(Sports Network) – OK, it could have been a lot worse.
Instead of simply losing the opening game of a regular season that followed an unprecedentedly noisy summer, the New York Jets could have walked away from that loss in tatters.
They could have found out 24 hours later that mammoth nose tackle Kris Jenkins, who missed two-thirds of last season with a blown-out knee, had re- injured the very same part early in last Monday’s game with the Baltimore Ravens and would be lost for yet another season — possibly the last of a snake-bitten career.
And on top of the 10-9 defeat to the Ravens and the personnel loss, the Jets could have spent the early part of this week fielding questions from the media and the NFL about a recent unsavory run-in with a female reporter along the practice-field sidelines and in the locker room.
As the coup de grace, all of this turmoil could be occurring as the lead-in to a suddenly season-defining home game this Sunday with their most prolific and motivated opponent, the New England Patriots.
If all that were true…whew, it’d be a tough time to be Jets head coach Rex Ryan. And the problem for the leader of a fatalist Gang Green Nation…it all is.
“There was no rhythm. There was nothing,” a crestfallen Ryan said in reference to the Week 1 debacle with Baltimore. "(Against) this team we’re going up against, obviously we’ve got to find a way, because (New England) is going to score and we have to be able to score.
“I think we have the ability. I don’t think theres any doubt. But we’ve got to find a way to convert on third down and keep drives alive. When you’re 1- of-11 on third down you’re not going to beat anybody. We’ve got to be better. If that’s dialing things back, whatever, we’ll search for an answer.
“We’re obviously not going to go undefeated this year, but our goals remain the same.”
Not exactly the Week 2 pre-Patriot blather a success-starved North Jersey fan base had anticipated.
As for the Patriots, their 2010 debut could have hardly gone better.
Faced with a similarly brash 2009 playoff qualifier many observers had dubbed a potential AFC powerhouse for this season, Tom Brady and company surged to a 28-point lead after 31 minutes en route to a convincing 38-24 home defeat of the Cincinnati Bengals last Sunday.
The three-time Super Bowl champion passer was in mid-year form, completing 25 throws to seven receivers for 258 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions while outgunning a chronically-behind Carson Palmer, with the Cincinnati signal-caller forced to throw 50 times and getting picked off once for a touchdown.
“How can you not hear it? Of course we hear it,” he said of the Jets’ insistent summertime chatter. "We just go about our business a different way and a way that has worked for us. We typically don’t say much. And when we do, we get yelled at pretty good (by head coach Bill Belichick).
“That doesn’t seem that’s the program the Jets are on. That’s the way it is. What wins games is preparation and work and commitment and being on the same page with your teammates. That’s why you win games. I can really make all the predictions in the world, but I got to go out there and play. That’s what’s important to us.”
Aside from Jenkins, New York will be without linebacker Calvin Pace, who broke a foot in the preseason and is expected to return in Week 3 at the earliest. Additionally, safety Brodney Pool was limited in this week’s practices with an ankle injury and is listed as questionable for Sunday.
Jets wide receiver Santonio Holmes, one of the team’s prized offseason acquisitions, is serving the second of a four-game season-opening suspension.
For New England, offensive tackle Nick Kaczur and cornerback Terrence Wheatley were held out of practice with back and foot injuries, respectively, and are questionable for Sunday. Also questionable are running back Fred Taylor (toe) and wide receiver Julian Edelman (foot), while Brady himself is listed probable with an apparent right shoulder concern.
“I have always said that I think (Belichick) the best coach in the league,” Ryan said, “Nut again, I’m here to beat him. It’s not about my skills against his skills. We’d lose that. It’s about his team and my team, and I have confidence in my team.”
The Jets hold a 50-48-1 edge in the all-time regular season series with the Patriots, including a conventional split of last year’s home-and-home. The Jets were 16-9 victors when the clubs met at the Meadowlands in Week 2 of last season, and the Pats returned the favor with a 31-14 rout at Gillette Stadium in Week 11. Prior to last year’s loss in North Jersey, the Patriots had an eight-game road winning streak against the Jets.
The teams have also met twice in the postseason, including a 26-14 road victory for New England in a 1985 AFC First-Round Playoff and a 37-16 triumph for the Pats in a 2006 opening-round tilt.
