Carroll: Win And They’re In

It has been hard to take talk of the Patriots-Jets “rivalry” seriously because when you use that term in sports the implicit assumption is that both teams are consistently good and that each team has won its share of head-to-head matchups over the years. As realistic Jets fans have to glumly admit, their team has not been very good in recent seasons and that as long as Tom Brady has been the Patriots QB, which goes back to 2001, the Jets have come out on the short end of the final score. Saying that the Jets have a rivalry with the Patriots is akin to saying that the Washington Generals have one with the Harlem Globetrotters.

Perhaps it was Sunday’s unusually warm weather for late December that inspired the Jets to do something rare –beating Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. More importantly it kept their playoff hopes alive.

It wasn’t easy as the Jets watched a late third quarter 17-3 lead evaporate as the legendary Pats QB led a typical Bradyesque late 4th quarter drive to tie the game at 20-20. The Jets, unlike what has happened in past years, did not wilt and wound up winning in overtime as QB Ryan Fitzpatrick hit wide receiver Eric Decker with a 6-yard touchdown pass.

Just as the victorious Jets were walking off the MetLife Stadium field they received extra good news as they learned that the Baltimore Ravens upset the Pittsburgh Steelers, one of their wildcard competitors, 20-17. Until that moment, the Jets did not control their own fate because the tie-breaker rules were not in their favor.

It now comes down to this: if the Jets can beat the Buffalo Bills next Sunday they will be in the American Football Conference playoffs for the first time in five years. Jets fans would be wise to call JetBlue which has frequent flights to Buffalo.

It won’t be easy. The Jets have had trouble winning in Buffalo going back to the Joe Namath era. The Bills head coach is Rex Ryan who held that position with the Jets for the previous six seasons until he was fired a year ago and was succeeded by Todd Bowles who has done a terrific job.

The conventional wisdom this past summer was that the Bills would have a far better season than the Jets would. Of course no one foresaw that Ryan Fitzpatrick would provide the leadership at quarterback that was missing with Geno Smith.

Rex Ryan would derive understandable satisfaction keeping his old team out of the AFC playoffs but frankly he has bigger worries. Rex practically guaranteed the Bills’ playoff drought would end this season but it continues. He came to Buffalo with a reputation of being a defensive genius but the Bills’ defense has been subpar. That’s a key reason for their continued also-ran status.

The sixth annual New Era Pinstripe Bowl played last Saturday at Yankee Stadium was an exciting affair as Duke beat Indiana University in overtime, 44-41.

The announced attendance was 37,218 which was about 10,000 less than last year when Penn State beat Boston College 31-30 also in overtime. It should be pointed out that both of those universities are within one-day driving distance of New York which was not the case with either of these two participating institutions.

There is little doubt though that this year’s game had a positive effect for the city’s economy as the visitors from North Carolina and Indiana spent millions on hotel rooms, restaurants, taxis, mass transit, and points of interest of which there is no shortage of course in our town. The game was broadcast nationally on ABC which also helps New York tourism.

Indiana QB Nate Sudfeld concurred with a chuckle when I pointed out that the two teams who were playing in the Pinstripe Bowl probably had the highest combined SAT scores of any squads playing in bowls games this year. He graciously added however that Stanford and Wisconsin, who were slated to play in San Diego’s Holiday Bowl, could give them a run for the money.

Many of the players who I spoke with from both teams were seniors who were set to graduate this May. That is rarely the case with either school’s top basketball players. I asked Duke president Richard Brodhead if he was concerned that the increasing numbers of basketball players who play there for the freshman season and then leave for NBA glory are tarnishing his school’s sterling academic reputation.

“There are certainly understandable temptations for our star basketball players,” he conceded but then added that every player has to meet their academic obligations while they are at the school. He also proudly noted that Cleveland Cavaliers star Kyrie Irving returned to Durham last season to complete some course work while he was injured.

Not that there was much media hoopla to begin with, but Deron Williams’ return to the Barclays Center last Wednesday night, his first visit since accepting a buyout of his contract with the Brooklyn Nets, was a bust since he couldn’t play because of sore ankles, a problem that plagued him throughout much of his Nets career.

Nets head coach Lionel Hollins was quite testy with the media. When he was asked about Williams, he coldly responded by saying that he would not discuss him at all. It was clear that Hollins did not miss having him on his roster but he had to have realized from a press point of view that Deron’s return was the story that night.

The Mets’ signing of free agent outfielder Alejandro de Aza to a one-year $5.75 million contract seemed to infuriate many of their fans based on what I saw on social media and heard listening to sports call-in radio shows.

The animus was not directed at de Aza’s talents, which are adequate for a bench/platoon player, but rather at Mets management for their unwillingness to spend money on a free agent big bat, particularly in light of the payroll savings that the team is getting from Michael Cuddyer’s surprise retirement a couple of weeks ago.

The Mets could use a centerfielder who can hit such as Justin Upton or Denard Span but after seeing the insane amount of money that Jason Heyward received from the Cubs, I can understand the Mets (or any other team for that matter) shying away from talking to their agents whose demands must have escalated.

You can’t say that the Mets are total tightwads however because in signing de Aza they cut one of their homegrown and very inexpensive players, outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis. Captain Kirk was popular with both fans and the media since he’s a great guy but really a glorified minor leaguer in terms of talent.

According to Waterford spokesman Tom Brennan, nearly a billion people will watch the decorative Waterford ball drop at 1 Times Square the minute before midnight on New Year’s Eve.

In case you were wondering, Waterford officials test the ball in the wee hours of the mornings leading up to January 1 in order to avoid any embarrassing “Steve Harvey” moments.

The Times Square Alliance certainly benefits from the national coverage that the ball drop receives as the cameras from the various networks invariably capture the signs from the various stores, restaurants, and hotels in the vicinity.

Mayor Bloomberg used to love to banter about New York’s greatness with Ryan Seacrest on ABC’s “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” and it appears that Mayor DeBlasio seems at ease with that role as well.

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