Monday, September 11, 2006

Genie in a bottle (Coors Light, of course)

True story. My dad came back from the movies Saturday night and had two messages on the machine. It went something like this:

7:50 PM: “Hey Pete, it’s your brother, Fred. I’m sitting down with Fenway (his yellow lab) and a couple Coors Lights, going over the schedule, and I’m thinking 7-9. 7-9 seems pretty reasonable. Tomorrow’s a big one.” (yes, if you're the Jets and planning on going 7-9, beating a team with Kerry Collins at QB is, in fact, "a big one.")
9:45 PM: “Pete, Fritz again. Had a couple more Coors Lights. Going back over the schedule, and I have revised it to 9-7. I think 9-7 is definitely doable. Crazier things have happened.”

My dad called Fred at half past Ten and told him to just keep drinking until he got somewhere closer to 16-0. A couple things you gotta love about the blindly loyal fan: they almost never can truly understand the limitations of their own team, and they almost ALWAYS see the faults in every other team with clear and perfect vision. Fred could tell you in two minutes why the Pats can’t win the Super Bowl this year (no deep threats, Corey Dillon is getting older, loss of McGinest is killer, whose their defensive coordinator?) but ask him about the Jets chances and for as much as he knows about the Jets, as much time as he spends watching, reading, following the team, the answer will inevitably be something ridiculous like: “All depends on Pennington’s shoulder.” Why is this? Simple, it’s much easier to say the season hinges on the stressed tendons of a mediocre QB’s shoulder than it is to analyze all of the many weaknesses of one’s own team. In November, we can say, “we shouldn’t have put our faith in the arm of a guy with two shoulder surgeries in the last two years.” Sounds a lot better than, “the defense was soft against the pass, David Barret belongs in the CFL, our Special Teams were mediocre at best, any team who knew to Blitz our young line and shake-up our fragile passer was bound to smoke us,” and so on…So when Pennington threw for 315 yards on Sunday with two nice TD passes and no interceptions (debatable, and lets not mention the fumble inside his own five) and the Patriots look extremely beatable in the meantime, what does Fred have to say when my dad picks up the phone? “I am giving the Jets the victory at home next week. Make it 10-6.” He was kidding. I think. But with Fred, the truth is, you never know. You can’t fault the blindly faithful for their optimism.

And sometimes that optimism can get infectious. No joke. Here’s what I just did: I just poured myself a fresh cup of coffee, stretched out in my chair and pulled out the Jets schedule. I looked it up and down. I tried to be as unbiased as possible. I went over every game. I drew in the pre-requisite victories to the Patriots that Chad Pennington inevitably affords his rivals each season. In addition, I chalked up the following games as losses: Oct. 1 vs. Colts, Nov. 10 vs. Bears; Oct. 8 @ JAX. That’s it. Every other game is winnable as long as Chad Pennington can be an actual NFL quarterback. Outside of New England (and maybe they can steel one from the Pats, they’re due right?!) the division is very beatable. Non-conference games include Dee-twah, Houston , Oakland at home; and Minnesota, Green Bay, Cleveland on the Road. Say they win 3-4 against Miami and the Bills (maybe they lose in Miami on Christmas) Then say they cough one up to Minnesota on the road. Is it possible the Jets could still end up having a winning record? Even if the Jets are just an OK team (admittedly a stretch) if Pennington can stay healthy and the three-headed monster (tongue-firm-in-cheek) of Blaylock, Houston, and Barlow can combine for 125-175 yards a game, can’t this team put up some offensive numbers against an average defense? If the D plays like they did yesterday, can’t they hold the following QB/RB tandems to 17 P/PG: Lohsman/McGinest; Culpepper/Brown; Kitna/Take-Your-Pick; Carr/Davis; Brooks/LaMont? Why not? Why can’t the Jets have a winning record? Crazier things have happened.

It all comes down to this Sunday. The fact is when you beat a mediocre team in an ugly game that should have been a blow out had your (second round draft-choice!!) kicker bothered to do his job, it’s pretty hard to know where your at. I mean a win is almost always positive, but a kicker who misses two chips of 35 yards or less is worrisome, as is the lack of any dominant runner. Teams have won games with the multi-pronged RB approach before (see 2004 Eagles) but almost always, at least one of those guys was better than average. I’m not sure Blaylock qualifies. If you can take a home opener against the division favorites, you have reason for excitement. But any time you win, the fact is, there is little reason to get dispirited. Pennington is healthy, the running game was serviceable (thanks more to the young line doing its job than to any impressive work from the back-field.) As for the D, the unit as a whole looks to be solid in the 3-4, even without Abraham (whom I will keep saying “never would have fit into this scheme”) and minus David Barrett, they all stayed within their zones. The fact is if you play smart team football with consistent QB work, and brainy coaching you can stay in a game with almost every team in the modern NFL. Do that against enough average or below average teams and you’ll find yourself playing games that matter in December. Even if you are the Jets. And even if I wrote you off for dead three days ago. It starts with a win that means something…say Sunday at 4. You never know. Crazier things have happened.


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