Sunday, January 16, 2005

Putting It In Perspective
By Ben Valentine

Let's start with the obvious. Doug Brien should be and probably will be cut. Kickers must make any kick inside 45 yards unless the conditions are absolutely miserable. Yes, the Jets should have won that game, which is strange to consider since they could not muster an offensive touchdown the entire game. And yes ladies and gentlemen, that loss stings now as I watch Colts vs. Patriots, will continue to sting next week, Super Sunday and all the way up until the Jets make the playoffs again.

However, here's the good news Jet fans. Hopefully, that means the pain can go away by January of next year.

It's strange for me as a Jet fan to make such a comment. I know this team's history. Two conference championships since 1969. Collapses in Cleveland and Denver. Vinny going down in the second quarter of the first game in 1999 when it seemed the Gang Green was poised for a Super Bowl run. No folks, Jet history does not give you much faith about next year.

But no Jet team ever made the playoffs two straight years since the days of Namath. Three playoff appearances in four years? Unheard of. Or at least it used to be when the cast of characters were Coslett, Caroll, Nagle, Esasion, Rob Moore, Marvin Washington...

Now say these names with me... Edwards, Henderson, Pennington, Moss, McCariens, Ellis, Robertson, Vilma, Coleman... feel better yet?
Win or lose, you've got to love Herm.

You should. All of those names have one thing in common. They are all still improving at what they do best, winning football games. Think about it. While the days of the Tuna and Groh may seem like distant memories, Herm has only been here four years. Henderson one, first as a coordinator. Pennington has two and half seasons under his belt. Moss three years. Ellis four. Vilma and Coleman... rookies.

The moral of the story is there is something to look forward to. Think about it. Two years ago, the Jets made the playoffs with an old slow defense which finally caught up to them in 2003. In one year, that's right, one year, they overhauled that defense not only making it younger and faster, but light years better. That Jets D still has some holes, but it still one of the best in the NFL. Remember, Vilma will get better. Coleman will get better. Robertson will get better. 2004 was supposed to be a rebuilding year on defense, working in younger players and a new system. The defense was a work in progress. Just imagine what it will look like when that progress is made.

On offense, I still believe Paul Hackett needs to go. Pennington needs a coordinator who will at times force him to not take the check down receiver. McCariens and Moss have too much talent that has been underutilized. But the potential is there. Pennington dealt with adversity and responded with a great game in San Diego. Moss showed once more on Saturday why he is a difference maker. McCariens has all the tools and with the right scheme could be a 1,000 yard receiver.

The problem of course, is the Jets have a 31 year old running back. Curtis Martin, all things considered, had one of the most remarkable seasons a running back has ever had. It sounds crazy, but remember no running back over the age of 30 has ever led the league in rushing; Martin did just that. None had ever gone over 1,600 yards. Martin got within 3 yards of 1,700. Curtis is a great back and in my opinion the greatest Jet of all time. Yes better than Namath.

However Curtis is 31. Great season aside, when do the wheels fall off? The Jets need a backup who could step in. Lamont Jordan may or may not be the guy, but we'll probably never know, since he'll get starter money on the free agent market. Will the Jets be able to, or willing to give him that? With Kareem MacKenzie, Jason Ferguson and the much maligned John Abraham also up this year, it is hard to see how they can. Remember too, Santana Moss is a free agent next year. There has to be some money left for him.

This all means the Jets are at a critical juncture. They could fly to new heights next year or remain a mediocre eight to ten win team. And while many Jet fans don't love GM Terry Bradway, but he boldy traded up to get Robertson and it has worked out. Moss has been a solid pick. Even Bryan Thomas has started to come around. Coleman and Vilma anyone? So maybe Bradway does know what he's doing. And the first thing that must be done this offseason is franchising John Abraham.
Vilma!!! Excited yet?

Yes, I was as annoyed as most Jet fans with his attitude. But premium pass rushers are the hardest thing to find in the NFL, even more so than quarterbacks. The Jets cannot let him walk for nothing. Either let him play next year or trade him. In fact, the Jets should take a cue from the Seattle Seahawks, who franchise tackle Walter Jones every year. Franchise Abraham until he proves he's worth an extension or until someone wows you with an offer. It might just light a fire under him to play through injuries and justify his desire contract.

Resign MacKenzie and Ferguson. Let enigmatic Jordan and frustrating Anthony Becht walk. Send Doug Brien, Reggie Tongue,Toby Gowin and Paul Hackett their walking papers. Find a running back in the draft; there are usually plenty to be had. If the Jets do that they'll be off to a good start.

Have faith Jet fans. Believe it or not, for once, the team is in good hands.

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