Bowled away at the Combine – press conference takeaways

Todd BowlesIt was a refreshing air of change that hung over the New York Jets pre-combine head coach and general manager press conferences in Indianapolis Wednesday. Sure, there was none of the bluster of Rex Ryan (for that, see Buffalo Bills presser) but a certain calmness and measure of control was tangible. Based on reactions on social media, Jets fans were pleased with this new, more measured approach, seeing the changes as a positive basis on which to build what will still surely be a challenging future. For me, common sense was the order of the day and both Bowles and Maccagnan, despite not oozing charisma à la Ryan, made all the right noises. Here are some of my takeaways on the performance of our new HC and GM.

  1. Bowles is a tape guy. He wants to see what these guys can do outside the confines of a couple of days in Indianapolis where nothing happens in football conditions. He talked about ensuring that the ‘intangibles’ were in place, putting stock in the interviews and the tape and I believe him. Purely in the way he comes across to the press he doesn’t appear to be the type to be caught up in any sort of furore or song and dance without doing the due diligence first. Sure, these are all combine clichés, but Bowles sold me on his insistence on a deeper understanding of our draft picks.
  2. Our new head coach doesn’t seem to care too much about Bill Belichick’s rings. Bowles wants to beat everyone, he was clear on that. He isn’t just about beating New England a couple of times a year and that was a refreshing message to hear. We all know that Rex liked the big headline and much of what he made of the Jets/Pats rivalry in the media was just that, but I’m not sure that the franchise is in a state at the moment to narrow the focus, even if it is only in the media. Bowles seems aware of the enormity of the job at hand.
  3. When discussing players, both Macc and Bowles were unwilling to make any sweeping comments which as this point seems sensible. Both acknowledged the need to get to know Geno, but also that they were meeting both Mariota and Winston. This may seem like sitting on the fence, but is an honest interpretation of a situation which will continue to be fluid.
  4. Maccagnan’s assessment of the Mo Wilkerson extension talks could have come across as a little lacklustre, considering for many, including myself, that Big Mo is one of brightest lights in the franchise. However, once again, taking common sense into account, I’m not sure there is cause for concern. Both Macc and Bowles have been in the job for just over a month, they are getting their heads round it and it’s clear neither are going to jump into making huge assertions; they just aren’t that type. But they do know football, there is still plenty of time to sort a Wilkerson deal and there are many more things to think about besides. If Macc game out all guns blazing about this, I’d have been concerned that his eye wasn’t on the bigger picture.
  5. Being humble is an easy label to attach, much less to prove and has been something the New York Jets have somewhat struggled with over recent years (Santonio Holmes against Miami 2012 season). It’s a narrow tight rope to walk; too humble and you get pushed over, too arrogant and you lose credibility, especially if it’s unfounded. I was impressed with the humility of both our HC and GM. Maccagnan was happy to admit that in terms of who reports to him, the job was further ranging that he maybe anticipated. Bowles spoke passionately about how his less than successful time at the Eagles with Andy Reid made the biggest impact on his career. Later, Reid, reiterated mutual respect for Bowles in his own Kansas City presser. Neither seem to be push overs, but they are also aware of the challenge they have faced and will continue to. This seems like a good balance.
  6. They are building a team who are pushing forward. Bowles spoke enthusiastically about appointments at offensive and defensive coordinator and the breadth of different experience this brings.  Maccagnan made no bones about the intention to make splashes in free agency and to make the most of the favourable cap situation. Both seem to be clearly on the same page, which should translate to the wider staff and players.

Understandably, the takeways from the Jets are not huge footballing headlines such as came from Washington or even St Louis and I’m sure other people will see differently.  However, as a fan looking forward to what surely must be  more positive 2015 my number one takeaway was ironically the intangibles (as he said!), particularly of Bowles. Balance is the word which springs to mind; both in his offensive strategy (not an unexpected response to that question) but also in his approach and personality. There is a lot to sort out at Florham Park in the next few months, not least the QB situation but watching both Maccagnan and Bowles deal with the press, it seems that hopefully the ship is being sailed by much steadier hands and at this point, that’s what we need.

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You’re a Jets fan?!

As it’s the offseason and everything at the moment is really just speculation, I thought I’d use my blog to address some slightly different NFL based topics. To start with, to answer a question I’ve been asked on Twitter by a number of people; how on earth did I come to love the NFL so much and to be a fan of the New York Jets? I guess it’s a fair question, considering that for many people in the UK, American Football is still seen as a niche sport and the fact that I’m female which puts me amongst an even smaller group of fans. The Jets are probably not the most obvious choice of team either.

Firstly I’m a sports fan in general. Growing up in Yorkshire, you couldn’t help but be. Leeds United and Yorkshire cricket were my first sporting loves. In fact my first taste as a sports fan was at the ripe old age of 8 when Leeds won division one in 1991-92. Sadly, in terms of success on the part of teams I’ve backed, it’s pretty much gone downhill from there. I get drawn into every Olympic games, athletics championship, tennis tournament and even from time to time Open Golf or darts. I watch everything from diving to dressage.  I’m also not content with knowing a little, if I get into something, I make it my business to learn as much as I can about it.

