Palladino: Jets’ Opening Stretch No Longer Looks Hopeless

First Six Weeks Of Gang Green's Schedule Isn't The Murderer's Row Many Initially Thought

By Ernie Palladino
» More Ernie Palladino Columns

Plenty of gloom hung over the Jets before the season.

They’d never get out of their killer first six games alive, not with five of last year’s playoff teams on tap.

Even Buffalo was supposed to pose a huge problem.

Thankfully, schedules are made to be played. And once the real shooting starts, the complexion of a season changes rapidly, and week to week.

That’s the nature of football. For the 1-1 Jets, a combination of luck and savvy has brought them to a point where beating Kansas City in raucous Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday isn’t such a pipe dream. And if they indeed beat the 1-1 Chiefs, why not Seattle, Pittsburgh, Arizona, or some favorable combination thereof, after that?

MORE: Green Lantern: Jets Signing Forte Is Turning Out To Be Brilliant Move

Todd Bowles’ group has certainly shown that long-range potential.

Offensively, the smarts general manager Mike Maccagnan used in the offseason to sign running back Matt Forte after the Bears set him adrift has paid off in huge dividends so far. In two games, Forte has proven himself an excellent replacement for the bruising Chris Ivory, recording 196 yards and three touchdowns on 52 carries.

Perhaps the best thing about Forte is that he presents a passing option out of the backfield that Ivory didn’t. His five catches for 59 yards against Cincinnati are a reminder that opponents should respect him in the passing game. And please, let’s not hear anything about limiting his usage because of past injury problems. He is hale and hearty right now, perfectly capable of touching the ball 20 to 25 times per game. So Bowles should be able to ride him, at least for the time being.

Having Quincy Enunwa emerge as a viable target will make all the difference in the world, especially now that Brandon Marshall’s availability is in question following last week’s horrific facemask takedown.
But that incident itself indicates what kind of luck the Jets might have this year. That might have finished Marshall in any other season — his left knee was twisted so grotesquely under his weight that it could have been blown to smithereens. Instead, he stood among the media Monday and all but proclaimed himself a game-time decision.

Even if Marshall does play, Bowles would be wise to limit the receiver’s exposure. And with Eric Decker’s availability in question because of a sore shoulder, it may be up to Enunwa to pick up the receiving slack. He has proven himself sure-handed enough, catching 13 of the 14 passes Ryan Fitzpatrick has thrown at him the first two weeks for 146 yards and a touchdown.

The defense should be able to handle Jamaal Charles, the once-fearsome running back expected to make his season debut. The injuries Charles has maintained over the past few years, which include a torn ACL in Week 5 last year, will have slowed him significantly. Though Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West combined for the Chiefs’ 117 rushing yards in their 19-12 loss to Houston last week, neither got into the end zone.

Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith runs a short-throw attack, so Darrelle Revis needn’t worry about getting beat by any speedsters like A.J. Green (not Revis’ fault, by the way) or Marquise Goodwin (burned him outright). But despite Revis’ apparent vulnerability, the Jets can still rely on the wily veteran to adjust and keep whatever targets Kansas City coach Andy Reid runs up against him in check.

After last week’s loss to the Texans, the Chiefs don’t look as fearsome as they did three weeks ago. And the Jets’ win over the Bills, though not without its imperfections, placed them in an improved light from their Week 1 loss.

And suddenly, the remainder of this opening stretch, while still daunting, doesn’t look as impossible as it did when the schedule came out.

Whether it appears the same after the Jets come out of Arrowhead remains to be seen.

Follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino

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