Sanchez Breakdown – A Swan Song for the Jets Quarterback

Rob Celletti breaks down the play of both New York Jets quarterbacks yesterday

The mob at MetLife Stadium got its wish.

Rex Ryan had seen enough, and rightly pulled Mark Sanchez out of yesterday’s game in the third quarter, unofficially ending this quarterback’s reign as starter for the Jets. Sanchez was given every chance, if not the support that he needed, to keep his job and he failed. The shame of this situation is that had Rex Ryan made the move earlier this season, Sanchez might have had an opportunity to respond and win his job back. Ryan didn’t make that move because the man behind Sanchez on the depth chart – initials, T.T. – is not a viable NFL quarterback.

Greg McElroy might not be either, but he provided what most backup quarterbacks provide a languishing team: a spark. All of a sudden, the Jets were exploding off the ball, opening holes for their running backs, and making catches in traffic that they weren’t making for their beleaguered starter. Which is not to say that Sanchez wasn’t absolutely god-awful on Sunday. He most certainly was. I feel confident saying that had he stayed in the game the Jets probably would have lost.

The fact remains that the Jets played harder and better and still only managed to score one touchdown (and turned the football over once, which could have been twice if not for a pretty lucky call that went their way). They are still a bad football team and Greg McElroy doesn’t change that. Luckily, they were playing a team with an even worse quarterback situation than their own. I’m amazed that Ryan Lindley made it out of high school playing football. He made Dave Brown look like Dan Fouts.

I have been a noted supporter of Mark Sanchez, and not for any real reason other than I wanted the Jets to win a lot of football games. In order to do that, you need “the guy” at the sport’s most important position. At times in 2009 and through most of 2010, Sanchez appeared to be “the guy”. However, when adversity struck, Sanchez handled it poorly. It affected his play. What Sanchez needed was some tough love, which his coach was reluctant to provide. He needed to lose his job, even for just a few plays, but not in Week 13 of what’s probably a lost season. It probably had to happen during one of the many blowouts that the Jets have suffered this season. But now, Greg McElroy is going to start the rest of the way in 2012, and he should. The Jets need to find out what they have in order to properly assess (ha! The idea of this front office assessing its roster properly is laughable) their quarterback situation going forward. So let’s talk a bit about the Mac Attack.

What struck me from my seat in MetLife Stadium – albeit a seat that requires the game to be viewed through a telescope – was McElroy’s physical similarity to a former Jets quarterback: Chad Pennington. I am not in any way saying that McElroy will be capable of replicating the success that pre-injury Pennington had – he’s thrown 7 NFL passes. But McElroy’s stature, mannerisms, questionable arm-strength, hell, even the way he handed the ball off, all brought back memories of those early 2000s Jets teams. I did like that he took a shot at a 1 on 1 matchup down the field right away, and was certainly impressed by the back-shoulder throw to Jeremy Kerley on third down, which essentially iced the game.

McElroy showed some mobility, and the Jets rolled him out more frequently in a quarter-plus than they rolled Sanchez out in the past two seasons combined. He didn’t appear to be confused by anything he saw from Arizona.

Look, Greg McElroy was a 7th round draft pick. More than likely, he’ll be nothing more than a backup-level NFL quarterback. And really, that’s the saddest part of today if you’re a Jets fan: the team is once again back to square one at its most important position. Very rarely do franchise quarterbacks fall out of the sky and into your lap. They need to be scouted, drafted, and developed for the modern game.

The Jets failed Mark Sanchez just as much as Sanchez failed them. And now they’re starting over. Less than two years removed from an AFC Championship Game, that’s just depressing, regardless of the excitement Greg McElroy provided yesterday.

Sanchez Breakdown: Head Check

Rob Celletti provides his weekly breakdown of Mark Sanchez’s performance

Stat Line: 28/41, 328 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception – 90.3 QB Rating, 68.3 completion percentage

Season Stats: 116/218, 1,453 yards, 9 touchdowns, 7 interceptions – 74.6 QB Rating, 53.2 completion percentage

I’m starting to develop a love/hate relationship with this column. Don’t get me wrong, I love writing about the Jets, I love participating in the Great Ongoing Quarterback Debate, and in general, it’s been a fun exercise. But yesterday’s game – and the sport in general – is about so many more things than the play of Mark Sanchez. Anyone who places the blame for yesterday’s loss solely on the quarterback needs to have his or her head examined.

