F.A.Q.: What if Rex Ryan isn't exaggerating?
A conversation with incoming WWD media reporter John Koblin about the New York Jets.
Josh Benson: Can you please describe to me your feelings about the Jets at the moment?
John Koblin: I'm kind of ridiculously confident right now! Maybe I shouldn't say this, but I really think this is the strongest 3-1 the Jets have been since ... well since I've been following them. (How many times have they been 3-1 since 1993?) It's definitely a better 3-1 than they were last year.
Josh: Right, well. Ravens, Patriots, LOLphins, Bills. One tough loss, two tough wins and a laugher. That is a very good, very unflukey 3-1.
John: Right, and they are improving. If the Jets looked like an undisciplined team after Week 1 with the penalties and the "distractions," that's almost completely vanished now. How many penalties did they have against Buffalo? Maybe 2 or 3?
John: I still have concerns, though. I really feel like we're going into the bye at 4-2 and I'm starting to daydream about a 12-win season. A couple more wins and this is gonna feel like '98 all over again.
Josh: Well, normally this would be the part where I tell you to please shut up because the '98 Jets were a one-time-only miracle team. And certainly this team, even if they do something pretty spectacular, will have been anything but an out-of-nowhere success story. But I'm already starting to think irrational things about where they're going to end up.
Josh: Like, I used to "guarantee" every year that they would win the Super Bowl. But really everyone took it as a joke and mostly, as delusionally as I may have been, it was. Because I was guaranteeing it every year, like even when Pat Leahy and Terance Mathis were voted team MVPs just because no one else could possibly have been.
John: Of course. Look out, here comes Johnny Johnson!
Josh: Yes, and Johnny Johnson!
Josh: I owned a t-shirt with bar mitzvah-cartoonist-quality likenesses of Johnny Johnson, Nick Lowery, Ronny Lott and Boomer Esiason. And the words, I think, were "Sit Down, Shut Up, and Hang on Till the Super Bowl." And of course they went 6-10 that year and Pete Carroll got fired to make way for Rich Kotite, who coached the Jets to a total of four wins over the course of the next two seasons.
John: Right, turned out to be Sit Down, Shut Up, And Wait Till Weeks 15 through 17 when you have to play Dallas, Buffalo and Houston.
Josh: Well I can't speak for the motivation of the unlicensed, catch-penny T-shirt maker who came up with that design, but I suspect that bluster was all kind of a cynical joke. It would have been a reasonable reflection of our attitude anyhow. The Giants were good and the Jets were bad and we embraced it. For those of us who cared enough to go to games to watch them get killed, and who subscribed to Jets Journal before it folded up for lack of interest (it died mid-subscription, and they actually had the gall to send an offer to fulfill the rest of their commitment by sending copies of a more robust sister publication called ... Giants Journal), it was kind of a point of pride that they were just so incredibly unfashionable to root for.
Josh: Even in '98, when they were suddenly actually good and exciting, the reason it was so fantastic was precisely that it all seemed impossible as it was happening. Vinny!
John: Yes, but you know what's funny?
John: I kind of feel that way right now. That Week 1 loss was bizarrely so epic, and so effective at clearing out the bandwagon, that what they've done since then feels like an improbable comeback.
John: The attention has been on Braylon, and the Giants beating the Bears, and Randy Moss. It weirdly hasn't been on the fact that we've gotten to 3-1. Somehow, the Dolphins win kind of got lost in the mix. I think the only good story for the press would have been if they lost and suddenly the Jets were 1- 2.
John: Going into the season, you and I both felt we were going to have to share Rex's team with lots of newcomers. But I actually feel like I have some ownership over this team right now, the way we did in '98 when Vinny took over in that New England Sunday night game, and we suddenly went on that ridiculous run. I'm sure if we beat the Vikings that will all change and the bandwagon people will be right back in it, but somehow I don't feel like this is a team of front-running mercenaries. It's the Brad Smith Jets: they somehow feel like they're managing to overachive, as strange as that sounds considering the hype.
Josh: Well there's something different about them, for sure. I mean, the hype is something weird and new to us, and the backlash after the 10-9 loss was a consequence. But the way they've played since then ... I almost don't know what to make of it. They're so clinical!
Josh: All I keep thinking is that I wish they could play Baltimore again soon so they could beat them.
John: well, what do you mean?
Josh: The opening drive against Buffalo? They were UNSTOPPABLE. It was a mugging.
John: Well, that is part of what has made this team so compelling so far. Who knew that a quarter of the way into the season, after everything we've heard about the greatest defense ever, it would be Mark Sanchez and Dustin Keller leading us? The defense has, oddly, looked vulnerable (and, actually, the defense was more vulnerable last year than people let on) and it's been (as much as I hate to say) Schottenheimer's offense that has made this team a joy to watch. But that's also what leads to one of my biggest concerns for the rest of the season.
