The Rex Ryan head coaching era gets its show on the road on a fittingly large Texas stage when the New York Jets open their 2009 season against the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium on Sunday, Sept. 13.
Then as if coming off-off-Broadway onto the Great Green Way, Rex and the Jets return East the next week for their Sept. 20 home opener against a familiar opponent (all together now) — the New England Patriots — with Tom Brady expected to be behind center after missing a year due to injury.
Those are the first two games of an interesting, stimulating schedule for Ryan's Jets that has just been unveiled, along with all other 31 teams' schedules, by the NFL on a special primetime NFL Network show and simultaneously on NFL.com.
"I am fired up about the upcoming season," Ryan said after seeing the schedule. "This will be my first season as a head coach and the schedule is filled with challenges, but our coaching staff and players have been working hard and I know we'll be ready."
There are plenty more talking points for the Jets' sked:
* The Jets have a primetime schedule similar to last year — one road Monday night game, this time at Miami and QB Chad Pennington on Oct. 12, followed by one NFL Network Thursday night game, Dec. 3 against Buffalo, not in Orchard Park but at the Rogers Centre in Toronto.
* The final regular-season game at the Meadowlands, before the Jets and Giants move to New Meadowlands Stadium next season, is set for Jan. 3 against Carson Palmer, Laveranues Coles and the Cincinnati Bengals.
* Their first run-in against Bills WR Terrell Owens as a member of the AFC East comes at home on Oct. 18 before they meet T.O. again in Canada.
* They meet up with many of their former draft choices along the way, among them LB Jonathan Vilma and the Saints at the Superdome on Oct. 4, DE John Abraham and the Falcons at home on Dec. 20.
* Six games against four original AFL teams in this AFL 50th Anniversary Season. Besides the Patriots and Bills twice, the Jets play the Tennessee Titans (née Houston Oilers) at home Sept. 27, and at the Raiders Oct. 25. The Jets will wear their home navy Titans uniforms for one of these three home games and will debut their road Titan white unis at one of the three road games.
Deep in the heart of their schedule is a stretch of home cooking that should have a lot to say about how Ryan fares in his first season at the helm. In a seven-week stretch that includes their Week 9 bye, the Jets go on the road only twice, to play the Raiders and the Patriots.
Without further ado, here is your 2009 Jets schedule:
Sunday, Sept. 13 — at Houston, 1 p.m. (CBS)
The Jets are undefeated all-time against only one NFL franchise and that is the Texans. They're 3-0 overall and in their only visit to Reliant Stadium, in 2003, they came home with a 19-14 comeback victory. A half-dozen years later, DE Mario Williams is training his sights on Defensive Player of the Year honors but LB Bart Scott may have similar aspirations for the Jets defense, which will work to rein in Matt Schaub-to-Andre Johnson passes and the running of Steve Slaton, who led all rookies in rushing yardage in 2008.
This will be the Jets' first season opener in Texas since the Houston Oilers prevailed, 20-0, in the Astrodome in 1977. This will also be the fourth time in five years, the 12th in 16 years and the 37th time in the franchise's 50-year history that the Jets will open their season on the road.
Sunday, Sept. 20 — vs. NEW ENGLAND, 1 p.m. (CBS)
For the fourth straight year, the Jets will open at home against their Foxboro friends, and a warm Jersey greeting is in store for Brady: Welcome back, Super Tom, now eat turf. Brady has eaten the Jets' Meadowlands lunch since his first start against them. He has a passer rating of 102.5 and a fine TD drive rate of 27.5 percent here — two big reasons the Jets are 0-7 against him at home. Add last year's home-opening loss to Matt Cassel and the mark is 0-8 since '01. Brady will have familiar weapons at his disposal in Randy Moss and Wes Welker, not to mention former Jets TE Chris Baker plus the Patriots' latest AARP back in Fred Taylor, who averaged 111 rushing yards in five games vs. the Jets for Jacksonville.
