There's a lot of pessimism in Jets land right now. That's easy to understand. After a 3-0 start, 4-4 seems like a disappointment, especially considering how it has happened. There's only one loss where the Jets were simply outexecuted, the Monday night game at Miami. In the other three, New York registered a ton of self-inflicted wounds. The thing people need to remember, though, is the Jets aren't looking just for this year. They want to build something special over the long haul. They are well on their way.
It's really tough to win with a rookie quarterback in the NFL. Starting 4-4 is a great start for Mark Sanchez. He's played two bombs of games. He had a game against the Raiders where he was asked to do very little. The other five games have been somewhere between good and excellent. He's looked composed beyond his years for the most part. He was developed in a pro system at USC, which is a novelty in today's college game with everybody going to a spread offense. He played against pro caliber competition at practice every day. It shows. He looked special in a second half comeback against the Patriots after struggling in the first half and when he twice shredded Miami's secondary trailing in second halves. I think everybody would agree Sanchez has looked like he has belonged, which is pretty incredible for a rookie quarterback. The number don't look that great, but they don't tell the whole story. The two bad games killed the stat sheet. In those games, he did things with the ball that experience and coaching correct (locking onto receivers, leaving the ball exposed for pass rushers, forcing throws).
Quarterback is one of the two most important people on a football team. A team with a good young quarterback is in good shape over the long term. A team with a good quarterback and a good head coach is in great shape, and it looks like the Jets have found a good head coach. You have to be thrilled with the job Rex Ryan has done to this point. He's instilled a lot of confidence in the locker room. It would be one thing if he was just popping off to the press. He's not. When players make big comments to the press, it's an indication they believe in their head coach and want to help him back up the talk. These guys went into a Week 2 game against the Pats expecting to win and broke New England's long domination of the Jets at the Meadowlands. Winning over a locker room is only part of the job, though. The hard part is coaching a team to reach its potential. Ryan has improved the Jets to the second ranked defense in the league. Their pass rush is one of the fiercest in football. They hit Tom Brady around half the time he dropped back in Week 2. They totally confused Matt Schaub, who has played great football the rest of the season. When the Dolphins ran all over them in Week 5, Ryan adjusted his scheme to get bigger and run blitzed his secondary more to shut down their rushing attack. He's shown great acumen for X's and O's. When a coach wins a locker room and shows he knows how to game plan and adjust, he's a good one.
Let's not forget about Mike Tannenbaum. He's shown himself to have a bright football mind since he took over running the team. Look at all of the successful moves he's made through the Draft. He's hit on D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Nick Mangold, Leon Washington, Darrelle Revis, and David Harris, all of whom look like Pro Bowl caliber players in the Draft in his four years. He's also added Dwight Lowery, who appears on the verge of developing into a quality starter. Mark Sanchez and Shonn Greene look like hits also. He's made bold moves for Alan Faneca, Kris Jenkins, Calvin Pace, and Bart Scott, all guys who fit a need in the system. There's a big difference between doing what the Redskins do, accumulating names without regard for age or how they fit, with what the Jets do, wisely shop for guys in their prime to fill needs in the system. He signed Tony Richardson. Even the ill-fated Brett Favre trade showed something good about Tannenbaum. He's not afraid to make a bold move if he sees a weakness and isn't afraid of having something blow up in his face. He's shown himself to have a firm grasp of the salary cap from the job he did getting the Jets out of cap hell in '05 while fielding a Playoff team in '06 to making moves like giving Kerry Rhodes and Calvin Pace roster bonuses in their contracts to make the cap situation better in '08 which could be converted into signing bonuses a year later for cap flexibility then. He knows how to work the cap.
What does this mean? The Jets have a good young quarterback, a good head coach, a good nucleus, and a general manager making good moves to suppliment the talent. I wouldn't write off this year. There's a decent chance the defense just lifts this team on its back and carries it to the Playoffs. Even if that doesn't happen, don't get too upset. This club is building a foundation for long term success.