Go ahead and start believing, Jets fans
This version of Gang Green giving long-suffering supporters reason for optimism
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- They've overcome bad injuries, bad weather, a bad offensive game, a bad defensive game, bad clock management and bad behavior off the field.
And yet here they are, one of the hottest teams in the NFL, visiting the Denver Broncos Sunday with a chance to tie their longest winning streak of the century -- five games.
These are your New York Jets, flawed but fearless -- a good team even on bad days. They know how to win, an acquired trait seldom associated with this franchise.
The Jets' 9-2 record over the past 11 regular-season games is the best in the league, and it could easily be 11-0. There was that last-second loss to the Atlanta Falcons last December (Tony Gonzalez!) and the one-point defeat to the Baltimore Ravens in the season opener.
Do you believe in this team? Or are you reluctant to buy in because of the heartbreaks of seasons past?
Five Things To Watch
1. Four-Corner Defense. The Jets will have to use four cornerbacks at times against the Broncos' spread passing game, and that won't be a good thing if one of the corners isn't named Darrelle Revis (hamstring). Efficient QB Kyle Orton will stay away from Antonio Cromartie and pick on Drew Coleman, Kyle Wilson and Dwight Lowery. Whoever covers Eddie Royal in the slot (Coleman or Wilson) could be in for a long day.
2. Forget The Run. The Broncos have the least productive rushing attack in the league, not a single back averaging more than 2.9 yards per carry. The Jets should stay with nickel package even when the Broncos use their base personnel. In other words, dare them to run the ball. Play rope-a-dope. Force them out of their comfort zone.
3. Brad Smith. The Broncos' kickoff coverage unit already has allowed a 98-yard touchdown. That bodes well for Smith, who is averaging 32.2 yards per return. He's a field-position changer, but the offense has to do a better job of capitalizing. The Jets also could unleash Smith in the Wildcat, showing Broncos rookie QB Tim Tebow how it's done.
4. Avoid The Champ. If QB Mark Sanchez wants to keep his no-interception streak alive, he'd be smart to stay away from CB Champ Bailey. He's the best player on an injury-ravaged Denver defense, still capable of making big plays. The Jets expect him to be on Braylon Edwards. Fine, just don't throw to Edwards.
5. Ground And Pound. The Baltimore Ravens rushed 47 times for 233 yards last week on the Broncos, controlling the ball for 36-plus minutes. The Jets should copycat that approach, pounding them with LaDainian Tomlinson and a rejuvenated Shonn Greene. The Jets suspect the Broncos might use a different front to compensate for injuries, but that shouldn't stop them from topping the 150-yard mark in rushing.
-- Rich Cimini
"We're trying to rewrite history, not relive it," safety Jim Leonhard said. "Rex [Ryan] has tried to change the mentality. We're not Little Brother anymore, we're not second fiddle to any team. We feel like we've put together a team that can do special things. We're going to walk it, we're going to talk it. On Sundays, we have to prove it."
This team is far from a juggernaut, but it has perfected a winning formula. The Jets have become like the New England Patriots of 2001 and 2003, a mature team that rarely beats itself and figures out how to win with a play or two in the fourth quarter. The Jets have more playmakers on offense than those early championship teams in New England, but you get the drift.
Consider: The Jets have turned their two bugaboos from last season (too many turnovers and three fourth-quarter collapses) into positives. They've gone four consecutive games without a turnover, tying an NFL record, and they've pulled out three games that could've gone either way in the fourth quarter.
"We learned a lot last year, and we've carried over some of those lessons to this year," wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery said.
What the Jets are doing is really simple. It starts with a good plan from the coaches, and here's all the proof you need on that: They haven't allowed a first-quarter point in five games, the longest stretch in team history. That means they're well-prepared.
They're also not doing dumb things with the football. Remember Shonn Greene's fumble in the second quarter of the opener? That was the Jets' last giveaway -- 274 minutes, 9 seconds without a turnover. You can't help but play winning football when you protect the ball that well.
Much of that, of course, stems from Mark Sanchez, who hasn't thrown an interception in nine months. As a rookie, he committed 23 turnovers in 935 plays -- one every 40 snaps. This season, it's zero in 310 plays, a ridiculous improvement.
"For the most part, when you look at his decision grade, it's far and above what it was last year at this time," offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. "His decision grades are clearly in the high 80s to 90s, and last year it was probably high 60s, low 70s -- a big, big jump."
The Jets have experienced some slippage with their pass defense, largely because cornerback Darrelle Revis has played in only 2½ games because of a balky hamstring. They've been able to overcome some bad numbers, thanks to timely interceptions and sacks, but their resourcefulness will be put to the test by the Broncos (2-3).
If the Broncos were any more pass happy, they'd be in the Arena League. Kyle Orton is averaging 48 pass attempts over the past three games, with an underrated corps of wideouts that could produce three 1,000-yard receivers -- Brandon Lloyd, Eddie Royal and Jabar Gaffney. It's a New England-like passing game (coach Josh McDaniels' roots) that attacks all parts of the field.
The Jets realize their defensive stats might not look pretty, especially if Revis doesn't play, so they will have to take a complementary approach. They should be able to keep Orton under the 300-yard mark if their running game plays keep-away, controlling the clock. A big play or two on special teams, which is becoming a weekly occurrence, also would help.
There will be other challenges. Coming off a Monday night game, the Jets have a short week, long travel and the altitude factor in the Mile High City -- a bad combination. Looming is a one-week vacation, Ryan's promise to the team for its bye week.
Distractions? You bet, but the Jets have a way of dealing with this sort of stuff; it's almost part of their DNA. In seasons past, this would be a clunker, for sure. This team adapts.
Go ahead, it's OK to believe.
"It's human nature. [Fans] just don't want to buy in because they've been disappointed before," Leonhard said. "I understand, but this team is different."
AFC TITLE GAME: STEELERS 24, JETS 19
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