COMING AROUND? For the second consecutive week, the Texans face an underachieving team with some big-time potential. Similar to the Tennessee Titans, the New York Jets didn't expect to begin the season so slowly with four tough losses. At the same time, they rebounded from a difficult start last year and advanced in the playoffs.
With a 1-4 record that has them scraping the bottom of the AFC East standings, the Jets have been reeling. They are only a shadow of the team that steamrolled past the Indianapolis Colts en route to the 2002 AFC Divisional Playoff at Oakland.
However, if anyone can rally the troops and get his team going, it's spirited head coach Herm Edwards. Despite his team's difficult start, Edwards has remained determined and unfazed in the face of extreme adversity.
After dropping their first four games to the Washington Redskins, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots and Dallas Cowboys, the Jets entered their bye week ready to regroup and get their season back on track.
This past Sunday, they got the train rolling with a convincing 30-3 victory over the Buffalo Bills. The win temporarily quieted their tough New York critics, and it showed that they are far from throwing in the towel on their season.
HOPE REMAINS:Even before the NFL season had begun, Jets fans knew that it would be tough to match their 2002 offensive success. In the offseason, they lost their leading wide receiver Laveranues Coles, promising returner Chad Morton and all-purpose back Richie Anderson. Even placekicker John Hall decided to jump ship.
On top of those departures, the Jets' promising young quarterback Chad Pennington severely injured his wrist in the preseason, which has forced him to miss the first five games of the season.
While Pennington's injury and the team's key personnel changes can be seen as a direct cause for their lowly 28th ranked offense, others see those as easy excuses for an underachieving unit.
The Jets' remaining offensive talent can go toe-to-toe with any team in the league. There is no shortage of pure potential and veteran leadership between center Kevin Mawae, receivers Curtis Conway, Wayne Chrebet and Santana Moss, running back Curtis Martin and quarterback Vinny Testaverde.
Testaverde, as immobile and brittle as he may be, still has an accurate arm and understands his role. He hasn't forced anything and he has done a good job of playing within his abilities.
So far, he has thrown for five touchdowns and has a 63.9 completion percentage, which ranks him seventh in the NFL. His 1.3 interception percentage is the second lowest in the league behind Titans quarterback Steve McNair.
The Jets' Achilles' heel has been their red-zone production. They have only converted on 30.8 percent of the trips they've made within their opponents' 20-yard line, which is the next to worst percentage in the NFL.
Part of the blame for that lies on their inconsistent rushing attack, which is the second-worst in the league. Once explosive running back Curtis Martin has struggled mightily and he has even lost carries to reserve running back Lamont Jordan.
If Martin can raise his average rushing yards per attempt past 3.4 and regain some of his past form, the Jets offense will be less predictable and a lot more effective. Sunday's win against Buffalo, where the Jets gained 118 rushing yards, was a very good start.
HEAVY PRESSURE:Edwards and his defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell form one of the NFL's best defensive-coaching tandems. Edwards has a plethora of experience tutoring star defensive backs such as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' John Lynch and current Saints cornerback Dale Carter.
Cottrell, who boasts more than 34 years of football experience, has helped develop such talented players such as current San Diego Chargers defensive end Marcellus Wiley and Jets linebacker Sam Cowart.
The Jets have made a staunch and aggressive defense one of their staples. Like the Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers' defenses, the Jets' defense begins up front with a beefy defensive line.
Defensive ends John Abraham and Shaun Ellis have a combined nine sacks and 48 tackles. Rookie first-round draft pick Dewayne Robertson holds down the interior of the defensive line with Jason Ferguson and they have produced 3.5 sacks and 43 tackles.
The Jets' secondary, one of the deepest in the league, has greatly benefited from the emergence of the defensive line. Together, the two units have raised the Jets' pass defense to an elite level. They are currently ranked third in the league, allowing only 160.2 passing yards per game.
Cornerbacks Ray Mickens and Aaron Beasley along with safeties Sam Garnes and Jon McGraw have allowed opposing receivers just 88 yards after the catch through five games--the second-lowest total in the league. As a unit, they have also made three interceptions and 84 tackles.
The only underachieving part of the Jets defense has been their linebackers. Counted upon to fill running lanes and provide key support in short-yardage situations, Mo Lewis, Sam Cowart and Marvin Jones have looked average. A two-time Pro Bowler, Lewis has just 19 tackles this year due to injury. Rookie Victor Hobson has been seeing time in his place.
With a team-leading 62 tackles, Cowart has been a force, but his effort hasn't been enough to stop opposing teams from rushing for
645 yards against them in five games.
Without the ability to consistently stop opponents' rushing attacks, the Jets' pass rush serves no purpose.
STEPPING UP: With two of their top special teams performers from 2002 joining the Redskins during the offseason, the Jets have done a great job filling their shoes.
Taking Hall's place on kicking duties has been veteran Doug Brien. So far, he has been solid converting 11 of 13 field goals and all six extra points.
Kickers are just a little easier to replace than high-caliber punt and kickoff returners. Nevertheless, wide receiver Santana Moss has handled the punt-return duties very well. In his new role, he has averaged 16.3 yards on 12 returns.
Veteran all-purpose back Michael Bates returns kickoffs for the Jets. He has proven to be a dangerous weapon as well, with 12 kickoff returns for 331 yards (27.6 avg.).
REPEAT PERFORMANCE?Like this season, the Jets began 2002 with a 1-4 record and miraculously finished 9-7 to win their division and get home-field advantage in the playoffs. Anything is possible, but lightning rarely strikes twice.
Playoffs are not out of the picture for the Jets, but home-field advantage is a long shot, especially considering the success of the other teams in their division.
Unlike, say, the NFC Central, where only the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers have legitimate chances of making the playoffs, each team in the AFC East has the potential of playing in January.
The Jets have already lost to the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots, but manhandled the Bills at home to avoid being swept in their first three division games.
With upcoming contests against the Texans, Steelers, Titans, Colts and Eagles, let alone their remaining division games, the Jets will have their work cut out for them if they plan on rectifying their season.
Fortunately, Pennington's prognosis has improved and he might return within two weeks. The team is also riding the momentum of their convincing win against the Bills.
The Jets have been backed into a corner before and clawed their way out. If they can take the same no-holds-barred, one-game-at-a-time approach that they had last year, the Jets could be sitting pretty come January. The Texans will do everything in their power to prevent the Jets' recent history from repeating itself.