Tuesday, December 7, 2010

December 7: A Legend Was Born

For some, Dec. 7 is remembered as "a date that will live in infamy" because it was when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941. For many others, most too young to have their lives halted by the war, Dec. 7 is celebrated as the day that a beloved legend was born.

I'm in the latter category. Because today is my mom's birthday.

Oh, it's also Larry Bird's birthday. Some folks think he's pretty legendary, too.

Time Off Ain't On Our Side

The New York Jets have played three of their 12 games during the 2010 season after having more than seven off days. They have been outscored 64-12 in those three games, failing to score a touchdown in any contest and being held scoreless once.

2010 Jets Results and Days Between Games
WeekOpponentDays OffResult
1BaltimoreEntire OffseasonLoss, 9-10
2New England5Win, 28-14
3@ Miami6Win, 31-23
4@ Buffalo6Win, 38-14
5Minnesota7Win, 29-20
6@ Denver5Win, 24-20
8Green Bay13 (Bye Week)Loss, 0-9
9@ Detroit6Win, 23-20 OT
10@ Cleveland6Win, 26-20 OT
11Houston6Win, 30-27
12Cincinnati3Win, 26-10
13@ New England10Loss, 3-45
Both the season-opening loss to the Ravens and the defeat by Green Bay after the bye week left me convinced that Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer had out-thought himself. With too much time to script plays, he got carried away with what was possible on paper instead of focusing on what was going to be effective on the field. In both cases, it appeared that the Jets were tentatively trying things rather efficiently executing things that they already had confidence in.

Against the Ravens, the supposedly "Ground and Pound" Jets attempted passes on 6 of the 8 non-kicking (punt and field goal attempt) plays that comprised the offense's first two drives. They then came out after the half and went three and out on their first possession of the third quarter with three pass plays. In both losses, there were reverses run at inopportune times that suggested that they had been scripted in advance. Like maybe on the ninth day of game-planning.

Against Green Bay, the Jets coaching staff called 41 pass plays to just 28 running plays and saw punter Steve Weatherford freelance on a fake punt attempt in a fourth-and-18 situation from his own 20-yard line. That loss to Green Bay was also marred by a missed field goal and a foolish referee challenge by Rex that came back to haunt his team. Which brings us to last night's thorough debaclization of the Jets up at Foxboro where a mis-used challenge and a missed field goal led to this game unraveling early.


This 45-3 defeat at the well-manicured hands of Tom Brady was so surgical and unequivocal that it hardly hurt, like being cut with a Hattori Hanzo blade so sharp that you don't feel the pain until you feel the wet warmth of the blood pooling at your feet.

Hard to block when the Jets had the ball and harder to tackle when they had it, the Patriots seemed prepared and aggressive on both sides of the ball. They executed ruthlessly and singlemindedly while the Jets seemed tentative and disjointed (and, yes, I'm talking about LT taking another dump off pass to the helmet). While the Jets players spent all those off days telling reporters and themselves that could win it certainly seemed that the Patriots spent the time making sure that they would win.

Yes, the shanked punt, missed field goal and squandered challenge all figured prominently in the game getting away from the Jets so early, but those things almost seem irrelevant when considered alongside the striking difference in comfort and urgency between the two teams.

For me, last night's humiliating loss hammered home the notion that time off isn't on the side of the New York Jets. Rest makes rust and unfamiliar game plans. I don't know if the blame falls entirely on the meaty shoulders of Rex Ryan whose top-flight motivation skills and innovative defensive philosophies may outstrip his in-game efficiency by more than we were all willing to concede. Or, does more of the blame fall on Shotty? His offense, which despite his high profile have never actually amounted to much over the duration of a season, seems stuck in neutral every time he has more than a few days to tinker under the hood. Of course, even if the blame does lay with the offensive coordinator one could transfer that right back to Rexy for not having a heavier hand in the offensive game planning. At this point, he likes to talk about the running game more than he likes to make sure that his coaches are relying on it.

Although Patriots coach Bill Belichick has thrived on tailoring a game plan to counter his opponent's strengths, these Jets seem to be at their best when they impose their own strengths - the running game and an aggressive defense.

Under Ryan, the Jets have been more successful when drawing on an overarching me-first theme rather than a week-by-week scheme based on the other team. This is why we heard "Ground and Pound" so often last season as the Jets rolled to the AFC Championship Game. With the Patriots in the driver's seat for the AFC East crown after last night, the Jets likely wouldn't have any extra off days before a game unless they reached the Super Bowl. So, in that way last night might have been a lose-win. After all, I can't see this team benefitting from a first-round bye in the playoffs.