I apologize in advance if you feel as though this post should be filed under "duh" but it is worth talking about. A midst the media-driven caricature of the Jets as a "circus" and granted they are not doing much dispel that perception, there is something that seems to have gotten lost in the mix when it comes to what this team needs to do in order to once again compete for a Super Bowl.
Let me start by saying that the Jets problems are 100% fixable and this team does not have to be a multi-year rebuilding project as many are speculating but the goal has to be a little smaller. In lieu of declaring winning the Super Bowl as his annual mission statement, Rex Ryan would better be served by establishing slightly smaller but equally important goals. The first of which MUST be to win the division, which the Jets have not only done a handful of times over the course of their history and only once in the past decade. As we know, the road to the Super Bowl is much easier if you have the ability to play one or more of those games at home. If the Jets two AFC Championship Game runs have taught us anything, it's that winning three consecutive games on the road is not the ideal or easiest way to reach the Super Bowl.
The only problem with the Jets winning the division is that team a few miles to the north, who despite their propensity for cheating and lack of talent at certain key positions continue to win 12 games a year like clockwork. Just think about it, even great teams have down years or losing seasons but even when they lose their UGG-wearing, all-world quarterback the Patriots still manage to win 11 games. At times it has looked like the only way that the Jets could win the AFC East and ultimately host a playoff game was realignment. Unfortunately barring some sort of massive league expansion, that's not a realistic possibility.
Now the question becomes: how do we build this team to best compete and ultimately dethrone the Patriots? There is no simple or easy answer to that question but what I will say is that it is not to try and beat them at their own game. The Jets already went through the "New England Copycat Phase" with the Mangini era and the colossal bust of a draft pick that was Vernon Gholston. If Rex Ryan has shown anything over his four-year tenure as Jets head coach, it's that he knows how to prepare for and play against the Patriots however, many times his teams will shoot themselves in the foot in these games. The key to beating New England has always been to put pressure on Brady and make him uncomfortable in the pocket but in order to do so, Rex and the Jets have had to scheme up some very creative defenses due to a lack of pure pass-rushers.
Despite his short-comings when it comes to stocking personnel on the offensive side of the football, Ryan has had a keen eye for defensive talent and has built a formidable core of defensive linemen with Muhammad Wilkerson, Quinton Coples. and Kenrick Ellis when he finally starts to come on. This defense is being built to beat the Patriots but it is not quite there yet as the linebacking corps is due for an off-season overhaul, where three out of the four starters from this past season will likely be replaced. What the Jets decide to do in terms of restocking, especially at the outside linebacker position will go a long way in determining whether this team will have what it takes to overthrow the Patriots.
The defense is obviously a huge part of the equation but in order to beat the Patriots twice a season the Jets need to be able to score points and avoid the mental mistakes that have characterized their last four match-ups against the Pats. If you look back to every game these two teams have played over the last two seasons, if you take away two big mental mistakes in each game, the Jets win one (if not more) of them perhaps even by a decided advantage. The mistakes have been in all three phases of the game but the ones on offense have been most egregious *see Butt Fumble* and have stemmed from an erosion of talent and the subsequent devolution of their franchise quarterback.
Mark Sanchez has three wins against the Patriots on his resume but at this point, he is too mistake and turnover prone to really entrust with the task of out-dueling Tom Brady on an annual basis. It is a sad indictment on what Sanchez has turned into as the Jets don't need or ask for a lot in a quarterback, all they need in their quarterback is someone who can convert first downs and not turn the ball over and Sanchez has proven that he has immense difficulty in doing both. Whoever the quarterback of this team is has to fulfill those two parameters if the team is to be successful and the offensive line must be solidified as well if Rex remains steadfast in his desire to have a run-first team.
Granted, I might be putting the proverbial cart in front of the horse as there are a lot of variable and moving parts in the equation that need to be settled before any of these issues can be addressed. However, one thing remains true and that is the road to the AFC East and ultimately the Super Bowl runs and will probably continue to run through Foxboro and if Rex wants to know how to get this team to the big game, he might want to look up north both in terms of philosophy and the standings.