The truth is this: if Mark Sanchez plays the way he did yesterday for the rest of the season, the Jets are probably going to win at least 6 of their remaining 9 games and make the playoffs. Does this absolve him of the interception? No. But 25 quarterbacks have competed thus far in Week 7 of the NFL season, and 15 of them threw at least one interception (Joe Flacco and Eli Manning threw two apiece! Gasp!). Interceptions are part of the game, and by the way, Sanchez’s did not lead directly to points against the Jets. Was the game-ending fumble really his fault? Or do Jets fans need to suck it up and credit Rob Ninkovich for blowing through the Jets’ line and making a game-sealing play? Where was this play by a Jet linebacker moments earlier, when they had a chance to seal the game themselves? But I digress. You know how this goes…

The Best: Sanchez engineered one of the drives of his career to get the Jets within a field goal in the 4th quarter. A drive that started on the 8 yard line was set back by a false start penalty, so in reality, Sanchez drove the Jets 96 yards in 14 plays in just under 7 minutes. The 7 route he completed to Jeremy Kerley on 3rd and 3 from the 32 is just another example of an elite-level NFL throw that Sanchez executed perfectly. Even when plays broke down, Sanchez made the right decision, such as his check down to Lex Hilliard three plays after the Kerley first down to keep the chains moving. Basically, Sanchez did everything that a good NFL quarterback needs to do in a key spot. He was calm, accurate, and most importantly, he finished the drive, and did so with a flourish, throwing an absolute dart into a tight window for the Dustin Keller touchdown. The comeback was on.

The Worst: While I fall on the side of the debate that generally comes to Sanchez’s defense, I feel as though I’ve been pretty fair in my criticism of his shortcomings. He still has at least two or three head-scratching moments every game, which is difficult to explain for a fourth year quarterback. But some quarterbacks never shake these moments from their games (see Romo, Tony; Cutler, Jay) and fans will need to learn to live with them. The interception was bad for several reasons: 1) the ball was thrown way too late after Sanchez had pump-faked to the other side of the field; 2) it was severely under-thrown; 3) Sanchez had at least two other places he could have gone with the ball to pick up positive yardage. Not only did he miss a touchdown, he gave away possession cheaply.

The Jets were also unable to finish drives. Again, there is more than enough blame to go around (conservative play-calling, Stephen Hill‘s drop, etc.), but Sanchez was a damn good red zone quarterback last year, and the Jets only scored two touchdowns yesterday in their four trips inside New England’s 20. There were certainly points left on the field by Sanchez and the offense yesterday, which is immensely frustrating.

Here’s the undeniable truth: Mark Sanchez handed the Jets a 26-23 lead with 1:37 remaining in this game. I understand that he has his critics, and the debate has become a little bit like politics; no matter what is said or what happens, people have chosen which side of the fence they‘re on and have dug in to staunchly defend that position. Still, the people who blame yesterday’s loss solely on Sanchez are being unrealistic and unfair. If you’re going to bash Sanchez for his mistakes, you have that right, but credit him when he deserves it – and his second half performance yesterday deserves a ton of credit. If you want him replaced, then I’d like to ask: by whom?

Yesterday’s performance was good enough for the Jets to win. Unfortunately, the narrative surrounding this team and this quarterback has a lot of people believing otherwise.

Sanchez Breakdown: Efficient, Sufficient

Rob Celletti breaks down Mark Sanchez’s performance against the Indianapolis Colts

Stat line: 11/18, 82 Yards, 2 touchdowns – 109.0 QB rating, 61.1 completion percentage

Season stats: 88/177, 1,125 Yards, 8 touchdowns, 6 interceptions – 70.9 QB rating, 49.7 completion percentage

To start this week’s breakdown, why not hear it from Mark Sanchez himself?

“A good running game, a good defense with three takeaways and a good special teams. Those are all a quarterback’s best friend.”

Damn right, Mark! This is a team game, and Sunday’s game was a great example of how, despite being the most important position in football, the quarterback simply cannot be asked to win every single game on his own – especially when he’s working with a patchwork stable of skill players. The Jets’ revived rushing attack enabled to Sanchez to keep the game simple, and also afforded him some holes to throw into in the red zone.

The Best: People who are quick to dismiss Sanchez seem to forget that last year, he was one of the best red zone quarterbacks in the NFL. This season though, Sanchez has committed a few backbreaking, game-changing turnovers with the Jets on the doorstep. Yesterday, “Good” Sanchez made a return inside the 20. Both of the touchdown throws illustrated that Sanchez is a more-than-capable player at this level. The Stephen Hill score showed great patience by Sanchez and a rapidly developing chemistry with his rookie wideout, as it appeared that Hill’s route was originally supposed to take him across the back of the end zone. Seeing that the left corner was vacated, Hill broke the route and gave Sanchez a target, which he did not miss (this, by the way, is another throw that the other quarterbacks on the Jets roster cannot make: Tebow lacks the accurace, McElroy the arm strength). The Jason Hill touchdown was an easy pitch and catch which displayed good arm strength and accuracy from Sanchez (and no J.J. Watt to tip the pass at the line of scrimmage).

