Same old Jets, was the succinct assessment of the coach, Rex Ryan, whose underdog bunch had just completed what he’d projected to be the second-most-important win in franchise history.
Same old Jets. Ha. That’s a knee-slapper, even for the wig- wearing Ryan, the man who on day one in the new gig made boastful proclamations about visiting the White House. And soon.
According to Ryan, there was Joe Namath and Super Bowl III in 1969 and what transpired two days ago in Foxborough, Massachusetts, where the Jets talked big and performed even bigger in a 28-21 win over the uncharacteristically sloppy New England Patriots. The Jets are, for the second straight season, one win shy of the Super Bowl, which Ryan declared as the do-or- disappoint goal at the outset of the season.
This time the Jets outperformed Bill Belichick’s poised and polished program, to use a college term, whose coach doesn’t say much because, well, three Super Bowl rings say enough.
You have to remember that Ryan’s father, Buddy, was an assistant to Weeb Ewbank on the Jets team that shocked the Baltimore Colts in the Super Bowl back when Namath was a pantyhose pitchman.
Ewbank shortly before his death in 1998 told me of his, uh, let’s call it unconventional, trick for keeping a cool and calm demeanor while his belly churned. A nervous coach leads to nervous players, said Ewbank, who would stick his hand in his pocket and twist his testicle. Yes, really. The way Ewbank explained it, the resulting pain would allow him to remain stoic, even if the next play determined which team won and which team lost.
A lot has transpired since Namath and his ballyhooed guarantee. And, as any fan of the J-E-T-S will tell you, much of it hasn’t been good. Most fans would like to forget the 1995 and 1996 seasons under Coach Rich Kotite, who won a grand total of four games. They’d like to forget about the heavy dose of disappointing draft picks. Too many to list.
Ryan has to understand that Jets fans have been conditioned to think Sisyphus, not Super Bowl. Up, down. Up, down. Repeat. If you told a Jets fan that, in the game two days ago, one team would’ve muffed a fake punt in their own territory, the guys in green would’ve guessed their boys. Jets fans are conditioned to expect that something will go wrong.
Now, though, it seems that everything will go right.
Up next for the Jets is the Pittsburgh Steelers, who won the Super Bowl two years ago when wide receiver Santonio Holmes made a highlight-film catch inside the final minute. Holmes wears green now, not black and gold.
The Jets were half-a-game short of the big game last season, when they lost to Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC title game. The Jets led at halftime, 17-13. Final score: Colts 30, Jets 17.
But that wasn’t the same old Jets. It was more about Manning’s brain, not to mention his right arm. Guess who the Jets beat in the first round of this season’s playoffs? First Manning, in Indy, then Brady, in Foxborough, and now the opponent is Ben Roethlisberger, in Pittsburgh. To label that gauntlet as formidable would be a grand understatement. Beating those teams, back-to-back-to-back, would be one of the more impressive feats in NFL playoff history.
Most times, what happens in the regular season doesn’t mean anything. Most times. It does this time. The Jets and Steelers met last month in Pittsburgh, where the Steelers, trailing by five points, drove inside the Jets 10-yard-line with the clock winding down. Roethlisberger more than once cocked his right arm and let the football fly. Only, surprise, surprise, he couldn’t connect. The Jets won, 22-17.
These are not the same old Jets.
Turns out that Mark Sanchez is, indeed, a franchise quarterback. He’s looked shaky at times, yes, but he’s demonstrated the poise and precision required at the most stressful times.
Good enough to beat Manning and Brady.
There probably won’t be a barrage of points scored by the Jets or Steelers, who oddsmakers have installed as a field-goal favorite.
Don’t be surprised if Roethlisberger or Sanchez has the ball in his hands, clock ticking down and a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.
At that moment, take a gander at the Jets sideline to see if Ryan has his hands in his pockets.
Same old Jets.
Scott Soshnick is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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