'Twas a famous victory to quote poet Robert Southey (what can I do, defeating Brady and the hooded one brings out the poet in me). The New York Jets finally prevailed over divisional arch-rivals New England Patriots in a 26-20 OT thriller. The game, to quote SNL's Stefon, "had everything:" a Revis interception, Ryan Fitzpatrick tying Vinny Testaverde's single season touchdown record at 29 (with one more game to go), and the coin toss miscue heard around the world (well, at least around the NFL). At the end there were literally fireworks at Met Life Stadium, a deserved display of celebration for our long suffering fan base. The NY Jets are now in the driver's seat and control their own destiny. This in itself is a remarkable turnaround from last year's miserable 4-12 season that witnessed a popular revolt against GM John Idzik and Rex Ryan fired. A win next week at Buffalo might get Rex fired again; and it would represent a triumphant return for a playoffs bound Fitz who was hounded out of that franchise. You simply cannot make up these story lines. Only in the NFL, ladies and gentlemen.
But as much as we desire a playoffs berth after four long years of drought, as much as winning is the only thing, to quote a certain Vince Lombardi, as much as I would be devastated if I watch football in January only with other teams, in a sense it does not matter. Not because losing next week will not hurt, but because the NY Jets are now a team that plays in a manner we can all be proud of; a team that I expect to win far more often than lose (The Jets are 10-5 with five wins in a row, 6th around the corner); and a team that is many things but one that it is not is the "Same old Jets."
Why was this season so successful? I can offer four basic reasons and luck is only one of them. Football is often compared to war in terms of strategy, terminology and personalities. But yet another connection also exists. War efforts are greatly assisted if sufficient preparations have been made before the first shot is even fired. Football's equivalent is the offseason with the NFL Draft at its very heart. The NY Jets showed great maturity and adroitness. Kudos to Woody Johnson for bringing in a team of brilliant grownups: Mike Maccagnan as GM and Todd Bowles as HC (more on him in a bit). The new team then went ahead and won the NFL Draft and the offseason, bringing in (and here we can count our blessings): Leonard Williams (soon a household name), Darrelle Revis (a HOF shoe-in), Ryan Fitzpatrick (who is having a career year), Brandon Marshall (who is breaking records, cost us next to nothing and is heading to the Pro Bowl), Buster Skrine -- well you get the picture.
Second, yes there was some luck involved. A certain punch by I. K. Enemkpali forced the Jets to award the starting QB position to Fitz. With the exception of a few painful moments during the Oakland Raiders game, Todd Bowles never looked back. It is fair to speculate what might have been the case had Geno Smith not been sucker punched over a measly (for professional athlete standards) $600 debt. The correct answer is: who knows? And Who cares? Geno, who? We can now safely move on from this immature, uneven, unlucky (and for a brief time, divisive) QB.
Third, the brilliance of Todd Bowles cannot be praised enough. He is the anti-Rex Ryan and the NFL's new Bill Belichick (I mean it, even if he is still several Super Bowl rings short). Where Rex Ryan thought that the future of the galaxy depended on beating the Pats, for Bowles it was only next week's game. Where Rex boasted (and then failed to deliver), Bowles is measured, down to earth, realistic and always elicits respect (no one will ever describe him as a buffoon). His utterances are modeled over Belichick's (but cannot reach his level of perfection); his demeanor during games is pretty much unchanged (the hooded one would have been proud). But Bowles is not without emotion, nor a pushover. For me, his key decision was cutting first-round pick Quinton Coples after the 24-17 loss to the Houston Texans. At that point the season seemed to be spinning out of control, old habits of lax discipline and unaccountability fast returning. By cutting Coples, Bowles essentially severed all ties to the ethos of Rex Ryan's Jets. The message was loud and clear: no one was safe, everyone had to perform. Could Belichick had done it any better?
Finally, there is the pure chemistry of this year's team. Fitz throwing to Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall. Chris Ivory running like a beast. Revis' Island. Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson and Leonard Williams terrorizing QBs. Nick Mangold being an anchor of a center. I could go on and on. This team has leadership (thank you Fitz). This team has chemistry. This team is a joy to watch. Now this team needs to make the playoffs. Off to Buffalo for a historic game.
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