The Worst: In such a blowout, being negative on any part of the quarterback’s game would be nitpicking. The bottom line is that Sanchez just needed to be efficient. The Colts didn’t pose much of a threat offensively, and the Jets had established dominance on the ground. Some people might be irked by the fact that the Jets had two consecutive three and outs to open the 3rd quarter. The passing game also lacked any sort of downfield element, which it absolutely needs going forward.

The Key Moment: Eric Mangini (yes, I just went there) used to speak of playing “complementary football,” which was his ludicrous way of saying that good play on defense leads to good offense, which leads to good special teams, and around and around we go. This was on display yesterday. When Antonio Cromartie intercepted Andrew Luck in the 2nd quarter, the Jets were only up 7-3.  Starting with the ball on the Colts’ 35, the Jets simply had to convert that turnover into a touchdown, to put an inferior opponent and its rookie quarterback behind the 8-ball. Sanchez only had to complete two passes on this drive, but one was a key 12 yarder to Chaz Schilens on 3rd and 6. Again, being held to a field goal here maybe keeps the Colts in the game, but the Jets scored a touchdown and were on their way to a much-needed rout.

The Jets took care of business at home against a below-average Colts team. 82 yards from Sanchez will not be enough next week to beat New England. The Jets had success throwing long against the Texans and throwing short, intermediate and in the red zone against the Colts. They will need a complete performance from Sanchez to pull the upset. He showed he could do it in Week 1, but consistency has always been the issue for #6, so we’ll see what he comes up with in Week 7.

NHL Playoffs: Gearing Up For Game 7

Rob Celletti gears up for game 7 of Rangers/Senators

Man oh man, was I wrong.

In my first round preview, I predicted a fairly easy five-game win for the Rangers in their series over the Ottawa Senators. instead, what’s played out over the last two weeks has been nothing short of an epic clash featuring everything that NHL playoff hockey is all about. In addition to some wonderful and timely goals, there has been tight checking, physical play, and unsung heroes emerging from both sides.

Ottawa has simply answered the bell in this series. I criticized them for not being physical enough to compete with the gritty Rangers, yet Game 2, which really changed the tenor of this series, saw Ottawa become the physical aggressors. They have played on the edge, and sometimes over it, but it caught the Rangers off-guard. Ottawa has been the better team in this series.

Make no mistake, the Rangers have not played well. They’re no offensive juggernaut, but the nearly 200-minute shutout streak put together by Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson from the 2nd period of Game 4 through the 2nd period of Game 6 was nonetheless frustrating and flabbergasting. But with their season on the edge, Brad Richards, he of the 9-year/$60 million contract signed last July, stepped up and justified the money invested in him, leading the Rangers to a season-saving Game 6 victory.

So now, Thursday night arguably becomes the best New York sports night of the year so far. Two area Game 7’s (Devils vs. Panthers in addition to Rangers/Sens), the NFL Draft (which of course, TOJ has been all over), and the Knicks’ season finale.

I refuse to make a prediction, I just look forward to watching the first Rangers game 7 at MSG since June 14, 1994.

TOJ Roundtable: Tebow, Tebow, Tebow And The Jets

The TOJ writers discuss the pros and cons of the Tim Tebow trade

An emergency calling of the roundtable to discuss the pros and cons of the Tim Tebow trade to the New York Jets. I am going to sit this one out, as I wrote about 5,000 words on it yesterday and have plenty more on the way today.

Chris Gross: First, let’s look at why this could be viewed as an idiotic move by Mike Tannenbaum and Rex Ryan. The Jets have been portrayed as a circus since the public meltdown after last season’s loss to Miami in week 17. There is a great scare that Tim Tebow, and the massive amount of publicity that he receives, will only add to the zoo that has become the New York Jets.

