Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFL Nation [Print without images]

Thursday, October 1, 2009
Reality check: Jets



Other 3-0 teams: Giants | Vikings | Saints | Jets | Ravens | Colts | Broncos

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham


Are the New York Jets for real? The NFL Blog Network breaks down each of the seven teams that started the season 3-0.

What the Jets have accomplished: They've quickly and forcefully responded to the cynics who insisted that rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez wasn't ready and rookie head coach Rex Ryan would require a transition phase to get his defense where it needed to be.
Al Bello/Getty Images
Rookie QB Mark Sanchez has played with poise in his first three games.

So much for either of those theories.

Both Sanchez and the Jets' defense have been superb. Sanchez has played with the command of a fourth-year pro. He has established a reasonably high standard of expectation each week with solid performances against the Houston Texans, New England Patriots and Tennessee Titans. The undefeated start has buoyed the confidence he arrived with. The kid is harboring no doubts, and that augers well.

But even more spectacular has been Ryan's aggressive defense. You had to think it would take the former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator a few games to get the Jets' defense running how he wanted it, especially minus outside linebacker Calvin Pace. But it was humming from Jump Street. With the help of Ravens translators Bart Scott and Jim Leonhard, the entire unit has picked up Ryan's devil-may-care philosophy and is thriving.

What’s ahead: It's easy to imagine the Jets getting better as the season evolves. Sanchez will get increasingly comfortable as the offensive leader. Pace will return from his suspension in Week 5.

They need to avoid a critical injury, and they must get their ground game churning. Perhaps the club's two biggest strengths heading into the season were the offensive line and talent at running back.

The Jets have two Pro Bowlers (Thomas Jones, Leon Washington) and the reigning Doak Walker Award winner (Iowa rookie Shonn Greene) in their backfield, but they're struggling to generate yards.

Jones is coming off one of the greatest rushing seasons in Jets history and led the AFC. But take away two long fourth-quarter runs in the season opener, and Jones is averaging 2.3 yards a carry.

Realistic outcome: Three games is a small sample, but based on what we've seen so far, the AFC East should come down to the Jets and Patriots.

The Miami Dolphins won't be able to defend their division title, not after stumbling to a 0-3 start and losing their leader, quarterback Chad Pennington, for the season. The Buffalo Bills appear to be playing over their heads a little. Injuries and inexperience on the offensive line will catch up with them eventually.

So maybe you can go ahead and call the Jets division favorites. They scored a victory over the Patriots in Week 2. But it's a long season, and the Patriots should improve as the season progresses. Slot receiver Wes Welker and linebacker Jerod Mayo will return from knee injuries. Their younger players will get better, too.

But how about this? The Jets will be done with their division schedule by Dec. 3, when they play the Bills in Toronto. If they can continue to stash away early victories, catching them in the final month will be extra difficult.