Welcome to TiT's own spin on playoff previews. Over the next couple of days, we'll be taking a look at each of the postseason participants, what they've accomplished, and what they mean to the rest of this year's story.
If the Jets were a song:
Maino - "Gotta Love Me"
Why Do the Jets Matter?:
I’m not one to feign objectivity, so I won’t try here.
For this entire season, I’ve been trying to figure out how I feel about this Jets team. On the one hand, I’ve damned them with the title “more talent and less heart” than any team I’ve ever cheered for, but the more I watch them play, the less certain I am that this fits.
Thinking back to the 2006 playoff team, a favorite of mine held together by creative play calling and Chad Pennington’s mind, that team didn’t need to care; every win was a surprise, and the team made the whole affair look fun. By contrast, this season has been anything but fun. Surprising, sure, but fun? You think it’s fun believing Mark Sanchez can be as good as he’s looked earlier in the year only to watch him make stupid rookie mistakes that lose games? You think it’s fun watching Braylon Edwards use his size and speed to beat defenders only to have him bobble a sure touchdown? You think it’s fun watching this defense put up an elite statistical performance for the year only to melt down at key moments in gut wrenching losses (the Miami and Jacksonville games stand out as particularly painful)? For the first time in years, I’ve had games where I needed an hour afterwards just to cool down before I could behave sociably around anyone. This past Sunday, with the playoffs on the line, I brought a little stress ball with me in anticipation of what could have been yet another stomach punch on the season. Believe me when I tell you that none of these things are “fun”.
The thing is, caring isn’t fun, and unlike the majority of the Jets teams of this past decade, I actually care about this team succeeding, as opposed to just trying hard or, at worst, not getting embarrassed. This is because this team seems to care deeply about itself, despite all the chatter about unfocused quarterbacks or wannabe models or loudmouth coaches. When the media turned on it and the fans embraced the pessimism that comes with wearing green and white, this team never let go of the great expectations that accompanied its early performance. It’s the reason that Rex Ryan cries, the defense gets genuinely upset at its losses, Braylon Edwards looks stunned at himself on his drops, and Mark Sanchez looks like life has punched him in the face after every interception. It’s the same reason we drink and listen to sad songs after a breakup, or kill ourselves trying to figure out why we didn’t get the promotion we thought we’d earned. The problem is that caring requires a little faith in the thing you care about, and when that little investment of faith is proven to be a mistake, or even shaken in the slightest, it hurts. And that is why this team has been so hard to root for; because I care about it, and caring usually hurts.
But caring for a team is what makes supporting a team worthwhile in the first place. I’d almost forgotten that, with 2006 being such a breezy, pleasant surprise and everything after it feeling like such an obvious mess. When Mark Sanchez connects with Braylon Edwards, it doesn’t feel unexpected; it feels like they’re finally figuring out what role they play in each other’s development on offense, and their resulting happiness carries that additional significance. When Rex Ryan shouts praises at his defense from the sideline, it’s because they are proving themselves to be just as unyielding as he knows they can be, and I find myself shouting at the television as well, because I believe just a little bit more like Rex does. For better or for worse, I am invested in this Jets team like I haven’t been invested in a long time, because they’ve gotten me actually thinking they can pull off the crazy things they’ve been saying they can pull off all year long.
That’s not to say that this team is some insane pipe dream. The fact is that the number one rushing offense combined with the number one overall defense (complete with the best passing defense in the league) is going to be a tough pill for any opponent to swallow. If Mark Sanchez has learned more than the media seems to think he has (and judging from how he kept the ball in places where only his guys could get it last week, I believe he has), it’s going to be very hard to score on this team, and very difficult to get the ball back from them. These are the statistical facts, and they’re good for the Jets, particularly if this team is so pissed off from the talk that they don’t deserve to be here that they decide to execute their game to perfection for four games in a row. Still, I’m not here to tell you about the hard data that confirms what I’ve come to believe about this team, or that they can actually shock some people this postseason. That’s not what makes this Jets team special. I’m here to tell you that this team actually got me to care about them putting up those numbers and achieving the success they have this year. Which means that as much as this season has disappointed me at times, the satisfaction I have watching this team now more than makes up for it.