The Jets were probably the biggest disappointment of the day.
Coming into the season, 1) because they are in the New York market, 2) because of all the exposure with HBO’s Hard Knocks and 3) because their coach, Rex Ryan, is a larger-than-life personality, they were the team everyone was talking about.
Typically, that kind of notoriety, with a bull’s-eye on its back, is reserved for a team that is the defending Super Bowl champion. But, in my mind, a lot of the hype was justified. You look at what the Jets have on defense, the two best cornerbacks, the Ryan scheme and the linebackers, and you can say they are loaded on defense.
Now, look at the offense. You look at their receivers, Santonio Holmes, Dustin Keller, Braylon Edwards and then LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene and that offensive line, well, that’s a very good football team.
I thought, coming into this game against Green Bay, if they weren’t the best team in the AFC, they were certainly in the top three of that conversation. To hold the Packers to nine points, three field goals, on offense and then to put up a goose egg of their own probably is the most disappointing game of the week in the NFL.
Mark Sanchez – and I know his receivers didn’t do him any favors – well, he’s going to have to mature faster than he is. This is two weeks in a row now, and even Rex pointed that out. Sanchez didn’t look comfortable in Denver in the Jets’ previous game. Now, he had the big throw at the end of that game, but he also got bailed out on a penalty that helped set up the Jets for the winning score against the Broncos. If the Jets want to be more than they were last season, Sanchez has got to play better.
This is the team that does have the talent to either win a Super Bowl or at least contend for one. But they are only going to go as far as Sanchez goes. I mean, the Jets were at home in the Meadowlands and got no points against a Green Bay defense that has been decimated along the line and in the linebacking corps and to a great extent in the secondary, too. The Packers are still missing two starters back there. So, that lack of production against such a defense was very disappointing.
The reason I am talking this way is because you start to believe in a team as an analyst watching the NFL. My expectations of the Jets had gotten pretty high, just like their own expectations, but you tend to become like a fan and you get disappointed because they don’t perform to the level that you expected.
Green Bay’s defense looked more like the Jets than the Jets did in a way. The Packers are literally picking up guys up off the streets like defensive tackle Howard Green, and our guy, Tony Siragusa, was laughing because it looked like the Packers got him a jersey one size too small. Obviously, they are doing it on the fly and they are coaching him up after getting him on a Friday. Green actually gave them a big contribution in this game.
Green Bay’s defense rose up and played extremely well. Clay Matthews got the one sack, but basically the Jets controlled him for the majority of the game. If you would have told me that, I would have thought the Jets would have scored a lot more than they did.
Midseason MVP and Coach of the Year
At the halfway mark in the season, I don’t recall there being a more difficult time to be picking an MVP or a Coach of the Year. You could go in a number of different directions in terms of both honors.
First, I think you have to look at Todd Haley in Kansas City. Nobody expected his Chiefs to be in first place. He has done an excellent job there, because it is really hard to change a culture of losing. It has been bad in Kansas City for quite a while, and he’s doing it with a lot of young players. But the Chiefs did a smart thing in bringing in Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis. And that waters it down to a certain extent, but Haley is still the guy who has to get up in front of the entire team. And that team has to believe in what he’s telling them.
Then there is Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin. He started the season without his marquee quarterback and all the distraction of the Ben Roethlisberger suspension and then having to play with three different quarterbacks during those first four games. The Pittsburgh defense, well, some said it was to a great extent getting older and couldn’t close games out anymore. The Steelers made some changes on the offensive line with rookie Maurkice Pouncey at center and Flozell Adams at right tackle, and suddenly they are a little bit of different team. Then Ben comes back, and he seems like he’s gone through a little bit of a metamorphosis in terms of his personality, his approach to life and the game. And that’s all good, but through all of that, Tomlin has done a remarkable job.
I look at Raheem Morris down in Tampa Bay. That’s a good football team with a really good, young quarterback in Josh Freeman, who reminds me a little of Ben. He’s a huge guy who is athletic, and he can get out into space and avoid the sack and extend plays. Now, that is rare for a big guy. It’s also hard for a young quarterback to go to a very young football team. I mean, look how Sanchez went to the Jets, Joe Flacco to Baltimore, Matt Ryan to Atlanta and even Roethlisberger to a solid Pittsburgh team. That’s huge for young quarterbacks.
Freeman went to a team that was on the downside and with a lot of young guys learning around him. The Bucs took a chance on running back LeGarrette Blount out of Oregon, who had issues in college and got suspended. He’s been a big boost for them. I am really surprised at how well the Bucs have played, because Raheem sounded like a coach who had his ups and downs in his first year as a head coach. But it has paid dividends for them and him.
And if you want to go in a totally different direction, what about the New England Patriots? It’s odd to say this, but the Patriots are in a reload year. They have gone young totally on the defensive side. Gone is Tedy Bruschi, gone is Mike Vrabel, gone is Richard Seymour and gone is Rodney Harrison. The Super Bowl heroes are all gone. Then, on offense, they traded away Randy Moss and made the transition to a young tight end in Aaron Hernandez and went with their kick returner, Brandon Tate, in the Moss role. It’s a new offense. It’s a new philosophy.
They have kind of gone back to the philosophy they had when they won their first two Super Bowls. It’s no more stretching the field, putting up 500 yards of offense, but we’re going to win football games by putting together 10- to 12-play drives. More is on Tom Brady during this transition. And also more is also on Bill Belichick in terms of coaching this year than in any number of years past. So you can make a case for both of those guys as Coach of the Year and also MVP.
Their last drive to finish off Minnesota today was classic of what I’m talking about. And how about their defensive stand at the end of the first half, when they stuffed Adrian Peterson at the goal line? Jerod Mayo is a hell of a player, and so is Vince Wilfork. But as I watch this team, I am trying to learn their names. Rob Ninkovich made a great stop on the flank, and the guy who hurt Brett Favre, Myron Pryor, has played well. I am still saying, well, that guy or some other guy when I talk about their players, because all the names have changed there. It’s a young roster.
Just think of this. The Patriots have two first-round picks, two seconds and two thirds next year. People wondered when they traded Seymour to the Raiders why they were deferring that first-round pick for two years. We all know that whatever the new collective bargaining agreement is going to be, you can bet it is going to have a totally restructured rookie salary cap.
So, the Patriots are really young on defense, and they’ve plugged in some young players on offense. They are getting old in spots on their offensive line, and they probably need a dominant running back. When you have two ones, two twos, two threes and a rookie salary cap, you are in great shape to rebuild your roster.
And here’s a shock, even with all these changes and how they have reloaded their roster, the Patriots probably have as good a chance as anybody to go far in the playoffs. They are in first place and 6-1.