Can you hear it? That low murmur emanating from Flushing Meadows and the remnants of Shea Stadium.
Can you hear it yet? It's a bit louder now as it moves from Queens, NY over the Hudson River into East Rutherford, NJ. The murmur is now a distinct whisper exhaling from what's left of Giants Stadium
You can hear it now, can't you? That whisper has now increased in volume into a painful groan fueled by years of inflated hopes and crushed dreams
You've heard it now. On December 12th, that painful groan metamorphosed into a collective cry that can be heard throughout all of New Meadowlands Stadium and throughout Jets Nation.
It is the all too familiar cry of "SAME OLD JETS!"
Steve Sabol of NFL Films accurately likened "same old Jets" to “Charlie Brown trying to kick a football from Lucy’s hold. No matter how close he gets, Lucy always rips the ball away and all that’s left is a painful crash back to earth.”
Nothing can be closer to the truth. The Jets' embarrassing loss to the Miami Dolphins put Jets fans in the all too familiar situation of going from believing the hype of a team destined for greatness to a team wallowing in mediocrity and fighting for its playoff life.
Hopes of a division title have been quashed as the once questioned Patriots have established themselves as the best team in the AFC by slaughtering the Bears to an 11-2 record and a guaranteed playoff berth. It seems not even Mother Nature can stop Tom Brady, as he threw for over 350 yards and two TDs in a Chicago blizzard.
At 9-4 the Jets are still control their playoff destiny. But with contests against the Steelers, Bears and Bills, and with the stench of "same old Jets" in the air, the possibility of going 1-2—or worse, 0-3—in the final three games is very realistic. A 9-7 record will all but assure them a trip to the golf course as they watch the postseason on TV, and a 10-6 record will most likely yield the same result, as the AFC is highly contested.
The Jets now face the daunting task of traveling to Pittsburgh and trying to get back on track by winning in one of the toughest home fields in the NFL, Heinz Field...where they have yet to win a game.
Here are 10 things to watch for as the Jets try to fly out of a turbulence-filled sky and get back on a winning track against the Men of Steel.
The Steelers have the best rushing defense in the NFL. They are averaging a meager 60 rushing yards allowed per game to opposing teams. LT and Shonn Greene will have their hands full against the newest incarnation of the "Steel Curtain."
The Jets' prided running game has stalled in recent weeks, as opponents have been stacking the box to prevent being beaten on the ground and are essentially putting the game in Mark Sanchez's hands.
Which leads to...
Barring a complete defensive breakdown by the Steelers, the Jets' rushing attack should be neutralized, and Mark Sanchez is going to have to win this game.
Sanchez is going to have to forget his last two dismal outings and get back to the form he was playing at in Weeks 1-12.
He doesn't have to put up Brady-esque numbers; he only needs a solid outing with smart decisions, no costly turnovers and effective leadership.
While the Steelers have the best rushing defense, their passing defense is ranked 23rd in the league. Sanchez needs to exploit Pittsburgh's weak corners and get the ball into Santonio Holmes' hands. Santonio has surely circled this game on his calendar, as he'll want to show the Steelers it was a mistake to let him go.
Even though the Steelers' pass defense is suspect, Sanchez does need to watch out for...
Mark Sanchez and every Jets receiver should be having nightmares about this guy! While the Steelers may have a statistically-poor passing defense, anything can happen when Polamalu is on the field.
He can cover receivers like a blanket. He can make acrobatic, highlight-reel interceptions and run them back for TDs. He can blitz the QB with the speed and force of a bullet. He can put bone-crunching hits on receivers over the middle for incompletions or fumbles.
Polamalu is, in my humble opinion, the best defensive player in the league.
On the other side of Sanchez's woes of poor play is his receivers have had a bad case of the "dropsies" lately.
There is no better example of this than watching the sure-handed Santonio Holmes drop a perfect pass in the end zone for what should have been a sure TD.
Holmes isn't the only culprit. Jerricho Cotchery and, of course, Braylon Edwards have been guilty of this affliction too. Both of them have dropped sure first down catches in the past two games when Sanchez has hit them right in the numbers.
