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Sunday was an incredibly important day for New York – the tenth anniversary of 9/11, a decade since the worst terrorist attack in American history and a day of solace for the entire country. Since the day coincided with the opening of the NFL season, both the Giants and Jets had pre-game ceremonies to honor those lives lost ten years ago.
The ceremonies were dignified and actually quite nice. Of course, the Giants ceremony took place at 4:15, smack in the middle of the afternoon slate of games and down in Washington DC. The Jets took top billing: Sunday Night Football, opening up the newly renamed MetLife Stadium for the 2011 season, against “America’s Team” (and arguably the Giants’ biggest rival) the Cowboys.
There is little doubt who the NFL wanted representing New York this weekend – and I can’t really blame them.
Take a look at these two teams, and it is very clear that they are about to diverge on very different paths. The Giants have owned the early part of the past decade in New York, making the playoffs five times and winning a Super Bowl. But the Jets have now made the playoffs six times in that same span, reached consecutive AFC Championship games, and boast more star power than any Giants team since the 1980s.
The Jets have been incredibly lucky, and incredibly good, for the last two years and have their sights set squarely on the Super Bowl. The Giants have been flailing since their Super Bowl victory, and look like they are in for a very bad year. The Jets are only going to get better – and the Giants are about to get much worse.
The Jets are peaking now, both on and off the field, because of their star power, and the Giants are fading because of their lack of star power. It comes down to GQ cover boy Mark Sanchez versus the goofy Eli Manning, yappy and charismatic linebacker Bart Scott versus robotic Subway pitchman Justin Tuck, and especially dynamic and headline-grabbing Rex Ryan versus mean old grandpa Tom Coughlin. Ever since their star turn on HBO’s Hard Knocks, the Jets have been the more high-profile team, while the Giants have avoided splashy moves and are now paying the price. These two teams are like ships passing in the night, except the Jets are headed towards port and the Giants have lost all of their crew to ACL injuries and are speeding towards an iceberg.
Injuries happen in the NFL: 300-pound men were not meant to crash into each other, and things are bound to break. But the Giants have had a special kind of injury epidemic this offseason, one that is probably linked to the long layoff for many of these players. After losing Jonathan Goff before the first game, wide receiver Hakeem Nicks is dinged up again and Justin Tuck is still 50/50 about playing against St. Louis this week.
Still, there was no excuse for the kind of game they played Sunday in DC. Rex Grossman is a terrible quarterback, just plain terrible, and there is no reason for him to have had a career-resuscitating game against what was a top-10 defense last year. It may be time for Giants fans to prepare themselves for a six win season.
Of course, they could just flip the channel over to watch what may be a pretty special team. Mark Sanchez is still learning, but Sunday was one of the best games he has every played, even if he still looked painful at times. He made big time throws, kept his team in the game and was simply not a liability. Sanchez has suffered from unreasonable expectations and they only rose for this year. There is a fallacious assumption by many football fans and pundits that the third year is the make-or-break year for QBs, but one needs only to look to Big Blue to see it isn’t true. Eli Manning threw for 24 TDs and 18 INTs his third year, for a middling 77 rating. He won a Super Bowl in his fifth year, and didn’t really make the leap to quasi-elite until the year after.
Sunday, Sanchez threw for 300+ yards, tossed two touchdowns and actually showed flashes of being a serviceable QB. More importantly, he completed 59 percent of his passes, despite tying a career high with 44 attempts. The last time Sanchez chucked it as much, he completed a measly 17 passes against the Dolphins in a pathetic 10-6 loss. If Sanchez can hang around 60 percent for the rest of the season, he will be much better than third year Eli, which will be critical for a team that is a serious contender for the Super Bowl. If the Jets continue to open up the game plan and ask Sanchez to make big throws, it looks as though he can rise to the occasion.
Winning the Super Bowl is all about getting lucky breaks at the right time, as Giants fans can attest to and as Jets fans will learn. It is also about winning the games you are supposed to win. Tony Romo having a meltdown on national TV is a lucky break, while Rex Grossman being imbued with the spirit of Brett Favre is not. Next week, the Jets take on Maurice Jones-Drew and the Jaguars in a game the Jets D will certainly need as a barometer for their own success, after being beat up by the Cowboys. This is a game the Jets should dominate, and if they don’t it will not augur well for the rest of the season.
Meanwhile, the depleted Giants take on the similarly depleted Rams for what is sure to be a sad and confusing Monday Night Football. If the Giants can’t beat a team missing it’s number one running back, get ready for a season of “fire Tom Coughlin” talk. With the Giants luck, Coughlin will probably tear his ACL at his firing press conference.