By the time American Football came into my life, when I met my future husband (a 49ers fan from a young age) in 2007, my love affair with soccer was well and truly over.  To be honest, I was (and still am) fed up with the culture of the game, had enough of the attitude of many fans at games, having to pretend I’m not English in Cardiff and the sheer intimidating atmosphere created at many Premier League grounds. As a new inductee to the NFL, I needed to choose a team, and it sure wasn’t going to be the 49ers!

NFL fans in the UK choose their teams in very different ways without the luxury of the local allegiance our US counterparts have, NFL UK even have a random team selector for those new to the game. Many were lured to the 49ers, Steelers, Cowboys and Raiders by their successes in the 1980s and 90s, chronicled on Channel 4. Recently the Patriots, Colts and Saints have seen a spike in UK support due to their Superbowl successes and the much wider TV coverage.

A 'green' Green and White fan in 2010

A ‘green’ Green and White fan in 2010

I’d like to say that my choice was based on much research and a deep sporting compunction but in fact my decision was a little more random, in fact I’m slightly embarrassed to say it had nothing at all to do with football. In some respects it was a simple choice; New York has long been my favourite city in the US (in fact, the world) and I never looked beyond the Big Apple teams. So the choice was Jets or Giants. After booking a honeymoon stop in NYC I found out that the both teams were scheduled to play the first ever game at what was then the ‘New Meadowlands’ stadium, in August 2010, at the exact time we were there. Knowing nothing about the NFL, least of all how to get tickets, I decided to email both teams to find out. Only one replied; the Jets, and as they say, the rest is history. I’ve been Green and White since.  I surprised my husband with tickets to the game as a wedding present (great wife points!) and we took the trip out to New Jersey to watch the Jets. I’ve been hooked since despite them losing that day! The personality of Rex Ryan and what he inspired, the successes of the following two seasons and the general bombastic attitude of the team meant that over the following years I  have become completely obsessed with my Jets despite the recent ups and downs. If you ever see me at Wembley, I’m the one who looks like a Jets merchandise stand exploded on me, and I’ve taken a fair amount of stick for it across the last few years! Sure, I’m yet to savour the taste of true Jets success but I’m confident that the day will come and I’ll keep wearing my wings with pride.

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Safe to say, back in 2010, I had no idea what was going on but since then, 6 trips to Wembley, a Sky Sports subscription, numerous podcasts and a trip back to NYC in 2014 to finally watch a regular season Jets game, I’d like to think my knowledge and more importantly my love for my team and the game has come on somewhat!

Sadly, I’ve never seen my Jets win so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that will change at Wembley in October.

Reflections on the 2014 season

Another season is in the books and barely without a pause for breath the chatter has switched to free agency and the draft. But it wouldn’t seem right to move onto next year without a thought back to what has been a tumultuous but riveting season in the NFL, literally right down to the last seconds.

Superbowl XLIX

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Having just about got over my Sunday night / Monday morning sleep hangover, it seems right to start by reflecting back on what some are calling the Greatest Superbowl Ever. Indeed, for the neutral fan, the game had everything you would want in terms of nailbiting excitement and entertainment. Obviously as a Jet’s fan it had everything I didn’t want: a win for the Patriots.

Although it was a close game throughout, by the beginning of the fourth quarter, it certainly looked like Seattle were going to win their second Lombardi trophy in two years.  Marshawn Lynch rushed for over 100 yards and the Pats struggled to contain him. Despite Russell Wilson not completing a catch until the 19th minute of the game and only completing 12 in total (compared to Brady’s 37) the Seahawks convincingly led by 10 entering the last fifteen minutes. Jermaine Kearse caught a mind boggling, juggling catch from a Wilson deep ball and an unlikely hero emerged in former practise squad WR Chris Matthews who had not caught a catch prior to this game but took 4 grabs for 109 yards and a touchdown; a possible MVP if….

…things had not changed. Throughout the game, as the stats suggest the Seahawks had struggled against Brady’s pass. They weren’t helped by the early exit from the game of Jeremy Lane with an excruciating broken arm gained on the first of 2 Brady interceptions. New England were always coming knocking, but Seattle seemed strong enough to hold the door closed even with a weakened secondary. Then came 14 straight Patriot’s points in the fourth quarter from Edelman and Amendola and the momentum swung New England’s way. But there was still a chance, until Pete Carroll made that call to pass the ball from the 1 yard line, a pass which was intercepted and took away any chance of snatching what could have been the game winning TD.  Much has been made of this mind boggling decision, not just because he had Beastmode lined up in the back but also it was only 2nd down. They would still have been just enough time to try again on 3rd if the play hadn’t resulted in the TD. Of course, this is all history now and Belichick, Brady and Kraft can go back to Boston, hand in hand, clutching the 4th Lombardi trophy of their collaboration and Gronk can jump back on his party bus and drive off into the sunset.

