If you actually need to know anything about the Jets on Thursday, may I be bold enough to suggest that these are four things that would be most important:
1. LaDainian Tomlinson gets a second chance. For many, the lasting image of the 2007 AFC Title Game between the Chargers and Patriots was Tomlinson standing on the sideline, unable to play with a sprained left knee. He carried the ball just two times for five yards in the 21-12 loss at Gillette. Tomlinson said Thursday that that game seems like "a hundred years ago" but he hasn't forgotten how he felt on that freezing Sunday (temps in the single digits) in Foxboro.
"It was the most frustrating thing I've been through in my career, no question." said Tomlinson. "It was a long shot going into the game. With a sprained MCL, you know, I gave everything I had. But it wasn't much. It was obviously frustrating. At the biggest time, the biggest game possible, I couldn't play. Now it seems like I get a chance to redeem myself."
And unlike 2007, Tomlinson heads into this playoff game vs. the Patriots on a high note, rushing for 81 yards on 16 carries (5.1 YPC) and a pair of TDs in the Jets win over the Colts. For Tomlinson -- who entered the Colts game with a career postseason yards per carry average of just 3.4 -- it was the kind of performance in the kind of setting he envisioned when he signed with the Jets in the offseason.
"I told Rex [Ryan] that this is why I came here," said Tomlinson. "All that's left for me is to win a championship, a Super Bowl. I mean, that's it. And to get there we have to get through the Patriots. I've been there before, hope it turns out different this time."
2. Can Mark Sanchez play in the cold? I've written about this before, but I still can't shake the image of Sanchez after Jets practice on the Friday before the Monday Night game against the Patriots. After the Rex Ryan press conference the media was allowed to go down to the locker room. One by one the players came in from the outdoor practice facility, all in practice shorts or sweats. No complaints about weather, just another day. About 15 minutes after everyone else had settled in Sanchez made his way into the locker room. He looked like someone who had just entered the Death Zone climbing Mount Everest. He was wearing a ski mask, shivering, shaking and actually couldn't speak (he mouthed "no" to a reporter who asked to talk to him). I half wanted to check and make sure the guy hadn't lost any fingers to frostbite. He just kept his head down and shuffled to the shower. He came back with a robe on and a towel around his head, just sitting at his locker for 10 minutes with his head still down, trying to warm up. You know how they say that Lincoln looked like he aged 30 years during the Civil War? That was Sanchez -- the guy looked like he was 55 years old.
Here's the thing: It was 38 degrees that day. Sunny and almost zero wind. I have to admit, I wrote the guy off as a potential big-time quarterback right there. And I wasn't at all surprised when he offered a first-class stinker in that Monday Night loss, throwing three picks in the 45-3 loss (Sanchez has been awful in Foxboro in his young career, throwing seven INTs in 54 career pass attempts at Gillette. Tom Brady has thrown seven INTs in his last 483 pass attempts at Gillette). Sanchez in his career in games that were 40 degrees or lower at kickoff? Five touchdowns, 10 INTs. And I'm going to take a swing and guess that it's going to be below 40 degrees at 4:15 on Sunday afternoon.
Brian Schottenheimer, however, offered an interesting theory when asked on Thursday about Sanchez's struggles in the cold. Schottenheimer pointed out that Sanchez has played better in sub-40 weather in the two games since New England, and thinks an injury may actually be the reason for it.
"Crazy enough, I think dealing with the shoulder thing has helped him come up with a routine," said Schottenheimer of Sanchez, who injured his shoulder in the Week 14 win over the Steelers. "He's always up and throwing now, staying loose on the sideline. I think he's finally found a routine that he likes and he's never really done that before. He's done that to stay loose and stay warm and I think that has something to do with it."
3. The world according to Westhoff. Always entertaining to listen to the "Hard Knocks" MVP pontificate on all matters special teams, and Mike Westhoff did not disappoint during his nearly 20 minute meeting with the media on Thursday afternoon. Westhoff was first asked about the reaction he might receive at Foxboro on Sunday following his comments in December to a Chicago radio station that suggested the Patriots engaged in many of the same tactics as the Jets when it came to forming a wall on the sidelines during kick returns. The Jets were fined $100,000 for the "Sal Alosi incident," a fine the NFL said also stems from the Westhoff comments.
"That was an allusion anyway," Westhoff said Thursday. "I don't really care, I don't have any comments on it. That stuff is over, to me it's over. The whole thing was sad that took place. I've moved on from it. They'll throw snowballs at me. Don't stand too close. I don't care. I certainly feel accountable for anything I alluded to, and I'm accountable for everything I do. I'll stand up on it. I'm anxious to go. I have a great deal of respect for them. Not much love, but great deal of respect and can't wait to play them."
When it comes to on-field issues, Westhoff hinted that there may be changes coming on punt returns. Santonio Holmes let a punt roll between his legs during a first-quarter return against the Colts, which didn't sit well with his special teams coach.
"We're never done with anybody, but we're going to go in a little bit of a different direction," said Westhoff. "We've got a couple of plans. I like to go with some people that are hot, in my opinion."
Could that mean Antonio Cromartie, who was such a huge factor on kick returns in the win over the Colts?
"Yup. Sure." said Westhoff, who praised Cromartie's desire to do "whatever it takes" to help out on special teams. "We're going to mix it up, you might even see some two deep. All depends on weather and some other stuff."
4. The trash talk was (thankfully) at a minimum on Thursday. Nothing for the ol' bulletin board, really, even Cromartie was handing out verbal bouquets, admitting that "Tom Brady is pretty good." Hey, it's a start.
Even Ryan was in deferential mode, telling reporters that he considers Bill Belichick a friend and the best coach in the NFL.
"He just prepares great -- it seems that you never out-prepare him. He's always got some wrinkles for you. He's just a great coach, a great competitor. He's seen it all. I generally only steal from the best and I've stolen from him in the past. He's the best in the business. So I respect him that way but again, I've got no love for him this week."