Belichick has a career mark of 15-8 against the Jets, for whom he served as defensive coordinator from 1997 through 1999, including 14-7 while with New England. Ryan is 1-1 against both Belichick and the Pats as a head coach.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL
Expect success — especially in New Jersey, where New England has won eight of the last nine games between the teams. Belichick, who was to coach the Jets before an impromptu resignation at an introductory press conference in 1999, is 8-2 with the Patriots on the road against New York. Brady is 7-1 in road games in the series and has completed 159-of-253 passes for 1,802 yards, 12 touchdowns and a 93.4 passer rating. Back in a primary role after the mid-week trade that sent Laurence Maroney to Denver, Taylor averaged 5.1 yards per carry on 14 rushes against Cincinnati. On the outside, Randy Moss is a touchdown away from becoming the fourth receiver in NFL history to reach 150, while slot man Wes Welker tries to echo the career-bests of 15 catches and 192 yards he posted in the teams’ most recent matchup last season. He scored twice against the Bengals last week, when tight end Rob Gronkowski scored his first career touchdown.
Statistically, the Jets fared well enough against the Ravens, allowing just two scores and 10 points in spite of a barrage of penalties. Situationally, however, they were consistently unsuccessful getting Baltimore off the field on third down and allowed 100-plus receiving yards to wideout Anquan Boldin in his AFC debut. Welker has presented similar problems in past meetings, as his 15-catch, 192-yard effort last season demonstrates. On the positive side, the Jets did force three turnovers (two fumbles and an interception) against the Ravens. Tackle Sione Pouha recovered both fumbles and will see more rotation time with Jenkins on the shelf. Linebacker Bryan Thomas had 1.5 sacks in the opener, while veteran newcomer Jason Taylor has a career-best 12 sacks against the Patriots. In the backfield, former San Diego corner Antonio Cromartie had an interception in his initial game with New York on Monday, and former holdout Darrelle Revis had an interception in last year’s home victory over the Patriots.
WHEN THE JETS HAVE THE BALL
Expect, well…who knows? Sanchez used a Week 2 defeat of the Patriots last season as a “Welcome to the NFL” statement by completing 14-of-22 passes for 163 yards, a touchdown and a 101.1 passer rating in a 14-9 win, but would up with 12 touchdowns and 20 interceptions on the season. His reviews after the Ravens game were universally bad after one New York converted just 1-of-11 third-down chances and produced an overall offensive output of just 176 yards. Similarly panned was running back Shonn Greene, who fumbled twice in his initial turn as the feature back after Thomas Jones’ offseason departure to Kansas City. In his brief career, Greene has averaged five yards per carry against AFC foes (85 carries, 428 yards). Resurgent veteran LaDainian Tomlinson may have played his way into more time after racking up 62 yards on 11 carries against Baltimore. He’s averaged 108.4 yards per game for his career against New England. Among the receivers, Braylon Edwards has a 17.1 yards-per-catch career average against the Patriots.
The non-Brady side of things for New England isn’t quite as glittery. Though they played with the lead all game, the Patriots were gashed for 428 yards by the Bengals and allowed a 12-catch, 159-yard output from wide receiver Chad Ochocinco. Opportunism saved the defensive day, however, as the Patriots mustered a pair of takeaways, including a 59-yard interception return for a touchdown by linebacker Gary Guyton that extended the team’s advantage before halftime. Linebacker Tully Banta-Cain and tackle Myron Pryor shared the Patriots’ only sack of Palmer, though Banta-Cain had a pair of sacks in his last meeting with the Jets. Safety Pat Chung and linebacker Jerod Mayo were the tackling leaders for the opening week, recording 16 (12 solo) and 12 (8 solo) stops, respectively. Palmer saw six of his 50 pass attempts deflected as well in addition to the one pick.
Brady is a fantasy must-start even if none of his targets are remarkably prolific, because he’ll spread the ball around enough to post good numbers. Welker also gets a nod this week for his matchup with the suddenly less- imposing non-Revis element of the Jets’ coverage team. Look for kicker Stephen Gostkowski to get his points as well. For New York, Greene will probably get a chance to reassert himself against a sometimes balky New England run defense. And the Jets defense is a must-start most weeks, especially after forcing three turnovers in the otherwise-forgettable Baltimore outing.
It’s Week 2 and far too early for ship-jumping, yet it’s not surprising that this game is already being framed as a serious test for the dizzied Jets. Two consecutive losses at home to start the schedule would be bad enough, but the combined mental blow it would deal to a team primed for far better things might be more impactful — and more important to avoid. Expect Ryan to dig into an “everyone’s turned against us” bag of motivational tricks to summon a turnaround against his teams signature foe.