(Sports Network) – Sure is funny how things change.
As they approached the 2010 NFL season, the New York Jets seemed intent on shattering all records for bravado from a team that hadn’t possessed the Lombardi Trophy since Lyndon Johnson was president and hadn’t even achieved double-digit wins in its most-recent 16-game schedule.
So when September’s Week 1 ended with an unwatchable 10-9 home loss to Baltimore, the know-it-all jackals were predictably poised to pounce … quickly painting the second-year quarterback, the offseason personnel moves and the saber-rattling coach with a knee-jerk ‘overrated’ brush.
In four weeks since, such blowhards have been in full-throated retreat.
With a Monday night home win over Minnesota in which they never trailed, the Jets ran their post-Ravens success streak to four games, maintained a grip on sole possession of first place in the AFC East and added the name ‘Favre’ to a first-half QB victims list that already included Brady, Henne and, well … Ryan Fitzpatrick.
That offense? It’s averaging 165.2 yards on the ground and 337.2 total yards per week.
And that quarterback? His eight TD passes and zero interceptions have yielded a 91.7 rating.
“We’re so excited about this win and the way we just hung in there at the end,” Sanchez said after Monday’s game, “because I really don’t think I would have been able to sustain this thing last year and I don’t think we would have won this game. I think it’s a testament to our leadership and our coaching this year. We’re just really doing a great job down the stretch.”
As for this week’s opponent in Colorado, they’re trying it a little differently this season, too.
Unlike 2009, when they burst from the gate with six straight wins before ultimately missing the playoffs at 8-8, the Denver Broncos have taken a one step up/two steps back approach to early 2010 – going a maddening L, W, L, W, L through their initial five games.
Still, the inconsistency hasn’t cost much in the AFC West standings, where Josh McDaniels and Co. sit in a three-way tie for second, a game-and-a-half behind the unlikely front-running Kansas City Chiefs.
Denver dropped a 31-17 decision at Baltimore last week and was gashed for 415 total yards – including 233 on the ground, 133 on 27 punishing carries by Ray Rice. The Broncos fell to 25th in the league in run defense. New York, incidentally, is first in the league in run offense.
Adding to the lingering defensive issues, safety Darcel McBath (ankle), cornerback Andre Goodman (quadriceps), linebacker Robert Ayers (leg), linebacker Wesley Woodyard (hamstring) and safety Brian Dawkins (knee) will all miss Sunday’s game with injuries.
On offense, running back Knowshon Moreno (hamstring) and wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (head/neck) are listed questionable. Moreno has missed three straight games, while Thomas was hurt on a kick return against the Ravens.
To McDaniels, though, both health and happiness are just a win away.
“It usually takes one victory to make you feel better about the direction that you’re headed in and how you’ve played,” he said. “I think that has to be our mindset at this point – we’re one game away from being 3-3.”
The Broncos hold a 16-14-1 edge in their all-time series with the Jets, breaking a deadlock in the series with a 34-17 road victory when the teams last met, in 2008. Denver is 2-0 against the Jets since dropping a 19-13 affair at the Meadowlands in 2002. The Jets are 0-1 in Denver since last winning there in 1999.
In addition to the regular season series, the teams have met once in the postseason, with Denver claiming a 23-10 home victory in the 1998 AFC Championship.
The Jets’ Rex Ryan and Broncos’ McDaniels will be meeting each other, as well as their counterpart’s respective teams, for the first time as head coaches.
WHEN THE JETS HAVE THE BALL
Though a convenient whipping post for the over-reactive set, the Jets have been opportunistic and error-free through five games while helping to post a league- best plus-11 turnover margin. Since the Ravens loss, Sanchez has completed 71- of-126 passes for 828 yards, eight TDs and no interceptions, compiling a 97.6 passer rating. He’s wisely spent a good deal of his time handing off, often to the resurgent LaDainian Tomlinson, who’s third in the conference with 435 yards, has a 5.7-yard average per carry and has scored three times. He’s averaged 113.5 yards in the last two games with the Bills and Vikings and has scored 20 times in 18 career matchups with Denver. Tomlinson enters the game 75 yards away from 13,000, while second-year backfield mate Shonn Greene racked up his first rush TD of the season last week. In the air, Braylon Edwards had six catches for 92 yards his last time out against Denver, and Santonio Holmes is looking for a fourth straight game with six catches against the Broncos.
