Funny Jets story: One of the best teams in the NFL beat the Jets to remain undefeated on Monday night, but all anyone wants to talk about is the Jets.
The Texans improved to 5-0 with a 23-17 win. They looked solid. Their second-year defensive end looked like an MVP candidate. The Jets looked competent at times, adequate at others. Their offense bungled its way through two interceptions and three sacks, but it also generated some scoring drives and rarely looked like the kindergarten fire drill we saw against the 49ers.
Still, the game was never quite as close as the final score suggests. Much of the game played out like slow-motion footage of an old pickup truck getting wrapped around a telephone pole. The Texans were the pole. No one thinks much about the pole. The Jets were not terrible, but "not terrible" has become the best they can hope to be. Their loss had a sense of inevitability and validation to it: No one expected them to win, and they didn't, so now we can discuss the imaginative, comical ways they lose.
The Jets brought this upon themselves -- the scrutiny, the ridicule, the doubt, the tongue-clucking. They beg for it. They crave it. They love it.
The Jets are attention-starved children who have learned that if you cannot get positive attention, negative attention is far better than no attention. The Jets paint on the walls because they would rather be screamed at than ignored. They come home with the nose ring and the skull tattoo, and they make sure grandma sees them, because they want you to know that they don't care what you think, which of course means they care what you think.
Child psychologists would have a field day with the Jets, and with us for fostering and encouraging them to behave this way.
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Funny Jets story: The Jets scored a first-quarter touchdown against the Texans on Monday night, and no one in America acted more surprised than the Jets.
Mark Sanchez threw a perfect deep pass over the middle, and tight end Jeff Cumberland hauled the ball into his belly after a brief bobble, two events as unlikely to happen in sequence as lightning striking a winning lottery ticket. The official lifted his arms, and a flash-mob Jets rave broke out in the end zone: Cumberland, Sanchez, other receivers, linemen, all of them hugging and high-fiving. Tim Tebow met Sanchez for a celebratory leap near the sideline. Plaxico Burress didn't participate, but he would have loved to, if only someone would invite him onto the roster.
The over-exuberant touchdown celebration betrayed the Jets' offensive self-knowledge: A first-quarter touchdown against one of the NFL's best defenses felt like the upset of the century. Players are told to act as if they belong when they reach the end zone. Sir Lawrence Olivier couldn't act like he belonged in the end zone once you strapped a Jets helmet on him. The touchdown, coming on the heels of an Antonio Cromartie interception (great play), a threaded Sanchez bomb to Clyde Gates (fine throw) and a couple of handoffs up the middle (whatever), felt as unrepeatable as a hole-in-one.
The Jets have serious injury problems on offense of course, with Santonio Holmes and Dustin Keller hurt. The Giants typically grimace through injury lists so long it would take an auctioneer an hour to read them, but unlike their roommates, they remain competitive, offensively viable and dignified. The Jets lose a few skill position players and swoon. If they cannot get you excited about their team, they will make you feel sorry for them.
The Jets kept broadcasting their dearth of skill-position talent on Monday night. They ran Antonio Cromartie onto the field for a handful of snaps. Once, he caught a deep pass out of bounds, because he is a cornerback, not a receiver, and he has not spent years learning how to tightrope the sideline. Late in the fourth quarter, Cromartie and Tebow entered the game in tandem, with Sanchez still at quarterback, a double-dose of out-of-position tomfoolery. The personnel jumble caused confusion and delay. Sanchez barely got the snap off, then barely avoided a sack by throwing an off-target wobbler to Cromartie in the flat. Lining up and playing real football would have made too much sense at that crucial point in the game; the Jets needed to prove that they are doing everything they can to win -- particularly the most baffling and counterproductive things they can think of.
The Jets did reach the end zone again, on a kickoff return touchdown by Joe McKnight, the running back turned cornerback turned running back. The Jets then attempted a surprise onside kick. The problem, as previously noted, is that the Jets have no good wide receivers, and therefore no one they can count upon to retrieve an onside kick. The ball bounced out of Chaz Schilens' hands, and Shiloh Keo recovered for the Texans, who kicked a field goal eight plays later.
Jets head coach Rex Ryan took full responsibility for the onside kick, as well as for some other gambles that were more fruitful (like a pair of fourth-down conversions). "When you ask your players to lay it out there, to do whatever it takes to win, that's me too," Ryan said after the game. Ryan is not one to make excuses, and he wants to make sure you are listening when he doesn't make them.
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Funny Jets story: The Jets held top-secret practices to install their Tebow Wildcat offense in mid-August, and they invited the media.
Closed practices are common in the NFL. The Jets themselves held closed walkthroughs every afternoon during training camp. No ESPN, no Tebow Cam, no fans, no one but the players, coaches and horses that graze just outside the SUNY Cortland practice facility. There is no reason to invite the media to a secret practice unless you want everyone to know you are holding a secret practice. We have a secret tree fort in the woods and you are not allowed in. The password is "Tom Brady has cooties."
This summer, Tebow peek-a-boo was the stuff of narcissistic Facebook teens, who drop hints about troubled romances to let the Internet know of their impending availability. (The Tebow Wildcat: It's complicated.) The prevailing theory of why a team would make a public spectacle of a private practice is that the Jets wanted their opponents to expend precious meeting and practice time guessing and preparing for the Wildcat. Yes, the Jets really think other teams spend all their time thinking about the Jets.
