It has certainly been an erratic start to the 2007 season for the Jets' special teams. The unexpected twists and turns, the sweet highs and the bitter lows are customary, according to one Jets coach who has seen it all throughout the years.
"There's not much dead time — not in our game," said Mike Westhoff, in his seventh year coordinating the Jets' specialists.
In Game 1 against New England, Westhoff wasn't present on the sideline for the first time in his 26-year career, a game in which the Jets let up an NFL-record 108-yard kickoff-return touchdown by Ellis Hobbs. In Game 2 in Baltimore, the news got worse: kickoff returner Justin Miller, last season's lone Jets Pro Bowl representative, suffered a season ending knee injury.
Surprise! In Game 3, when the Green & White hosted Miami, Leon Washington, Miller's replacement, returned a kickoff 98 yards for a TD.
"Every game is such a separate entity and every play is so different, it's a world unto itself. It's a hard thing to compare," Westhoff said Friday of the differences in his team's performances this season. "There were a number of good things in the first two games but obviously the two poor plays accentuate and make everything else look poor, and that's not the case because there were good things on both sides."
Basically, the grizzled coach was never concerned. A turnaround was inevitable and it was only a matter of time and proper execution before success was found.
"We didn't do anything dramatic," he said. "There wasn't an epiphany that occurred. It's just a matter of executing it and doing what you do correctly."
Washington's return against Miami not only sparked momentum on his sideline, but Westhoff believes it may have given him that boost of confidence to continue to succeed in the return game.
"Leon has a lot of confidence in himself. It wasn't the first time where he was successful, so we know he has the abilities," the 59-year-old coach said. "I'm happy to see it from him because it will give him that boost and he'll start thinking he can do it again. I'm sure it has helped his confidence because he is very much into it."
Come Sunday, Washington and the rest of the Jets special teams will need to bring everything they have to their game at Buffalo. Though the Bills have yet to win in their first three games this season, ST coordinator Bobby April has always produced top-notch coverage, return and kicking units, and this year is no different.
"I've always thought he did a good job. He's a good, solid coach and he has a good group. When you look at that cast of characters, it's a good group that performs well," said Westhoff. "I always like the challenge of going against good groups because it's always a fight. They're extremely well-schooled in all aspects."
Even though he likes the Bills' entire unit, Westhoff can't help but praise punt returner Roscoe Parrish and kickoff returner Terrence McGee.
"They have a guy that might be just as good as anybody in the NFL as a punt returner in Parrish," he said. "If it weren't for [Chicago's Devin] Hester, you would all be talking about Parrish."
"Terrence is one of those guys that sometimes I describe as a 'block-nobody' guy because he can beat you on his own. There are times when you watch some of his tapes, it just looks like its gym class where he's just running all over the place. He can get it done. He's a very talented individual."
Based on coverage, punts by Brian Moorman, field goals by Rian Lindell and return statistics, the Bills unofficially have been ranked either first or second in the NFL in each of the last three seasons. Yet the Jets have seemed to always play extremely well against their in-state division rivals.
"We've stacked up very, very well against them," Westhoff recalled. "I remember a couple of years ago they came in here with the top-ranked special teams and we had two good returns and then ran one for a touchdown to win the game."
As seen in the Week 3 win over the Dolphins, special teams production can be overlooked. Washington's touchdown aside, if it weren't for kicker Mike Nugent's 21-yard field goal in the third quarter, the Dolphins would have tied it up with their fourth-quarter surge.
"With our league being so balanced and the margin of victory being so slight, every play has become a meaningful play in the NFL," Westhoff said, adding that special teams "don't get as many reps as the rest, but it's such a big thing — the field position, the scoring — to me it's just an extremely integral part of the game."