The Jets, once 2-3 with no identity and a growing hole to climb out of, have suddenly gained a share of the AFC East lead. Owning a piece of the penthouse that will come as a surprise to detractors, who saw this club as one ready to implode after a brutal early road trip. It shouldn’t. A defense returning ten starters and an offense that has added key pieces, are simply beginning to gel. The Jets are NOT the same team that culminated a three game skid in Foxboro. Gang Green’s crucial Sunday night matchup with the Patriots comes at the right time. As all systems are go.
Hard lessons learned on the road
The Jets learned some hard, but key lessons during each stop of their long losing tour. One sent them reeling and threatened to ruin their season. In Oakland, the club realized their need to tighten the bolts on the edges thanks to the Oakland’s Darren McFadden. Otherwise running backs would roam free down sidelines all year long, like cars in the EZ Pass lane.
In Baltimore, the Jets realized that their chemistry was off. Derrick Mason was then sent packing. In Foxboro the Jets regained their footing on the ground but may have overemphasized the notion of the “Ground and Pound,” after a month of trying to force feed an air attack featuring a third year quarterback and new faces at wide receiver. Balance on offense was needed.
Turmoil subsides and a win streak begins
By the time the Jets returned home at 2-3 for a win or else matchup against hapless Miami, the club faced an uphill climb (the Pats and Bills were 4-1 at the time) back to the top of the standings. The big question at the time however, was not their play on the field, but the team’s unity off of it.
Former Jet hero Joe Namath had started it all back in week three by suggesting on 1050 ESPN that Rex Ryan’s “soft” overconfident approach led to an ambush in Oakland. A Daily News report that the wideouts were unhappy with Schotty then surfaced prior to the Baltimore loss. Suddenly a Jets club that had motivated itself with an “us against the world” mentality under Rex Ryan, appeared to have acquired a cancerous “us against each other” one. The soil was still fertile inside of Florham Park to the outside observer while the offensive line had struggled without Nick Mangold. A three time All Pro who was returning as the Jets headed for Foxboro.
All of those internal dramas however, were symbolically put to rest when Santonio Holmes and Brandon Moore ended their feud by coming out together as captains for the Monday night coin toss against the winless Dolphins. The move was a brilliant ploy by Ryan. What it showed the Jets and the entire nation was that THIS team would not be broken up by weekday quotes and any frustrations borne out of any October troubles. The offense again started slow again that night, but the defense began to ferment, albeit against backup Matt Moore. The result was a 24-6 win. A display that may not have proved the club as Super Bowl worthy, but went a long way towards building the club’s confidence back up again.
Offense and defense rise
Now at 3-3, a key matchup against 4-1 San Diego, helped set the stage for a cementing of the foundation on both sides of the ball. During the losing streak, the defense had been growing, even though the offense was still not in rhythm. Aaron Maybin was resigned in week four, adding speed and pass rushing to the equation. Kyle Wilson provided solid coverage in the nickel and Antonio Cromartie had begun to keep his hands to himself. All while Darrelle Revis was embarking upon what has been up until now, a career year.
The defense looked good against Baltimore. It was the turnovers that killed them THAT night. One week later, despite Ben Jarveus Green Ellis rushing for 136 yards in Foxboro, the defense put pressure on Tom Brady. Miami was dealt with properly as well, despite a long gain outside by Reggie Bush in the first quarter.
Trailing at the half 21-10 against the historically high powered Chargers (who have struggled as of late but were still viewed as a legit first place team at the time) who featured a hot Antonio Gates that day, the defense finally put it all together. They shut out Phillip Rivers, Gates and co. in the second half. This while featuring a spread out passing game and featuring Shonn Greene. Both working effectively in unison for the first time all season. Seventeen unanswered points. 27-21 Jets. A template was now in place for the offense now as well.
Bye week fear is put to rest
Then fears of a bye week layoff reared their ugly head. After all, Rex’s Jets were 0-2 after bye weeks, and looked bad doing it. Trailing both the 5-2 Bills and 5-2 Pats, the Jets flew up to Orchard Park, with a dodgy post bye history and a hot upstart Bills team in their way.
The Jets battled complacency and a fired up Bills home crowd on Sunday by coming out focused, fast, and aggressive. In all phases. Fred Jackson, the Bills go to star, was bottled up all afternoon. The Jet offense itself, was marching up and down the field in the first half. Often times they stopped themselves with too many mistakes, but the club’s ten minute drive on their first possession (resulting in a brutal interception by Mark Sanchez) provided a window into the future as to how the Jets could move the ball against Buffalo. Once they stopped aiming the gun at their own feet, the Jets offense, with the help of a Rex Ryan defense that is now starting to take over games, settled in and hit cruise control for a 27-11 win. Their third straight.
A Giants win moves the Jets into a first place tie
Hours later, QB Eli Manning gave Patriot fans Super Bowl nightmarish flashbacks with a dramatic come from behind win in the final minute. It was a Giants victory that was music to Jets fans ears as it dropped the Pats into the three way tie with the Bills and Jets at 5-3. The AFC East race is once again wide open. With the Jets having made up ground that one month ago, with so much working against them, seemed like a longshot.