By Jason Keidel
In the New York City area, there’s an odd symmetry between baseball and football teams.
The Giants and Yankees once shared a stadium and still share the legacy as the preeminent teams of the five boroughs and beyond, the elitist, white-collar patriarchs of their respective sports.
The Jets and Mets shared Shea Stadium, and still share a dubious history of incompetence. The Mets have won one World Series since 1969, and the Jets haven’t played in a Super Bowl since Joe Namath flexed his forefinger while trotting off the Orange Bowl field.
Now the Mets are in a rare orbit above the monolithic Yankees, and the Jets have a chance to trump their Big Blue brothers, who happen to be their co-tenants in MetLife Stadium.
For 30 years, the Jets and Giants shared a building, which was called Giants Stadium, subtly reminding Gang Green of their gangrenous past. But after thumping the Miami Dolphins in London yesterday, and their neighbors doing them the rare solid of beating the Bills a few hours later, the Jets are in prime position to make a playoff run.
It would take two columns to frame the all the ugly games the Jets have played since Namath retired. Mud Bowl. Gastineau Game. Butt Fumble. When they finally got a bona fide champion in Bill Parcells, he fell just 30 minutes short of a Super Bowl, in 1998, thwarted in part by an inexplicable fumble from a fellow Hall-of-Famer Curtis Martin.
Rex Ryan came to New York with a hard brand of hubris that New Yorkers could easily embrace. But after a promising start, Rex morphed into a caricature, with a ton of hollow guarantees and an ugly exodus to Buffalo. He was hamstrung by his bravado and a GM, John Idzik, who left $20 million in cap money on the table. After a disastrous 2014, owner, Woody Johnson, finally jammed the reset button.
In comes Todd Bowles, a local guy with an old-school brand of management. The new, buttoned-down coach isn’t much for chat, guarantees or any of the blowhard habits we found with his predecessor.
And it seems to be working. Add defensive stalwarts Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie and rookie lineman Leonard Williams, and the Jets have perhaps the stoutest defense in the NFL, certainly the best east of Denver. They held Miami to 0-for-16 on third and fourth-down conversion attempts, and limited Miami’s offense to just 226 total yards. For the season, they allow 280.3 yards per game, second behind the Broncos (275.5).
Everyone is worried about QB Ryan Fitzpartrick, an NFL vagabond who is now on his sixth team. But the man nicknamed the “Amish Rifle” for his unruly beard is complemented by two fine wideouts in Eric Decker and Brandon Marshal. And Chris Ivory showed us yesterday that he’s got the game to lead the Jets into January, bowling over the Dolphins for 166 yards.
Sure, Miami is a team in chaos, firing their head coach at the quarter-pole. But no one disputes their obvious talent. And the Jets play the brand of ball that translates well when the ornery weather rolls into the Northeast.
The problem, of course, is the New England Patriots — the Jets’ eternal tormentors. Tom Brady always finds a second chip on his shoulder when playing New York. Not to mention he’s singularly focused after the whole Deflategate saga. So there’s no reason to assume the Jets have a valid shot at winning the AFC East.
But even during the year they beat the Jets, 45-3, the Jets bounced back and beat the Patriots, in New England, in the playoffs. With the Chargers and Chiefs struggling more than expected, the Colts in turmoil, and the Steelers and Ravens finding themselves injury-addled, the Jets have a real shot at a wild card spot.
For their part, the Giants have averted disaster. But you never need to panic over the Giants, not with Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning’s Super Bowl pedigree. After blowing two late leads to Dallas and Atlanta, they’ve evened out to 2-2.
The Giants know how to win. The Jets don’t. We expected growing pains with a new GM, roster and head coach. But maybe they’re learning, much sooner than expected.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.