There is also the fear that Tebow’s presence will cause a split between players and fans if Mark Sanchez begins to struggle. The assumption here is based on how the fans and players of the Denver Broncos pushed for Tebow to take over for Kyle Orton after he got off to a shaky start last season. However, the fact of the matter is Kyle Orton is not Mark Sanchez. In his seven seasons in the NFL, Orton has never won a playoff game. In three seasons, Sanchez has won 4 postseason games, all on the road mind you. There is no question that Mark Sanchez, who was just given a three-year contract extension, is the starting quarterback for the New York Jets. Tebow is not being brought in here to challenge Sanchez for that title, regardless of what the so-called experts in the media say. Instead, Tebow will serve as a very useful weapon in Tony Sparano’s arsenal, regardless of what capacity that may end up being.

Sanchez will not feel threatened by Tim Tebow. Regardless of what people say, Sanchez is not fragile. He has taken more scrutiny and physical beatings on the field (Hello Wayne Hunter) in his first three seasons combined than some quarterbacks face in their entire career. Tebow was not brought to the Jets to take Sanchez’s job. He was brought to New York to help the Jets win, and that is exactly what he is going to do.

Anyone who is a fan of football has grown to know Tim Tebow as many things. He is super competitive, he is a winner, and most of all, he is a team player. It is understandable that fans view this move by the Jets as an acquisition of a glorified role player. However, if Sparano uses him correctly, Tebow will serve as much more than a Wildcat quarterback. At 6’3” 245 pounds, there is so much flexibility to how Tebow can be used.

Tebow will dedicate everything he has and fulfill that role to the best of his ability, which he has shown to be extremely high. He is certainly one of the hardest working, most determined players in the NFL, and on top of that he wants to win more than anything.

Matt Fritz: Tough for me to even try to give positives out of getting Tim Tebow from the Broncos since I have been a Tebow hater all along, but I’ll do my best. In all honesty, if the reason we got Tim Tebow is for what I truly believe it to be, then I cannot fault the Jets on this decision entirely. Just after giving Mark Sanchez an extension, do you really think the Jets are thinking of making Tebow their every down quarterback? No, the Jets reached out and got Tim Tebow because they feel as though it will make their offense that much better. Tebow will most likely get somewhere around 10-12 snaps a game, all primarily out of the wildcat, and could be a nice change of pace in the Jets offense, much like Brad Smith was two years ago.

This is ultimately how I would like the Jets to go about handling Tim Tebow in the Jets offense next season. Whether they use him like that or not we will just have to wait and find out. In the end, as much as I despise this trade, I will admit three things about Tim Tebow that there are no denying. He is a winner, he is tough, and he’s got God on his side.

We all know it’s the same song and dance. Mark comes out in the first game next year and throws two picks, and the whole New York Media and Jet fan base are calling for Tim Tebow to take over . This is ultimately my biggest fear out of all of this mess. Obviously the talk has been that Mark needs to feel some pressure behind him at the QB position, but he doesn’t need to feel like he has to be perfect. On top of that, I just don’t think that Tim Tebow is a very good quarterback. Do I think he is a tremendous athlete? Yes. Do I think he is extraordinarily tough? Absolutely. Do I think he is a winner? He’s proven that.  It’s just that if Jet fans are calling for a switch from Sanchez to Tebow next year, there just simply won’t be an upgrade.

Rob Celletti: I have a lot swirling in my mind right now, so I’m unable to really lay things out in a pro/con fashion.  I will just say that I think this is one of the worst personnel decisions that the Jets have made in the history of their franchise, for two reasons:

1) The Jets have proven that selling Tebow jerseys and PSLs are ahead of winning football games on their list of priorities.  And to send Mike Tannenbaum out there to basically lie about the main motivation for this move to the media is tantamount to spitting in the faces of the intelligent members of the Jets fanbase.  This move insults me, which brings me to…

2) If it insults me, how do you think Mark Sanchez feels right now?  What’s worse, what happens when Sanchez plays merely a mediocre half at MetLife Stadium and the Jets find themselves trailing by 7 or 10 points?  I was in the old building when people literally cheered when Chad Pennington was injured.  This is one of the most brutal fanbases in sports.  The “We Want Tebow!” chant will be deafening.  And it will be the death knell to Mark Sanchez’s career as a Jet.

Some people claim that this won’t/shouldn’t affect Sanchez.  They have to be kidding.  Did they witness what occurred last year?  Throw in Rex Ryan, Santonio Holmes and however many “unnamed players”, and the 2012 circus could make 2011 look like the Monmouth County fair.

I won’t even touch upon the 8 other positions the Jets should have prioritized over gimmick/backup/wildcat quarterback.  I’m just too upset.  All I know is that being born into Jets fandom is something that will test my love of sports for as long as I walk this earth. I’m sure I’ll eventually come around to Tebow, and learn to grin and bear it, but all I can say is that being a Jets fan is extremely difficult for me right now.

