The NFL: Heartbreaker

This time last year I was writing about the divisional round of the playoffs and the gut wrenching ‘non catch’ which ended the Dallas Cowboys’ dreams of returning to the glory they so desperately seek. Only last week, kicker Blair Walsh destroyed the hopes of the Minnesota Vikings when he hooked the game winning field goal wide left. Obviously in a game where only one out of 32 teams can win the grand prize a certain amount of disappointment is inevitable for the majority of participants. However as a Jets fan, the 2015 season has shown that there are definitely degrees of heartbreak and the closer you get, the harder it is to accept, especially when things seem to be heading in the right direction.

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The AFC Playoff Race

With two games left, the AFC postseason line-up is anything but decided. Unlike in the NFC, where  four out of the six places are clinched and the other two look set, the AFC still has a number of teams vying for January football. Somewhat predictably, considering both had a long undefeated run this year, both the Patriots and Bengals have punched their pass to the postseason but the four other places remain up for grabs. For the teams in the hunt, some who have their fate solely in their hands and some who don’t, winning out is key if they want to be playing football beyond week 17.

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Thank you New York Jets!

Its now over week since the Jets arrived in London to face off with the Miami Dolphins at Wembley. Now that its all over, the win is in the bag and everyone is back home, it’s time to reflect on what was an amazing weekend to be a Jets fan in the UK. For me last weekend was one of the best sporting events of my life, pushing the 2012 Olympics close! It wasn’t just the game, but the whole experience from Friday onwards where I was privileged to have access to events and meeting people I still can’t quite believe!

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The New York Jets Select…..Leonard Williams

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I have a confession. When Roger Goodell announced the Jets first round pick on Thursday night, I wasn’t immediately jumping up and down in uncontrollable celebration. Stunned silence is a more accurate description.  Whether it was just was because the time was nearly 2am, that Williams had never been really been a realistic option on the cards or that the D-line was the one area coming out of 2014 which was in good shape, it certainly took me a while to process what Mike Maccagnan had just done. Skip forward five minutes and the realisation that the Jets had actually nabbed the widely touted ‘best player in the draft’ and the impact he could have on the team was beginning to dawn. I think it was just shock (and the effects of excess caffeine).

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What ‘Fireman Ed’ means to me

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You might look at the title of this post and wonder, as a UK based fan, what on earth I could have to say about the impact of Fireman Ed and the JETS chant considering the biggest influence is (or was) felt by those at MetLife Stadium week by week.  However, as I tweeted already, it was that chant, led at that time by Fireman Ed himself, which first made me first feel like a Jets fan. I’ll admit, on that warm August night at Met Life Stadium in 2010, I had not a clue what was going on beyond that the Jets were playing the Giants but nevertheless the atmosphere and experience was enough to captivate my interest. Then, not long into the game, something started, something which sparked life around the whole stadium. J….E….T….S…. (you all know the rest). By the second reprise I was standing, wearing my crisp new white Mark Sanchez t-shirt purchased for the occasion, shouting ‘Jets, Jets, Jets’ at the top of my voice. There was something about that moment, the way the chant galvanised the fans in one voice, that completely swept me up in a wave of Jets mania, which I haven’t jumped off since. From then on, Fireman Ed was an integral part of the Jets for me (much as Rex Ryan was), appearing from time to time during TV coverage much to my excitement, until he hung up his helmet in 2012. Completely understandably, due to the abuse he frequently suffered from so called fellow fans, but nevertheless a huge loss to the Jets family.  When I visited Metlife again last year, the chant was still there (the Jets ran a competition for other fans to lead it each game) but it wasn’t the same. Ed was the face, the voice and the driving force and somehow some of the passion was lacking. The fact his stepping down was reported nationally is indicative of his impact. Having listened to him speaking so passionately on ‘Lets Talk Jets’ (@talkjetsradio) podcast about his love for both the Jets and the tradition of the chant, I got thinking about his importance, not only to myself, but to the wider Jets community.

British sports fans are familiar with the concept of the chant or song sung by fans of a particular team and for most English soccer teams, the singing of these is central to the game day experience. Some are less than polite in their content but it’s hard not to be moved by unified Liverpool fans singing ‘You’ll never walk alone’ or ‘Swing Low Sweet Chariot’ ringing around Twickenham, even if you root for the other team. As I child I stood behind the goal at Elland Road singing, or more accurately, shouting along to ‘Marching on Together’ and had a whole repertoire of other chants, mostly in the anti-Manchester United genre. So for me, the J.E.T.S chant seemed a familiar part of a sporting event. What all these have in common is their unifying effect on the fans of a team. In some way they bring everyone together in a common aim, even if that is being less than complementary to the opposition.  Around the NFL, from what I’ve witnessed, most fan interaction seems more focused on what is happening on the field (important too); making noise when defending third downs and cheering first downs, penalties and touchdowns. Of course there is the ‘Who dat?’ and the ‘Who dey?’ and various other chants around the league but as a Jets fan hearing ‘J.E.T.S’ has the same effect as ‘We hate Man U’ had for me as a mini Leeds fan. It brings us together.

