New York Jets' 2010 final report card
Jets had the talent, but fell just short. We hand out Gang Green's final grades.
It was an "Animal House" season that ended one game short of the big dance -- and, no, we're not talking about a toga party.
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The New York Jets finished the regular season 11-5 and won two playoff games, their best victory total in 12 years. If they showed up 30 minutes earlier last Sunday in Pittsburgh, they'd be in the Super Bowl for the first time in 42 years.
No doubt, the Jets were a success on the field, but that was only part of the story. They also provided tremendous fodder for the tabloids -- everything from Rex Ryan's F bombs on "Hard Knocks" to Darrelle Revis' nasty holdout to the Ines Sainz locker-room incident to Braylon Edwards' drunk-driving arrest to Sal Alosi's trip to Ryan's alleged foot-fetish videos.
They trash-talked the whole way (except for last week, oddly), reveling in their image as the league's villains. They were good, and they told you so. They buried Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in the postseason, not to mention the game ball from last month's 45-3 loss to the New England Patriots, but they failed to bury 42 years of heartache.
A look back at one of the most memorable seasons in Jets history. Our grades are based on 19 games.
Jets' position-by-position report card
He wins. That's the best thing that can be said about Mark Sanchez, who already has four playoff wins in two seasons. He won four games with fourth-quarter comebacks, a quality that separates good quarterbacks from great ones. Sanchez improved his decision making from his rookie seaspm. going from minus-8 to plus-4 in touchdown-interception ratio. On the downside, his accuracy (55 percent) was alarmingly low and he never found an answer for his early-game struggles. Graybeard Mark Brunell did his job as Sanchez's sounding board, providing sage advice and a place for Sanchez to stick his boogers. Third-stringer Kellen Clemens will move on.
LaDainian Tomlinson was a good pick-up, spearheading the rushing attack for the first half of the season and providing a check-down option for Sanchez in the passing game. He was a terrific leader, filling the void left by Thomas Jones. Unfortunately, Tomlinson was out of gas late in the season, save for his spirited wild-card game in Indianapolis. He averaged only 3.3 per rush over the final eight regular-season games, giving the front office a tough decision for 2011.
Shonn Greene suffered from a sophomore mini-slump, never displaying the same explosiveness he did toward the end of his rookie season. In fact, he averaged only 3.8 per carry over the second half of the season. Greene improved as a receiver, and he believes he's ready to become the featured back, but that might be a stretch because he failed to build on his wonderful rookie season. This amounted to a red-shirt year for Joe McKnight, who learned a hard lesson in humility. The organization still loves his skill set, and he figures into the 2011 plans. So does John Conner, who likely will be handed the starting fullback job after a one-year apprenticeship. Tony Richardson, a pro's pro, will consider retirement.
If Santonio Holmes didn't miss the first four games because of a suspension, he and Braylon Edwards probably would've combined for about 2,000 yards -- a good, not great year. Holmes was one of the league's top players in November, when he made game-winning catches in three straight games. He probably could've added to that, but he had a couple of costly drops. For the most part, Holmes was a game changer, demonstrating the ability to take routine passes and turn them into monster plays.
Edwards dropped only one pass -- not a misprint -- and was the Jets' most consistent receiver. He was the first Jets receiver since 1968 to average at least 17.1 per catch with a minimum of 50 receptions. When focused, he's an elite talent. He and Holmes are free agents, and it's unlikely that both will return. Jerricho Cotchery was the emotional glue to the receiving corps, accepting his reduced role without complaining. He made some big plays (see the Cleveland dive), but he dropped too many balls, uncharacteristic for him.
Dustin Keller continued to improve his overall game, developing into a decent blocker. That allowed the coaches to use him as an in-line tight end, creating more versatility for the offense. As a receiver, he got off to a tremendous start, but he became less of a factor when Holmes returned from his suspension. In fact, he went the last 15 games (including the postseason) without a touchdown. That explains why the offense was so bad in the red zone. Nevertheless, Keller still led the team with 55 catches. Ben Hartsock saw a lot of playing time in a reserve role, helping the perimeter running game with his blocking.
Two of the Jets' three Pro Bowl selections came from the line -- C Nick Mangold and LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson, both of whom deserved the honor. RG Brandon Moore also had a Pro Bowl-caliber season, but he was snubbed. RT Damien Woody was having a good season when injuries hit in December. LG Matt Slauson, the newcomer, was a liability in pass protection at the start, but he settled down and improved.
Overall, this was another very good season by the line, although it didn't dominate in the running game as it did a year ago, save for the second half of the wild-card game. Maybe we're splitting hairs because the Jets finished fourth in rushing offense, but you get the point. Unfortunately, the lasting image of the season will be the failed fourth-down attempt from the Steelers' 1-yard line.
