What's wrong with the Jets? The question has been asked millions of times by as many people over the past 36 hours or so. Who is to blame for their "stunning" fall from grace? Is it outspoken coach Rex Ryan? Is it turnover-happy quarterback Mark Sanchez? If you asked Rex after the game in Miami he might have led you to believe it was the defense.
Let me throw in my thoughts on the subject, my answer to the question—it's not any of those people. Do you know whose fault it is that the Jets suddenly look like lost, whipped puppies? I'll tell you who to blame:
Ray Lewis. Ed Reed. Haloti Ngata. Heck, the whole Baltimore Ravens defense is to blame! While we're at it, maybe we blame the '85 Bears as well. That's right, one of the best teams in the history of the league, thanks for screwing up the 2010 New York Jets.
By now, many of you (heck, maybe even most of you) probably think I'm crazy. Some might even be looking for a straight jacket and a padded room with my name on it, but slow that search down for just a minute and let me explain the method to my madness.
As most of us know, Rex Ryan spent the last 10 seasons on the staff of the Ravens before joining the Jets, four years as defensive coordinator and six years as defensive line coach. Let me rephrase that real quick. Rex Ryan spent the last 10 seasons around THE ABSOLUTE BEST DEFENDERS this league has seen since...I don't know, the 1985 Bears? (It strikes me that he may have spent some time around them as well given his family connections). What's my point you might ask? Well I'll tell ya.
When you come into contact with someone that really is the best at what they do, you notice something-there are certain traits that "the best" have. "The best" aren't satisfied with how good they are. "The best" have legendary work ethic, they never sit back and enjoy how great they are. "The best" don't need to be told they're the best-they know it. What's more, if you tell them they're the best it doesn't phase them on way or another. They don't revel in being told they're the best. They don't need the spotlight, but when they get it, they know how to handle it-shrug it off and keep working hard. Guys like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Ray Lewis, these are the guys in the NFL that fall into this category.
Now I never spent any time in the Ravens' locker room while Rex was on their staff, but given what I've seen of him as a head coach it seems reasonable to me that he told those Raven defenses of the 2000's all the time that they were the best. He probably even heard it all the time from fans, from reporters, from his friends, "you've got the best defense in football there!" Why wouldn't he have listened? Why wouldn't he have eaten it up? Why wouldn't he have passed it on?
The Ravens were the best during their heyday. And that's the difference between his old job and his new job—-Rex used to coach the best. He knew how to treat the best. He knew what kind of pressure he could put on the best. He knew what they could take, he knew where their limits were and how far he could push them. In his new job, Rex coaches an average bunch of players. Sure there are a few superstars on the team—Bart Scott is pretty good, Revis possibly one of the best in the league, and LT is a surefire Hall of Famer, but after that who do you really have? Nick Mangold? Are you gonna hang your hat on a center? Mark Sanchez? The kid should be a junior in college. Santonio Holmes? The only guy in football that smokes more weed is Ricky Williams. Braylon Edwards? Okay, that one's just too easy.
The point here is that the Jets simply aren't the best. They've got talent, but they're far from the best. They're a mediocre, average, run-of-the-mill team. Okay, maybe a bit better than average, but not much. You simply can't treat average players like they're the best. They can't handle the pressure you heap on them when you scream to anyone listening that they're the best in the league, the best you've ever coached. They tend to enjoy what you're saying a little too much. The spotlight shines on them and they freeze, satisfied with what they've attained already.
The most damaging thing that could happen to a team like this however, is for someone to prove they aren't the best. Not just to beat them, but to embarrass them. Not just to score one or two touchdowns, but six. Not just to outscore them by a field goal or a touchdown, but by 42 points. I heard it described best recently on ESPN when someone said the Jets reminded them of the school bully who gets beat up the first time and now everyone pushes him around because he doesn't know how to act if he isn't the toughest guy on the playground, I mean talk about a perfect comparison!
Watching the Dolphins embarrass the Jets this past weekend was a bit heart-warming as a New England fan, I won't lie. I am however, probably the only Pats fan I know that has a lot of respect for Rex Ryan. I like the way he does things, I love that he says what's on his mind with no filter, it's great stuff-and makes for great tv and interviews. It was also sad however. Watching Holmes drop that ball in the end zone and then listening to ex-Pats receiver David Givens talk about his own personal routines during the Patriots' Super Bowl runs just made me think—Holmes can't be doing those things can he? I mean, there's no way he drops a pass that wide open if he's practicing like he should is there? There's no way Mark Sanchez drops the ball pretty much every time he touches it if he's putting the work in properly.
When that bully gets beat up for the first time on the playground he often doesn't even try anymore. Most people see it as a good thing, he loses his will to fight everyone, has a change of heart, starts being nicer, blah blah blah. It looks to me like that's happened to the Jets this year. True champions are measured by how they bounce back from adversity (see the New England vs. Cleveland game and the Patriots' record since then). True champions can get back up off the mat and knock their opponent out. Now is the chance for the Jets and coach Rex Ryan to prove to all of us that they are as good as they thought they were, because in the immortal words of Denny Green they've let themselves off the hook.