The Jets on Sunday have an opportunity to conquer their penchant for a letdown, against the opponent responsible for the biggest of all.
You could forgive a Jets fan for thinking this all seems a little familiar. The Jets just pulled off a high profile win on the road in which not many were giving the Jets a shot, with the plaudits going to a top performance from the defensive line and an impressive display from a young quarterback. Expectations are getting a little more serious, with fans and pundits alike looking forward to a potentially major showdown following this week’s opponent. The Pittsburgh Steelers are next on the schedule, and it’s a game the Jets can’t possibly lose. Or so we thought.
Rex Ryan has never been one for an even keel. Following the Jets under Rex Ryan has been an emotional roller coaster and those that follow often find themselves caught up in the moment. One week brings doom and the next can make you forget all of the team’s troubles, ignoring the recent past with the promise of the future. As we’ve come to find out with the Jets though, what happened last isn’t necessarily what is going to happen next.
Other teams try there hardest to shut out the outside sentiment, but the Jets have lived by feeding off it. The Jets live to prove outsiders wrong, and play their best football with their backs against the wall. However, the team has then found difficulty matching the intensity once popular opinion starts going their way. The examples are numerous. This is a team that won its first three games in 2009 before dropping five of it’s next six. This is a team that the following season, with the Superbowl hype on its side, opened the new season with the most timid display a Jets fan could have possibly seen. This is a team that beat the league’s best team in their place in the playoffs later that same season, just a month after being absolutely destroyed in the same matchup. The week following, the apparent team of destiny was anything but. The pattern goes on, the team’s best performances coming as underdogs and the team playing its sloppiest when outsiders are patting them on the back.
We’ve seen on Monday night the team yet again rise above when nobody gave them a chance. The cracks evident against Tennessee have been papered over by a legitimately well-coached, clean performance. The team that ESPN ranked 32nd in the preseason is now entering playoff discussions on various sports panels. Just like that, people are looking ahead to a winless team at home and a potential division leading game in two weeks. The vibe around the team is positive, but we’ve seen this all before and you would excuse the cynic for saying that Jets fans are setting themselves up for disappointment. There is certainly an opportunity here. To capitalize though, Rex Ryan and his Jets must discover the art of consistency.
Bulletin board material is always an opportunity to rally the troops and few use it better than Rex Ryan does. But overall motivation ultimately must be internal, not external. The best coaches in the NFL have their team always ready to play, whether they’re the most talented or least talented team in the league, playing the 0-16 Lions or the 16-0 Patriots. Rex Ryan seems to have taken steps in limiting his role in the media charade that made the Jets just as talked about as their back-to-back AFC Championship trips, and this week will be a true test in shutting the outside completely as everyone starts patting the Jets on the back. With the word “letdown” being thrown around so much, not least by Rex Ryan himself, it only seems fitting that this week’s opponent is the one responsible for possibly the biggest letdown in Jets history. There’s no better time than now to exorcise this demon.