Led by a rookie quarterback and rookie head coach while playing in what many regarded as the toughest division in the NFL, the New York Jets were supposed to be far from a Super Bowl contender in 2009. Or at least that?s what most thought.
Surrounded by low expectations for them around the league, the Jets were on what appeared to be a straight path toward a mediocre finish, starting out at 4-6 and battling to stay afloat in the AFC playoff picture. Gang Green appeared destined to miss out on the playoffs for the third consecutive year, especially after their 10-7 loss to the Atlanta Falcons in Week 15 — despite having won three in a row before that.
Even their head coach thought the team was eliminated from playoff contention following that slugfest. But not only would they rattle off convincing wins in back-to-back weeks — even if they did come against the Bengals and Colts who were resting their starters — but they made a statement that they were ready to turn a few heads in the playoffs.
The Jets ultimately advanced to the AFC Championship game after beating the Bengals and Chargers, but were eventually upended by the Colts in a hard-fought 30-17 loss. The team had finished one win shy of where head coach Rex Ryan promised to take the team.
Now, the same team that seemed destined for mediocrity — especially following a 4-12 record in 2007 — is considered a Super Bowl contender. But how will they respond to their new role?
Sure, life is good in the Meadowlands now, but history has shown that responding to new, lofty expectations is often more difficult than one might expect.
For starters, look at the 2004 Carolina Panthers.
Head coach John Fox had taken over the team in 2002 after they suffered a 1-15 season in 2001, and promptly transformed them from a laughingstock to NFC Champions in two short years. To the surprise of everyone, the Panthers rode a first-year starting quarterback (Jake Delhomme), a strong one-two running back combo (Stephen Davis and DeShaun Foster) and a defense-first mentality all the way to the way to NFC Championship — and in their case, beyond.
Yet, the following season, the suddenly feared 2004 Carolina Panthers fell back to earth and posted a 7-9 record, and have since had their share of both highs and lows.
Or how about the 2006 Cincinnati Bengals?
After a 15-year hiatus, the Bengals finally returned to the playoffs with the help of a young stud quarterback by the name of Carson Palmer, a solid running game behind Rudi Johnson and a suddenly respectable defense. Even a fresh, new Marvin Lewis was in the process of installing a confident mindset in the hearts and minds of Bengals players and fans, alike.
But then came those sky-high expectations, and 2006 hit them like a brick wall. The Bengals went 19-28 from 2006-2008 and missed out on the playoffs every year.
Even the Atlanta Falcons, who rode a rookie head coach in Mike Smith and a rookie quarterback in Matt Ryan to an 11-5 record in 2008, took a slight step backward in 2009 after many pegged them as Super Bowl contenders.
So what makes this New York Jets team any different? The lofty expectations are in place, and suddenly the Jets are becoming a trendy pick to end up playing in The Big Game in Arlington, Texas, on Feb. 6.
Adding LaDainian Tomlinson, Antonio Cromartie, Jason Taylor and Santonio Holmes certainly helps their chances. And so does having quarterback Mark Sanchez with a year under his belt, a healthy Kris Jenkins and wide receiver Braylon Edwards more fully adapted to the system.
But does this all ensure that the Jets will achieve what is expected of them in 2010?
It should, but then again, history has shown us otherwise.