Don Banks: Favre, Jets spoil Titans' perfect season - Sports Illustrated

Five things we learned: Titans-Jets

Publish date:

1. The Jets are starting to look capable of going all the way: That's right, you heard me (or read me). I'm talking about all the way to the big game that likes to use Roman numerals and gives the winner an on-field confetti shower just after the final gun.

There's nothing preposterous about that statement given what "Brett and the Jets'' have accomplished in their past two games. In a span of 11 days, New York went into Foxboro and beat its nemesis, the defending AFC champion Patriots, and then took to the road once more to resoundingly knock off the 10-0 Titans, ending any thought of perfection in Tennessee.

At 8-3, with five straight wins and seven in eight games, these Jets with every passing week are looking like a tough-minded team capable of beating you with their running game, their passing game, or some well-timed defense. The more I think about it, they're looking like the 2007 Super Bowl Giants once they got on that unstoppable late-season/playoff roll. If the Jets are capable of handling both the Patriots and the Titans, I'm not sure who in the AFC they should fear at this point?

"I'm not going to sit here and say we've established ourselves as the best team in football,'' New York quarterback Brett Favre said, after quite possibly his team's most complete performance of the season. "All it says is that I think we beat the best team in football today. Definitely if you go by record and the way they've played.''

Which is exactly our point. The Jets just beat the team they could never beat and the team that nobody could beat in back-to-back games. After climbing those twin peaks, I don't think first-place New York is going to be intimidated by the likes of Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Denver, Miami or whoever else the conference can throw at them. During New York's five-game winning streak, it's averaging 34 points a game.

Favre himself sees what's building in the Jets locker room. He's been around long enough to know when a team has got that magic mojo going, and the Jets lead the AFC -- and forgive us, Giants, maybe the league -- in that department right now.

"I've started sensing a belief, where it's, 'All right, okay, we can get it done,' '' Favre said. "We have a long ways to go, but that's where it starts. I've started sensing that guys are believing what we're trying to do here.''

Jets nose tackle Kris Jenkins said his club wants to be "taken seriously,'' and then reminded everyone that the hunger for more of what New York has been experiencing runs deep in its locker room.

"I don't think as a team we have the right to be feeling ourselves,'' Jenkins said. "We're not invincible. We've got three losses, and I'm pretty sure we could have three more if we don't take care of things.''

But these Jets are taking care of things, and they've got something going right now that could take New York somewhere it hasn't been in 40 years: the Super Bowl. It might sound a bit funny now, but it's becoming less of a joke with every passing week.

2. The Titans are better off having finally lost a game: I know it's not a popular mindset right now, particularly in the Tennessee locker room, but in time I believe it will serve the Titans' purposes better to have missed out on the hype-fest that would have continued to build if their undefeated season had stayed intact.

These Titans are largely a lunch-pail type team, that works hard and isn't built around the star system. These are not your 2007 Patriots, where Tom Brady and Randy Moss and Junior Seau and Rodney Harrison and Tedy Bruschi were eminently comfortable and familiar with the national media spotlight. Tennessee didn't need the potential distraction that perfection posed, and Jeff Fisher's club is better off for not having the added pressure of winning every game -- or the season's a failure. See Patriots, 2007.

I'm sure Tennessee, which hadn't lost a regular-season game since Week 14 of last year, was starting to enjoy 100 percent success. Who wouldn't? But it's not mandatory, and all you have to do is ask last year's Patriots whether or not they'd trade their 18-1 season for one where the loss came in late-November rather than early February?

This loss to the Jets, as humbling as it was, might even serve to re-stoke the Titans' competitive fires just as the season's backstretch begins. Nothing wrong with that, because human nature being what it is, complacency can set in when every week ends with another victory.

"We got embarrassed at home,'' Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck said. "It's time for us to turn the heat up. A lot of these teams are in playoff mode, and we were sitting there at 10-0. Now it's time for us to really put our game face on, and get back to the ball that we were playing in the first five, six and seven games of the season.''

