The current view of the Jets by Jets fans is largely all gloom and doom. The team is talentless. The coach is a joke. The GM is clueless. The owner is terrible. Article after article, comment after comment, lists a seemingly endless litany of complaints about the Jets, and almost nobody is left unscathed. Read enough at GGN and you would think you were reading about the Cleveland Browns or the Detroit Lions, truly sadsack franchises. But is all this really justified?
Let's look at a few facts. First, an interesting bit of trivia. Since Parcells took over this organization in 1997, the Jets have played nearly 16 seasons of football. And if the Jets should finish 3-1 or better, against 4 bad teams, a very doable task, then they will have gone through every year in that stretch as a .500 team or better, in every year the starting QB was healthy. They will be the only team in the NFL that can make such a claim. Think about that. No, the Jets haven't won any championships during that stretch. Neither have all but 10 other teams. But the Jets have reached 3 AFC championship games, and they have made the playoffs 7 of those 16 years. Not spectacular, but both numbers are better than the average NFL franchise over that period. For 16 straight years, so long as the QB remains upright, the Jets will have fielded an average team or better every single year. That's a rather remarkable stretch of never being bad, or even below average, a feat no other NFL team has accomplished, yet the Jets are somehow a "joke." Does that make any sense?
Ah, but you say, the only way the Jets get to that .500 number this year is by beating up on bad teams at the end of the schedule. Well, that's true, as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough. If you are going to invalidate victories over bad teams, then you are going to have to also invalidate losses against good teams. You can't have it both ways. You cannot hammer the Jets for having a losing record against by far the most difficult schedule in the NFL to date, then fail to give any credit for wins when the schedule starts to even out. Here are the facts. If the Jets close out the season 3-1, then they will finish the year with a .500 record, and the cumulative record of their opponents to date, including those hypothetical last 4 games against the Jets, will be 99-99-2; exactly .500. In other words, the Jets will then finish the year as an almost perfectly average team - not good, not bad, just average. Yet to hear Jets fans tell it, this is a terrible, awful, hsitorically bad football team. It just ain't so.
Well, you say, the Jets may be perfectly average, but that sure isn't anything to celebrate. Again, true enough, as far as it goes. But consider this. Think back to the beginning of the year. What were people predicting? 10-6? Maybe 11-5? Now think about what has transpired. On Defense, Darrelle Revis, the best CB in the NFL, and maybe the GOAT, was lost for all but a game and a half of the season. Sione Pouha, arguably the Jets second best defensive player going into the season, has missed 4 games and played hurt the rest of the time, and his backup, Kenrick Ellis, also has missed 4 games and played hurt the rest of the time. As a result, the 2 defensive positions of greatest strength going into the season, CB and NT, ended up being severely compromised by injury.
On Offense, Santonio Holmes, the Jets best offensive weapon, was lost for all but 3 1/2 games. Stephen Hill, 2nd WR on the depth chart, was lost for 2 games. Dustin Keller, the Jets second best weapon, has been out 4 full games and parts of 2 others. Jeff Cumberland, the backup TE, missed a game. The 3rd and 4th TEs both went on IR and missed 16 and 15 games, respectively. As a result, for large parts of the season, our 5th string TE, Konrad Reuland, has been forced into significant playing time. Our RB2 and our RB3 have both missed time and played hurt. So an offense that already looked average at best going into the season lost its top 2 weapons, as well as significant playing time elsewhere at every skill position other than QB.
So, if you had been told before the season started that the Jets would lose all of that talent to injury, then would go out and face by far the toughest schedule in the NFL the first 12 weeks, what record would you have predicted for them overall? If the prediction before was 10-6 or 11-5, is it fair to say that an 8-8 finish would not have been unexpected, given the injury problems?
But, you say, EVERY team deals with injuries. True enough. But not every team loses an All World defensive player, another that had been playing at or near Pro Bowl level prior to the injury, its best 2 offensive weapons, and virtually every TE on the roster. The truth is, no other team other than KC has been hit as hard with injuries as have the Jets. KC leads the league in payroll lost to the IR, by a wide margin. But the Jets are 2nd, and if Revis was being compensated at a true market rate this year instead of his current $3 million salary, then the Jets and KC would be virtually tied in this unfortunate statistic, nearly double any other team in the league. And while KC has utterly collapsed, the Jets are still at least mathematically in the hunt for a playoff spot.
