When hunting for a quote that best captures the first three weeks of the Jets season, the mind keeps coming back to something Chris Berman has repeated ad nauseum over the years: "That is why they play the game."
There are people you'd rather quote than Berman when it comes to sage advice, but every now and then the Swami says it just the way it needs to be said. Just about every prediction about the way the Jets would look this season has proven to be incorrect, with only their winning record representing what most people thought you'd see from them at this point in the season. Let's run through the five most surprising things, shall we?
The biggest surprise, by far, is the fact that Mark Sanchez has six touchdowns and no turnovers. As good as Sanchez looked in the playoffs, the thought that he'd suddenly erase all the crushing mistakes from his game was not one that was regularly entertained by those who watched the Jets in the preseason. He's doing it in play action, on the move and against the blitz with his rare misjudgments standing out because of how right he is most of the time.
Yes, the opener against the Ravens was messy, but he's sparkled in the last two games and his connection with Dustin Keller is showing signs of being one you can chalk up for about six catches and 90 yards on a weekly basis. Sanchez was one of the biggest question marks in football this year and the answer has been improbably good so far.
On a similar topic, who would've thought that Brian Schottenheimer would throw caution to the wind and make Sanchez the man of the hour so quickly this season? Again, that dreadful opener helped make the decision easier but the last six quarters of play calling have been almost perfect from a man who has always been fighting the tendency to be too clever offensively. On Sunday night, Sanchez threw on first down seven times and completed six of them for 133 yards and a touchdown. That aggressiveness kept popping up as Schottenheimer eschewed slants for throws to the hashmarks and down the field, called plays for Brad Smith out of the Wildcat and generally went for the throat where last year he'd be content to settle for field goals.
LaDainian Tomlinson is helping Schottenheimer be aggressive because he's spat in the eye of everyone who claimed that he had nothing left in the tank. Some of that is due to the upgrade in offensive lines from San Diego to New York, but Tomlinson must get credit for redoubling his efforts in the twilight of his career. The Jets would be wise to start working Shonn Greene into the mix more so that Tomlinson doesn't wear down, but so far this has turned out to be a masterstroke by the Jets personnel department.
Give them another pat on the back for Jason Taylor, whose strong play is less surprising than Tomlinson's except in the area of pass rush. Taylor has a key sack in each of the two wins, a strong sign from a player who remained effective in recent years in all areas but getting after the quarterback. That he's doing it while playing a larger than expected role and with an injured elbow makes it all the better for the Jets. Getting Calvin Pace back will be a big boost, although Taylor is showing he can still hold down the fort.
Not all the surprises can be positive ones, though. The much-hyped, oft-praised and vaunted Jets defense has been, well, ordinary through the first three weeks of the season. The point totals were low against Baltimore, but the Ravens had a field day moving the ball through the air. The Patriots had a good half before Rex Ryan came up with adjustments to shut them down and Chad Henne looked like a mixture of Joe Montana and Johnny Unitas on Sunday night. There are way too many penalties, Kyle Wilson has been mostly horrendous and the pass rush remains mystifyingly hit or miss. The injuries to Pace, Kris Jenkins and Darrelle Revis don't help, obviously, but we're still waiting to see the defense everyone was talking about this summer.