This unit is the definition of "workmanlike." You're not going to find any gaudy numbers here, just a bunch of blue-collar resumes. The starting three -- Shaun Ellis, Mike DeVito and Sione Pouha -- combined for only 6 ½ sacks, but they had to be doing something right because the Jets finished third in run defense.
Statistically, Ellis had perhaps his worst season, but he'll always have New England -- his monster game in the divisional playoffs. DeVito made a seamless transition into a starting role, anchoring the point of attack with Pouha, who raised his game when Kris Jenkins suffered a season-ending injury in the opener. Vernon Gholston suffered his third straight sackless season, and he's probably not going to get a chance to break the skid in 2011 -- not with the Jets, anyway. Trevor Pryce, an old hand who provided depth, is likely to retire. This is an older group that needs some fresh blood.
Not one member of this big-name, big-money group exceeded expectations -- except for maybe Bryan Thomas (team-high six sacks). Overall, there wasn't enough pressure from the edge rushers and not enough big plays from the whole unit. David Harris was the best of the bunch -- teammates voted him the Jets' MVP -- but even his production slipped a bit. Bart Scott did his best work off the field, yapping. In two seasons, the $8 million-a-year linebacker has only two sacks and one forced fumble. Calvin Pace and Jason Taylor combined for only 10 ½ sacks, but at least they had alibis: Pace underwent foot surgery in August and Taylor was new to the system.
Weird season. The Jets allowed 24 touchdown passes, an increase of 16 from 2009, but they still finished sixth in pass defense. In the playoffs, they played well against the Big Three -- Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger. The Jets covered the perimeter as well as any team in the league, with Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie locking down the opponents' No. 1 and No. 2 receivers. The problem was in the middle of the field, where the Jets' safeties and linebackers struggled in pass coverage. They missed Jim Leonhard, although Brodney Pool came on late. The biggest downer was rookie Kyle Wilson, who fell way short of expectations.
Brad Smith, who scored twice on kickoff returns, should've made the Pro Bowl. He provided instant field position, benefitting from well-executed blocking schemes. P Steve Weatherford improved in his second season with the Jets, although he hit a late-season slump. PK Nick Folk was an enigma. He got off to a brilliant start, but nearly lost his job with a November slump. He'll always have Indianapolis -- his game-winning field goal in the wild-card game. Once again, it was musical punt returners, with the Jets unable to settle on one. Wilson never delivered as hoped.
Rex Ryan turns off a lot of people with his mouth, but you can't argue with the results -- back-to-back appearances in the AFC title game. He has changed the culture around the team, raising expectations to unprecedented levels. He fostered good team chemistry (no easy task with all the new personalities), he cooked up masterful defensive game plans in the playoffs and he did a nice job with Sanchez late in the season, calling out his young quarterback to let him know he will be held accountable like everyone else. Ryan needs to improve as a game manager. There were times when he blew timeouts and wasted replay challenges. In the end, his greatest failing was not having the team ready to play in Pittsburgh, something that may haunt him forever.
Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer is a lightning rod for criticism, but the offense improved in almost every important area. So did Sanchez. The biggest knock on Schottenheimer is his preparation. He's an extraordinarily hard worker, but the offense failed to score a first-quarter touchdown in the last 14 games. Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine assumed a greater role as a playcaller, but it shifted back toward Ryan late in the season. Special teams guru Mike Westhoff was on his game, as usual, but history will remember 2010 for the Alosi controversy.
Front officeMike Tannenbaum and his staff provided the coaching staff with championship-caliber talent. His biggest acquisitions -- Tomlinson, Holmes and Cromartie -- all played key roles in the season. The Taylor signing produced mediocre results, but it was worth a shot. In retrospect, the controversial Thomas Jones and Alan Faneca moves didn't hurt as much as initially feared. Tannenbaum's 2010 draft didn't provide any immediate help, and that hurt. They could've really used Wilson in the secondary, but the coaching staff didn't trust him. The front seven could've used some new blood; it got old in a hurry.
Jets' end-of-season awards
Offensive MVP: Mangold -- All-Pro for the second straight year.
Defensive MVP: Revis -- By the end, Revis was Revis again.
Special teams MVP: Brad Smith -- Can score with only one shoe.
Most improved: Pool -- Nice finish after a so-so start.
Least improved: Greene -- Solid year, but more was expected.
Biggest surprise: Jets 28, Patriots 21 -- a 49-point turnaround from the December debacle.
Biggest disappointment: The no-show first half in the AFC title game.
Best rookie: N/A -- No one worthy of the honor.
Best offseason acquisition: Holmes -- Made "Tone Time" part of team lexicon.
Worst offseason acquisition: Wilson -- No. 1 pick a non-factor.
Best-kept secret: LS Tanner Purdum -- Can you recall any bad snaps? Didn't think so.
Best coaching move: Dialing back the blitz-oriented schemes late in the season.
Worst coaching move: Dialing back the trash talk before facing the Steelers.