New York Knicks Linsanity: Going Forward

Rob Celletti how will Jeremy Lin mesh with Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire when they return?

Last night’s third episode of MSG’s new hit series “Linsanity” was a lot like the first two: exhilarating, uplifting, improbable and ultimately satisfying.  Jeremy Lin has single handedly revived a Knicks team that was practically dead in the water at 8-15 and given New York hope that its basketball team might make something of its 2012 season after all.

Lin’s first two NBA starts are statistically comparable to Isiah Thomas and LeBron James. Pause and read that sentence again. Furthermore, his coach tacitly compared him to Steve Nash. Don’t mistake me for a D’Antoni supporter – I honestly believe he was the main reason for the team’s inexcusably bad start – but the coach knows a thing or two about point guards.

The excitement over Lin is palpable, and even though he’s only played a significant role in three games, it’s very possible that the Knicks have found their solution at point guard. So now the question is, what happens when Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire return?

The Knicks’ offensive efficiency problems have been well-documented since they traded for Carmelo Anthony a year ago. The terms “volume shooter” and “ball-stopper” are commonplace in the Knicks fan’s vernacular. Many analysts don’t believe it’s possible for Stat and ‘Melo to coexist with just one basketball between them.

These are real problems. But if Mike D’Antoni is, as advertised, an offensive guru, now that he has a functioning point guard at his disposal, I think it’s reasonable to expect the Knicks to play at a very high level once their superstars return. Here’s why:

First of all, there might not be a better finisher at the basket than Stoudemire, especially off the pick-and-roll. That’s the bread and butter of the D’Antoni system and Lin has already proven that he can execute it. His instincts are top-notch in terms of whether to keep the ball, pass it to the roll guy, or kick out to an open shooter.

Then, there’s ‘Melo. Make no mistake, I’m a big Carmelo Anthony fan. I’m about as steadfast in my defense of the trade as I am in my defense of Mark Sanchez, which if you know me, is pretty steadfast.  The point is that Anthony is one of the best pure scorers on planet Earth right now and any team with him on the roster is potentially dangerous. But he needs to be deployed the right way, and D’Antoni’s experiment with him at point-forward failed miserably.

Ideally, Anthony will live in his favorite spot on the floor: the wing. Except he won’t start with the ball on every set. Maybe the Knicks screen for him and get an easy bucket on a backdoor cut. Maybe when Lin drives, Anthony’s defender will leave him to help on Lin, and Anthony will have a wide open 18 foot jumper. And yes, there still should be some isolation plays in the Knicks’ arsenal, because there’s no denying ‘Melo’s 1-on-1 talent when he’s firing on all cylinders (see last year’s legendary 48-point performance vs. Boston in the playoffs).

Most importantly, Lin makes the Knicks deeper, allowing them to slot the rest of their players into their natural positions. Iman Shumpert and (hopefully) Toney Douglas will be the energetic combo guards off the bench. Steve Novak and Bill Walker the outside threats, and Jared Jeffries the defensive specialist. If Baron Davis ever gets healthy, he’s certainly not a bad guy to share the backcourt with Lin and show him the ropes in the NBA.

Don’t expect the hysteria to last forever, but at the very least, Jeremy Lin has brought some energy back to the Knicks. Now, the team needs to sustain that success, especially when its two superstars return.

What The Jets Can Learn From The Rangers

What the New York Jets can learn from their city counterparts, the New York Rangers

One of the ways I’ve been able to distract myself from the ulcer-inducing aftermath of the 2011 New York Jets has been to focus on another New York team that I’m extremely passionate about: the New York Rangers.

In case you don’t know (and you might not, since “the worldwide leader in sports” has chosen to bury hockey for the last decade, especially now that it no longer broadcasts hockey games), the Rangers currently stand tied with the Chicago Blackhawks for the best record in the entire NHL.  Say what you want about the Giants, but the New York Rangers have been this city’s most consistent winner since October.  Still, it was no easy task to get to where the Rangers are, and they really aren’t all that close to the ultimate goal of winning a Stanley Cup anyway; almost three months of regular season, plus four grueling playoff series stand between them and hockey nirvana.

However, I began to think: maybe the Jets could learn a thing or two from the Rangers, despite the fact that hockey and football are two entirely different sports.  The history of these two teams is not all that dissimilar.  Flashes of past glory, but a tradition that consists mostly of disappointment for a large, passionate fanbase.

