If there is any silver lining for the Jets in the wake of the replacement refs' gaffe on Monday Night Football it’s that the white-hot spotlight of media attention is not focused on Florham Park. I’ve barely heard Tim Tebow’s name all week.
This is good because after the news of Darrelle Revis’ apparent season-ending knee injury, the Jets need the quiet time to regroup. If you saw the serious and downcast tone of Rex Ryan’s Monday news conference where he announced the results of Revis’ MRI, you know what I mean.
This is a big loss. I feel particularly bad for Revis himself, who likely will lose a year during the prime of his playing career.
However, if we know anything about the NFL it’s this: Injuries are a fact of life. The unofficial mantra is “next man up”.
But this sobering reality doesn’t have to spell the end of the Jets season. In fact, you can make a case that this awful news can be used to get the team back to their roots.
I’m referring to the Jets 2009 season with both a rookie head coach in Ryan and a rookie quarterback in Mark Sanchez. No one gave the Jets a chance that season. They were more of a curiosity than anything else; Rex with his entertaining press conferences and Sanchez as the new golden boy of Manhattan.
But the Jets surprised everyone and made it all the way to the AFC Championship Game and within 30 minutes of the Super Bowl.
Last year much was made of the rift between Mark Sanchez and Santonio Holmes. I’ve always believed that there were much more dangerous undercurrents of distance between Sanchez and Ryan (who by his own admission, did not have the pulse of the team).
Mark had to have felt that he was fighting through the drama without a lot of his head coach’s attention and support. That’s not a good position to be in for a still young QB facing a turbulent locker room.
Surprisingly, I am not that worried about Ryan reworking the defense without the services of Revis. He recalled at the press conference linked earlier that he’d gone through a similar situation in Baltimore losing defensive stars Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.
If anyone has a deep cache of resources to draw on to make adjustments to missing defensive personnel, it’s Ryan. And he’s right when he points out that a huge part of the problem right now is stopping the run and getting defensive three and outs against opponents.
I’d add tackling, but those things are about effort more than scheme, and Ryan is a master motivator.
I think the time has come for Rex and Mark to ride together again. What do I mean? I know Ryan likes to delegate much of the offense to whomever his offensive coordinator is.
So far, for me at least, the jury is out on Tony Sparano. But we’ve all seen through the Ryan/Sanchez years, when Ryan is personally very involved with Sanchez and the game plan, Mark can execute at a very high level.
We could armchair pop-psych this to death, but I think there’s some kind of “I don’t want to disappoint the head coach” vibe that is visceral and deeply ingrained in Sanchez and it’s watered down when there are a couple of layers between the two.
Sparano inherited a young QB with potential in Sanchez, but Ryan staked his career on the Sanchize. I can’t put my finger on why, but the people-pleaser in Sanchez responded very effectively when they were very tight the first two years.
I’ll give you a perfect example. Recall the middle of Sanchez’s rookie campaign was nothing short of a rollercoaster. Exciting wins followed by devastating losses many where Sanchez was the direct cause of the pain. Buffalo 5 INT game anyone?
Sanchez was forcing things, making too many mistakes and generally looking like the rookie he was: Flashes of brilliance followed by gutwrenching mistakes. He could seem a little lost or overwhelmed at times.
So Ryan came up with the ingeniously simple idea of a color coded wrist band for Sanchez to wear, simplifying things so Sanchez knew when to be cautious and when it was ok to freelance a little. And voila….the Jets took off and made an improbable playoff run that year.
Head coaches and quarterbacks are a very unique partnership. The coach has responsibility for the overall gameplan and the QB has responsibility for its execution. When those two are absolutely of the same mind at all times it confers the de facto authority of the head coach to his quarterback.
People understand that to challenge Sanchez is to challenge Rex. Nobody challenges Rex. This is important. Sanchez needs to be able to call out his young receivers when they drop passes or run the wrong routes.
If Holmes goes off the deep end and starts stirring it up again, he’ll be in Ryan’s office, not yapping to the media.
I was encouraged by Ryan’s Thursday press conference. His equanimity and optimism seem to be restored. Not bluster, just a quiet confident tone that he feels his squad knows that they all are in this together.
The Jets defense will be good enough. Whether they make the playoffs rests with the offense. And that means Sanchez has to deliver.
This team can’t write Sanchez off yet. The obvious comparison to Eli Manning at this same stage in his career shows that. It takes time with young quarterbacks.
I’m not saying Sanchez will turn into Manning, but it is tremendously hard to be a starting quarterback in this league. And Tebow is not the answer. He has a role to play, but Sanchez remains QB1.
If the Jets can regain that “it’s us against the world” attitude, maybe they can regain their 2009 and 2010 form.
To quote Ryan, “Everybody has to step up.” Truth is, they really don’t have any other choice.