John: It almost seems greedy to say it, but I'm wondering if Holmes returning is definitely going to be a net plus for us. It certainly seems like it. But what does that do to the chemistry between Sanchez and Edwards, and Sanchez and Keller? And, of course, the guy with the surest hands on the whole team, Jerricho, is totally left out of the mix. Which is insane. I'm wondering if we're going to have some Keyshawn-Randy Moss-level drama among Edwards and Holmes and what that could potentially do to a guy like Sanchez who (it seems) is a little delicate. I have a feeling that if the Jets come apart in the way that some people anticipated (a Buddy Ryan sort of unraveling) it will happen with the offense and the receiving corps.
John: But maybe I'm just being a paranoid Jets fan.
Josh: Well, it's a well-earned paranoia. But I don't see this particular thing as a problem. Then again, I didn't even ever see Keyshawn as a problem.
John: Very good point. He wasn't, in the end.
Josh: Right. And to me he was the guy who came in and changed everything. He wanted the damn ball and was a big jerk and everything but really he wanted to win, and that was around the time they actually started to manage it. I can't help but think that it's nothing but a good thing to have more of that. Too much talent is a nice problem to have!
John: OK, can I bring up some problems straight from the Jets Fan Paranoia Playbook?
John: So far, the Rex Ryan team has thrived on coming from behind. They seem to be motivated by being the team that everyone counts out and then ... there they are! After we lost those 6 of 7 games last year and then came back and won a few, and then were 7-7 and left totally for dead, and then got to the AFC Championship. And then this year started off with the loss to the Ravens, and jeers all around, followed by three wins and now, if they beat the Vikings and Favre and Moss on Monday night it will somehow be that same thing—all eyes back on the Jets and Rex's "brash crew." I don't know if the Jets play well with that hand.
John: Last year when they were 3-0 everything fell to pieces. After "Hard Knocks," we admittedly didn't play our best game and lost a bad one where we have only ourselves to blame. So what happens if the Jets go 4-1 and become The Team to Beat? I'm still not convinced that Rex leads a team like that, or holds it together.
Josh: Well I'm trying not to get metaphysical about it. I am allowing myself the pleasure of not thinking that this will be like 1986, which maybe you're too young to remember and have only heard scary stories about. But that was the year they started off 10-1 and then got killed in a Monday night game against the Dolphins and then fell to bits. The way I prefer to think about it now is that the hype is irrelevant, and that they are being scientific about how they're winning. So, the basics: as long as Nick Mangold is in the middle ruining people's lives they're going to be OK.
Josh: And the defense—I just can't find it in me to get worried about them, either. There is a rational explanation for everything! Even that one play where Moss beat Revis that everyone's talking about ahead of this weekend. Jim Leonhard explained afterward that it was a miscommunication and the safety ought to have covered. And I believe him!
John: I believe anything Jim Leonhard says.
John: I'm not quite as confident about the O-Line as you are. They did it last week, consistently, for the first time, against the worst team in the NFL. I'm actually a bit worried about the running game. LT is going to have his Thomas Jones moment later in the season. It's inevitable that he's going to tire out. It's just going to happen. Hopefully Greene has enough in the tank to do what he did at the end of last season, but the running game hasn't been consistently fantastic yet. Sanchez has been able to hide that. And what happens after he has his first 2 or 3 INT game of the year? I'm still a little bit concerned about the O-Line reserves and the lack of Faneca.
John: But, again, this is an issue of luxury, which you have when you're a good team, which I guess I'm still getting used to. The team is just much better than any other Jets team that I've ever seen that has gotten off to a fast start. But I will say this: Sanchez has absolutely shocked me so far. I really thought all the stories in the pre-season about how hard he worked were like the stories about how Bobby Jones has a new devastating slider and he's going to win 20 games. I thought this guy might be weak in the head, but he's looking fantastic.
John: And I love how he's totally devoted to the System. Did you see the stories last week about how he thought the Bills were trash-talking all week? Apparently that's what Rex told him, it fired Sanchez up, and none of it was actually true. So when Sanchez shows up for the post-game presser all pissed off and winds up spending the duration of the presser putting the Bills in their place, the Jets press corps was like, "HUH??"
Josh: Yeah, poor guy. It was a little like when they tell the boxer in Round 11 that it's Round 12 so he goes out and fights harder. And then he looks like an idiot when the bell rings and he thinks it's over.
Josh: But please don't compare him to Bobby Jones! Yes, he's young and he's going to have bad games and actually he hasn't shown that he's a crunch-time guy in the way that the great ones are. As Scocca pointed out, in Game 1, when they needed a lousy field goal late in the game to win it, Sanchez seemed unaware of the relationship between the big num
bers on the game clock and the amount of time he had to score before his team lost. He was waiting for a sign from God to begin the snap count after each down.
Josh: And yes, obviously this line is not the same with Faneca not in there. But I think they're good. And I think LT's going to last if they let Greene spell him. And I think they're in a position to stretch the field with this bunch of receivers and actually make sure there's room in the box for LT and Keller to kill in the flat and over the middle.
Josh: I think ... they might win the Super Bowl.
John: In other words, you think we have (also, pronouns! I appreciate your restraint using "they" when i keep relying on "we," but I can't help myself) a Top 5 offense and you're not worried about the defense.
Josh: That is what I think.
John: I think you might be crazy.
John: But I think I might think the same thing.