It has been almost three months since Steeler kicker Jeff Reedâ€™s 33-yard overtime field goal sailed through the uprights, ending the New York Jets 2004-2005 season at a cold and blustery Heinz Field. To most Jet fans, the season ended with a lot of â€œwhat ifâ€™s”:
What if the Jets offense did not go ultra-conservative during the end of regulation and during the overtime period against the Steelers?
What if Doug Brien was successful on either one of his 47 or 43-yard field goals with less than two minutes left in regulation?
What if the Jets defeated the Steelers and traveled to Foxboro to take on the defending World Champions in the AFC Championship game?
One thing is for certain, the road to the Super Bowl is an extremely difficult task if you are one of the Wild Card teams who have to win three road playoff games just to get to the Big Dance. Only one team in the history of the NFL (the 1985-â€™86 New England Patriots) has ever won three road playoff games and made it to the Super Bowl. And only one Wild Card team (the 1980-â€™81 Oakland Raiders) has ever won the Super Bowl.
Without a doubt, the easiest way for any team to reach the Promised Land is winning their division (and hopefully gaining a first-round bye in the process) and having at least one home game in the playoffs. Unfortunately for Jet fans, their team plays in the same division as the New England Patriots. Getting over that hump is the key for the Jets quest to get their long-awaited ring.
While most NFL prognosticators have once again made the Patriots the early favorites to repeat their AFC East title, here are five reasons why the New York Jets can take the AFCE crown away from the Pats….
1) Offensive Coordinator Mike Heimerdinger- Jet fans only have to look as far as Donnie Henderson to see the impact of what an aggressive, disciplinarian-type coordinator can bring to a football team. In Mike Heimerdinger, the Jets got the spitting image of Donnie Henderson now on the offensive side of the ball. The successful former Titans OC will bring three changes to the Jets offense that was sorely lacking under Paul Hackett.
~First and foremost, Dinger has the ability to prepare a game plan based on other teams weaknesses. Rather than trying to move the ball based on the Jets strengths (a la Paul Hackett), Dinger will have the offense ready to attack an opposing teams defensive weaknesses. Look at all the successful OCâ€™s in the NFL. They all have the uncanny ability to design and execute plays that exploit another teamâ€™s vulnerability. Mike Heimerdinger is in the same mold.
~Secondly, the Jets predictable offense will be a thing of the past. How many times have Jet fans watched a game and were able to call Hackettâ€™s next play with ease? Unfortunately, the Jets opponents were able to do the exact same thing, which usually led to disaster. Dinger will bring along the use of different formations, tons of motion and new plays that the Jet offense has not seen in years.
~Lastly, on game day, if something is not working he will make the necessary in-game adjustments to keep moving the ball. A perfect example was during the Pats-Titans 2003 divisional playoff game. During the first half the Pats threw some wrinkles at the Titans offense and pretty much bottled them up. However, coming out of the locker room after half time, the Titans made some adjustments and effectively moved the ball with ease during the second half, almost winning the football game. Jet fans can expect to see the same kind of critical in-game adjustments during the upcoming season.
2) Defense, Defense, Defense- It is common knowledge in the NFL that a highly potent offense puts fans in the seats, but it is a defense that wins championships. Just ask the Indianapolis Colts and the Kansas City Chiefs. Under the stern leadership of DC Donnie Henderson, the Jets have just begun building a defensive foundation that will only get better with experience and serve them very well for years to come. Hendu has brought to the Jets a philosophy of fundamentally sound techniques and an aggressive approach focusing on creating turnovers. Last season the Jets were 2nd in the NFL with a giveaway/takeaway ratio of +17. The defense was largely responsible for this by forcing 19 interceptions and recovering 14 fumbles for a total of 33 takeaways. This defense will only be better during the upcoming season, especially as Vilma, Strait and Coleman continue to get comfortable and gain more playing experience, along with the vast strides that have been made by emerging DT Dewayne Robertson.
3) The Draft- Although widely considered relatively weak on the top end, the 2005 NFL Draft is much deeper than prior years. Successful teams who have done their homework should be able to come away with players in rounds two through six who could see significant playing time and make immediate on-field contributions. If the Jets are successful in finding a few â€œdiamonds in the roughâ€? in the lower rounds, they can fill some holes (CB, SS, TE and LT) that would immediately make them a stronger football team. Look no farther than the successful rookie campaigns of Jonathan Vilma and Eric Coleman, and the early potential shown by young corner Derrick Strait.
4) Herm Edwards- As with any highly successful political leader, CEO or Head Coach, the one unique trait that they all share is having highly competent people at their â€œright handâ€?. Although it took him four years, Herm Edwards has now accomplished this goal with addition of both Donnie Henderson and Mike Heimerdinger.
The most critical mistake that Bill Belichick made during his Cleveland years was trying to do too much himself and not fully trusting the other coaches on the staff. His success in New England can be directly attributed to the faith, trust and latitude he gave to both Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel. Herm Edwards now has capable coordinators that should allow him to focus on big-picture preparation on a weekly basis, leaving the minutiae (never his strength) to his capable assistants.
5) Chad Pennington- Without a doubt, the biggest question of the Jets quest to unseat the Patriots lies with Chad Penningtonâ€™s right arm. Not only did Pennington have major shoulder surgery during the off-season, he is also going to be asked to execute a totally different offense than he was used to. The question is, will he be able to get back in time and healthy to make it happen?
If Jet fans think with the addition of Heimerdinger, that the offense will immediately become Air-Coryell, they will be sadly mistaken. Heimerdinger did a masterful job of building an offense around Steve McNair and Billy Volek while at Tennessee, but he was sure to protect his QB’s with a power running game and a brilliant short passing scheme. He will do the exact same thing for the Jets by building off Penningtonâ€™s strengths and fully understanding his limitations.
Not only will there be questions about Penningtonâ€™s shoulder recovery and his ability to adapt to a new offensive scheme, the question of his performance, or lack thereof, against good defensive teams should be answered very quickly during the upcoming season. With road games scheduled against the Patriots, Bills, Ravens, Dolphins and the Panthers, Pennington will have to elevate his play well enough to put the Jets in position to win several of these brutal road games right away.
Nothing is certain in the NFL. Teams can go from 5-11 one year to Super Bowl champions the next. The AFC East continues to be the strongest division in the NFL and the New England Patriots are still the consensus favorite to win their third consecutive division crown. However, for the above-mentioned reasons, the New York Jets are certainly more than capable of knocking the Patriots off their lofty perch.