Sunday, Sept. 27 — vs. TENNESSEE, 4:15 p.m. (CBS)
The Jets' final roar last season came at Tennessee with the 34-13 road rout of the then 10-0 Titans. Now, after taking two of three at LP Field from 2006-08, the Green & White will play host between the teams for the first time since their 24-17 Monday night upset of the then 9-2 Titans in 2003. Pro Bowl C Nick Mangold should be happy not to see DT Albert Haynesworth (relocated to Washington), but the Jets still have to contend with DE Kyle Vanden Bosch, LB Keith Bulluck and CB Cortland Finnegan on defense and QB Kerry Collins and RB Chris Johnson on offense.
Sunday, Oct. 4 — at New Orleans, 4:05 p.m. (CBS)
The Saints have held the upper hand most recently in this infrequent rivalry, winning four of five since 1989. But the only Jets win was an impressive one: by 16-9 on Sunday night in their last visit to the Superdome in 2001, when Abraham tied the franchise single-game record with four sacks. The Saints will have a Crescent City welcome with 5,069-yard passer Drew Brees and do-it-all RB Reggie Bush on offense and one-time Jets top draft pick Vilma patrolling the middle of the Saints' 4-3 defense.
Monday, Oct. 12 — at Miami, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)
The Jets have been road warriors at times recently and never more so than at Dolphin Stadium, where they've won their last three, four of five and eight of 11. Most recently was the first and only opening game of the Brett Favre era of Jets football, when No. 4 threw his longest completion in green and white, a 54-yard scoring strike to Jerricho Cotchery, and then some timely pass defense by rookie Dwight Lowery and Pro Bowl CB-to-be Darrelle Revis secured the 20-14 opening-day victory.
Sunday, Oct. 18 — vs. BUFFALO, 4:15 p.m. (CBS)
What can T.O. do to this rivalry? He could unhinge the remarkable balance the Jets and Bills have struck over the years. Buffalo swept the home-and-home in 2007 for the first time in 10 seasons, so all the Jets did last year was sweep right back, evening the teams' records vs. each other since 1994 to 15-15. Last year's Meadowlands meeting for the Green & White was a last-gasp rescue, forged by Abram Elam's strip sack of J.P. Losman that Shaun Ellis returned 11 yards for the winning TD with 1:54 to play.
Sunday, Oct. 25 — at Oakland, 4:05 p.m. (CBS)
Whether it was the West Coast generally or Oakland specifically, the Jets didn't fare well 3,000 miles from home last year. They lost all four games on the Left Coast, and they've dropped six of eight in Oaktown in the last decade. Both trends merged in Week 7 last season when the Raiders outlasted the Jets, 16-13, in overtime. JaMarcus Russell, who played efficiently in that win, is being pressed by Jeff Garcia, signed earlier this month.
Sunday, Nov. 1 — vs. MIAMI, 1 p.m. (CBS)
Pennington leads the Dolphins against his former team for a second season, and his first with a full offseason in coach Tony Sparano's and OC Dan Henning's system, which of course featured the Wildcat bursts of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams. But No. 10 showed his mettle as well, especially in the '08 season finale, the 24-17 win that clinched the AFC East title and an 11-5 playoff season one year after the 'Fins went belly-up at 1-15. The outcome also ended Jets winning streaks of four straight at home and five in a row overall in this always interesting rivalry.
Sunday, Nov. 8 — Bye Week
Sunday, Nov. 15 — vs. JACKSONVILLE, 1 p.m. (CBS)
The last two times these teams have met, the Jets have suffered painful losses: by 26-20 at home in 2005, when Pennington tore his right rotator cuff a second time, and by 41-0 the following season at Jacksonville. The first time the Jets beat the Jags at home, it was in the 1998 AFC Divisional Game by 34-24 before one of the loudest crowds ever to watch the Green & White at the Meadowlands. Ryan will want it every bit as loud this time around to play havoc with David Garrard, Maurice Jones-Drew and the J-ville offense.