For those of you not well-versed in Rangers history, here’s the Cliff Notes version:  They have won exactly one championship in the last 72 years.  For the last two decades, the Rangers have largely built their team by bringing in high-priced free agents with flashy names (sound familiar?), with only one instance of success: 1994.  After Mark Messier, the Rangers inked the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Holik, Pavel Bure, Jaromir Jagr, Scott Gomez and Chris Drury, with results ranging from one-and-done playoff appearances to complete and utter disaster.

So, it was time to shake things up.  Sometime within the last six or seven years, the Rangers have instead focused on building their roster through the draft and minor league system.  They brought in a coach with a specific style and personalty and have stuck with him (rather than firing him for missing the playoffs in the 2009-2010 season), allowing the players to mature.  They have supplemented a very young roster with shrewd trades and yes, one or two big-money free agent acquisitions.

Here are five lessons the Jets can learn from the Rangers:

Lesson 1: Patience

When the Rangers hired coach John Tortorella in the winter of 2009 after firing Tom Renney, the organization began to change its philosophy.  The changes were subtle at first, and they would take time to implement.  The first lesson the Jets could learn?  Patience. Tortorella knew that the roster he inherited in 2009 was not one that could win a championship. The goal was, instead, was to simply improve the team on a day-by-day basis, not only in hockey terms, but also in terms of how it was built (read: slowly, and through the draft). “One step at a time” might be the most insufferable sports cliche of them all, but it has become the Rangers’ mantra. Now in 2012, three full years later, they are seeing the results of that approach.

Lesson 2: Leadership

One of the organization’s goals was also to cultivate an internal leadership group among the players so that “the locker room could sustain itself,” as Tortorella likes to say. Sounds like the complete opposite of the Jets, doesn’t it?  One of the most direct comparisons between the two teams across completely different sports is the choosing of captains. Football has even gone so far as to copy hockey and put the letter “C” on the designated player’s uniform.  Tortorella’s choices for captains (one player gets a “C” and two get “A”‘s as alternate captains, for the uninitiated) were easy:

Ryan Callahan, captain – a player who embodies the Rangers’ aggressive yet responsible style of play and leads by example; 4th round pick (127th overall) in the 2004 draft.

Marc Staal, alternate – when healthy (he missed roughly the first half of the season with a concussion and is just getting his feet back under him after about 10 games now), one of the best shutdown defensemen in the NHL; 1st round pick in the 2005 draft.

Brad Richards, alternate – Richards was the Rangers big free agent splash last summer, but he played under John Tortorella in 2004 with the Tampa Bay Lightning.  That team won a Stanley Cup; Richards was the playoff MVP, awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy. Tortorella felt that Richards was the perfect veteran role model that some of the younger Rangers needed to show them how to be a professional, on and off the ice.

Lesson 3: Identity

Perhaps what doomed the Jets even more than their locker room squabbles was the loss of their identity as a team that wanted to dominate the line of scrimmage, run the ball, and play great defense. Ground and Pound was forgotten. The Jets were all of a sudden slow at linebacker and were gashed by opposing running backs more than anyone could have predicted.  What could they learn from the Rangers in this regard?  Pick your style, embrace it, stick to it, and build your team around it.

The Rangers have become one of the toughest teams in the NHL to play against.  They’ve allowed the 2nd fewest goals in the league.  They are built from their net out, with goaltender Henrik Lundqvist providing the foundation that the team stands on. If quarterback is the most important position in football, goalie is that position in hockey. The Rangers are covered there, as Lundqvist is putting together another Vezina Trophy caliber season as one of the league’s best goalies.

The similarities between the teams are more obvious than you’d think. Neither the Rangers defense-first approach nor the Jets “ground and pound” mantra will consistently score style points or entertain the masses. They leave open the possibility of close, late losses, simply because the offense might not generate enough goals or points.  But they are both effective philosophies that, applied over the long-haul, can lead to consistent winning.

Lesson 4: Narrow the Focus

Earlier this week, Madison Square Garden Chairman James L. Dolan made a bold proclamation that the Rangers were “close” to winning a Stanley Cup. John Tortorella quickly fired back, calling that “a bunch of bullshit”. Tortorella wasn’t trying to embarrass his boss, rather, he was trying to keep his team’s focus where it should be: on the next game. Cups are not awarded in January.

Super Bowls are not awarded in June.  I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the Jets often let their focus stray too far down the road.  I’m not saying the Super Bowl shouldn’t be the goal every year, because it should be.  But it might be time for Rex Ryan to shelve some of his dramatic predictions (no matter what their motives actually are) and just focus on winning the next game.  In all professional sports, there’s an element of “grinding” through a long season to get to where you want to be.  The 2011 Jets were not a team that was willing to grind (their losses to the Raiders and Eagles are great examples of this, I think) through the less exciting parts of their schedule.

