Eric Hicks walking the tunnel before the game
At the age of 31, Eric Hicks is an elder statesman in the Jets' locker room. Now in his 10th NFL season, he has seen plenty of slow starts and fast starts. With experience comes perspective.
"It is a long haul and this is only Week 5," Hicks said Thursday of the Green & White's 1-3 record. "Every game is really a must-win game because there's so much parity in the league and anybody can beat anybody on any given Sunday. You can't take anybody lightly any one week and you can't be discouraged because you play a team that is deemed to be superior. You just have to go out even-keeled and take everybody as they come."
After nine seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, the veteran defensive end signed with the Jets in May. No longer a starter, Hicks receives about 15 plays a game in a reserve role.
"I like it. This locker room is very young and has a lot of energy, which is nice," he said of his new environment. "The Chiefs locker room was a little bit older and a little bit more subdued. These guys are a lot of fun, the coaching staff is great, and everybody here has a great work ethic."
Despite the most recent loss in Buffalo, the Jets stiffened up against the run. Rookie Marshawn Lynch scored a touchdown but he was mostly contained and averaged 3.4 yards on his 23 attempts. The Green & White now rank ninth in the NFL in average yards per rush, yielding 3.7 a carry.
"I think the defense is improving, especially when you look at our run performance against Buffalo, against a very quality running back in Marshawn Lynch," Hicks said. "We were able to control him a little bit to where he didn't make that many breakout plays."
But the challenge is consistency because Hicks said each team presents unique problems. The Giants are set to welcome back Brandon Jacobs on Sunday and Derrick Ward, a Jets seventh-round draft selection in 2004, has been a revelation in his absence. The former NAIA standout has already rushed for 353 yards and is averaging 4.8 yards per carry behind a hard-working line.
"You have another big running back this week in Brandon Jacobs," Hicks said of the 6'4", 264-pounder. "He can run the ball and Ward can run right behind him. Their offensive line is big."
The Giants also can hurt you through the air. Eli Manning has cooled a bit after a hot start on opening night in Dallas, but he is surrounded by quality targets.
"Eli has a very strong arm and a good family pedigree at the quarterback position, no doubt about that," Hicks said. "He makes good decisions, gets rid of the ball and doesn't take a whole bunch of sacks. He can really get it downfield to his playmakers in [Plaxico] Burress and [Jeremy] Shockey. Amani Toomer is still doing it after all these years. They have a couple of more weapons in there for him, but he's kind of in that Manning mold — sling the ball downfield and make big plays."
But for a few plays against the Ravens and the Bills, the Jets could have found themselves in a completely different situation. When you look closely, the difference between 1-3 and 3-1 really isn't much.
"We could easily have a totally different record. It just comes down to segments of a couple of plays here and there," Hicks said. "The teams that make those plays are the ones that have the plus records, the teams that lose those couple of plays have minus records."
A veteran of 132 NFL games, Hicks takes pride in passing along his acquired knowledge to his youthful teammates. He knows each season is long and there is still time to recover.
"The NFL is passed down from generation to generation. It's the old guys telling the young guys how to act because they don't know anything about professional football," he said. "It is a difficult business and a lot of stuff can get misconstrued if you don't the facts and the history."