While Sanchez can be blamed for bad decision-making as of late, and his poor completion numbers are a result of that, it has to be noted that his receivers have been failing him recently. This trend had to stop if the Jets have any hopes of winning this game.
The Jets are hanging on to their playoff hopes by the skin of their teeth. If Sanchez isn't pulling his weight, Rex is going to have to go to 40-year-old veteran Mark Brunell.
Rex already stated he was considering pulling Sanchez in the debacle against the Dolphins. Well, consideration should now be done...if Sanchez if failing, Rex has to make the call and give the old man a shot.
If this does happen, it will be up to Rex to instill the confidence back into Sanchez to let him know he's not losing his starting job. He needs to make him understand he is the franchise QB for this team, but sometimes it's just not your day.
Just like any big name pitcher can get shellacked for 10 runs in the first inning of a game, a starting QB can not be on his game, and the coach will have to go to his bench.
Sanchez hasn't been on his game for two weeks now, and if he's still off-kilter, then Rex is left with no other option.
While Mark Sanchez's starting job might be temporarily in jeopardy, Brian Schottenheimer's job is most likely on the line.
When my wife and mother, who don't have the combined football knowledge to understand a Pop Warner game, can predict the order of what plays the Jets' offense is going to run (run-pass-pass), then Schottenheimer isn't fooling anyone with whatever his game plan is.
Schotty need to get less predictable and more creative (LET BRAD SMITH PASS OUT OF THE SEMINOLE INSTEAD OF RUNNING THE SAME FOUR PLAYS) with his offensive schemes. If he does not and this offense keeps limping along, he will most surely be out of a job at the end of the season.
There has been chatter for the last two seasons about Brian Schottenheimer possibly getting a head coaching job somewhere. If he continues on the way he's going, he'll be lucky to get another OC job anywhere next season.
One of the most consistent aspects of the Jets' play has been their ability to stop the run.
This trend will continue as Rashard Mendenhall will have a tough time trying to earn yardage against the Jets.
With both of these teams sporting excellent run defenses, this game will probably be a shootout hinging on which QB can play the best game.
Which leads to...
The Jets' biggest weakness this season has been getting to the QB. That is a poor weakness to have against Ben Roethlisberger.
Big Ben is probably the toughest QB in the league. He's big, he's strong and he can shed defenders like flies to extend a play and find an open receiver.
If the Jets' defense can't put any pressure on Roethlisberger, he will be able to move the ball at will.
The Jets' special teams, which have been amongst the best in the league, have been faltering lately.
It started with kicker Nick Folk's FG inconsistency (one more huge miss by Folk will probably cost him his job). Now the normally spot-on punting of Steve Weatherford seems to be taking a step back, as his punts are getting shorter.
Also, there seem to be more mental breakdowns on punt coverage, as good returns for great field position are getting negated by stupid penalties. The loss of Jim Leonhard on punt returns has hurt as well.
Special teams guru Mike Westhoff needs to right his ship and not let mental errors on ST lose the ever-so-important battle of field position.
I hate to say it, and I pray that I am wrong, but I've been a Jets fan for too long not to notice the symptoms...the Jets have been infected by "same old Jets" once again, and this season seems doomed for disappointment.
The crushing loss to the Patriots has set Gang Green on a downward spiral that makes all hopes of the playoff dependent on if they can back in on losses by other wild card contenders.
I feel like the flux capacitor sent me back in time to 1986. I'm a 10-year-old boy again, wearing my Joe Klecko t-shirt, watching the promising Jets season wind down into an epic fail with the heart-wrenching OT playoff loss to the Browns.
The Jets' 2010 bid will start its nose-dive in Heinz Field, as Troy Polamalu and the Steelers will prove too much for their anemic offense to handle.
Steelers win 23-10.
UPDATE: Polamalu is now expected not to start this game. The Steelers' defense is just not the same without him (check out last year's numbers). This could be all the edge the Jets need to overcome the Steelers.