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Let me get this out of the way. Everything Rex Ryan, Kerry Rhodes, and Kris Jenkins have said about this game is true. This is the biggest game of the season for the New York Jets. We hate the Patriots. We hate Bill Bellichick for slithering his way out of New York to take the Patriots job. We hate the smug way Tom Brady speaks with when he talks about the Jets. But most of all, we hate your success. We are a fan base completely starved for a winning franchise and we hate that while the two teams have traded so many players and coaches over the years, the Patriots have won and the Jets have not.
For the second straight year, the 1-0 Patriots face the 1-0 Jets in New York’s home opener. For the second straight year, Gang Green is armed with a flashy new quarterback and an improved defense looking to make a statement against a team that has thwarted them for a long time. And for the second straight year, the Patriots look vulnerable. But this time, I’ll tell you why it’s different from a Jets perspective.
Since taking the head coaching job back in January, Rex Ryan hasn’t stopped talking. Going from Eric Mangini to Ryan has been like a baby experiencing freedom for the first time. Players are actually talking. They’re doing it a little more than they probably should, but the key is that they change the culture of the Jets. At the end of the day, talk means nothing and winning means everything, but right now, the players would do anything for Ryan, and they believe that they can stop any offense that comes in front of them, and that can’t be a bad thing.
The question, of course, is “are the Jets as good as they say?” Defensively, the answer from all indications is yes. The Houston Texans were 12-4 at home the past two seasons primarily due to their offensive fireworks, and the Jets didn’t let them score a single point. Now, the Patriots won’t fold up as easily as Houston did, and Tom Brady is still Tom Brady. At the same time, we think the Jets have an elite defense, and if that’s true, we will take our chances against anyone, including New England.
Darrelle Revis is a top cornerback in the NFL who has played well against Randy Moss in the past. Ever since Jenkins arrived last year, the run defense has been stout. Bart Scott and David Harris will be known as the best inside linebacker combination in the NFL when the season is over. Wes Welker and Kevin Faulk are scary as the Patriots will try to counteract the blitz with bubble screens and try to get chunks of yards that way. The two question marks on the defense are Vernon Gholston and Lito Sheppard. Gholston was okay against Houston, but he has still proven nothing on the professional level. Sheppard struggled in the preseason, and he’ll have his hands full because Brady is smart enough not to throw at Revis.
Offensively, they have a lot more to prove. Houston loaded the box every play early against the Jets and did a very good job stopping the run, but Mark Sanchez picked them apart on third downs. New England will likely try something similar as it’s no secret the Jets want to run the ball first and foremost. However, they are not afraid to throw the football as offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has a ton of confidence in his quarterback, and his weapons are better than you think.
Dustin Keller is a fast tight end who causes matchup problems, especially on third down. Jerricho Cotchery and Chansi Stuckey can both make plays in the open field, with Cotchery being the Jets’ possession receiver. Leon Washington is a big play waiting to happen who is getting the ball more and more often offensively. Throw in the returning AFC’s leading rusher (Thomas Jones) and one of the best offensive lines in the AFC, and the Jets should be able to put up a few points against a defense that is still trying to find its identity.
A dominant defense and a decent offense with a good running game. Sounds a lot like Ryan’s Ravens last year, right? That’s who the Jets are trying to emulate.
Now, you’re probably wondering, do the Jets really think they’re going to finally beat the Patriots? Yes, we do. We’re overdue for a win in our home stadium, and we’ll take our chances against anybody with our defense. But the best part about this season as a Jets fan is that even if we lose, we know there’s a future. Mark Sanchez, Rex Ryan, and the defense have been everything we hoped they could be so far, and for the first time in a long time, the Jets are moving in the right direction to consistently contend not just for a playoff birth, but for a Super Bowl. A Super Bowl is probably not in the cards for the Jets this season, but a division title can be. The Jets can make a big statement to the rest of the NFL of all the things Jets fans already believe about this team if they can just win Sunday. It’s a tall order, but the players and coaches believe they can do it, and so do I.