The Jets are tired of all the circus themes and big-top back pages. They've been thinking for a while not in terms of the Ringling Brothers but the Gershwin brothers. The dress rehearsals are over and it's time for them to open off Broadway today against the Buffalo Bills.
On with the show, this is it.
(We know, the Gershwins didn't write "This Is It." But stay with us.)
"We're deadly serious about what we do here, trying to win games and represent our fans in a way that they expect us to represent them," owner Woody Johnson said this week in response to questions about how local and national reporters have characterized his franchise. "I'm not in this to create a circus environment or any kind of environment other than a winning environment."
"I think this team, this organization is headed in the right direction," added Rex Ryan, jutting his jaw on the verge of his fourth opener as the Jets' head coach. "I don't know if that's the national perspective, but it's my perspective."
The players are feeling the same sense of purpose for today's first season opener at home against the Bills, their old AFL rivals, since 1960 — and on Curtis Martin Day to boot.
"I'm excited," DT Mike DeVito said, bouncing on the stool in front of his locker. "I can't even hold it in."
But of course, after all the enthusiastic talk, it's time for "overture, curtain, lights" today at 1 p.m. ET, and some forceful action will be required for the Jets to dispel the often unkind previews of their 2012 team. And nothing but a win over the Bills will fill the bill.
Uncaging the 'Cat
Think of it as a play in three acts. Act I in almost everyone's book is what the Mark Sanchez-led offense will look like.
The "O" underscored and underperformed all preseason, due to the wideouts' injuries, the thickening plot at right tackle, and the decision to save the Tim Tebow Wildcat for opening night — uh, day — for all to see.
No one's more eager to see it than Tebow.
"Well, I'm excited about it, I'm looking forward to it," the backup QB, Wildcat trainer and biggest Jets acquisition of the offseason said Friday. "I don't know if I'm necessarily anxious. It's my third year playing now, so I feel like I've gone out there and shown sometimes what I can do. Now it's just about trying to help this team win football games."
And does he know how he'll be used and how his plays will look against the Bills?
"No, I genuinely don't," he said. "There's stuff that's scheduled, but how often does a game go as scheduled?"
Much of the rest of the first act will be centered on how well Austin Howard at RT and the rest of the Jets' offensive line holds up against Buffalo's ballyhooed rebuilt D-line, with Mario Williams and Mark Anderson at ends and Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams at tackles. How the Jets' OL fares will dictate how Shonn Greene runs and how much time Sanchez has to find his wideouts, all of whom are expected to be ready to rock, as well as TE Dustin Keller, who's been optimistic about the state of his hamstring.
Act II, leapfrogging to the specialists, will be an understated but highly important part of the field position struggle in the Jets' premiere. Joe McKnight, the defending NFL kickoff-return leader, stated his goal for this coming season: "I'm focusing on getting past the second level. Instead of getting a 40-yard return and good field position, I've got to take it all the way and score more touchdowns."
McKnight's hamstring has been fine, punt returner Jeremy Kerley's hammy hopefully is a bad memory, Nick Folk is looking to have his best season as a pro coming off his successful preseason battle against Josh Brown, and we'll see how one-time punting understudy Robert Malone's hangtimes and his Folk holds look in his fifth day as a Jet.
Turnovers Could Tell the Tale
We've saved Act III for, well, the third act. A crowd-pleasing performance is expected from the Green & White defense. We know all the major players, from Darrelle Revis to David Harris to Muhammad Wilkerson. Newcomers will also play big roles, with veterans LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell starting at the safeties and first-round rookie Quinton Coples seeking to springboard off of his team-leading 4½ preseason sacks and team up with Aaron Maybin to apply the pressure on Ryan Fitzpatrick.
All will be involved in a storyline that has been a significant component of recent Bills opponents winning over home audiences and winning games.
Buffalo has a horrendous record in games with a minus turnover margin. When the Bills have had more giveaways than their opponents under coach Chan Gailey the past two years, they've gone 0-17.
That record extends pre-Gailey to 32 consecutive losses with a minus turnover margin dating to 2008, and to 20 consecutive road losses since '07. The Jets alone have won eight straight when they've had a plus margin over the Bills since '05.
Normally, NFL teams have around a .220 winning percentage with minus turnover margins. The Jets have won with minuses (four times in 2010), the Bills have lost with pluses. And maybe this is the year Buffalo reverses all those trends. But it would appear that one of the plays within the play will be for the Jets to build their own momentum and drain it away from the visitors with some well-timed interceptions and fumbles.
"The turnover battle is always important," said DeVito. "It's something we work on every week, during our turnover circuit. The coaches are always reminding us to keep it in our heads when we're going through plays to strip at that ball because in any game it makes a big difference."
When this production is over shortly after 4 p.m., the Jets hope to be basking in perhaps their most positive reviews of 2012. For now, they can only take comfort in what they know in their hearts will happen to both them vs. the Bills and to their critics. "We're just ready to go," said Harris. "It's a positive to come out here and get rid of all the negatives that people say about you. You can't wait to go out there and prove everybody wrong."