We have now seen five weeks of the Tebow Wildcat, and the verdict is in: It's a Wildcat, just like the one Tony Sparano ran in Miami in 2008, just like the one you can watch Arkansas coaches diagram on YouTube. The Jets pretended to have a secret because they love the attention they get when people probe them for their secrets. If you are going to be shallow, it's best to act mysterious. Better to restrict Twitter and photography during practice and be thought a fool than to let beat writers do their jobs and remove all doubt.
The Tebow Wildcat got another airing out on Monday night, with middling success. Tebow ran for 13 yards from the Texans' 16-yard line to give the Jets first-and-goal in the fourth quarter, then ran another of his signature power plays for no gain. Sanchez then returned to the field to have one pass batted down and another flutter to the ground four yards from any receiver. The Jets settled for a field goal. The Jets may lack the courage of their Tebow convictions, but they know how to second-guess themselves.
Tebow's most interesting plays this year have been fake punts. He has converted two of them for first downs, and he will convert many more if the Jets' offense continues to need three downs to travel nine yards. The fake punts, it must be noted, were not installed secretly; Tebow executed a bunch of them during my visit to Jets camp a week before the cone of silence descended.
Time with the special teams is time spent away from the quarterback drills, as is time spent learning to play H-back in a Tebow-Cromartie Surprise. Sanchez was adequate on Monday night, but his needle now oscillates from "adequate" through "awful" to "Onion parody" while rarely quivering up near "good." Tebow could do much the same thing with more broken tackles and enthusiasm, but Tebow has regressed as a passer, in large part because his energy has been divided by the punt protection and specialty packages. The Jets' Tebow usage only makes sense if their goal is to make him a permanent storyline, a perpetually discussed hypothetical that loses its allure and fascination the moment it actually occurs. That may be their goal. That, and two fake punts per month.
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Funny Jets story: Bart Scott declared a "media mutiny" after the Jets beat the Bills in Week 1. Two weeks later, he threatened to slap a reporter. Scott was mad at the media for depicting the Jets as a circus, when they are really a pirate ship. We just had the wrong theme party.
Jets players hate all of this media attention. Just turn on a microphone or camera within 50 feet of one and he will spend a half hour telling you, often with some profanity and an inflammatory remark about a rival player or teammate. Not every Jets player is like that; just the ones who speak regularly. The Jets have institution-wide verbal impulse control issues. When they win, they boast immodestly. When they lose, you bring an extra set of recorder batteries to the press conferences. There were no inflammatory statements after the Texans' loss, but the pot often percolates during the week and boils over on Friday, the way Scott did.
Scott meant "media boycott" when he said "media mutiny," and there's a chance that he recognized the irony of shouting a profanity-and-malapropism-laden message to reporters about his need to be taken seriously by reporters. Scott got his buttons pushed pretty hard by the target of his slap-threat (there is plenty of attention-getting behavior on our side of the table, too), but button-pushers gravitate toward the biggest keypad. No one follows Mathias Kiwanuka around snapping pictures, hoping to get a rise.
That's the flaw in the Jets' "blame the New York media" logic, the lie they tell themselves when they need an external enemy and the opponent just isn't hate-worthy enough. No one calls the Yankees or Giants clowns. The Rangers and Islanders are also treated with something close to respect. The Mets are teased but pitied. Only the Knicks get treatment similar to the Jets, and the two organizations have such similar personality disorders that the Tim Tebow trade was a foregone conclusion the moment Jeremy Lin spawned a media phenomenon that resulted in the resignation of a coach, aggravated assault against a fire extinguisher and a first-round playoff exit. The children who cannot get parental recognition by doing the right things are forced to seize attention by doing the wrong things.
Scott ended Monday night's game with three quiet tackles, the third and most noticeable in the final seconds as the Texans munched clock. The Jets purport to have a great defense, and it was not terrible, but the spotlight was on Texans defender J.J. Watt, who actually did things: a fourth-quarter sack, two pass deflections in the red zone, one of which led to an interception. Watt also said things: Television cameras caught him telling Sanchez "you can't throw it over my head."
Watt got fans to stop watching the Jets lose and start watching the Texans win late in the game. Luckily, ESPN broadcast the Ryan and Sanchez press conferences after the game, not Gary Kubiak's victorious press conference or Matt Schaub's remarks (Watt did get a brief segment). We cannot risk dividing people's attention. This, like everything else, is a Jets story.
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Funny Jets stories stop being funny when you realize that their bad behavior has become a syndrome. They need environmental modifications if they ever hope to stop seeking negative approval and start acting like a football team. The Jets proved on Monday night that they could be competitive without the experimental gadgets and manufactured quarterback drama. They could be likeable underdogs without the bluster, in-fighting and caterwauling for undeserved recognition.
The best way to eliminate attention-getting behaviors is to ignore them. "When you ignore misbehaviors, you are giving no attention," wrote child psychologist Dr. Sal Severe on FamilyEducation.com. "Because attention is rewarding to children, withholding attention can be an effective punishment. Withholding attention can weaken a misbehavior. … Ignore your child's inappropriate demands for attention. You will weaken those demands and extinguish the misbehavior."
The doctor knows what he is talking about; his name is Severe, after all. But withholding attention is easier said than done. The nagging, tantrums, slacking, tomfoolery, outbursts and acts of self-destruction are calculated acts that are difficult to ignore. The Jets are upstaging prodigies. They don't seek the center of attention; they define it. If you dare to look away, they up the ante. Tebow will start! Owner Woody Johnson talks politics! Paging Plaxico!
Heck, articles like these just make matters worse. The media is ganging up on the Jets again. The Jets will show us, by acting even more like the Jets, leading to more articles like these, and incidentally more on-field losses.
It is time to look away, for the Jets' own good.
Read more on FamilyEducation.com.