It’s official: the Jets have crushed the Dolphins’ playoff dreams and somehow, some way finished the season in second place at 8-8. No one–and I mean no one–thought the Jets would do that well. For instance, Pat Kirwan of CBSSports had Gang Green pegged for 4-12, while Rich Cimini predicted a 6-10. There were some big breaks along the way, viz. Lavonte David and the controversial end of the Jets-Patriots game at the Meadowlands, but those breaks are easily cancelled out by the duds the Jets put together after the BYE week. All in all, the Jets played with heart this year, which is as good of a reason to be happy about the season as any. But here are 5 other reasons for the fan to be pleased heading into 2014:
1) The defensive line and the pass rush is standing tall and talented:
Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, Quinton Coples, Calvin Pace, Damon Harrison. This wasn’t just the core of the Jets defense, it was the core of the team. Wilkerson–the team MVP and a defensive player of the year candidate–and Pace finished with double digit sacks, Richardson is up for rookie of the year consideration, Coples seemed to penetrate the backfield for losses every game, and Damon Harrison was a pleasant surprise clogging up the middle.
With the exception of Pace, who figures to be brought back on a team friendly deal, the average age of this group is 23.7 years old; they figure to thrive for years to come.
2) Geno’s play improved by season’s end:
When the Jets defeated the New Orleans Saints at home and headed into the BYE at 5-4, everyone wondered if they were for real. Abysmal losses in Buffalo, Baltimore, and at home to the Dolphins gave us the answer. Those three games were also rock bottom for Geno Smith as he threw 6 interceptions to no touchdowns, was benched in Buffalo, and eked out a 13.5 rating over that time.
After the rough patch, however, Geno rebounded well, compiling an 83.3 rating and 7 total touchdowns to only 2 interceptions; he led the Jets to a 3-1 finish. What Geno was able to accomplish as a rookie with minimal offensive help should please any Jets fan going into next season, especially if the team upgrades the skill positions as expected.
3) Ivory and Powell formed an effective tandem in the backfield:
Let’s just pretend for a moment that Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell are one person: Chris Powell. Chris Powell had a nice season rushing for 1,435 yards (4.3 yards per carry), adding on 286 receiving yards, scoring four touchdowns and losing zero fumbles. That’s all that really needs to be said.
4) The Jets will be drafting in middle of the 1st round:
Drafting in the middle of the first round places the Jets in good position then and the ensuing rounds. They’re sure to have a difference maker for the offense fall to them at this spot, but if they aren’t happy with what falls to them the value of that slot makes trading down and stocking up on more picks an intriguing option. The Jets should have Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Marqise Lee, Austin Sefarian-Jenkins and Eric Ebron on their radar in the 1st round, players like Jordan Matthews and Davante Adams in the 2nd-3rd round range, and potential projects like Rutgers’ Brandon Coleman later on. Regardless, the 2014 draft will be a must watch for this organization.
5) Mark Sanchez was–and is–nowhere to be found:
When Sanchez went down in the preseason for the season it marked, pun intended, the end of an era and the start of a new one. It seemed that there was a dark cloud hanging over the organization last season with Sanchez under center, whether he was butt fumbling and bumbling or yielding picks left and right. The departure of he who shall hereby be referred to as “The Flowband” from daily team activities has resulted in a quick team culture turnaround, or so it seems; with Flowband out of the picture, the team had room to take a deep breath, exhale, and rally around Geno Smith. The rain clouds dissipated and the sunlight began to peek through. If nothing else, every Jets fan should be happy with the fact that the resident symbol of failure was locked away for the duration of the season and portends to be cut for good.