It’s ironic really that someone trying to do something to unify the JETS fan base was effectively forced out by the very people he was trying to galvanise. Yes, he is a divisive figure but for me the value of fans unified by a common call can’t be underestimated. I truly hope that the ‘Bring back Ed’ petition (@firejohnidzik) is successful, but even if Ed himself decides not to come back, let’s hope that the Jets do something to keep the tradition alive properly.  Listening to MetLife regulars speak of their disappointment in the current game day experience and holding up what is done at other places such as Seattle as a gold standard seems sad considering that we have that special and unique thing. One thing I know for sure is I can’t wait to proudly scream ‘J.E.T.S Jets Jets Jets’ at the top of my voice at Wembley in October and I hope that the next time I get over to New Jersey, the chant has been bought back to life, whether the man in the fireman’s hat is leading it or not.

Marshalling the Jets forward

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Over the last few weeks my blog has been rather quiet mainly because there has been lots of Jets chatter but a dearth of Jets news. This time of year in the NFL is equally exciting and irritating. Exciting, especially this year, because of the number of elite level players hitting free agency and the big changes we know are just around the corner, but irritating because at the end of day only the GMs, coaches and scouts know what they are planning and the endless speculation surrounding it becomes a little tiresome. What I do enjoy is that when real news does come, it’s often nothing like the suggestions that have been bandied about in the previous weeks.

Friday was a day of actual news from Florham Park with the headline grabbing trade with the Bears for Brandon Marshall and a new contract for David Harris.  Jets fans are understandably excited by the Marshall trade as he provides the Jets with a true number one receiver, allowing Eric Decker to take up a more suitable role as number two. A quick look at his stats show that Marshall has consistently shown star quality across a career with 773 career receptions for 9,771 yards and 65 touchdowns in nine NFL seasons. He has had seven straight years of 1,000 or more receiving yards, only ended by injury in 2014. Having played under him in 2010/11 with the Dolphins, Marshall is also familiar with head coach Todd Bowles. All signs suggest a good move.

I’m intrigued by this trade mainly because Marshall is an interesting guy who has certainly had a roller coaster of a life and career. His NFL films’ ‘A Football Life’ gives a great insight into his world both on and off the field. Drafted in the 4th round in 2006 by Denver he has been a controversial and outspoken figure as well as a pro-bowl calibre receiver. His relationship with Jay Cutler (also drafted by Denver in 2006) shows both his loyalty and also how he has not been afraid to rock boats. After unexplained outbursts (Cutler said at times it was like a switch flipped and he ‘didn’t know who this was’) and off field controversy, Marshall was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and has since championed mental health issues, using his spotlight to draw attention to this and encourage openness and discussion. Marshall is both a passionate and intelligent man and football player.

Looking at the wider impact, the Marshall trade is particularly interesting, not least because it casts some possible light on the direction the Jets will go with Percy Harvin. I have always believed that Harvin will be released (and NFL insider reports Friday suggest this will happen) due to his price tag. Although there is the money in the coffers to keep him should they wish, with the number of other needs, that $10+ million would be better spent elsewhere. A trio of Harvin, Decker and Marshall would clearly be a force to be reckoned with, but without a solution to the quarterback situation it would be akin to have a box full of bullets but no gun. Geno Smith threw a lowly 219 completions in 2014 and by the end of the year the offense was skewed firmly towards the run because of the high interception rate. At this point, without a consistent passing game, spending so much on a receiving corps seems a waste. Now the Bills have traded with the Eagles for LeSean McCoy, CJ Spiller could become a possible and highly realistic target for the Jets in free agency to help Bowles create the more ‘balanced’ (and workable) offense of which he has spoken recently.  Of course there is still the QB to sort out and time will tell how this goes. Developing the OL will at least alleviate some of the pressure on Geno but there is still much to do. Brandon Marshall is the first of hopefully many big moves but is a positive indicator of the way Maccagnan and Bowles are thinking.  The next few weeks will be interesting.

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.