For downtrodden organizations out of playoff conversations for years, achieving any type of success can be difficult. Teams like St. Louis, Kansas City and Detroit are trying to get any wins they can, hoping to string a couple together and build momentum. But that's just part of contender-building and not even the most difficult. The next step is sustaining success and then handling the prosperity that comes with winning.
Some organizations are accustomed to it. Teams like the Patriots, Colts, Steelers and Giants, to name a few, treat a winning streak or being in first place like it's old hat because, well, it is. But others find the adulation hard to handle. How else to explain the losses last week by the New York Jets and Cincinnati Bengals, at home, no less, to the Buffalo Bills and Houston Texans, respectively?
Yes, it could be just a one week anomaly for the resurgent Bengals, and for the Jets' Mark Sanchez, the typical nightmare game that a rookie quarterback has to get out of his system. Still, if you want to be considered a serious playoff contender, you have to win the games you are supposed to win, and neither team did that.
Things can change inside and outside the team facility when a squad gets on a run. There are a lot more people patting you on the back and telling you how great you are. The requests for personal appearances and radio and television interviews go up, further feeding the ego. I once heard about a young backup quarterback in a major market who began making up to three paid appearances a week once he got the starting job. Needless to say, his success didn't last.
I was on a Buffalo Bills team that won six in a row and appeared destined to make a postseason run, but we lost to the Steelers backups in the season finale and our dreams were crushed. There was certainly some debate as to how mentally prepared some of the players were for that game. And based on how we performed, our ability to handle success was rightfully questioned.
One thing that can happen if a coaching staff isn't careful is the little details that can get you beat are allowed to slip. Assistant coaches may be so happy with a winning streak or how the team is playing that they may stop harping on minute details. A lot of teams have what is known as a "victory Monday," meaning players are excused from reviewing the previous week's game film as a unit on the day after the game. The players are expected to watch it on their own, and, well, sometimes that happens, and sometimes it doesn't. And even if they do watch it on their own, that doesn't necessarily mean they ware watching it as closely or critically as a coach would.
The Bengals attended a Mass for the late wife of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer's wife in the week leading to the Houston game, so perhaps that played into things. The Jets, on the other hand, seem to be the prototypical example of a team unable to handle the praise heaped on it by the media and fans. It's beginning to feel like an annual rite of passage for Gang Green. You know, win a bunch of games, become the toast of New York for a couple of weeks instead of the Giants, and then completely fall apart. The loss to the Saints is excusable because it was on the road and the Saints are one of the best teams in football. The Dolphins loss was surprising but looked upon as a defensive aberration. But the Bills? At home?
Now the Jets and Bengals have something else in common -- overcoming a season-ending injury to one of their most valuable players. That isn't easy either, and their ability to cope will determine whether they're contenders or pretenders.
Bengals defensive end Antwan Odom had become an absolute difference maker and a guy who merited double-teams after he made eight sacks in five games. Now that he is gone, how will the Bengals put heat on quarterbacks? They may blitz more, which would put more pressure on a secondary that was torched by Matt Schaub and company.
The Jets loss of Kris Jenkins could be bigger, both literally and figuratively. He was double-teamed almost every play, yet consistently make game-changing plays. The Jets can turn to the likes of Sione Pouha and Mike DeVito but neither will have the impact Jenkins had.
The Bengals and Jets both appear to have failed their first mental hurdle of the season, which was handling the prosperity of their fast starts. We'll find out soon enough how they fare with the adversity of losing a prominent player. Do they feel sorry for themselves and use the injury as an excuse or do they regroup and make a playoff run?