Lesson 5: The Right Amount of Swagger

There’s a fine line in all sports between confidence and cockiness. A team is in danger though, when it begins to believe its own hype. Part of what made the Jets successful in 2009 and 2010 was their brash, “we can beat anybody” attitude. The other side of that coin is the overconfidence that this cultivates, and results in a season like 2011.

The Rangers are never going to be guaranteeing victories in the media before games (unless Mark Messier laces ’em up again), but the belief in their ability is there.  The team plays with a quiet confidence. Young defenseman Michael Del Zotto has said repeatedly that coach Tortorella urges him to play “with swagger”.  The message is there, it’s just not broadcast.

So there you have it: five lessons that the Jets would be well-served to learn from their unlikely hockey counterparts before they kick off their 2012 campaign.  There are plenty of football-specific moves that need to be made, and will be discussed ad nauseum here and plenty of other places.

In the meantime, I urge even non-hockey fans flip on MSG (provided you’re not subject to the Time Warner Cable/MSG Network mess) and take a look at a team that has been New York’s most consistent winner since October. There’s a lot to like.

Cooler Heads Must Prevail for the Jets

The New York Jets need to get their house in order immediately

Right now, the world of the New York Jets is spiraling out of control in ways that couldn’t have been imagined in the Rex Ryan era; purported to be one of continued success and stability for an organization that has seriously lacked both of those things for the better part of 50 years.

Driven by a dysfunctional locker room and a bloodthirsty New York tabloid media, the perception of the Jets is such that everything is in flux and no one’s job is safe.  Outside of Rex Ryan being the team’s head coach, what can be counted on for this team as 2012 get underway?  It appears as though Tony Sparano and perhaps Todd Haley will be brought in to revamp the offense, while fans and – if the suddenly unprofessional and irresponsible Manish Mehta of the Daily News is to be believed – some players have called for Mark Sanchez to be replaced by Peyton Manning.

What really needs to happen?  Cooler heads must prevail.

It’s time for Rex Ryan to call a press conference, diffuse some of this media-driven chaos, and most importantly get his players in line.  Credit should go to Jim Leonhard and Nick Mangold, who have already come to Mark Sanchez’s defense on Twitter.

The Jets were a flawed bunch on both sides of the ball and their record reflected that. Rightfully, much of the blame fell on the quarterback because of the offense’s struggles at key moments during the season. But remember, the Jets were 8-8, not 2-14.  Mark Sanchez threw 26 touchdowns and 18 interceptions, not 5 and 24.

The point is, things are bad for the Jets right now, but they’re not as catastrophic as they seem.  Changes, particularly in offensive philosophy, needed to be made, and are being made (whether or not Sparano is the right move is another debate for another day).

Perhaps more importantly, a new leadership group must emerge for the Jets amongst the players themselves.  Rex Ryan, Brian Schottenheimer and the rest of the coaches can only take so much blame for the Jets’ dysfunction. Players must police themselves, and guys like Nick Mangold, Darrelle Revis, Sione Pouha, and most importantly, Mark Sanchez must become the ones who keep order, especially when things don’t go right.

New York Jets: A Report From The Road

What is it like traveling on the road to watch the New York Jets play?

I had the pleasure of making a road trip down to Washington, DC last week for the Jets’ at times frustrating yet ultimately very satisfying 34-19 win over the Redskins.  As usual, the game has been discussed at length and everyone is rightfully looking forward to the task at hand: the Kansas City Chiefs.  But I wanted to quickly recap some of the non-game facets of the trip.

There has been a fair amount of criticism in this space and elsewhere regarding the atmosphere at Jets games, the shortcomings of MetLife Stadium, the behavior of Jets fans and so on. All of that criticism is still justified, but after visiting FedEx Field, I realized that things in East Rutherford might not be so bad after all.

A friend of mine, who lived in Washington, DC for four years, described FedEx Field as “a soulless venue.”  This mostly has to do with the fact that the Redskins have had five winning seasons and four playoff appearances since 1992. Still, there was little to no energy in the building at kickoff.  As a matter of fact, about half of the stadium was empty, and people were still finding their seats with as late as 1:45 left in the first quarter. The Jet crowd (and most New York crowds nowadays) is notoriously late-arriving, but it has never been like that.

One cool moment occurred after the Redskins scored a touchdown on the opening drive.  After the extra point, the Redskins Marching Band (yes, they have a band, and yes, it sort of makes you feel like you’re at a high school game) broke into “Hail to the Redskins”, with the entire crowd singing along.

