Who are the Jets? We'll see Sunday
Gang out to prove they are who they say they are in Sunday's matchup with Miami
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Remember this date, Dec. 9, 2010, because it might be a first. On this day, loquacious Jets coach Rex Ryan finally found something he doesn't want to talk about. "The Patriots, I'm done with them," Ryan said Thursday with a wag of his head and a flippant wave of his right hand.
And when the Jets' locker room opened a few minutes later, most of his players tried to say the same thing -- except for a few, such as veteran wideout Jerricho Cotchery, who nodded in agreement when asked whether the Jets have to win against Miami on Sunday to re-establish to the rest of the league, if not themselves, that they are who they say they are.
"As a team, a lot of eyes are on us," Cotchery acknowledged.
There are a lot of reasons why. But only a few that really matter. Because once you dismiss all the immaterial reasons that Monday night's showdown against New England was so hyped -- the star power involved on both teams, the sheer malevolent delight some people took in seeing the Patriots make the Jets shut up by beating them 45-3, a rout beyond anyone's wildest dreams -- the truth is, the loss didn't land a fatal blow to anything the Jets are chasing. The Jets split the season series with New England, and they still could close the one-game gap between them and the first-place Patriots for the AFC East title with four games to play. The Jets, now 9-3, also know it still would take a total collapse for them not to make the playoffs, period. So there's that comfort, too.
But what the Patriots' beatdown did do was reopen the question that's been swirling around these self-declared Super Bowl-or-bust Jets all season -- just never this loudly since their season-opening clunker against the Ravens:
Who are the Jets, really?
Are they who they say they are -- a Super Bowl-caliber team? Or are they just a pretty good team that talks a far better game?
That's why Sunday's game against Miami is a must-win, if only for their own psyches. Then they'll need to elevate their game even more in their next two matchups, on the road against division leaders Pittsburgh and Chicago, before closing out the season at home against Buffalo.[+] EnlargeJim McIsaac/Getty ImagesRex Ryan said he isn't talking about the Jets' flop in Foxborough anymore.
Jets veteran offensive lineman Damien Woody, like Cotchery, is terrific at keeping things in perspective. But even Woody admitted Thursday that when it comes to the Jets putting it all together, "We haven't played a complete game yet. And that's the one thing we're really striving for -- offense, defense, special teams, all of us just putting it all together, you know? I mean, I'm anxious to see it.
"I'm really anxious to see what this team looks like just playing one game -- even just that one game -- where everybody who sees it just goes, 'Wow! Those guys were humming -- all over, in every facet of the team' -- you know? That's something we're still definitely hoping for. With each game, you're hoping, 'OK. This is definitely the game where it's going to happen.' It just hasn't yet."
Monday's visit to New England was supposed to be that game. Ryan -- not just the media -- built it up that way with all his talk about wanting to go up there and kick Bill Belichick's butt, and how he was bringing added weapons such as Santonio Holmes and Darrelle Revis with him this time.
Instead, what the Jets drag into Sunday's game against Miami is yet another reminder that the Jets' defense is good but not nearly as good as it was last season. (Former Dolphin Jason Taylor says Ryan already has told the defense that on Sunday, he wants no reprise of those past games in which the Jets made Dolphins starter Chad Henne "look like Dan Marino.")
And like it or not, the Jets' offense, which has started slow in a lot of games but has been absolutely great at stealing wins at the end, regressed against New England. It didn't matter that the Pats have one of the league's worst-ranked defenses. And how the offense is playing now won't fly against the Steelers or Bears.
Jets running back LaDainian Tomlinson talked Thursday about getting back to the ground-and-pound, all-weather running team the Jets want to be. But again, that's who the Jets say they are. Who will they turn out to be come game time Sunday?
"I'm not worried about this team," Jets tight end Dustin Keller said Thursday. "We're still who we said we are. What went wrong against New England are little things that can be corrected so they don't turn into big things again."
It's understandable when Woody smiles calmly and stresses, "Everything that was in front of us before Monday's game is still in front of us now."
Sweeping the season series with New England would have just clinched a lot of things sooner for the Jets and given them a bit of a cushion they could have used going into the last four weeks. It would have been proof to the rest of the league that they're for real, all right. But that's all done and gone. Even a chatterbox like Ryan looks at it and admits he's got nothing more to say on it.
The only thing that makes Monday go away is if the Jets beat Miami on Sunday.
The Jets need to reprove they are who they say they are.
AFC TITLE GAME: STEELERS 24, JETS 19
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