Yesterday, after a summer spent pumping iron and running laps, the fat kid with glasses returned to school a slimmer, more muscled challenger to his fair-haired tormentors. There would be no more spit balls in his hair now. No more “kick me” signs on his back or hours spent trying to escape the inside of a gym locker. No, the order of things would be different this time.
The bullies would be vanquished; the triumphant nerd, carried shoulder high by his adoring peers and then set down before the girl who never knew his name. All that lay between him and his new identity was the small matter of doing it, of meeting the varsity quarterback in the alley after school and letting him know there was a new world order. And it would be easier now, too. The varsity quarterback of years past was on crutches; in his place stood a faceless understudy as seemingly harmless as he was anonymous. This fight wouldn’t be so bad, after all.
But when the day came, and he was forced to stand face to face with reality, something changed deep inside. Suddenly, his confidence disappeared, and even if only in his head, he was a fat kid again. The first blow saw him struck squarely in the stomach. Bowled over and gasping, he fell to his knees and never made it back to his feet.
When the dust cleared, there he lay, red and blubbering, his glasses crushed underfoot, his underwear yanked into his nether regions hard enough to tear the elastic clear from the waistband. And they all laughed at him. As it turned out, the new world order would be the old world order.
And so it was for the New York Jets, who yesterday managed yet another loss to the New England Patriots, their latest in a seemingly interminable array of depressive, utterly listless efforts against a team that has them whipped as much mentally as physically.
There were some differences between this and losses past, of course. This time, the Patriots were without Tom Brady, the all-world quarterback who was thought to be the linchpin of their past success. Brady succumbed to a devastating knee injury in last week’s season opener against Kansas City and was replaced this week by Matt Cassel, previously known for backing up Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer before backing up Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart before backing up league MVP Tom Brady. In fact, so highly regarded was Cassel that yesterday’s game marked his first regular-season start since high school.
No matter. The Jets entered yesterday’s contest a timid, tremulous bunch defeated before they so much as stepped on the field. And after the game’s opening drive saw newly acquired kicker Jay Feely parlay a picture-perfect snap and hold into a horribly botched 31-yard field-goal attempt, the writing was on the wall. Cassel took over on his own 21 and quickly engineered a drive to within 10 feet of the goal line. When Stephen Gostkowski connected on a 21-yard field goal, the Patriots had a lead that they would never surrender, ultimately securing a 19-10 victory at the Meadowlands.
Time and again, the supposedly high-powered Jets offense failed to muster anything even remotely resembling a competent offensive drive. The running game was inconsistent, the protection poor and the passing game woefully out of sync. Worse still, the game saw yet another installment of Brian Schottenheimer’s vaunted play-not-to-lose offense, which, after nearly snatching defeat from the jaws of victory against a hapless Dolphin team in week one, nailed the team’s coffin shut yesterday.
With his team clearly in need of an emotional lift against its arch nemesis, Schottenheimer continued to call a maddeningly vanilla offense powered by screen passes and balls thrown near or behind the line of scrimmage. In other words, more of the same from a man whose overly complex offense is predicated on fancy shifts and formations that often seem to confuse the Jets as much as they do opposing defenses.
By all indications, Schottenheimer doesn’t understand that his continuing obsession with a safe, turnover-free offense suppresses the very skills and traits that will one day see Favre enshrined in the Hall of Fame. One can’t help but wonder what sense there was in acquiring Brett Favre if Schottenheimer’s intention was to continue coaching as if he had Chad Pennington.
As for the defense, it wasn’t much better. Last week, the Jets were very nearly burned by Chad Pennington and a receiving corps that ranks among the very worst in the league. This time, they were baffled by a collegiate backup who would have likely never seen the light of day had it not been for Brady’s injury.
Yes, they stopped the run fairly well for the second straight week and succeeded in producing a credible pass rush, but there is simply no excuse for allowing Matt Cassel to post a 116 passer rating. And just as Schottenheimer must bear some responsibility for the offensive failures, so must defensive coordinator Bob Sutton be held to account for the continuing underperformance of his defense. Sutton is entering his third year as coordinator after a long but relatively undistinguished career whose pinnacle was a nine-year stint as the head coach at Army, where he managed two winning campaigns in nine seasons.
Of course, this Jets season is far from over, and things often change from one week to the next. The Jets may very well develop the chemistry and confidence necessary to overtake the Patriots, earn a playoff berth, and justify $140 million of questionable offseason spending, but the effort seen over the past two weeks leads to one conclusion: They’re still not that good.