Well, but that's just an excuse, right? I mean, look at the Texans, a well run organization. They lost Andre Johnson, Matt Schaub and Mario Williams last year and STILL made the playoffs. Next man up and all that. True enough. But what they don't tell you is that they collapsed at the end of the season, losing their last 3 games against inferior competition and backing into the playoffs at 10-6. What they don't tell you is that Williams missed only 11 games, Johnson only missed 9 games, Schaub only 6. That's a combined 26 games missed from their 3 major injuries. And they had no other significant injuries. Compare that to the Jets, who by season's end will have had Revis and Holmes combine for 26 missed games by themselves, as well as 8 combined games from Pouha and Ellis, 14 games missed by the Jets first LB off the bench, Josh Mauga, 7 games missed by the CB4, who had become the starting slot CB in Revis' absence, 4 games missed by the #1 TE, and the entire season missed by the TE3 and the TE4. There really is no comparison in how severely the injury bug has hit the Jets compared to the 2011 Texans. The Jets have had entire positions (NT, TE, slot CB) wiped out, to the extent practice squad players are being forced into major roles. The Texans faced no such problems. Factor in the fact that according to profootballreference.com the 2011 Texans faced by far the easiest schedule in the NFL, and the 2012 Jets have so far faced by far the toughest schedule in the NFL, and the whole myth of the mighty Texans as an example of how a well run team overcomes adversity just collapses under the weight of the evidence.
The truth is, injuries to top line players matter, alot No team in the NFL can expect to lose the number and quality of players the Jets have lost this year and just keep on playing at a playoff level. The next man up philosophy is largely a myth. Lose one all time great for the season and it is reasonable to expect your record to suffer at least a 2 game swing to the downside. Lose as much as the Jets did this year and it is remarkable if the team manages to finish .500.
A few other random facts that might surprise a few fans. First, the Jets have quietly risen up to the #10 ranked defense in the NFL. Given the weakness of the remaining opponents, it is reasonable to expect the Jets will finish the season somewhere around #7, with a very slim chance at returning to the top 5. This is a truly remarkable achievement given the losses of Revis, Pouha, Ellis, Trufant and Mauga to injury. Compare, for example, the Baltimore Ravens, an annual defensive juggernaut who, without Ray Lewis and Ladarius Webb, have sunk all the way to #25 in the defensive rankings. However much fans may currently revile Rex as a head coach, as a defensive coach 2012 may just be his finest hour.
Another fact. The Jets have quietly snuck up to the #12 spot in rushing offense, despite facing an array of tough defenses in the first 12 games. Given the weakness of the remaining opponents, it is quite possible the Jets wind up in the top 10. While that is hardly elite, it is in fact much better than you might expect given the talent level (or lack thereof) of the Jets RBs.
A few final thoughts. Let us assume for purposes of argument that the Jets finish 8-8. Reading comments at Gang Green Nation, the GM, the coaching staff, and nearly every player on this team is absolutely horrible. But ask yourself this. If the Jets are truly as devoid of talent as many are insisting, how is it possible that, despite the heaviest injury casualties in the NFL, they somehow manage to finish around .500? How could a team with bottom of the barrel talent, and decimated by injuries worse than any other team in the NFL, finish with an average record? Doesn't that mean, almost by definition, that the coaching staff has done a remarkable job? And conversely, if the coaching staff is truly horrific, bottom of the barrel material, than how could a team with such bad coaching, and decimated by injuries, still manage a .500 finish? Doesn't that mean that if the coaching was horrible, the talent must have been well above average in order to overcome the lousy coaching? In short, if this team finishes .500 or better, you can call Rex and the coaching staff terrible, or you can call Tanny and the players terrible, but you can't call them ALL terrible. If everything on this team is terrible, then how was an average team achieved? There is simply no logic in that.
To my way of thinking, this season is really very much an exercise in the value of perspective. Jets fans have become used to a modicum of success and a shot at the playoffs, maybe even a championship game, under Rex. Indeed, it has been at least 17 years since a Jets team has entered a season with a healthy QB and no hope. We have become so accustomed to better than average performance that when we are saddled with an average team we act as if it is the worst team in football. It is not. With any luck with injuries, it likely would have been another 10-6 team or better. Injuries are part of the game, but not usually so many, to so many of the top players on the team.
Keeping things in perspective, the Jets are something close to an average team, with major issues with the salary cap and at QB, and lesser issues at LB and OL. They probably have the talent level to be a playoff team this year, but for the devastating injuries. Next year will be a challenge under the cap, but the Jets are probably just 2 good drafts away from returning to prominence if they are willing to bite the bullet on dead weight cap players. That's not great, but it hardly justifies the woe is me, the-entire-organization-is-a-good-for-nothing-talentless-circus attitude currently in vogue among Jets fans.