Column: Flying high again
Published: Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, October 8, 2013 23:10
Those that know me typically learn a few basic things within a short period of time: I’m from New Jersey – and darn proud of it – I’m far more inclined to stay in staring at my TV screen than voyaging out to the bar and, on a related note, I love to watch, read, talk and write about sports, even if that means staying in on the weekends.
Of course, all those things are basic and only scratch the surface of the person that Matt Stypulkoski is, but they get the job done for general introductions.
Oh, and one more thing.
I hate the Jets.
But I also love the Jets.
It’s a pretty miserable relationship.
Or, at least, it normally is.
Hang around me long enough – about an hour or two during the autumn months – and you’re bound to hear some wisecracks and witticisms about how the Jets continue to disappoint and torture those dumb enough to support them.
It’s self-deprecating humor at its finest and it’s all but necessary for my own sports fandom and sanity.
Let’s face it, a man can only watch so many three-ring performances, heartbreaking disappointments and buttfumbles without the ability to laugh at himself for still subjecting his eyes to the weekly Sunday horror show.
Over the course of the past few years, the Jets and their fans have gone from audacity and AFC Championship Games to doldrums and the league’s dungeon.
Even back when the little brother team that sits in the shadow of the New York Giants was winning in 2009 and 2010, they had a knack for building up to a beautiful breakdown.
Two straight years, two straight AFC Championship Games.
Two straight Super Bowl misses.
Frankly, the Jets just love to dangle a carrot of hope in front of you and then, at the last second, turn around and poke you in the eye with it.
But for the past five weeks, all of that has been flipped on its head.
In the opening third of this season, the Jets, amazingly enough, have been fun.
Not counting last week’s stinker against the Titans, all of the Jets’ games have been decided by one score, and three – wins against Tampa Bay and Atlanta, plus a loss to New England – have come down to the final drive.
After two years of criticism, Rex Ryan has New York playing hard, tough and inspired football.
The defense, which had always been the silver lining to an otherwise dreary team, continues to perform without Darrelle Revis, Bart Scott and others.
The offense, which was inept at best under Mark Sanchez, looks capable and proficient for the first time since Chad Pennington’s shoulder surgeries.
Speaking of those game-winning drives, Geno Smith, the Jets’ rookie quarterback, is the man who’s masterminded both heart-palpitating minor miracles with quick decisions, accurate throws and the ability to use his legs to extend plays and grab yards when nothing is available through the air.
I’ll admit, I was beyond skeptical of Geno Smith and the prospect that he might have what it takes to become a franchise quarterback. The fact that he was passed on by every team in the league including the Jets – twice! – made his upside seem limited at best.
But from what he’s shown so far, he certainly has a shot. Of course, five games is not nearly enough time to judge a quarterback or create expectations for the remainder of his career, but the potential is exciting nonetheless.
And frankly, that’s the best part of this Jets team. For the first time in years, fans feel like their optimism and beliefs in the team aren’t misguided.
During the first decade of the new century, the glimpses of brilliance were brief and the championship expectations were small.
During those AFC title game runs, the expectations were always tempered by the half-baked offense.
During the past two seasons, there were hardly any expectations to come by.
Now, entering a season with no expectations whatsoever, the Jets have over-performed and done so with heart and determination.
Will they win the Super Bowl? No. Will they make the playoffs? Maybe.
But the understanding that the future looks brighter than the past and the present makes those uncertainties acceptable.
Yes, this team can still be infuriating to watch at times.
The penalties, all 50 of them, have been maddening and the blur of yellow flags whizzing across the TV has become common enough to leave fans dizzy.
But for the first time in years, it finally seems like that carrot of hope – that chance for the team to realize its potential – may actually be within reach.
And for that reason, watching the Jets is finally fun again.