The biggest surprises

Although the big game ended up being contested by both number one seeds, there were several surprises this year, both positive and negative. On the positive side the Dallas Cowboys, even with a banged up Tony Romo, provided their fans with the most successful season in years, despite being widely predicted to completely flop. Instead the trio of Dez Bryant, offensive player of the year Demarco Murray and Romo ended up at the 5th highest scoring offense and the 2nd best rushing team in the league. With exceptional rookie Guard Zach Martin amongst others, the offensive line were also able to effectively protect Romo, helping them to the divisional round of the playoffs. After a very close game against Green Bay which, including the spectacular ‘non catch’ from Dez Bryant, ended the Superbowl dreams of the Cowboys, the unexpected run of success meant a new contract for HC Jason Garrett was not far away.

On a more negative note, the New Orleans Saints, who had been tipped by some to make it to the Superbowl, failed miserably in the particularly weak NFC south, finishing 7-9. Although the offense led by Drew Brees put together some decent numbers, the defense were amongst the worst four teams for points and yards allowed. Although this wasn’t overall by any means the worst performance by a team in the league, the fact that such high hopes were pinned on the Saints before the season meant their mediocre performance stands out as an unexpected surprise.

The woes of a Jets fan

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This could be a whole blog post in itself. It’s pretty galling to think that apart from a surprise victory against the Steelers and last gasp of energy against Miami the only other wins came against the  equally awful Titans and Raiders. In all honesty there was a lot of embarrassment, not least in some of the shocking QB play from both Vick and Geno, not to mention the hoopla that surrounded it. Taking a trip to NYC in October to watch the Jets play was in itself an amazing experience; having only previously watched a pre-season game at Met Life stadium, but the quality of play, particularly from Geno, illustrated the distance the Jets had to go. The latter part of the season was peppered with ‘Fire John Idzik’ campaigns and rumours that Rex was on his way out; which it turns out, he was. The few rays of sunshine came again from the defensive line, who provide a solid foundation for Todd Bowles and his new team to build on. A Patriot’s Superbowl win felt like a nail in the coffin, but at least from here the only way is up!

Offensive players of the year – in the other sense of the word

Sadly for the NFL, this year was dogged by major controversy which bought the attention of world wide media. Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Josh Gordon (twice) and Aldon Smith are just a few of the players involved. The fact that it wasn’t just the actions of the players but also the reaction of the league that was bought into question cast a long shadow over what was a great year of football; especially in the playoffs. Particularly with the Ray Rice case, the handling of the seriousness of the incident, specifically about their awareness of video which later became public called into account the integrity of the league in general. Even now the season is over, Johnny Manziel is in rehab and Green Bay defensive tackle Letroy Guion has been arrested for felony possession. Roger Goodell, in his pre Superbowl  press conference, was noticeably emotional regarding the trials of this year, both personally and for the league as a whole but will need to act on promises made to ensure future seasons are not marred by such mishandled allegations and incidents.

Heartbreakers and standout moments.

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It would be impossible to describe all big stories of the of the 2014 season so briefly here are five of the defining moments.

  • The emergence of Odell Beckham Junior and that one handed catch.
  • Seattle vs Green Bay in the NFC championship game. Russell Wilson throwing four interceptions had one of the worst games of his career against the league MVP Aaron Rodgers but still Seattle found a way to win; a captivating game, with a heartbreaking ending for Green Bay.
  • Peyton Manning beating Brett Favre’s all time touch down record with 530 career TDs.
  • The Arizona Cardinals making it to the playoffs despite losing their first and second string QBs. A testament to excellent coaching by Bruce Arians (once again coach of the year), the wild card game was just one step too far.
  • The biggest name heading up to and out of the 2014 draft ‘Johnny Football’ not actually making any impact on the league at all and now, sadly ending up in rehab, not a great moment, but a major talking point nevertheless.

On to the next…

Now that (at least I) have some closure on the 2014 season it’s time to look ahead to 2015. As a Jets fan, there are many reasons to be optimistic; a new coaching staff, opportunities to make the most of a decent salary cap situation in free agency and a high draft pick. As an NFL fan, it’s sure to be another year of excitement; bookies are already putting the Seahawks as 6-1 favourites to win Superbowl 50 but let’s hope there’ll be less off the field controversy to overshadow it.  The great thing about the NFL is that there is no offseason and so I’ll be continuing to write a mixture of news and my views on what’s going on as we ramp up for the new season. I’m also planning to write some differently focused posts about the NFL in general and how I came to be so obsessed with it. If you enjoy reading my blog and have any suggestions about topics for the offseason, leave me comment, or drop me a line via twitter @nych83 – thoughts always welcome.

Thanks for reading so far and onto the 2015 season…