Stopping the run will be of utmost importance for the Broncos, who, as mentioned earlier, plummeted to 25th in the league against the ground game after the loss to the Ravens. Denver is also 25th in scoring defense after allowing 24, 14, 27, 20 and 31 points. That total (116) is second-worst to Oakland in the AFC West and fifth-worst in the conference as a whole. Opponents have gained an average of 4.37 yards per carry and scored five rush touchdowns in five games. In the air, they’ve racked up 213.8 yards per week while completing 61.8 percent of their passes. As a unit, the Broncos have neither generated a consistent pass rush nor been particularly adept at forcing turnovers – recording just five sacks and six turnovers in five games. Individually, veteran cornerback Champ Bailey had an interception in his last game against the Jets in November 2005, while end Jason Hunter posted the first sack of his Broncos career last week against Baltimore.
WHEN THE BRONCOS HAVE THE BALL
Long an afterthought in Chicago, Orton has developed into a genuine threat in his new locale, throwing for 1,733 yards through five games – second-best in the league. He’s completed nearly 67 percent of his passes (141-of-213), generated eight touchdowns against only three INTs and compiled a 97.8 rating. He’s aiming for a fifth straight 300-yard game and is 20-6 as a starter at home with both the Bears and Denver. In October, he’s 9-3 with a 99.0 passer rating. Assuming Moreno either doesn’t play or is limited, ex-Patriot Laurence Maroney gets another chance to face a team he’s averaged 84.3 yards against in games with at least 20 carries. On the outside, receiver Brandon Lloyd has become a genuine weapon as well and looks for a fifth 100-yard game already this season. He has five receptions of at least 40 yards, tops in the league. A second pass- catching option, Eddie Royal, had five receptions for 84 yards – including a 59-yard touchdown – in his last game against the Jets.
For the New York defense, so far, so good … at least in spots. While its 313.6 total yards per week average is respectable, the unit has been burned frequently through the air – including Favre’s three second-half TDs last week and Brandon Marshall’s 10 catches for 160-plus yards in a Week 3 game. Big- ticket cornerback Darrelle Revis missed practice on Wednesday and is listed questionable for Sunday, though his lack of production has been offset somewhat by fellow corner Antonio Cromartie, whose two interceptions lead the team and are tied for second-best in the conference. Another corner, Dwight Lowery, had a game-sealing pick-six against Favre, returning an interception 26 yards for a TD in the final two minutes. Elsewhere, end Shaun Ellis looks for a fourth straight game with at least a half-sack. He leads the team with 3.5. Newcomer linebacker Jason Taylor has three sacks in his last three games against Denver, while fellow linebacker Calvin Pace had 1.5 sacks in his 2010 debut last week.
For the Jets, Tomlinson and Greene are likely licking chops in preparation for big yardage opportunities. And Sanchez, with new target Holmes and emerging tight end Dustin Keller, has been a steady if not prolific option of late. The defense is a known and proven fantasy commodity, and kicker Nick Folk leads the league in scoring through five weeks. For Denver, Orton, Lloyd, Royal and even Jabar Gaffney make sense. The Broncos’ defense on the other hand, does not.
Trips out west, especially after emotional wins and preceding bye weeks, have long been toxic propositions for the Jets. And the Broncos have the potential – given their riches at wide receiver – to make it a long day for a team on a short week. That said, this New York team has shown its differences from the past so far, and should be given benefit of the doubt until it loses one it’s not supposed to. Expect a lot of Greene and LT to offset the smatterings of Orton, Lloyd and Royal.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Jets 20, Broncos 14