The Jets have had many a memorable Monday night game against the Dolphins. Not surprising, since they have played and beaten the 'Fins more than any other opponent on that most iconic night of the NFL week.
There was the 1985 game, when Freeman McNeil and Kenny O'Brien led the Jets to a 23-7 win in a battle of 4-1 teams. The Chad Pennington gut-it-out-in-the-rain 13-10 win at Miami on Christmas Night 2006. And of course the Monday Night Miracle of 2000.
Will tonight's Jets-Dolphins game at MetLife Stadium, which coindicentally will feature the induction of the second class of Jets into the team's Ring of Honor at halftime, qualify for the pantheon of top Jets games against their longtime AFC East friends and foes? It will certainly be remembered no matter the outcome. But a loss would be a bitter pill. It would come to the previously winless Aqua & Coral and would drop the Green & White to their fourth defeat in a row and to three games off the lead of those pesky, persistent Patriots, who came back to beat the Cowboys at home Sunday and rise to 5-1.
However, that's not what the Jets have in mind. They want a win and whether it's by the 41-14 count of the 2004 game or the field goal margins of the MNF wins in 1980 and '02, they'll take it.
"Oh, we need it, there's no doubt about it," head coach Rex Ryan said during the urgent week of preparation. "We need to get back to winning and we know this team is gunning for a win as well. It's not like, oh, the Jets need one. Well, so does Miami. We are going to get everything they have, there's no doubt. But yeah, we don't need to lose another game.
"We're excited to play on a national stage," added QB Mark Sanchez. "I feel like most of the time we play our best that way. We have to come out on fire, we have to play well and start the game off fast, finish it strong, sustain drives, and execute on offense and take care of the football. It's going to be a good matchup."
Recent Edge to 'Fins
One thing's for sure: This rivalry between these sides is never an easy matchup to figure out. Dan Marino was a great QB and had his moments vs. the Jets, but they had their moments against him: Ken O'Brien split 14 games against Marino and they won their last four against him. From 1998-2008, in fact, the Green & White won 17 of 21 meetings.
But the Dolphins have taken four of the last five, including the two Jets home games of the Ryan era, in most unusual fashion. In 2009 in the Meadowlands, the Jets gave up a mere 104 yards yet fell to two Ted Ginn kickoff return TDs and a Jason Taylor fumble return score, all in a 7:01 span of the third quarter, in a 30-25 loss.
Last year, in their first season in their new home, the defense yielded a nearly as impressive 131 yards, yet the Sanchez offense punted eight times, managed two field goals, and the Jets fell again, 10-6.
The Jets' offensive struggles this year — and the talk it's generated outside the locker room as well as inside it — has been well-documented, especially this past week before and after the trade of WR Derrick Mason. The offense was ranked 28th overall heading into this sixth weekend of the season, the running game was 31st — the last time the Jets ranked 32nd and last in the league's rushing-yardage category was after Week 5 in 2003 — and their seven three-and-out drives at New England dropped them into the bottom three in the league in three-and-out drive percentage.
"I think we're working through just a tough experience," Sanchez said. "Three tough road losses — that's no fun and it's not easy, but it's a good test for us. It really is a good test for this team to see how we're going to bounce back. I know we have the talent to do it and I know we have the coaching to do it. We have to work and practice. I thought we had a great day today. We have to build off today, build off of last game, get a little bit better on third down and we're right there."
That may sound like whistling past the graveyard to the Jets' many critics, but support for Sanchez's and the offense's potential came in the past few days from a guy who changed from his aqua uniform to green last year and back to aqua this year.
"They'll be all right," said Taylor, who'll be trying to delay that all right with some timely sacks and pressures of Sanchez tonight. "Sometimes things don't click quite as fast as people would like, but they'll be fine. They've got the players, the talent to do it, very, very good coaches, very knowledgeable coaches on both sides of the ball, so they'll be fine. Like I said, the talent's there, the quarterback's there. They'll be just fine."
Similarly, the Jets defense will want to apply pressure to Matt Moore, the QB who finds himself in the hot seat with Chad Henna's season-ending shoulder injury. They'd like to use their alignment-assignment-technique mantra of the week to stop the Dolphins' run and then turn the pressure loose and make Moore's life as miserable as they did Henna's in those two previous home games in 2009-10 — except this time come away with a home 'Fins win.
They Expect Much from Themselves
Tony Sparano, Miami's embattled head coach, explained why the Dolphins are so dangerous to the Jets' hopes and dreams for this game as he answered a question about what if anything he saw that might explain the Jets' recent sputtering.
"No, I wouldn't say there's anything that I noticed and if I did I probably wouldn't say it," Sparano deadpanned. "I know that that team has lost three games before a couple of times and has bounced back. No different than my football team. We've been in this situation before and bounced back. We've been 0-3 and 0-4 and won our next 11 games and six of our next seven games.
"Teams get in these positions. The bottom line is you put yourself in the position by the way you play and you've got to dig yourself out of it. So there's nothing really that I've watched on film that said this is the reason why the Jets are in this deal here. That's a darn good football team in my very humble opinion. That team went to the AFC Championship Game last year and they're still the team to beat in our division."
If it's anything of an omen, it can also be said that the Jets have strong, if not perfect, through their history when faced with this similar position, facing a team that's winless in its first four games or worse. They're 13-4 in such games, including wins in three of these last such games — '97 against the 0-4 Colts, '07 against the 0-11 Dolphins, and '08 vs. the 0-5 Bengals.
But, of course, history means nothing when it comes to current events. The Jets must be what they say they are: a locker room that is more together than fans and media may give it credit for, a team of resolve and character, a group ready to put its troubles behind it and stride forward toward whatever may come.
"Everybody knows what our goal is, and what we expect from each other," Ryan said simply. "We need this win."
Sunday evening, the Dolphins announced that three players had been ruled out of playing in tonight's game. Two were injured players — S Chris Clemons and TE Will Yeatman — and DE Philip Merling was a non-injury scratch. Merling, Jets and Brett Favre fans will remember, was a rookie D-lineman in 2008 when he picked off Favre and returned the ball 25 yards for a second-quarter TD in the Dolphins' AFC East-clinching 24-17 win over the Jets in the regular-season finale.