What a difference a week makes. When the Jets-Ravens game was over last Monday night, the cry was that Rex Ryan was just another guy with a big mouth who had let his team get distracted by the lure of reality TV while Giants coach Tom Coughlin was the quiet, confident leader content with the role of dark horse.
In their season openers, the Giants devastated the Carolina Panthers, a team they weren’t supposed to be that much better than, by 31-18; the Jets played themselves into a humiliating 10-9 whipping by
division rival conference ne’er-do-wells Baltimore.
Now, suddenly, it looks as if projections based on the opening week were entirely misleading.
After falling behind to the New England Patriots 14-7, the Jets dominated — there is no other word for it — the Pats for the next three quarters. Offensively, there was no secret as to what went right: Ryan decided to stop coddling Mark Sanchez and cut him loose, letting him audible and throw on whatever down he thought necessary. Sanchez responded by outthinking Bill Belichick’s defense and outdueling Tom Brady, who seemed stunned and glass-eyed during the postgame conference — the residue of the Jets’ bewildering package of coverages and blind-side blitzes that forced two key second half interceptions and led to a surprisingly easy 28-14 win.
It was as if the Jets sent a clear message to their fans, “Sorry we got here a week late, but we’re ready now, and yes, this is the team that looked like a Super Bowl contender late last season.”
The only team in the league suffering from more aftershock than the Patriots today is the New York Giants after their 38-14 drubbing by the Colts at Indianapolis. The Colts’ defense had been riddled last week by Houston’s Matt Schaub and looked as if it was set up for Eli Manning to finally overtake big bro Peyton. What the Giants learned is what the rest of the AFC is going to be finding out throughout the season: namely that the Colts are still the class of the conference.
The Giants learned — well, they still haven’t earned this yet, and neither have their fans, but let’s be the first to say it — Eli is never going to be Peyton. Through two games this season, Peyton is the number two-ranked passer in the NFL (121.0) with six touchdowns and zero interceptions while Eli is — start facing it, Giants fans — mediocre. He’s number 14 (85.7) with five TDs and four interceptions. In fact, mediocre might be a generous description of Eli’s performance in 91 games over seven seasons.
Eli and the Giants are still living off the fumes of their late-season surge of 2007 and the postseason of 2008, but the glow is long gone. Not that by any means the humiliation of yesterday’s game could be written off to Eli. While Ryan and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine made instant brilliant analyses and adjustments on the Patriots’ offense, Coughlin and his new defensive coach, Perry Fewell, were slow, sluggish and unresponsive to the Colts. As Chris Collinsworth, perhaps the best analyst on TV, pointed out, the Giants were consistently caught off guard with six defensive backs when the Colts ran two-tight end formations and with just four DBs when Indianapolis threw three-receiver sets at them. They looked like an amateur boxer covering up high for body shots and then low when the punches went to the head.
Two games do not a season make, but our guess is that the Jets’ performance against New England and the Giants’ against Indianapolis are indicative of what to expect this year.