Sunday kicks off the Jets’ season – a campaign full of promise following last year’s 10-win mark, and with a roster mostly intact.
But to get off to the necessary quick start – especially with the AFC East wide open, due to Tom Brady’s suspension – Gang Green will need to beat a Cincinnati Bengals team that’s suddenly been a model of consistency and stability in recent years. That’s a far cry from those “Bungle” days, just like Todd Bowles’s squad has the looks of a franchise that is finally ready to shed the jinxed label that generations of Jets’ fans have been saddled with for decades.
In order for Gang Green to get on the right track and win the first game of a brutal early six-game stretch, they’ll need to get the offense clicking – something that didn’t materialize in the preseason – and rely on a defense that has a nice blend of accomplished vets and enthusiastic youth.
MetLife Stadium will be a sea of unforgiving green, but that won’t be enough. The team will actually need to ride that wave of emotion and then apply their gameplan almost flawlessly against a perennial playoff contender.
Metro takes a look at the key storylines to follow, as the Jets look to make a statement in their opener.
What to Look For:
Can the Jets move the ball against a stacked Bengals defense?
The Bengals may be one of the more underrated defenses in the league. They aren’t star-driven like the Denver Broncos, or considered cerebral like Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots, but year in and year out, the Bengals are statistically among the league’s best. Jets wideout Brandon Marshall said he knows what type of defense they’ll be facing, though.
“The star of the defense is the defense,” Marshall said. “They work well together [and] play a lot of zone. We have to be patient and just take what they’re giving us. They’re not going to give up too many big plays. It’s a special defense with special guys over there.”
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick name-dropped the top defenders, noting the Bengals do have a star-powered unit to match the Jets’ star-powered offense.
“They’re very talented up front. And those two guys [defensive end Carlos Dunlap and defensive tackle Geno Atkins] are supremely talented. Those two guys really jump out in terms of the skill sets they have,” Fitzpatrick said. “Dunlap is just so long on the outside, and really gets after the passer. Geno Atkins poses a lot of threats inside, too, with how quick he is and how smart of a player he is … the whole defense, though, [has] all smart players.”
Will the Jets’ defense be fully intact?
Bowles said the statuses for a couple of key defenders are still up in the air. As of Thursday’s practice, both linebacking stalwart David Harris (shoulder) and rookie linebacker Jordan Jenkins (calf) were question marks. Bowles said “not yet” when asked if he was 100-percent sure that either or both would be ready by Sunday. Regarding Jenkins in particular, Bowles said that “some days he’s up, and some days he’s down … and that will probably go right up until the game.” Jets fans are well-versed on the importance of Harris, but the rookie’s availability is equally important. Jenkins, a third-round pick out of Georgia, said he’s “getting closer” to being ready. Prior to his injury, Jenkins was the starting outside linebacker in the Jets' 3-4 defensive front (three linemen and four linebackers) and played in both the base and nickel (five defensive backs) packages. If he can’t go, look for Mike Catapano to take his place. Fellow linebacker Bruce Carter (shoulder) and defensive lineman Leonard Williams (leg) were also limited in practice this week, but the Jets expect both to be ready to go.
Owner Woody Johnson declined to say that this is a must-win season for the Jets, but he didn’t have to. Bowles has done an excellent job in his brief time here, but in the New York market, and working for a franchise that many think is perpetually doomed, getting off to a fast start – and making the playoffs – is all anyone wants for Gang Green. Marshall acknowledged the pressure of trying to win, noting the importance of winning one game at a time and not falling prey to negativity of Jets’ seasons past.
“Obviously, I’m going into my 11th season and I’ve never made the playoffs. I’m going into this game and this season with a lot of anxiety. It’s just one game at a time, but for me, now the only time I have fun is when we win. I don’t care about statistics and all of that. I don’t care about making SportsCenter. Obviously, you want to produce, but it needs to equal wins -- and wins come November [and] December,” Marshall said. “At this point in my career, I just want to win [and] I’m not happy until I win … when the clock hits zero, where do we stand? And that’s all I care about for the rest of my career.”