The 2009 Jets season started on the second play of Monday night’s 2nd preseason game. Against one of the NFL’s best defenses in history, rookie bonus baby Mark Sanchez, whom Jet faithful hope is the next coming of Joe Namath, dumped off a rushed screen pass under pressure from future hall of famer Ray Lewis.
Suddenly daydreams changed from Sanchez as the next Broadway Joe to nightmare flashes of onetime firstst rounder and disappointment Browning Nagle. The ball floated seemingly in slow motion into the hands of lineman Hloti Ngata who ran it in for a 25 yard TD. This on a night where the future was supposed to start. Jets rookie head coach Rex Ryan seemed poised to crown Sanchez the new king, despite a shaky start that almost led to a 2nd interception on the next possession. A slant route that Lewis jumped at midfield was dropped, and had TD written all over it , Sanchez then showed some resiliency. The former USC star threw a TD on his 5th possesion to Leon Washingtonm the teams biggest threat (yds) to cut the Ravens lead to 14-7. A TD that by the way, happened while Lewis ad all pro Ed Reed watched from the sidelines. Nonetheless, 4th year backup Kellen Clemens, did little to sway things in his favor, throwing a dumb pick for a TD on the Jets own 15 with :30 left in the half.
So the Jets, who lost the game 24-23 after a failed two point conversion by then signal caller and 3rd string QB Eric Ainge , are three weeks from the opener and are shaping up like this: A team whose new coach knows from his Raven experience and will try to implement, running the ball and tough defense as the winning formula. The 1-2 punch of Thomas Jones and Leon Washington at RB with the touted 3rd rounder Shonn Greene will find holes thanks to a seasoned offensive line that may one of the leagues best. Former 1st round pick the 6′ 7″ D Brickshaw Ferguson, former Steeler all pro 11 year vet Alan Faneca, and all pro C Nick Mangold are versatile and athletic. Emerging pass catching TE Dustin Keller has star potential but a rookie QB and no true number one WR may tighten coverage around him .
The potential for a mean tough defense is apparent especially with the addition of former Raven, the collision style LB Bart Scott, but this unit will have to get through the first 4 games while star LB Calvin Pace gets through a league suspension. Baltimore’s 2nd year phenom Joe Flacco moved the ball well on the Jets , playing without killer run stopper NG, 360 lb Cris Jenkins, and Darrele Revis , a shutdown corner who returns next weekand against the Giants. Revis is the star of a secondary that hopes to a play an aggressive ball hawk style resembling Ryan’s former unit, that very Raven defense that smothered Sanchez and the Jets offense early on Monday night. Pressure will come from all places. It will need to come from 2008 bust Vernon Gholston who will step into Pace’s shoes while Pace sits. Gholston was invisible last night and better imrpove from the meek 5 tackles he made all of last season. Ryan says he’s thinking not reacting out there. That’s not a good sign for a guy taken with the 8th pick in 2008.
Rex Ryan the new coach with the loudmouth brash attitude, embodies the brutally honest manner of his dad, the former legendary creator of the Bears 1985 46 defense, and Eagles head coach from 1986-1990 Buddy Ryan. The guy who once punched his own coach mate Keven Gilbride in the face for ruining his defense’s shutout in the final regular season game in 1992 against guess who? The Jets. The new air around Florham Park is a far cry from the secretive martial law like approach of the ousted Eric Mangini, now in Cleveland.
The son of one of the Jets Super Bowl III assistants has been quoted as saying “I’m not here to kiss Bill Belichecks rings.” This an attempt to erase the complacent culture that has permeated the Jets organization for too long. The last Jet teams to play with reckless abandon ( I don’t mean winning a few playoff games for those Herm Edwards supporters out there. i mean flying around the field like a bunch of “crazed dogs”to quote the great Giant LB Lawrence Taylor) may have been the 1998 Bill Parcells led squad that fell a game short of the Super bowl thanks to another John Elway second half comeback. Before that, perhaps the early 1980’s Sack Exchange Jets of Joe Klecko and sack dancing Mark Gastineau. Unfortuantely for those Walt Michaels/Joe Walton era teams, abandon became lack of discipline, which resulted in sad playoff exits. Remember Gastineau’s moronic ill advised late hit on Browns QB Bernie Kosar that kept a hopeless Cleveland drive alive leading to an OT loss in the 86 playoffs?. Ugh.
For THESE Jets, it will be about buying into Ryan’s aggression. The former Ravens coordinator brings with him the swagger. Letting the” fur fly” as Ryan likes to say will be the Sunday approach as Jet fans can expect the blitzes and the pressure will come from all places. The more that success happens on the field during the regular season, the greater the swagger will become. As for now and the dog days of summer, Ryan is providing energy, and fun. He’s big . He’s loud. He’s what a football coach ought to be. He’s at times Parcellian, rolling his eyes after mistakes, shouting profanity from his lips so easily deciphered on the sidelines even for the novice lip reader. Soon however, it will be about results. Wins and losses.
September is a stone’s throw away but for the Jets, the first quarter of the 2009 season will have to be a war of attrition. Sanchez will need more development on the fly behind center. A wide out has to either emerge opposite the dependable Jerricho Cotchery, or else the organization has to bring someone in and get them up to speed quickly. Plaxico Burress could’ve been that guy, but a two year prison sentence for shooting himself in the leg last winter
has ended that dream for Jet fans. Maybe disgruntled Bronco star WR Brandon Marshall can fall out of Denver and into our laps somehow. Dreams are what Jet preseasons are all about right? On the other side of the ball, Ryan’s favorite side of the ball, the defense will have to start to develop a killer attitude while at the same time chomping at the bit for Pace’s week 5 return.
Let’s also not forget that the already fierce AFC East has gotten even better. Tom Brady is back in New England. TO in Buffalo makes the Bills a different threat. The Dolphins were division champs in 2008 and will be playing with a new confidence out of the gates. Jet fans should hope that the team can get through October and the first eight games at 4-4 so that big games in December are possible. Too often, the faces change with Gang Green, but the story remains the same. The Rex Ryan era is upon us. Let’s see what happens. At worst it will be entertaining.
Sanchez brings a flare, a dynamic of excitability that has been the missing intangible for this franchise since Joe Namath left. Big shoes to fill. Even bigger expectations. New York city swallows up the meek and the thin skinned. The learning curve doesn’t go over well around here. That said, Ryan has ot believe that above everything, Sanchez gives the Jets the best chance to win. The Jets open the season at Reliant Stadium Sept 13 at Houston.