Before this season began, the Jets decided this was the year they were going for it. After a wretched, irrelevant 2007, they opened the checkbooks, Yankees-style, and signed offensive linemen Alan Faneca and Damien Woody and linebacker Calvin Pace to big-money contracts. The message was clear: Win now, because last year, in which cross-stadium rivals the Giants won the Super Bowl after everyone had forgotten about the Jets in October, was unacceptable. This was all before Brett Favre fell into their laps and, just as important, Tom Brady was injured in the first game of the season, opening up the AFC East for the first time in six years. If the Jets were ever going to win the division, this would be the year.
So where do they stand now? With two games left in the season, the Jets are in a three-way tie with the Dolphins and Patriots atop the division, and they’re lucky to be there. Had the Bills not inexplicably decided to throw late in the game last Sunday, causing J.P. Losman to fumble away a match that more or less required a running out of the clock, the Jets would be coming off three straight losses. Now all they have to do is win two in a row, including, ominously, the season finale against Miami and former quarterback Chad Pennington. Do that, and they win the division and host a playoff game. (Strangely, the only team in the division that isn’t guaranteed a playoff spot if it wins out is New England; if your brain can handle it, check out all the tiebreaker scenarios here.)
But what if this Jets season — in which all the stars are aligned perfectly, backed up with the proper investment from management — never makes it to the playoffs? Would this be not the beginning of a new era in Jets football, but the end of it?
First off, Favre. He doesn’t look like someone who’s eager to retire. (Not that he won’t stretch things out all summer anyway, just to keep Sports Illustrated’s Peter King and ESPN busy.) That doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll come back to the Jets, though — not if they miss the playoffs. Sure, the Jets have him under contract, but so did the Packers, who actually signed him to a “Packer-for-life” ten-year deal in 2001. If Favre can force his way out of Green Bay, getting out of the Meadowlands should be a cinch. This is not to say that Favre would definitely push his way out, but if the Jets couldn’t make the playoffs this year, why would he come back and try again next year, with everyone a year older and Tom Brady standing in his way? Wouldn’t Tampa Bay be more appealing?
That said, the guy shaking during these last two weeks has to have been Eric Mangini. If the Jets miss the playoffs, the Manginious days are officially over. He couldn’t win with this team? What more do they have to give him? This is the third year of a four-year contract, and NFL teams notoriously hate to have coaches head into the final year of their contract without an extension (or without being fired). (This is the exact situation Tom Coughlin faced two years ago.) If the Jets make the playoffs, he gets a multi-year extension. If not, he’s either gone or has one year to turn it around, à la Coughlin. If Favre doesn’t come back — and he’s certainly not going to want to return with a new coach, unless Mike Holmgren changes his mind and returns to directing his old quarterback — and Mangini doesn’t come back, aren’t the Jets actually worse off than they were two years ago, before Mangini came to town? They’ll have no quarterback, no head coach, and a bunch of expensive veterans. They’ll have to completely start over. Again. Of course, all the Jets have to do is win their next two games; Fireman Ed will be dancing in the streets, and disaster will be averted. That shouldn’t be so hard, right?