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Da’ Jets

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The football gods hate this, and by “the football gods” we mean the mythical, Parcellsian, Belichickian, Lombardian notion that football is won by sweat and blood and hard labor, by staying out of the spotlight and digging in. The Tom Landry “act like you’ve been there before” school. (The current representative of this is NBC analyst Tony Dungy, who would have hated the 1985 Bears.) The Jets—perhaps aware that an upcoming labor nuclear war could make this season the last one for a while that actually crowns a champion—spared no expense in a non-salary-cap year to bring in all armament, ranging from wizened veterans looking for titles, like Jason Taylor and LaDainian Tomlinson, to supposed “troublemakers,” like Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards.

There was nothing prudent about how the Jets came into this season. They wanted it all, and they wanted it now. These are the types of sins the football gods love to punish. And when they lost a heartbreaker in week one to the Ravens, with Sanchez and the offense looking awful, the vultures began circling: The first half of the Jets’ schedule was one of the most daunting in the NFL, and they’d started 0-1. Now the Jets would pay for their insolence!

They haven’t lost since. The Jets have won in dominant fashion (destroying the hapless Bills), in vengeful, we’re-cock-of-the-walk-now fashion (stomping on the neck of the Patriots in week two), erase-the-past fashion (eradicating old “friend” Brett Favre), and, perhaps most important, in off-game-but-still-finding-a-way-to-win fashion (an ugly but effective win over the Broncos last week). The defense hasn’t had cornerback Darrelle Revis at 100 percent health all year, and it hasn’t mattered. Sanchez is still learning on the job, and it hasn’t mattered. Just like Ryan said they would, the Jets currently lead the league in fucking wins. Heading into the bye week, they’d won five in a row and were facing their easiest stretch of the year: five games—three at home, only one against a team with a winning record (Houston), before a season-determining Monday Night Football game against those blasted Patriots in Foxboro on December 6. The Jets could well be 10-1 going into that game, on a ten-game winning streak, on top of the football world.

That, of course, won’t be enough. What if the Jets really are as good as they think they are? What if they go 13-3, win the AFC East, and clinch home-field throughout the playoffs? What if they back it all up? What if the Jets—gasp—win the Super Bowl?

I’ll tell you what happens: The New York Jets become the closest thing this niche-media generation will have to the 1985 Chicago Bears. They line up in almost every way: charismatic and brash head coach; handsome, popular quarterback; future Hall of Fame running back; dominant defense; a tortured franchise history desperate for the breakthrough season that erases the past. This could be the Jets team everyone remembers. This could be the Jets As America’s Team.

Sure, there are still issues. Revis needs to get healthy. Tomlinson has been a godsend so far but is still an older running back who was considered washed-up last year. You never know when Holmes or Edwards is going to do something dumb. But the major worry, as always, is Sanchez, who will be a better quarterback for this team in five years than he is right now. He’s not the type of quarterback who can win games by himself, no matter how many color commentators call him “poised.” He’s still young, inexperienced, and, all told, a bit erratic. At his best, he is an efficient game manager who simply needs to avoid mistakes and let the team’s superior talent elsewhere take care of everything else. That might not be inspiring and that might not generate the pinball-machine stats we like in our quarterbacks, but hey: Namath’s stats weren’t that great either. Sanchez can be the Hollywood idol for this team without having to do all the heavy lifting, just like Broadway Joe.

But as long as the team has Rex Ryan as head coach, we’re going to believe. Ryan is an absolute gift for fans, in every way: He’s a brilliant coach (particularly on the defensive side of the ball), he bears a striking resemblance to that fun, drunk uncle from Long Island, and, mostly, he’s a lone voice of gloriously self-aggrandizing bluster in an NFL world that turns more beige every week. He gives guys the finger at MMA fights; he drinks beer in baggy shorts at Yankees games; he tells everyone who will listen that he, and his team, are better than you. So far this season, he’s been nothing but right. Guys like that are rare, and seasons like this are even rarer. Strap in for the ride: The Jets are all anyone’s gonna be talking about all winter. Ryan is going to make such a great action figure.

You can write to Leitch at will.leitch@nymag.com.


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