Jets Exceed Expectations

Ed Boulat

Eight wins and eight losses. That’s probably the record most Jets’ fans thought ex-Packer and future Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre would lead their team to this year. So what are the feelings now that the Jets are 7-3 and atop the AFC East this late in the season for the first time since 2002, following a thrilling 34-31 overtime win against the rival Patriots? Most are surprised, but others who have been fervently following the team since the offseason aren’t as shocked. After all, the Jets were extremely busy this summer, making some headline-grabbing signings like the one for Favre and some more “quiet” yet pivotal ones that include signing a pair of Pro-Bowl offensive linemen in Alan Faneca and Damien Woody. But the moves didn’t end there. The team also brought in the older yet dominant fullback Tony Richardson and 350-pound defensive tackle Kris Jenkins, who has almost single handedly rejuvenated the Jets’ defense. His name has even been thrown around in the Defensive Player of the Year discussion. After a truly dismal year in 2007, the Jets’ running game also appears to be back on track, led by Thomas Jones, who is having a career year, and Leon Washington, who in games against New England and Kansas City showed why he’s one of the most underrated players in the NFL by scoring four touchdowns (two on plays over 60 yards).

Unfortunately for Jets’ fans, the season is a long way from being over, and the division is nowhere close to being won. At this point, it seems as if the Bills are out of it after starting 4-0 and stumbling to a 1-5 record since then. However, like the Jets, the surprise Miami Dolphins and the “Wildcat offense” have won four games in a row and sit in second in the division tied with the Patriots, just a game back from New York. Both the Dolphins and the Patriots are still very much in the hunt for the division, although the jury is still out on Miami after two far from impressive wins against a horrible Seattle Seahawks team and the similarly struggling Oakland Raiders by a combined four points. The Patriots have been plagued by injuries all year, but they are far from having said their last words. Quarterback Matt Cassel is no fluke, and after almost out-dueling Favre last week in Foxboro, he will undoubtedly be rewarded with a very nice contract and a starting job on some other team next year upon Tom Brady’s return. The Dolphins play host to the Patriots this weekend, which will be a pivotal game in determining AFC East positioning.

However, the Jets’ fate is very much in their own hands, because if they play well enough and continue to improve and limit their mistakes, the AFC East is theirs to win. Favre needs to limit his mistakes and convert big third downs like he did against the Patriots, and the running game has to stay consistent and keep defenses guessing. Furthermore, the defense has to close out games and create turnovers. If all of these factors come together, there is no reason why the Jets can’t finish the year with ten or eleven wins. But if the Jets play like they did Week 6 against Oakland, an ugly and costly 16-13 loss, their stint in first place will quickly be over. If the running game slows down or is eliminated by an opponent, the offense will be faced with more and more third-down-and-long to go, meaning defenses will be able to sit back and take advantage of Favre’s gun-slinger mentality that Jets’ fans have quickly grown to both love and hate. Put the Jets in short-yardage situations however, and that is when they are at their best. Veteran receivers Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery, as well as impressive rookie tight end Dustin Keller have lived off of the Jets’ play-action passes and Favre’s ability to throw in tight spots and double coverage.

Because of the Jets’ style of play, the defense will be asked to protect a lead most games. So far this year, they have been a little shaky in that respect, especially their pass coverage. If the Jets are to hold on to the division and make it into the postseason, that is undoubtedly the area they have to improve. Although it will far from determine the outcome of their season, the Jets will get a great opportunity to measure themselves against arguably the best team in the league this Sunday against the 10-0 Tennessee Titans.

If the Jets do in fact make the playoffs, they would probably be underdogs no matter who they play. That however could very much play right into their hands, as the Jets have seasoned veterans at key positions, including Favre, running back Thomas Jones, newly acquired defensive back Ty Law (who turned in a great performance last week against Randy Moss and the Patriots) and offensive lineman Damien Woody, all who have valuable playoff and Super Bowl experience. All of these players could end up leading the team to a Super Bowl showdown with their local rivals, the New York Giants. Still, a Super Bowl is so very far away for the Jets. Even though a Giants vs. Jets Super Bowl would be a great ending to this year’s already very entertaining NFL season and an absolute field day for the media, realistically the Giants have a far better chance of representing their conference in the big game. Then again, anything is possible when Number Four is your quarterback…