Thanks to self-belief and some standout performances, the Jets have been better than anyone—except their once-embattled coach—expected. Plus, your letters on football and your heartfelt thoughts on Bailey
A few housekeeping matters on a busy Tuesday:
• I’ll never be able to thank all of you personally—via email, Twitter, text message (wow—dog lover John Madden checked in) and voicemail—for your kind thoughts about the death of Bailey the Golden Retriever. Somewhere, I’m sure, she is blushing. I’ll have a section at the end of this column with some of your sentiments. Just know I’m grateful to have such a warm internet community (that’s a crazy way to look at it, but in today’s world that’s the way it is) at times like this.
• Jenny Vrentas of The MMQB was in Tampa last night, and, after so much of the Incognito/Martin story was aired in Monday’s column, I’ll let her story speak for our Dolphins coverage today. Here’s Jenny’s take on the state of the Dolphins.
• We have a powerful story on the site today about the downfall of Sam Hurd, the former Cowboys and Bears wide receiver ensnared in a major drug trafficking investigation. I strongly recommend the strange and captivating tale by Michael McKnight.
Now, a short column top on the state of a team we never thought we’d see in playoff contention in the middle of November …
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In the summer I visited Jets camp in Cortland, N.Y., and spent a few minutes with Rex Ryan after practice. I thought, like everyone else in football America, that Ryan was on his farewell tour with the Jets. I’d been around him enough to know that he was a relentless optimist, and I said to him that, even though the horizon looked dark, he could always take solace in the fact that he was going to survive at least five years as a head coach in the cauldron of New York professional sports.
“You know,” he said, “I never came here for the security of the job. I never came here to survive. I came here to win. And this year, well, we’ll see. I hear what people are saying. I know we are more talented than people give us credit for. I have been around long enough to know what a good team looks like. So we’ll see. We will work our ass off to get things done. We’ll see.”
So now, after nine games, here’s what we have: The Jets, 5-4, have a one-game lead on five teams for the sixth and final AFC playoff spot. If the season ended today, they’d travel to meet their old friend in Indianapolis in a wild-card game. The Jets got their starting quarterback knocked out for the year in the third preseason game, and they’ve played a rookie, Geno Smith, who wasn’t ready for the job when it was handed to him, and who has turned it over way too much (16 in nine games) … but who has a certain precociousness about him. In a five-game span, he played well enough to beat Matt Ryan, Tom Brady and Drew Brees.
What think you, Rex?
“We believe in ourselves,” Ryan says now. “We are playing complimentary football. The so-called experts knew nothing about our team. Nothing. We’ve got a defensive line playing as well as any in football, with a guy, Muhammad Wilkerson, who should be in the conversation for defensive player of the year. So I like where we are.”
Smith, he said, is not a player the Jets will try to hide in the second half of the season. “He is a growing player, and we like him a lot. This is a tough position to play in the NFL. He’s learning, and he’ll continue to get better.”
In the final seven weeks, the Jets play one team with a winning record (Carolina in Charlotte in Week 15), so that’s good. They’re finished with New England, so that’s good. They’ll play Miami twice in the final five games, so that probably will be good. If Ryan doesn’t look out, he’s going to save his job for 2014 and beyond before Thanksgiving.
Owner Woody Johnson and GM John Idzik will consider Ryan’s fate after the season. I asked Ryan if he thought he’s earned a contract extension.
“Oh,” he said with disdain, “I don’t worry about that. Honest to God, I don’t. There’s not one day that it enters my mind. I mean: I haven’t spent one minute thinking about it. Things will work out. When you work hard and take care of your job, things usually do work out.”
I told him I thought his team has responded to him consistently this year, and the Jets had played well enough for him to get a new deal.
“Thanks,” he said. “But you know me. That’s not my focus. Honestly.”
Now let's head over to Page 2 for your email...
TALE OF TWO DISAPPOINTMENTS. At the start of the season, an Atlanta-Houston Super Bowl prediction would make sense. After 10 weeks, they have four wins combined! Even with injuries, how have these teams fallen so badly?
Let’s take them one at a time. In Houston, the monumental offensive mistakes (many of them courtesy of the inconsistent Matt Schaub), plus the struggles of the offensive line and the running game, have received most of the attention. But don't overlook the defense. Houston has gotten nothing from Ed Reed and GM Rick Smith brought Reed in to be both a leader and ball hawk. He has been neither. The defense needed some help for J.J. Watt and he just hasn’t gotten it.
