In MLB, a three-game homestand is a hiccup. In the NFL, it's an eternity. But what kind of eternity, heavenly or hellish or somewhere in between, awaits the Jets as they embark on their first scheduled regular-season three-game stand since 1981 against the San Francisco 49ers at MetLife Stadium today?
To be sure, the Jets welcome their return to the homefires after the mixed-results two-game roadtrip to Pittsburgh and Miami that nevertheless has them at 2-1 and tied for the AFC East lead.
"You get your fans at your home stadium," said guard Brandon Moore. "You don't have to travel. You see your family a little bit more."
"You have the crowd, familiar territory," added safety Eric Smith. "That's when you've got to really have everything together and play well."
Tim Tebow hasn't played a lot in North Jersey — just two preseason appearances and seven plays on offense in the opener against Buffalo — but he has high hopes for this stretch before his new fans.
"I think it's going to be exciting," Tebow said Friday. "I think our fans are very passionate, very emotional, and that's exciting. It's a tough place to come play because our fans do a great job. Hopefully, we give them a few things to really be excited about and get them fired up and get them pretty loud."
But what the NFL schedulemaker giveth with one hand, it taketh with the other. Three-game homestands sound like fun. But what the Jets have on this stand are today's date with the 49ers, the NFC Championship Game participants a year ago, followed by a primetime meeting with the Houston Texans, who one or two pundits think may be the top team in the NFL this season.
Get done with those two and the Jets get a "break" by hosting the rebuilding Colts, who have their new first-pick-of-the-draft QB Andrew Luck who could wreak some havoc with the Jets' Darrelle Revis-less secondary if given the chance.
What's a Jet to do?
"We'll start with this one," said Moore.
"This Team Is Loaded"
The Niners are formidable. Head coach Rex Ryan said so at the top of his first news conference of the new week on Wednesday, offering a 1,000-word monologue describing a defense with seven Pro Bowl-caliber starters led by MLB Patrick Willis and an offense with no-mistakes QB Alex Smith, aptly named RB Frank Gore gashing opponents to the tune of 5.9 yards per carry, and TE Vernon Davis, about whom Smith sums up: "He's pretty much a big guy who runs real fast."
But before and after Ryan's tribute to the 49ers, he made sure to pay equal tribute to the Jets fans, more so than his players. He made his roughly annual pitch to Jets Nation to come to the game loud and proud.
"Hopefully, that will be a big edge for us, to have home field advantage, get our fans behind us. I think that will give us a big boost, because quite honestly this football team right here is loaded," Ryan said. "This should be one heck of a game and that's why I'm challenging our fans, that they could very well be the difference. We need you. We need the fans out there to be supportive, make it as tough as possible on them. We obviously have to do a great job on the field."
If the job isn't so great, well, Jets fans can be as tough on the home side as they are on the opponents. But Ellis Lankster, who says he expects to see "the most snaps I've ever played cornerback-wise" now that he's the first backup CB and the nickel due to Revis' serious knee injury at Miami last week, agrees with his boss about the Green & White faithful.
"I feel like our home crowd, they've got my back, too, just like my teammates have got my back and I've got theirs," Lankster said. "And that J-E-T-S on the opening kickoff — I love that chant."
To take on San Francisco, the Jets aren't relying just on chants and mob psychology. They obviously will turn to their top players on offense — Mark Sanchez, coming off the uneven Miami win which nevertheless was his sixth career 300-yard passing game and his ninth fourth-quarter/overtime comeback, WR Santonio Holmes, coming off a near-career game at Miami, perhaps TE Dustin Keller, who could come off of two weeks on the game inactive list to help the offense keep moving, and a now two-back rotation with Shonn Greene and Bilal Powell trying to move the rock on the ground.
Let's not forget that the last time this offense was home, it helped produce most of the 48 points against Buffalo, a franchise record for scoring in an opener.
On defense, the rallying cry is "We're all in this together." A little more contribution from each player will be necessary from here on out, from DE Muhammad Wilkerson, coming off his first double-digit-tackle game as a pro, leading tackler David Harris at LB, the self-proclaimed second-best corner in the game Antonio Cromartie and Kyle Wilson on the corners, and the big hitters in the deep middle, LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell.
Improvement is needed in the run defense, which has underperformed so far, and on third down and in the red zone.
The special teams need to keep Jeremy Kerley flying on punt returns, get Joe McKnight some open spaces on kickoffs, and keep up the flawless placekicking of Nick Folk and optimum field position provided by the coverage teams on Folk's kickoffs and Robert Malone's punts.
No Guarantees for This Homestand
Additionally, Ryan stressed during the week that all his units need to be ready for near-perfect execution against the 49ers' precision and for a "double-chinstrap game" to match if not exceed the Niners' physicality.
A tall order, but if they get it all done, they can emerge from Game 1 of the homestand with a win. Then the fans would be "primed" for the Texans, since it will be the Jets' first night game of the season and the night when Wesley Walker and Mark Gastineau will be inducted into their Ring of Honor. Then on to Indy, where the wall of sound would greet Luck and the Colts' offense.
It all sounds so easy, yet this homestand will be far from a cakewalk. Apart from the quality opponents, there is Jets history. They've played several different kinds of three home games in a row — with a bye week in the middle of the stand, with one of the three being a home playoff game. And the simple fact is that the last time the Jets swept three consecutive home games was 1974, when they opened the season 1-7, then finished it with six straight wins, including verdicts over Miami, San Diego and Buffalo at Shea Stadium in Weeks 11-13.
Since then, eight times over the past 37 seasons, they didn't sweep. Five of those times they didn't even win two of three.
But there's one time-honored NFL tradition to eating this elephant: one bite at a time. First bites today against the 49ers. "It's going to be a challenge, no doubt," said Ryan. "That being said, I think we're ready to roll."