There is an adage that tells us "It's not how you start, it's how you finish." No doubt, there is obvious truth to the statement, but it's not so cut and dry when considering football.
If a team falls behind week in and week out, it immediately adds an extra amount of pressure. Overcoming early deficits has plagued the Jets offense this season, including last week's 30-21 loss to the Patriots.
"We dropped some, we missed some targets early, and that hurt us," said head coach Rex Ryan today. "We just have to be sharp, and not just Mark [Sanchez] but all of us. We've got to start fast and make it a point. We've looked at everything known to man. [Miami defensive coordinator] Mike Nolan is going to throw everything at us, and we're looking at everything."
Through the first five weeks of the season, the Jets have scored only 14 offensive points in first quarters. Sanchez found WR Santonio Holmes for a 17-yard touchdown in Week 2 against the Jaguars, marking the only points the Green & White have scored on their first possession all season.
"I think the game plan we have drawn up, the way we run it in practice, we do a pretty good job at it," said Holmes. "Then things just don't go the way we expect them to come the first snap of the game."
The only other first-quarter offensive score came in Week 3 when Sanchez dove into the end zone from a yard out in the 34-24 loss to the Oakland Raiders. The quarterback, too, is well aware of the lack of early offensive production.
"It's a mindset for us," said Sanchez. "Those first few third downs, we need to convert. We need to sustain drives, and a scoring drive on that first possession is huge for us. We'd love to come out and do that. It sets a good tone for the team. I know we have the guys to do it."
Currently, the Patriots and Bills sit atop the AFC East together at 4-1. New England has scored at least one offensive touchdown in each opening quarter this season, outscoring its opponents, 42-17. Until the Jets stopped the streak, the Patriots were the first team in at least 20 years to score opening-drive TDs in their first four games of the season.
Jumping out to a hot start is key in establishing momentum. Playing from ahead is certainly more desirable then constantly playing from behind.
"It's got to start somewhere," said Holmes. "Why not start it on Monday night? Let's not wait another week and say, 'OK, let's wait until the bye week and we'll turn it around then.' It might be too late. Might as well start it right now."
Holmes has an idea how to make it happen against the Dolphins.
"The way you practice is the way you play," he said. "I think the way these guys have practiced this week, we're definitely determined to play well on Monday night."
Starting last week, Ryan has introduced a new measure to help speed up the tempo of his offensive unit in practice. During passing plays in team drills, a horn blares after a predetermined amount of time after the ball is snapped. If the pass is thrown after the horn, it's too late.
It makes receivers run crisper routes, forces the offensive linemen to hold their blocks, and reminds Sanchez to let it fly at the first sign of an open man. The "shot clock" plus higher player intensity should result in a better in-game performance.
"Part of it is demeanor," said Sanchez. "You can't practice like you're 2-3. You have to practice like you're 5-0. We're so close. We've kind of found a way to lose, where last year we would find a way to win. It's one completion here or there and we're right in this thing."
As with last week's game against the Patriots, some have called Monday night's game against the Dolphins a "must-win."
"Must-win, need-to-win, whatever you want to call it," said Sanchez. "We just want to win the game."