In Atlanta, Steven Jackson was supposed to be the steady running back the Falcons lacked with Michael Turner last year. But Jackson was healthy for about 10 minutes this season. The wide receiver corps is a mess with injuries, and the offensive line has allowed Matt Ryan to be hit and chased far too much. Also, the Falcons simply have not developed a homegrown pass rusher under the Mike Smith-Thomas Dimitroff administration. That is on their shoulders.
MISSING MIKE. Monday being Veteran’s Day, I thought I might hear about the Army sergeant from St. Louis that you used to write about quite frequently. Hoping he’s doing well. Can you comment? This year, Veteran's Day hits home a little closer as my niece is currently serving in the Army and is stationed in Kuwait. Thanks.
—Amy Earley, Schwenksville, Pa.
Thanks for writing. I took a trip to Afghanistan with the USO five years ago and it’s an indelible mark on my journalism experiences. I left Afghanistan with such a tremendous amount of respect for the work and professionalism of so many young Americans at that time, not only protecting our country but also searching for Osama bin Laden. I was so impressed by people whose daily lives were consumed with doing whatever they could to stop the spread of the Taliban.
Regarding Sgt. Mike McGuire: I really need to get back in touch with him. He is based in Hawaii now. I miss him. I am going to write myself a note to try to catch up with him this week.
MORE HEAD TRAUMA DISCUSSION? I am shocked—and frankly disgusted—that your MMQB column did not mention that four NFL stars from the 1980s have been diagnosed with CTE in the past week. I don't begrudge you mourning your dog, which most of your readers view as family. But the biggest story in football is CTE, and you missed it.
Two weeks ago, we published 19 pieces of content on the head trauma crisis in the NFL. I thought about the Tony Dorsett and Leonard Marshall admissions, and I thought: What can I add? I don’t think I’m going to write about CTE or head trauma weekly in my column. I view this as a story to write about at times, but not weekly. I might be wrong. But in some ways, we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t. We’ve probably had 200-300 comments on Twitter and in email telling us to stop writing about this, that people just aren’t interested in it. I don’t believe that is true, but I also believe that there is a bit of reader-fatigue if you write about it every week. But I take your criticism to heart. I’ll think about it. And we’ll talk about it as a staff whether we should be writing more about it, or whether we should be leaving it to the offseason to address again.
CINCY FANS ARE SEETHING. I know you are a Bengals hater, but no Bengals in the fine 15? Seriously? They beat your No. 12 Jets (by 40) and your No. 13 Packers. You really don’t think the Bengals could stick it to the Jets again or that a Seneca Wallace-led Packers would have a better outcome than Aaron Rodgers could muster? Maybe you should call Rodgers and see if he can offer you a reality double check while his collarbone heals.
I’m often wrong about who I rank where. One of the reasons why I was particularly down on the Bengals this week is because after the euphoria of beating the crap out of the Jets, the Bengals went to Miami and not only lost a game, but lost their best defensive player in Geno Atkins. As of today, they are down quite possibly their two best defensive players (Atkins and cornerback Leon Hall), as well as a starting linebacker in Rey Maualuga, and Andy Dalton has played eight uninspired quarters. In short, I don’t have a great feeling about this Bengals team right now. That could change.
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We received hundreds of emails about my late dog Bailey, as the story seemed to hit home with many of you. On the final page, I will share some of the notes you sent along.
The Bailey section
Your sentiments poured in after Monday’s column section on the death of our family dog. A sample of your thoughts:
I love dogs for their honesty, their innocence and their ability to prioritize with that perfect mix of carpe diem and desire for a snack. They are beasts of the heart. Unfortunately, all things remaining equal, we outlive our dogs (or furry kids if you prefer). It's the only relationship we enter into that we know two things: There will be unconditional love and loyalty flowing in both directions, and it will end with heartbreak. Peter, I hope I can give you some small measure of comfort when I tell you that everything that loves has an essence that continues.
—The Rev. Bob Severson
I'm not used to crying when reading your column every Monday, but such was the case, just now on my flight from Los Angeles to Houston, when I found myself blowing my nose into the tiny cocktail napkin and my neighbor in the middle seat probably wondering what the hell was wrong. When I lost my own dog a few years ago, a friend told me his belief that if there is a heaven, the pets you had in life are there waiting for you to guide you across the bridge when the time comes. I love the idea, and certainly hope this is true. If so, I'm sure Bailey will be there, maybe with a ball.