Sunday, Nov. 22 — at New England, TBA
This is a flip-flopped rivalry. The Jets can't beat the Patriots at home, but they've won two of their last four in Foxboro (including the 2006 AFC Wild Card loss) and taken five games on the road since Bill Belichick took over as H.C. of the N.E.P. in 2000 — only the Dolphins have won as many as three here. Jay Feely's OT field goal was the difference in last year's 34-31 conquest. The Pats, led by D-linemen Richard Seymour and Vince Wilfork and LBs Adalius Thomas and Tedy Bruschi, as usual will have to be neutralized.
Sunday, Nov. 29 — vs. CAROLINA, TBA
The Panthers fashioned a 12-4 regular season and first-round playoff bye last year, powered by DeAngelo Williams' 1,515 rushing yards and NFL-high 20 TDs, Steve Smith's 1,421 receiving yards and Julius Peppers' 14.5 sacks. The Jets will be happy to tackle the Carolina defense at home that figures to be minus the traded Peppers. The only time these interconference foes met in New Jersey, the Jets rolled, 48-21, in 1998. This is the first week that the NFL's "flexible scheduling" comes into play.
Thursday, Dec. 3 — vs. Buffalo at Toronto, 8:20 p.m. (NFL Network)
This will be the Jets' second NFL Network Thursday nighter in two years (they won in OT at New England last year) and their first game in Canada since the 1988 preseason against the Browns in Montreal. The game last year that propelled the Jets into the NFL's midseason consciousness was Game 8, the road win at good old Orchard Park, N.Y. Elam's INT-return TD, the unblockable Kris Jenkins, Darrelle Revis' two-takeaway game, Jay Feely's four field goals — all contributed to the 26-17 win that lifted the Jets to 5-3 and dropped the Bills to the same mark.
Sunday, Dec. 13 — at Tampa Bay, TBA
The Jets and Buccaneers last season were the first two NFL teams since 1986 to start 8-3 and not make the playoffs. And as far as the Green & White are concerned, new coach Raheem Morris and the Bucs stop here. The Jets have won eight of nine overall and the last six in a row. Included in that streak was their last game in Tampa, the 2000 Wayne Chrebet/Keyshawn Johnson "flashlight game," in which they rallied to win, 21-17. The Jets defense aims to slow the likes of TE Kellen Winslow, former Jets draft Derrick Ward at RB, and ex-Jets K Mike Nugent.
Sunday, Dec. 20 — vs. ATLANTA, TBA
The teams are meeting for the 10th time ever (Atlanta leads the series, 5-4) and at the Meadowlands for just the second time in 20 seasons. The only other occasion was a 28-3 rout of the Falcons and ancient Steve DeBerg in 1998. This time around it will be against a much younger QB in Matt Ryan — who reminds recently signed LB Mike Peterson of a young Peyton Manning — leading the Hot-lanta offense and with Abraham returning to his first NFL home to try to crash the Jets' party and pick their pocket.
Sunday, Dec. 27 — at Indianapolis, TBA
This will be the Jets' first game against the real Peyton Manning and the Colts since 2006, their first visit to Indianapolis since 2003 and their first game ever in two-year-old Lucas Oil Stadium. The Green & White are 4-7 all-time against Eli's older brother. This could be an interesting chessmatch between edge rushers. The Jets' new defensive scheme will attempt to assault the blockers who have made Manning the best-protected QB since 1998 (one sack every 30.1 dropbacks). And Colts DEs Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis will lead the charge against the Jets' O-line, back intact for a second straight year.
Sunday, Jan. 3 — vs. CINCINNATI, TBA
The teams meet for the third straight year in a series that has gone the Jets' way for two decades. The Green & White have won six of the past seven overall and have triumphed all seven times they've met at the Meadowlands, including last year's 26-14 victory. The Bengals figure to have Carson Palmer, not Ryan Fitzpatrick, back behind center and old Meadowlands hand Laveranues Coles at split end. On defense, the Jets won't mind if MLB Dhani Jones tackles the globe as long as he bounces off Pro Bowl RBs Thomas Jones and Leon Washington on a few key runs.