Start with an enthusiastic rookie quarterback, add football’s newest defensive superstar, throw in the league’s best trio of ball carriers, and finish with a boisterous new head coach—and you’ve got the potent football concoction that took New Jersey’s Jets all the way to the AFC Championship game in January.
The team’s achievements took everyone by surprise—except perhaps Jets’ management, which had made some shrewd draft choices and free-agent acquisitions to bolster an already formidable offensive line. But who could have predicted the success of Mark Sanchez, the rookie quarterback who hit the ground running (and improved along the way), or the emergence of second-year cornerback Darrelle Revis, who had perhaps the best season by a defensive back in a decade?
Then there was newly installed head coach Rex Ryan, who displayed a preternatural ability to instill unflappable confidence in his team. Ryan’s specialty is defense, and his innovative blitz packages and coverage schemes proved remarkably effective against opponents all season.
There were some fits and starts along the way, which is to be expected from a young team, but the Jets played their way to a 9-7 record and into the playoffs. The combination of hard-nosed defense and a rush-oriented offense helped them crush the Cincinnati Bengals in the wild-card game, and then upset the heavily favored San Diego Chargers in the divisional round.
Although they came up short in the AFC championship game against the Indianapolis Colts, the future looks bright. Sanchez and fellow rookie standout Shonn Greene should only get better next year, and if the team lands a premier pass rusher to complement Revis on defense, they will be one step closer to bringing a Super Bowl championship back to New Jersey.