The New York Jets have a better team than last year (we think), but there was one admirable quality they wouldn't mind borrowing from that 2013 group: its resilience. Those Jets were 6-2 after losses, demonstrating a bounce-back ability that could be attributed to Rex Ryan and the team's character. But that was then.
After a week of TimeoutGate and fallout from the meltdown in Green Bay, the 2014 Jets will tell us in Week 3 how they handle adversity. They face the Chicago Bears (1-1) at MetLife Stadium, a matchup on paper that bears a striking resemblance to last week's game against the Green Bay Packers. In other words, it's the strong men versus the trapeze artists under the big top of ESPN's "Monday Night Football."
This is the first of two Monday night home games for the Jets (1-1), the only team to have that distinction. Kickoff is 8:30 p.m. The top storylines:
1. All eyes on Marty: Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg was on fire for the first three drives in Green Bay, but no one will remember that because of the timeout fiasco. Mornhinweg, Ryan & Co. need to clean up the sideline operation because it was costly and embarrassing to the franchise. You can bet Mornhinweg will get extra face time in this game, with a prime-time audience looking for another glitch. Ryan said he didn't change anything about how he communicates with Mornhinweg and the offensive coaches during the game. So, basically, he's hoping the perfect storm doesn't strike twice in eight days. Maybe the ESPN folks could start a "Where's Sheldon?" graphic when the defense is on the sideline.
2. The Marshall plan: After surrendering a 209-yard receiving day to Jordy Nelson, the Jets face another elite receiver in Brandon Marshall. The good news is Marshall (ankle) missed a lot of practice time and still isn't 100 percent. The bad news is he's still Brandon Marshall, and he'll be a tough cover for the Jets because he's deployed all over the field. Five of his 13 receptions have come from the slot, including three of his four touchdowns. How do the Jets handle that? Kyle Wilson? Come on, that would be a mismatch. Ryan has to cook up a creative plan for his secondary, especially now with Dee Milliner (ankle, quad) unlikely to play. Antonio Allen could see a lot of Marshall (6-foot-4) because he's their only corner with the size (6-foot-1) and aggressiveness to compete with his skill set. The Bears also have Alshon Jeffery (6-foot-3), giving them a couple of "NBA small forwards," according to defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman.
3. Steal the ball: The Jets desperately need to force turnovers. They have only one takeaway in two games, and they had nothing to do with it (a botched snap by the Packers). Their goal is to force Jay Cutler into his old "gunslinger mentality," as Thurman called it. The old Cutler took chances because of his big arm, holding the ball and trying to force it into tight windows. Cutler has 114 interceptions in 106 games, so you know he's prone to picks. Bears coach Marc Trestman has turned Cutler into a dink-and-dunk passer, so it could be hard for the Jets to get to him and cause mistakes. But, wait: Center Roberto Garza and left guard Matt Slauson, the ex-Jet, are out with injuries. Look for Ryan to unleash A-gap blitzes and interior stunts to exploit the replacements.
4. Monsters of the Midway? Ha! Make no mistake, these aren't your Buddy Ryan Bears on defense. They've allowed 5.4 yards per carry over the last 18 games, practically inviting the Jets to do what they do best -- pound the rock. They own the league's top-ranked rushing attack, although there were some hiccups last week, especially with guards Brian Winters and Willie Colon. They need to get that cleaned up because they will see a lot of eight-man fronts, especially if wide receiver Eric Decker (hamstring) doesn't play. Know this: The Bears have struggled with the read-option. The Jets usually run it a handful of times per game, but look for that number to increase.
5. Play 60 minutes: The Jets were outstanding for 20 minutes last week, but they went cold, self-destructed and blew an 18-point lead. They can't do that against the Bears, who proved last week they have no quit in them -- outscoring the San Francisco 49ers 21-0 in the fourth quarter. In fact, the Bears have the second-highest point differential (plus-25) in the second half. The Jets are minus-10.
6. Tone Time: Santonio Holmes returns to his old haunt, looking to haunt the Jets. They'll never hear the end of it if he does.