Sunday was an autumnal, dreary day, perfectly befitting of the occasion of the first full slate of NFL games. But there remained a dull sense of want as I watched what felt like a lifetime’s worth of football, because the Jets wouldn’t be playing till Monday night. They would be in the showcase game, the one everyone watches regardless of where they live or which team they root for. Sunday’s 1 p.m. matchups passed, with the local Giants providing mild intrigue, then I kept an eye on the ones at 4 p.m. because Aaron Rodgers quarterbacks my fantasy squad. Finally, the Redskins and Cowboys bore watching at 8 p.m. if only because it was the nationally televised game.
I thought it would be an unremarkable day for the Jets — which might be a small victory in and of itself — until I was reminded of what it is to be a Jets fan, to always be waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop. Toward the end of the Cowboys-Redskins game, the local news had its few-second teaser during a commercial break, and David Ushery said hurriedly that the Jets were facing allegations of harassment from a female reporter. Ushery’s tease was so short that I barely could discern whether I had heard it correctly. But when the disbelief subsided, I repeated what Ushery said, and my anxieties about these Jets were fully raging.
The lingering threat to this Jets team, for all its promise, is that they could prove to be their own worst enemy. And Sunday’s report, followed up Monday with the news that the NFL is investigating the matter, served as a rude reminder that their window of opportunity may not be especially big, because teams like this can self-destruct quickly. This is as talented a Jets team as we’ve seen in a long time. They were very good last season, overachieved a bit in the playoffs, came within a sniff of the Super Bowl, and restocked this offseason in an effort to seal the deal. There’s little not to like about their direction, what with Woody Johnson hellbent on proving his Jets are not second fiddle to the Giants, and Rex Ryan going G.W. Bush on us — i.e. trying to win one for himself and his frequently disparaged daddy.
But the novelty of brashness and intimidation can quickly yield to lameness and banality if the team can’t deliver on the praise it’s been so quick to heap upon itself. Its strengths last season were also its Achilles’ heel, and that may very well avail itself again in 2010. Mark Sanchez was so cocky as a rookie that he somehow played brilliantly in the playoffs after looking positively lost for long stretches of the regular season. Conversely, the mammoth Kris Jenkins was lost to injury at about the season’s midpoint at least in part because his weight and conditioning went unchecked under the laissez-faire Ryan.
They are, in some regards, the 2010 version of the old Raiders or at least the Ravens of 10 years ago, which is to say they have more than a few shady characters and are as much style as they are substance. They are the proverbial Bad Guys, much as the 1986 Mets were, a good team that doesn’t mind telling you they’re a good team. And they only augmented that identity this offseason, improving the roster by virtue of acquiring top-tier players who wouldn’t otherwise be available were it not for their unsavory reputations.
Specifically, wide receiver Santonio Holmes has stepped in and will be the Jets’ No. 1 pass-catching option — after he serves a four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. He’s an elite player, a former Super Bowl MVP whom the Jets got on the cheap (just a fifth-round draft pick in 2011) on account of his falling out of favor with the Steelers.
“We understood that was part of it, but we just felt like even with that, it was worth it,” GM Mike Tannenbaum said on April 12. “Obviously, a guy with his production and at 26 years old, he would not have been available if these indiscretions didn’t happen, and obviously the suspension. But, with that said, we just felt like the risk and the price was reasonable for us.”
On the other side of the ball, the Jets added another talented player to their defensive secondary in Antonio Cromartie. Although his play hasn’t quite matched his promise since a 10-interception season in 2007 with the Chargers, the five-year veteran has huge upside. But he’s already become the butt of more than a few jokes after embarrassingly fumbling through an attempt at naming his eight children (whom he’s fathered with six women) on the ubiquitous “Hard Knocks.” More seriously, he’s been in and out of court several times for paternity suits, and the Jets gave him a $500,000 salary advance upon his acquisition to help him make child-support payments.
That these players, who bring with them very real character concerns, are now Jets is very much a function of Ryan’s philosophy; he’s a so-called player’s coach. His guys are left to their devices so long as they sell out for him and produce on the field, so it stands to reason that the Jets would be willing to take on other teams’ problems. The Jets under the larger-than-life Ryan are the antithesis of the Jets under the meticulous Eric Mangini, when they were boring and buttoned up, and frankly, not very well coached.
At Johnson’s behest, the Jets have been shameless self-promoters since the day Ryan took over as head coach, costing them the ire of just about all the other teams in the league and their fans. Their run to the AFC Championship Game last season was spectacularly exciting albeit a bit of an overachievement in light of their bizarrely inconsistent regular season. The difference now is they’re a better team, and expectations are higher. They’re also an emboldened lot with a sense of entitlement, and I can only hope that the allegation of harassment is untrue.
Time will tell whether this reporter’s allegations are true. Something tells me, though, that even if the Jets are exonerated here, this may not be the last indiscretion, to use Tannenbaum’s term, we’ve heard from this team.