By Jason Keidel
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The Big Apple sports scene has been a bit odd this year, with the baseball and football totem poles literally turned upside down.
Had someone told you the Yankees would be nine innings from the 2017 World Series, while the Mets would plunge down the rungs of relevance, you would have been urged to provide a urine or follicle sample.
Likewise, the Jets were supposed to challenge the 1992 Seattle Seahawks for the fewest points (140) in NFL history, or at least since they changed the schedule to 16 games in 1978. Yet with eight games to go, the Jets have already put up 191 points. They were supposed to challenge the winless 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers as one of the worst teams in NFL history, yet they’re a rather robust 4-5, given the AFC playoff picture.
The Giants were supposed to at least duplicate their 11-5 mark from 2016, if not exceed it. Yet Big Blue is 1-7 and getting worse. The Giants have scored 129 points in eight games, for a woeful average of 16.1 per contest. Out of 32 NFL clubs, only the Miami Dolphins (116) and Cleveland Browns (119) have scored fewer points than head coach Ben McAdoo’s bunch.
The Giants have gone from hungry to humble to humiliated, with players forming a furious circle around McAdoo, who’s now looking like Humphrey Bogart in “The Caine Mutiny.”
While we’re all dubious of professional athletes who hide behind anonymity, there’s certainly enough smoke to suggest there’s a gridiron inferno raging at the Meadowlands. The kind of things we’re hearing under the anonymous banner are troubling. And all of them speak to the competence and command of McAdoo. Quotes conveyed by ESPN’s Josina Anderson say that McAdoo practices the team “at 80 percent on Saturday before we board the plane.”
That McAdoo is “changing off days” and “dishing out fines like crazy” and “running us into the ground.”
Perhaps the greatest, or worst, indictment of the locker room culture is that players are “giving up on the season, and nothing is being done. Guys just don’t care anymore.”
The noise we hear from the Jets’ locker room, field or facilities, in past years fertile fields for the finest nonsense imaginable?
Maybe you laugh or scoff at the idea of Todd Bowles as a candidate for Coach of the Year, but not all 4-5 records are equal. Especially when you consider we — yes, including yours truly — wondered if the Jets would win two games all season. Before the season started, the Jets didn’t have a single player who registered above 86 on Madden NFL ’18. Outside of their defensive line, Gang Green may not have had a single player another team would sign, start, or trade for.
Yet the Jets are right in the thick of things, and, if not for that blown 14-point lead in Miami, would be 5-4. And if you were equally offended by that referee’s call in the Patriots game, perhaps 6-3.
As former Jets and Giants patriarch Bill Parcells famously asserted, you are what your record says you are. By that objective metric, the Jets are just 4-5. By any other measure — expectations, talent, temerity — the Jets are a really good 4-5. The Jets are everything the Giants are not: unified, gritty, selfless, and just plain fun to watch.
While the Giants are an eyesore and embarrassment, the Jets are refreshing and hardworking, a team that lives in the collective, speaking as “we” and always vowing to get better, not making excuses for why they can’t. When Bowles was asked how he feels at 4-5 considering the microscopic projections for his team, he said he doesn’t worry about the periphery, doesn’t hear the chatter, and only cares about what happens inside the halls and walls of MetLife Stadium. The Giants are drowning in noise and rumors and chaos.
It’s facile, if not fatuous, to suggest injuries are the only reason the Giants are 1-7. When you’re at home, after a bye week, have two weeks to prepare for a West Coast team (L.A. Rams) traveling east to play a 1 p.m. game — often a cocktail for an easy win for the East Coast side — and then lose 51-17, I say personnel is not the problem. The Giants are poisoned, and there’s no clear antidote. In fact, they opened the week a 1.5-point underdog to the 0-9 49ers before late money changed the spread.
The Jets have taken a ragtag band of discards and gypsies, handed each a giant chip for each shoulder, and are playing with purpose. Forgive the hyperbole, but the 2017 Jets are what sports are all about. You can be as proud of the 4-5 Jets as you can the 6-2 Steelers or 6-2 Pats, who are supposed to log double-digit wins every season.
Even if the Jets don’t make the playoffs — only the Bills and Dolphins are ahead of them in the wild card chase — they are by far the best team in New York City, or New Jersey, or MetLife Stadium. And they are the most unlikely team we can root for, gather around, and grant some measure of respect. Making this a rare time Big Blue is Gang Green with envy.
Please follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel