Same Old, Same Old? Not These Jets
Don't just beat them, Jets safety Kerry Rhodes had beseeched, try to embarrass them, and while we kept waiting for the visiting Patriots to make Rhodes regurgitate his bulletin board words, the Meadowlands kept getting louder and louder and louder and louder. "I actually felt the ground vibrating," Jets defensive end Shaun Ellis would say later, after experiencing a day like no other in Gang Green's tortured relationship with the Patriots.
The tumblers shifted just slightly Sunday in a division long dominated by New England. It's only Week 2 of the season, so caveats must be noted: surely Tom Brady won't always look so uncomfortable while getting hit from every angle, and Bill Belichick will crack a smile before he allows himself to again be outcoached, and the laws of football's universe suggest Ryan's bravado will eventually backfire, and New York's defense can't always gloss over the mistakes made by Mark Sanchez, their rookie quarterback.
But for one shockingly raucous and rocking afternoon at Giants Stadium, the Jets sure did give their long-suffering fans a glimpse at how the other half lives. The Jets tagged a 16-9 loss on the Patriots, a final score that doesn't begin to illustrate the impact the victory could have on a franchise desperate for a cultural makeover.
Down by a touchdown, with less than two minutes on the clock and no timeouts left, the Patriots got the football back for one last series. Brady craves these moments like the rest of us crave air. He has engineered 29 comeback victories, a statistic much more relevant than the fact that the Jets hadn't beaten the Patriots in the Meadowlands since 2000, when Brady was a fourth-string scrub. And yet, as 78,000-strong rose and stomped their feet and emptied their lungs and turned into an even more powerful 12-man/woman/blob than Ryan had dreamed possible, the Jets knew.
"The game is over," is how wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery would later describe New York's sideline mentality. "With our defense, the way they played today ..."
The tumblers shifted, the culture transformed. Without receiver Wes Welker -- "He was inactive because he wasn't able to play," said Belichick, as if he were explaining Welker's injury to kindergartners -- and looking vulnerable on his surgically repaired left knee, Brady connected with Julian Edelman on an 18-yard pass. Football fans everywhere probably rolled their eyes and said, "of course, here he goes," but the Jets swear they knew otherwise.
For one shockingly raucous and rocking afternoon at Giants Stadium, the Jets sure did give their long-suffering fans a glimpse at how the other half lives.Soon it was third-and-10 on New England's 28, Brady in the shotgun, the Jets rushing five, with safety Eric Smith knocking the pass incomplete. Fourth-and -10, one last play, the Meadowlands louder than it's been since 2002, and now the Jets were blitzing again, forcing Brady to stagger on his back foot. Dwight Lowery, one of the many cogs in the Jets' revolving whirl of defensive backs, broke up Brady's pass intended for Joey Galloway, and who knows? Optimists -- and they were everywhere in the Jets' locker room -- might someday recall that as the point when the phrase "same ol' Jets" was officially retired.
"We put the team on our back and put it in the defense's hands and closed the show," Jets linebacker Bart Scott said.
Rhodes, having adroitly backed up his big mouth, said the old Jets -- you know, the ones who have compiled roughly 40 seasons worth of letdowns -- would have been less aggressive during that final drive, more "intent on bending and hopefully not breaking." These Jets? They've yet to surrender an offensive touchdown in the young season. They didn't embarrass the Patriots as Rhodes had hoped, but they did hold them to 299 total yards despite failing to sack Brady. Rhodes said he hadn't any regrets about talking tough throughout the week or the odd Twitter feud he sparked with ex-Patriot Rodney Harrison. Standing in front of his locker, Rhodes didn't end his sentences with LOL (his favorite tweet), but he did sound like a man pumped up by a crowd that let him know early they appreciated his bluster.
"Oh wow, that was great the way they were chanting my name," Rhodes said. "I felt like Rocky for a minute."
Ryan, the rookie coach who four months ago announced he didn't come to New York to "kiss Bill Belichick's rings," put the lid on the brazen rhetoric in his post-game interview. Ryan complimented everyone on the opposite sideline but the waterboys, shrewd words considering the Jets play in New England later this season, when Welker presumably will be available and the Patriots' defense will have overcome holes left from retirement and trades.
"That's the best quarterback and coach in the league," Ryan, having won two games as a head coach, said of Brady and Belichick. "I thought we had the best team today."
Down the hall, the coach who has 154 career wins and three rings, talked about being outplayed and outcoached. He used those words several times, and when someone mentioned his team's troubles communicating in an atmosphere where it was impossible to hear a person screaming in your face, Belichick glumly noted, "We didn't get the play off in time."
The Patriots had four delay-of-game penalties and one illegal formation penalty, assists going to the tens of thousands of fans who chose a fine time to intimidate Fireman Ed. The Jets had a brilliant, ferocious defense, and a quarterback who admittedly needed a quarter or two before he could exhale and relax.
The first home opener of Sanchez's career was a blur of 3-4 and 4-3 fronts and blitz overloads and combination coverages. Belichick's defenses famously eat rookie QBs for breakfast, but no matter how much USC coach Pete Carroll wishes Sanchez was around for another year, it thus far appears he and the Jets are a fine match.
His teammates teasingly call him "Sanchise," as in "franchise," though they might want to give the kid some time before changing the tag over his locker. The Patriots outgained the Jets 197-57 in the first half, but led just 9-3 in a contest of field goals. Whatever the Jets said to Sanchez during halftime, it worked, as he came out firing. Sanchez led the Jets on a 56-yard drive in three plays, hitting Cotchery on a tight slant that the receiver turned into a 45-yard gain, and then finding Dustin Keller deep in the end zone for the go-ahead score.
"It's more of a great catch than a great throw," Sanchez said, humbly. "There's no pressure when you play on a team like this. Look at the way we play, look at the way guys were excited playing for each other and our head coach, playing for the Jets organization and that logo and what it represents."
He compared the atmosphere in the Meadowlands to USC-UCLA, only "10 steps above." He kicked himself for making rookie blunders, like failing to perfect a pitch-and-catch throw to Chansi Stuckey in the end zone that would have given the Jets another touchdown. Stuckey managed to haul in the ball but couldn't keep both feet inbounds; Belichick's challenge reversed the TD.
"I don't care if I'm a rookie or in seventh grade, I need to make that throw, especially against them," said Sanchez, who completed 14-of-22 passes for 163 yards.
It was only one game, one ridiculously wild and rowdy game, and Sanchez has hundreds to go before he'll ever be near Brady's level. But considering Brady had come out on top in 12 of the previous 14 games he had started against the Jets, and considering the Meadowlands in recent seasons was about as comfortable for the Patriots as their home office in Foxborough, the shift was interesting.
"The pressure overall got him off his game," Rhodes said of Brady, who finished 23-of-47 for 216 yards and one interception. "He was throwing off his back foot. You can't do that in this league. I think he was a little uncertain."
It's been 40 years of franchise bumbles and near-misses since the Jets' Super Bowl III win. Only the insane Jets fan would start booking early-February tickets to Miami, or even looking beyond next Sunday's game against Tennessee. Still, there might be something happening in the Meadowlands, something promising and delightful.
"We're playing like Jets," Ryan said of the team's burgeoning identity, and for that he didn't need to apologize.