The season can start anew right here for the Jets. Or, it can end.
A season which began with such promise and hope, fueled by the Jets incessant talk of the Super Bowl, wasn’t supposed to touch mediocrity. This was supposed to be the year the Jets brought their second Lombardi Trophy back to the franchise, ending more than four decades of misery and suffering. This was going to be that year when, finally, they would take that next step and build on consecutive AFC Championship Game appearances.
But if they can’t take care of business on Sunday afternoon, it will be another year of unfulfilled dreams and promises.
The 2011 incarnation of the Jets boasts talent like never before. There are two offensive linemen with Pro Bowl resumes, a Canton-bound running back in the backfield, a pair of Super Bowl winners at wide receiver – one of whom is a Super Bowl MVP – and a top-10 pick under center. The defense has been among the best in the league over the past two seasons, with the game’s best cover cornerback in Darrelle Revis, good talent at linebacker and an infusion of youth along the defensive line.
Coaching wise, there has been continuity among a staff that has proven they have the wherewithal to win in the postseason.
The good vibes from a 4-2 postseason mark the past two seasons are clearly there, but if the Jets fall to 2-3 with a loss on Sunday in Foxboro, they do more than drop to a losing record. It is a sign that all of the promises of a championship will have gone up in smoke.
The chance has been there for the Jets to piece together a special season. There was the dramatic comeback win over Dallas in Week 1, where they showed character in their fourth quarter heroics. They took care of business in Week 2 against the lowly Jaguars and then, predictably for a franchise used to disappointing their fans, the wheels came apart. The Jets shot themselves in the foot repeatedly the next week in their loss in Oakland, and then looked nothing like contenders in a humiliating road loss to Baltimore last Sunday night.
But against the Patriots, they have to make a statement. There should be no need for motivation.
New England has won seven of the last eight division titles, is the odds on favorite to go to the Super Bowl again from the AFC and are the fanbase’s most deeply-hated team. Nose tackle Sione Pouha has called it “one of the best rivalries in all of football” and it was something that went to another level last January when the Jets beat the Patriots 28-21 in the divisional round of the playoffs at Gillette Stadium.
That playoff win redeemed a season for the Jets that had spiraled out of control five weeks before in a 45-3 road loss at New England. The Jets showed up and lived up to their mantra of “Play Like a Jet,” atoning for the Monday Night debacle and validating their playoff run of a year before. No matter that they lost the next weekend in Pittsburgh, the Patriots game ushered in a new era for the Jets and head coach Rex Ryan.
An era which could very easily end abruptly in New England this weekend, the place where it all began.
This game is now more than a rivalry, more than a statement, more than a chance to right the ship after two straight losses. Week 5 in New England is a chance to save the season and redeem the bold talk from August when the Jets said they had circled the season’s final game in Indianapolis as their destination.
This is, after all, partially their doing. Running back LaDainian Tomlinsion, who someday will see himself enshrined in the Hall of Fame, has said that “anything less than the Super Bowl will be a disappointment, especially with the talent on this team.” The Jets have to prove it in Gillette this afternoon.
This game is bigger than the Jets might want to acknowledge. The chance to beat the Patriots would underscore that the past two weeks were flukes; that lessons were learned and adjustments made. It would show that there is no gap between this team and the best in the league.
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.