Saturday, January 15, 2011

Silence and Peace Beckon -- Or at Least a Better Class of Noise

One way or the other, we will no longer be hearing from the New York Jets after Sunday night.

If the Jets lose to the Patriots, they will be struck dumb, or more accurately, any sounds they might emit will be obscured by a national horselaugh at their expense. The franchise will fade from the collective NFL consciousness until it emerges with a few more desperate and erratic personnel moves after the Super Bowl.

If the Jets win, well, nobody will hear anything in New England for the next month but wailing, whining, and bitter backbiting and second-guessing from fans and commentators at this hideous and unexpected turn of events. In defeat, the Pats organization itself has the mother wit to shut up and move on. Its outriders, not so much.

This trait is not limited to New England. Of all the sports, pro football is where fans and media have the least nuanced mindset about the home team. It is either adulated as invincible or excoriated as a bunch of weaklings and bums. This has always struck me as a weird way of thinking about a league that has an avowed goal of dragging all competitors either up or down towards a .500 record, but illogical or not, we all know that's what will happen if the Pats are upset. Poor (actually really rich) Giselle can expect a quick reversion to the "homewrecking, strength-sapping hussy" image should hubby Tom throw two or three picks.

This regional catastrophe is very unlikely to occur. On the sports upset scale "Jets beat Pats" ranks lower than say, "Orioles win AL East," but not much lower. Leave aside all the pregame bullshit, from foot fetish jokes to neurotic belligerence from cornerbacks, and the New England-New York game falls into a familiar NFL playoff trope. Like innumerable decent playoff teams before them, the Jets' offense only works if it can run the ball productively and frequently. These teams generally lose in the playoffs, and almost NEVER pull upset victories for the simple reason that most other playoff teams became such in large part because they have quality defenses. Defenses which cannot stop the run do not get the adjective "quality." Neither do they appear in many playoff games.

So like everybody else under the new and improved zodiac, I expect the Pats to win. Let the record show, however, that "expect" and "very unlikely" are not expressions of certitude, nor are they terms anyone would want to see in an investment recommendation (Pats giving nine is a modest but genuine overlay for Jets bettors). The Jets COULD win. They're plenty good enough. I'd even be tempted to pick the upset if only the Jets acted like THEY thought they could win the damn game.

That's what's blown my mind about the pregame ranting emanating from that New Jersey hamlet the Jets call home these days. In-game trash talk is a byproduct of a violent sport. Pre-game trash talk is the venting of insecurity. The braggadocio of Antonio Cromartie and the disconnected ramblings of Rex Ryan were, in psychological terms, obvious calls for help from men overwhelmed by the prospects of their immediate futures. Why would any head coach make a single playoff game a personal duel between himself and a surefire first ballot Hall of Fame opposing coach such as Bill Belichick unless he was creating a prepaid excuse card for his players to use following a loss he saw coming? Why express undying hated for Tom Brady unless you felt he was going to riddle your side of the field with completions?

The Jets do themselves a disservice with their mouths. Not because their words have any effect on their opponents -- as Bill Parcells once noted "that stuff goes away fast the first time you get hit in the mouth," but because their words sell themselves short. That's not the internal stuff of champions.

Had the Jets not gone verbally all-id this week, more folks might have noticed the most significant aspect of their victory over the Colts last Saturday night. After 59 minutes and change, the Jets were behind, and two New York players being fitted for 10-point goat horns as only New York City can do it were quarterback Mark Sanchez and, as luck would have it, Cromartie. Sanchez and Cromartie then made all the plays in what became the Jets' game-winning drives.

Punks and frauds can't pull off feats like that. Those were big-boy plays by a very adult football team, a team to be respected, and if you're a fan of their next opponent, feared.

Which is why it's so baffling, and for them sad, that among the people who clearly don't see the
Jets in that light are the Jets themselves.


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