Due to discouraging setbacks suffered within the division to arguably inferior teams, the Jets’ potentially promising stretch drive will now resemble a desperate scramble, margin of error positively anorexic. 

These unfavorable circumstances do not necessarily doom the proceedings, but with a rookie quarterback piloting the squad, denying at least the possibility of a total meltdown would be unrealistic. And the negative angle is an easy tact to take at the moment, New York sputtering after a strong start.

But, despite the overriding recent disappointment, positive developments were still unfolding. None was greater than a soaring running game. It may already be forgotten, but the offensive line was actually drawing grumbles in September, even provoking Rex Ryan to vouch his unwavering confidence in the assemblage.

For the Jets to realistically reach the postseason in their rookie coach’s initial campaign, this undeniable strength must persist. All those fresh, interesting characters that had the city buzzing after three weeks are still in place, joined by Braylon Edwards, but the destiny of this team will ultimately be determined in the trenches. 

Perhaps the pessimists will look back and realize they should have seen it coming, an overflow of talent upfront leading inevitably to consistency. 

Over the past two seasons, very few halfbacks have matched the spectacular performance of Thomas Jones. There is absolutely no question that Jones is one of the most underrated performers in the entire league. Considering that he plies his craft for a rabid fan base in a huge market, was acquired a highly publicized draft day deal, and has been remarkably consistent since departing the Arizona Cardinals, Jones’ relative anonymity is pretty inexplicable. The marked lack of publicity could be traced to a variety of factors, but the answer may rest with his basic playing style.

To deem Jones a grinder would be a simplified undersell. He is a living, breathing antonym of flash. In a media era obsessed with provoking instant reactions, where hastily formulated scrawls by players on social networking sites can cause chaotic tempests, Thomas Jones is a complex case. Elusive to the press, citing his daily preparation, Jones expresses himself on the field with power runs and unrehearsed passion. This isn’t a player made for the highlights. Quite the opposite…

Similar to Curtis Martin, Jones may not impress on the basis of excitement; his excellence is proven by the stat sheet, rugged performance tracked by raw statistics that often end up surprising.

He had that many yards? Yes.  

With the devastating leg injury to ultra talented change-of-pace Leon Washington, the Jets will be leaning on Jones more than they ever have.

Often overlooked as an elite running back, Thomas Jones is the absolute key for the Jets. (JetsInsider.com Photo)
Often overlooked as an elite running back, Thomas Jones is the absolute key for the Jets. (JetsInsider.com Photo)

“I put him right up there,” said Tony Richardson after practice, when asked where he would place Jones among the other fantastic runners for whom he has quite generously blown open holes. “Thomas is no different… [His defining attribute] is his power. He’s not afraid… he can get tough between the tackles.” Richardson would add that Jones’ work ethic is one of the best he has ever seen. 

The Jets are running the ball down opponent’s throats, despite having steep odds stacked against them, opposing defenses daring Mark Sanchez to win the game. “It’s definitely gratifying to run the ball even though the other team’s stacking the box,” Richardson continued. “I think we can still be better.  I know I can block better. That’s good to know.” It’s hard to believe the Jets’ running attack could improve, but they definitely need it firing on all cylinders to mount a playoff drive.

Of course, for every great running back dashing downfield, there is usually an awesome offensive line still mauling defenders back at the point of attack. Remember when Emmitt Smith held out from the Cowboys in 1993?  Whispers at the time questioned whether Smith was simply the byproduct of an extraordinary line. Of course that theory was debunked when Dallas kicked off their first title defense with two losses, obviously a lesser team without Smith, an all-time great. Now, does this mean that Cowboys line was a subpar illusion carried by a once in a lifetime threat? Nope. The truth resides in a reconciliatory middle ground where good teams can, working together, become great together. The credit should have been shared back then, and the Jets present-day running game is a similar case, on an admittedly smaller scale. [No championships, though the run game is championship caliber]

The front office continued piling up talent upfront over several years, producing a high-priced, cohesive machine. For every plaudit received by Jones, the relentless efforts of Nick Mangold and crew should be kept in mind. “There’s a reason why great lines have been together for years,” said Mangold after the Friday morning run-through. “I’ve talked to guys on some of those lines who don’t even have to make [pre-snap] calls.”

This incarnation of the Jets offensive line may be stuffed with brand names, but the group is only now participating in their second full season together. Mangold admits that this line is not operating on a telepathic level just yet, though, judging by the last few weeks, they are getting close. “It’s a process. You’re continually trying to get there,” said the skilled center. 

Damien Woody shared similar sentiments. “Chemistry. There’s nothing magical about what we are doing. Working with the same group [again], it’s rare…. We’re trying to get better. Each individual has to find something to get better at, and collectively we should improve.”

Interesting to note that both Richardson and Woody cited the possibility for improvement in the run game. It is that kind of dedication that breeds a feared asset. 

The Jets can ill afford any injuries to the offensive line.


Friday Tidbits

Dustin Keller’s breakout game was obscured in week eight by the Jets’ second horrendous loss to the Dolphins. Keller and Mark Sanchez seemed to be on different pages through week seven. Keller was not having a terrible season to that point, but considering his huge potential and advanced receiving skills, the steady barrage of under-five catch performances was disappointing. “Picking back-up,” said Keller, was asked to assess his year so far. “Middle of the season went slow. Me and Sanchez had a good connection last week.” Despite a job well done against Miami, Keller is still seeking something more. “There’s definitely a big game brewing,” exclaimed Keller. His reception production may be sporadic thus far, but Keller seems content with his blocking. “Very solid,” said the tight end, referring to that key facet. “It’s gotten better. I know the coaches have been happy. It will continue to get better.”


Rex Ryan shared a few interesting insights at his presser:

Lito Sheppard will not start: “I don’t think we’ll start Lito. Even though he’s practiced fully, I don’t think Lito’s all the way back yet. We’ll evaluate to see how much he’ll play. I think we’ll start Dwight Lowery.”

Justin Miller may not be returning kicks: “That’s a real possibility. We’ll see.”

More on Miller: Is there concern about his speed? :  “Yeah, probably.”

On Rashean Mathis, standout star of a shaky Jaguars secondary: “I think he’s an excellent player. Like a lot of good ones, he’ll take chances. The first thing you notice is the hair.” 

On addressing the team yesterday about not wanting to hear excuses: ‘It is what it is.  I believe in being honest and telling the truth. Practice today, I thought was outstanding focus [and] attention to detail. We’re close.”

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