As an aside: I’m a big soccer fan and part of the reason I became one was the incredible atmosphere at English Premier League games. Hearing 40,000 people sing in unison to spur on their team is something that struck me, even only on television. So even though “Hail to the Redskins” has a decidedly college football feel, I was reminded of a soccer crowd. But in terms of positive atmosphere and energy from ‘Skins fans, that was it.

From a road fan perspective, I expected to sit quietly and watch the game, so as not to draw the attention and ire of the home crowd. However, section 430 at FedEx Field might as well have been section 317 at MetLife stadium, as there were hundreds of fellow gang green supporters nearby.  As the game progressed, my exaltations (and frustrations) were expressed out loud, with no threat of retribution. As a matter of fact, it seemed like ‘Skins fans were indifferent to the result of the game.

Seeing so many Jets fans at a road game renewed some of my faith in what I called one of the most negative fan-bases in sports just last week. Almost every fan I came in contact with was positive about the team, excited about the game and ready to show their support on the road.

They always say that the Steelers and Packers travel best, but when roughly 15,000 Jets fans at FedEx Field made the “J-E-T-S Jets Jets Jets!” reverberate through vacated seats and concourses, I knew the trip was worth it.

New York Jets Fans Need Attitude Adjustment

Rob Celletti on the attitude adjustment needed from New York Jets fans to help create some type of homefield advantage

It all makes sense now.

As I watched Mark Sanchez give his post-game press conference in the aftermath of Sunday’s sloppy but exhilarating win over Buffalo, the third-year Jets quarterback never once even came close to cracking a smile.  After such an emotional and important win, the quarterback exuded zero positive energy.  He said, stone-faced, that he was “thrilled” with the win, but his body language suggested otherwise.

Sanchez was certainly being self-critical, as he was well aware that outside of two drives, he didn’t play well.  But I also think he was still bristling, with a bruised ego, at the lack of support he and his teammates received from their supposed home crowd.

Jim Leonhard revealed today in an interview on WFAN that he and presumably a good number of his Jets teammates were miffed at the fact that their starting quarterback was booed by the MetLife Stadium faithful.  No, not during the game (though that happened too). BEFORE the game.  During pre-game introductions; the organized theatrics that are designed for the sole purpose of pumping up both the team and the fans for an important game.

And come to think of it, did Sanchez celebrate any one of his 4 touchdown passes on the day? There was an article earlier today noting that Sanchez was actually caught on camera in a noticeable rage after the go-ahead score, screaming at an unidentified coach/teammate.

It’s hard to articulate how infuriating, stupid, shortsighted, classless and wholly “Same Old Jets” this situation is. Yeah, I just dropped those three words.

Because this is what Jets fans did BEFORE Rex Ryan, Mark Sanchez and the change of culture that those two men have brought about. Before Rex, the media and fans surrounding the Jets couldn’t wait for their athletes and coaches to fail so they could release the hounds. Unlike any other fan base in sports, it seems that Jets fans particularly relish these moments.

Most notably and recently, they did it to Chad Pennington, who was guilty only of playing hard and playing hurt. Congratulations, Jets fans.  You ran Chad out of town (he went and won the division the next year, by the way). And in return, you got Kellen Clemens and Brett Favre.

But I digress. The point is that those days were supposed to be over. Those days are over. But that doesn’t mean the Jets are an invincible force. This year, they’re just another team scrapping for a playoff spot.  There’s nothing wrong with that, especially after making it to two consecutive AFC Championship games.

So why are we not proud of this team?  Why not revel in the excitement of meaningful football in November and December?  Why not cheer as loud as possible to give the Jets a boost rather than kick them while they’re down?

Why do we show up at MetLife Stadium (about 50% of us at least 15 or 20 minutes late) and boo the starting quarterback before the game starts? What does this accomplish? And what does this say about the franchise?

Perhaps because of Rex’s blustery personality and endless Super Bowl guarantees, Jets fans expect the team to go 16-0 every year. Those are unreasonable expectations. As are the expectations that Mark Sanchez will become Peyton Manning overnight just because this is supposed to be the Magical Third NFL Season. Keep in mind that Ryan and Sanchez are probably the two biggest reasons that 2009-2011 have been three of the most successful years in Jets history, even in the midst of all the most recent struggles.

The bottom line is that Jets fans need to change their attitude, or they’re going to be at least partly responsible for returning that all too familiar toxic, losing atmosphere to East Rutherford, NJ.