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Thursday, September 15, 2011
Updated: September 16, 1:56 PM ET
Jets' O out to break its first-quarter funk

By Rich Cimini
ESPNNewYork.com

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- A year ago, the New York Jets' offense always was late to the party. It skipped the cocktail hour, showed up for the main course and, in some cases, stayed after hours.

On Sunday night, the offense was fashionably late again, extending its streak to 16 straight games without a first-quarter touchdown -- a mind-boggling trend that began Oct. 11. When the Jets face the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday at MetLife Stadium, the slump will be 350 days.

The Jets' early-game struggles have been overshadowed by the fantastic finishes -- five of their past 10 wins came on fourth-quarter comebacks -- but it's an issue that needs to be rectified. The coaches and players are perplexed, frustrated and, in some cases, ticked off.

"We're notorious for that, and we hate it," guard Matt Slauson said.

Matt Slauson
Matt Slauson (No. 68) would like nothing more than the Jets' O to shed its rep as a slow starter.

The Jets long for a game in which they can take their first possession and march 70 or 80 yards to the end zone -- exactly what the Dallas Cowboys did in the season opener. The Jets haven't done that since Oct. 3, when they jumped on the Buffalo Bills.

Since then, they've been acting as if there's a "radioactive waste" sign at the goal line.

Ask the Jets about it, and they will offer plenty of theories: Penalties. Sacks. Self-induced mistakes. Some believe it comes down to strategy, the opponent knowing the Jets' tendencies and catching them by surprise with new defensive fronts and increased run blitzing.

That's what the Cowboys did, and they had the Jets reeling. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer admitted the Cowboys, with Rob Ryan calling the defenses, had him "off balance for a while."

Brandon Moore isn't into alibis. Frankly, he doesn't care what the defense does.

"It's a weak excuse because you want to set the tempo and you want to keep them on their heels, and sometimes we're getting caught on ours," the veteran guard said. "We've got to find a way to flip that quickly. Somehow, we've got to get it fixed."

An AFC personnel executive, speaking on the condition of anonymity, believes the problem stems from Mark Sanchez, whom he described as a slow starter.

"I find the quarterback to be a rhythmic guy," the executive said. "He lathers up and builds into it. Plus, I just don't think they fully trust him, internally."

The coaching staff trusted Sanchez enough to come out throwing against the Cowboys, but right tackle Wayne Hunter allowed a sack on the first play and the offense went three-and-out.

The offense didn't perk up until late in the first half, when coordinator Brian Schottenheimer called for the hurry-up. Sanchez thrives in an up-tempo mode, prompting critics to call for more no-huddle.

"It's always available and Mark likes it," said Schottenheimer, adding, "Nobody wants to live in that world. It's hard to live in that world."

To prove his point, Schottenheimer mentioned the last time they opened a game in the no-huddle -- Dec. 6 against the New England Patriots. Yeah, that was the 45-3 loss. Get the picture?

Schottenheimer has tried different ways to snap the first-quarter funk. A year ago, he gave a copy of his script (the first 15 to 20 plays) to each player before game day, allowing them to mentally prepare. That didn't work. He didn't do that last week, according to players.

Each week, Schottenheimer stresses the importance of a fast start, players said, but they still haven't solved the riddle.

"Something's got to change," said Sanchez, insisting it's not psychological. "Maybe it's just our attitude. I think the play calling is fine."

The Jaguars began the season with the same problem. In 2010, they were among the worst teams in first-quarter scoring (43 points, scoreless over the final four games), but Maurice Jones-Drew scored last week on a 21-yard run.

Now it's the Jets' turn.

Schottenheimer claimed he's not losing any sleep over it, saying winning is the only thing that matters. True, but they could reduce some stress by avoiding fourth-quarter comebacks.

"Everybody loves these incredible finishes," Slauson said, "but as players, we all hate them."