The 10-1 Titans at least get the chance to quickly wipe away the stench from Sunday's game, given that they're playing at Detroit on Thanksgiving Day. Nothing like a game against the winless Lions to make an NFL team feel better about itself.

3. The Jets are proving they can run against anyone: New York's offensive line just ran over Tennessee in the third and fourth quarter, and you're not supposed to be able to do that against the Titans and their Albert Haynesworth-led defensive line. That second-half domination had lots to do with the Jets scoring 24 of their 34 points after the break.

At halftime, New York had just 54 yards rushing on 17 attempts, a modest 3.2 average. But in the second half, the Jets pounded out 138 more rushing yards on 22 carries, a whopping 6.3 yards a carry. New York's total of 192 yards on 39 rushes (4.9 average) is going to put a serious dent in a Titans rushing defense that came into the game ranked 10th in the league, giving up 95.1 yards per game.

"The offensive line once again this week did a really good job of controlling up front,'' said Jets running back Leon Washington, who gained 82 yards on just eight carries, highlighted by his 61-yard early fourth-quarter touchdown burst. "We kind of wore them down.''

Thomas Jones led the Jets rushing attack with 96 tough yards on 27 carries, after gaining just 35 yards in the first half. But New York stayed with its running game, and you can see the Jets offensive linemen gaining confidence as the game wears on. New York wound up with an overwhelming time of possession advantage, holding the ball for 40:30, compared to Tennessee's 19:30.

"That's a fun day for us to be able to go out there and accomplish that,'' said Jets guard Alan Faneca, of New York's rushing performance. "That's an offensive lineman's dream.''

4. Brett Favre has no favorite receiver: Early in his New York tenure, it was said that Favre had bonded on field with receiver Jerricho Cotchery. And then it was slot receiver Chansi Stuckey. And then the notion was that he liked to feed Jones and Washington with those deadly little screen passes. And then he and Coles finally started hooking up, followed by a stint where rookie tight end Dustin Keller emerged as Favre's go-to guy.

The truth is, he has no go-to receiver, because he'll go to all of them -- if they're open. And sometimes even if they're not. Against Tennessee, Favre was a model of fairness, completing passes to seven different receivers, with the top four of those having three catches or more. Laveranues Coles led the way with seven catches for 88 yards and a touchdown, but Cotchery had six for 55 yards, Keller had six for 42, and Jones had three for 21, including a nifty 10-yard screen pass that went for New York's first touchdown. Favre finished an efficient 25-of-32, for 224 yards, with two touchdowns and his first interception in three games.

Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz last week sort of predicted what kind of day Favre was going to have on Sunday, telling me, "He's moving the ball around to everybody. Look at the guys he's thrown the most to, Coles and Cotchery. They have almost identical numbers of touchdowns and catches. He likes Leon Washington. He'll throw it to Thomas Jones, and Stuckey has become the nickel guy in the slot. I don't know that he has a favorite guy, because he's just running their offense and using all his options.''

5. Favre has quickly become the team's heart and soul: For a guy dropped into New York in early August like a care package, Favre has done a remarkable job of winning over his teammates. I've covered three Jets games so far this season, all New York wins, and after each of them a string of Jets veterans couldn't stop talking about how well Favre has blended in and become one of the guys.

On Sunday, Jets nose tackle Kris Jenkins, who has a particularly good relationship with his quarterback, could resist gigging No. 4 repeatedly.

"I've got the luxury of playing with somebody who's almost my dad's age,'' cracked the 29-year-old Jenkins, of the 39-year Favre. "I was watching him play when I started growing my adult teeth.''

Sometimes you hear locker room stuff like that and you can tell its forced-sounding camaraderie, offered up for the media only. This isn't. The Jets really like Favre, and he likes them back. It's a decent fit all the way around. Being 8-3 of course helps. But that's not the whole story. After all those years in Green Bay, Favre is a Jet, and I think you can't overestimate what his presence has meant to this team.