided with Gang Green in this matchup, either. The Jets haven’t beaten the Bills in five tries dating to Sept. 22, 2013.
If they drop this one, they’ll have to do yeoman’s work to overcome this statistic: only seven of 75 teams since 2007 who lost their first two games went on to make the playoffs.
The Jets’ early road was tough enough to begin with. After a one-point heartbreaker Sunday, the challenges of a Thursday night game against a division rival which has owned them the past two years seem almost unfair.
Yet, it’s a must-win, and Bowles’ uncharacteristic prickliness Monday in refusing to answer questions about Sunday’s loss underlined the challenges and urgency involved with the Buffalo game.
The only good news is that the Jets will get a nice, 10-day rest before they head to Kansas City next Sunday.
By then, though, the schedule maker may have put them in a heck of a fix.
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