I never had a dog or other pet and I was never a big fan of pets either. But as of today, having learned how a dog can be such a great friend and bring out the very best in you, I am seeing this differently.
One of reasons I read your column is because it’s not always about football, but about life. Please keep it that way. You are 110 percent right: “The easiest way to not feel this grief is to never have a dog. And what an empty life that would be.” I have been through this many times over the years with our Great Danes, and it is never easy. Lastly, if Bailey could send a note, she'd say: “Thank you for loving me unconditionally, thank you for a joyous, safe, and content life, and thank you for helping me through the end. I know it was the hardest thing you ever did for me and you're still hurting, but it just proves that you loved me as much as I loved you.”
I've been following NFL football for decades, and have endured a particularly depressing stint as a Cowboys fan since 1996. I've certainly never cried upon reading a news article about the NFL—even suffering under the recent reign of Jerry Jones hasn't moved me to tears—but I admit I lost it when I read your article about Bailey. I'm sorry for your loss, and I'll definitely throw the tennis ball a couple extra times with my own dogs tonight.
—Tyler, Anchorage, Alaska
I've put two yellow labs, Cooper and Moose, down, and I'm currently enjoying the company of a 6-year old golden retriever, Busby. Is there a heaven for dogs? Who knows. But I do know that I've experienced heaven on earth in the company of my dogs. Peace to you and your family (and the dogs to come).
—Karl Dworak, Denver
As an avid football fan, I look forward to your column each Monday, but today I could barely think to read about sports at all. On Friday, our beloved golden retriever, Joey, died suddenly. While sitting at our breakfast table like he always did, he suddenly couldn’t get up to go outside. My wife went to help him, but he slumped to the floor, unable to stand. A short 20 minutes later, as if he simply lay down to sleep, he was gone. Who could have ever thought such a quiet, peaceful death could rip such a hole in our family’s universe. I feel for Peter and for the many who commented on his article, and as he said, knowing such a great dog was worth the months of pain and sadness that await us.
Just as I’m preparing to be a bit miffed as usual during one of my Monday morning rituals of reading MMQB where you commingle your excellent football reporting and writing skills with a small left-wing political twist, you have to get all sloppy on me and stab me right in the heart. Sigh. I guess we are more alike than I care to admit. I have been, on a few occasions, in the bad place you currently are in with your beloved Bailey. I wish you and your wife Ann nothing but the best in your healing. People who have never had a valued pet are simply not cognizant of the fact that a dog is truly a member of one’s family.
Damn it, Peter King. I am at work. There is no crying at work! But having lost two Goldens between May and September, your article started the waterworks. I suppose my boss will forgive me this once. Yours was a fitting tribute. I am fortunate that we have a new puppy, an 8-month-old, 100-pound Newfoundland, to add canine joy to the house and loose hair to everything in it, but there is something special about the exuberance and carefree nature of a Golden. Fourteen years of that kind of sharing is worth the heartache.
—Allen Bertsche, Rock Island, Ill.
Your reflections on Bailey your beloved dog touched me beyond belief. I feel for you both because of my profession (I am a veterinarian and unfortunately I’ve been in that situation many times) but also as a dog owner and as my beloved Hank (black lab) flies through his ninth year I know that his days of chasing ducks, the other dogs and Clueless the barn cat are numbered and oh so finite. It goes without much saying how much they can touch your soul and in return ask for so little from us. You’ve made me cry today, Mr. King, but it’s the kind of a cry that I sometimes conjure up when I think of my departed mom, filled with love and deep appreciation. So I say from the bottom of my heart, “Thank you.”
We lost my dad’s dog, Dante, on February 9. My dad would always start the day sitting for about 30 minutes rubbing Dante and talking with him. Then he'd always let Dante roam the yard (they lived on a 11-acre farm) all day and finally would put him in his pen to eat and sleep each evening around 6. This day, he was running late, and around 7:00, started calling for Dante. Dante had found a hole in the fence and crossed the highway chasing a rabbit or something we suspect. The cruelest part of all is that we know Dante was killed rushing home, hearing my Dad’s call.
Your experience is common to all dog lovers, owners and family who accept the same trade which you described, and would do it over again … in a heartbeat. We had several dogs growing up, and one lesson that my farming friends taught me was that “a dog will tell you when it’s time.”
And finally, from Tim: “Run and never tire Bailey! Your family will always remember you!”