Dyer: For Surging Jets, Their Greatest Opponent This Week Is Overconfidence
All week long, the Jets will face distractions. There is Thanksgiving on Thursday and all the trappings of a midweek holiday known for face-stuffing and football. But while the Thanksgiving holiday is a logistical challenge for any NFL team, it isn’t the biggest enemy of the Jets. Nor are the Bengals who, despite public perception, aren’t the pushover they are perceived to be.
Instead, the Jets have to guard themselves before they can even begin to tackle Sunday’s opponent.
Until kickoff on Sunday, the Jets will hear about how wonderful they’ve been over their current three-game winning streak. Headlines will tell the story of a season that has been turned around, of a team that is now trending very much in the right direction. The columns will extol head coach Adam Gase for cooling the hot seat and managing the team the right way as banners flew over Manhattan a month ago, demanding he be fired.
Quarterback Sam Darnold will hear and see all the stats about how he’s been one of the best quarterbacks in the league over the past month. The defense will see their clippings about Raiders quarterback Derek Carr being benched in the third quarter on Sunday.
Then there will be the narrative of how Sunday’s opponent, the Cincinnati Bengals, are 0-11 and utterly incompetent. How this will be a cakewalk and a fourth straight Jets win is all but guaranteed.
It is a dangerous week for the Jets. For the first time since this winning streak started, they will be favored. And not just favored, they will be expected to roll over the Bengals.
The danger here for the Jets is over-confidence.
No one expected the Jets to win on Sunday, not over a Raiders team that was in a spot for the playoffs and had won three straight games to move to 6-4. But the Jets went out and played their best game of the season, maybe their best game in three years. And they won.
But now what? This team has supposedly changed and bought into a new direction and new belief. When the rest of the NFL was laughing at them and their own fanbase protesting, the Jets rallied around each other.
Now, with adversity having given way to praise, the Jets will be asked to show-up on Sunday against a terrible team and not sink down to their level. For the first time, perhaps all year, the expectation is that the Jets will win and win big.
For the next five days, the Jets are going to hear, read and see how wonderful they are. They will read about their dominance on Sunday. Sports radio hosts will remind them of their winning streak. Social media will offer its praise, in 280 or fewer characters.
And there, being scoffed at the whole time, will be the Bengals. A team that is winless through 11 games, but has lost by less than a touchdown in their last two games against the Raiders and then this past Sunday to the Pittsburgh Steelers. A Bengals team that has proven over the past two games that there is still plenty of fight left.
A locker room that will hear all week about the Jets resurgence. A team that might be poised to knock off the Jets if they remain in the clouds and not grounded.
These very same Jets, a month ago, faced a similar scenario. They were expected to beat the Miami Dolphins. Instead, they showed up sloppy and undisciplined, turning the ball over and gifting drive-extending penalties on the way to giving Miami their first win of the season. The Dolphins were supposed to be the worst team in football, and they handled a Jets team that was unfocused and perhaps a bit cocky.
It is the game before the game. Perhaps their greatest challenge this week won’t be the Bengals but simply not believing that they have accomplished anything of note yet or have arrived.
The Jets must play with something to prove, a point still to be made and the chip on the shoulder that fueled this winning streak. If the focus isn’t there, the same fight that they showed this weekend against the Raiders doesn’t spur them on, then this winning streak is nothing more than a footnote in another dismal Jets season.
But it doesn’t have to be that, not if these Jets are truly changed.