Here's a look at what's happening around the New York Jets:
1. Spotlight on Jets' coach: Let's play a game of hypotheticals: Quarterback Sam Darnold injures a knee and misses the entire 2020 season. He returns in 2021, plays only 11 games because of an injury to his throwing shoulder and posts middling numbers. He gets traded in 2022, comes off the bench after a few games and leads his new team to the conference championship game.
Would you blame coach Adam Gase for holding him back in New York, or would you commend Darnold for capitalizing on a second chance? Any objective observer would say the latter.
That's food for thought on Championship Sunday. Just substitute Ryan Tannehill for Darnold.
After three disrupted seasons under Gase, a period in which Tannehill played as many games as he missed (24) for the Miami Dolphins, the QB has elevated his game while helping the Tennessee Titans on an improbable run to the AFC Championship Game.
Same question: Blame Gase for impeding Tannehill's development, or praise Tannehill for redemption?
It's the same answer as above.
Although disgruntled fans in South Florida might disagree, it's a stretch to make Gase the villain in this story. Remember, Gase and Tannehill made the playoffs together in 2016, when Miami's offense was built around the power running of Jay Ajayi. Then Tannehill sat out 2017 because of a knee injury and missed another five games in 2018 due to a bum shoulder.
"Sometimes we overcomplicate things in the NFL," former Dolphins executive and current ESPN analyst Mike Tannenbaum said. "Ryan was a winning, starting quarterback in Miami [13-11 under Gase, 42-46 overall], and he's continued to win in Tennessee. He's always been a good player. The big thing in Miami was staying healthy. Now he's healthy, and he has some good pieces around him."
Tannehill is flourishing with the Titans for the same reason he succeeded in 2016: He's thriving in the game-manager role and riding the coattails of a tremendous running back. Derrick Henry is putting up historic numbers, taking all the pressure off Tannehill. In fact, Tannehill has attempted more than 35 passes in two of his 12 starts. In the Titans' playoff wins, he passed for 72 and 88 yards, respectively.
It's a classic right-place, right-time situation for Tannehill, who, to his credit, has seized the moment.
You can get on Gase for some things -- he has a lot to prove with the Jets -- but it's lazy analysis to blame him for Tannehill's unfulfilled potential in Miami.
2. Tears of joy: Joe Namath was overcome with emotion upon learning that former teammate Winston Hill had been elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"I cried," Namath told ESPN. "I was just very happy. Yeah, it's a very sentimental thing because of the love we all had for Winston. He was a special man. It's meant so much to everyone -- his family, his teammates. Winston never brought it up. Winston never talked about it. He wasn't that kind of guy. Even in private moments, he didn't talk about the Hall of Fame. He'd just smile when someone else in the crowd brought it up."
Hill, who died in 2016 at the age of 74, was a humble giant who played left or right tackle in every game of Namath's career with the Jets. They forged a 50-year friendship that transcended football. Namath, who was inducted into the HOF in 1985, always wished the same for the man who protected him all those years. He said Hill was such a dominant blocker in Super Bowl III that, "There's no way we could've won that game without the guys up front, especially Winston. Without him, we don't do it."
You could hear the joy in Namath's voice over the phone.
"I can see his face. I can see him now -- he and Carolyn both," Namath said of Hill and his late wife. "Wherever that next level is, he's humbly smiling. And Carolyn, too."
3. 'Go' route? Jets offensive assistant Hines Ward is being considered by the Philadelphia Eagles to be their receivers coach, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. I know what you're thinking: If Ward gets the job, could he lure free-agent-to-be Robby Anderson to the City of Brotherly Love?
There are a few dots that can be connected. Consider: Ward worked closely with Anderson, and they developed a good relationship. The Eagles were interested in trading for Anderson at the 2018 deadline. (They reportedly offered a fourth-round pick.) It would be a homecoming for Anderson, who played college ball at Temple.
But here's the thing: Even though the Eagles could use an overhaul at the position, which was decimated by season's end, they have a lot of 2020 money invested in injured receivers Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson. That will make it tough for them to add a pricey free agent. Hey, maybe they could hire Ward as a player-coach.
4. Bell does the dirty work: Despite paltry rushing numbers, Le'Veon Bell claimed on multiple occasions he was pleased with his season because of the way he performed other aspects of his job -- i.e. blocking. Sure enough, there's a stat to support that.
In a story about the top individual seasons based on advanced stats, my colleague Seth Walder noted that Bell was the best pass-blocking running back in the league. He registered an 89% pass-block win rate, according to ESPN's metric that uses NFL Next Gen Stats' tracking devices.
So there's that.
5. Breaking the Rhule: The Carolina Panthers will be a fascinating team in 2020. They're being led by a trio of NFL neophytes, all of whom came from the college ranks: coach Matt Rhule (Baylor), offensive coordinator Joe Brady (LSU) and defensive coordinator Phil Snow (Baylor). They have a combined six years of NFL experience, mostly as low-level assistants.
This was the roadblock last season, when the Jets were in talks with Rhule about their head-coaching vacancy. They liked Rhule a lot, but they wanted to pick his staff because of concerns about the experience of his choices. Rhule wanted no part of that.
6. Multiplicity on D: There was a lot of speculation last offseason about the Jets' new defensive scheme: 3-4 or 4-3? A lot of folks, including me, figured coordinator Gregg Williams would play a 4-3 because that's what he did in his previous stop. As it turned out, he opted for a 3-4 based on the personnel. As you can see from a breakdown of their defensive alignments (via NFL Next Gen Stats), there wasn't much base at all:
3-3-5: 47% of the snaps
In other words, the Jets were in nickel (five defensive backs) 77% of the time -- all the more reason to beef up the cornerback position this offseason.
7. Eerie silence: This has been the quietest Jets January in a long time. That's a good thing -- or a bad thing, depending on your perspective.
8. Did you know? The Titans have a chance to become the first team to reach the Super Bowl after starting 2-4 or worse. At 2-4, they had a 1-in-500 chance (0.2%) of reaching the Super Bowl, per ESPN's Football Power Index. Some perspective: The Harvard basketball team has the same chance to make the Final Four, per ESPN's BPI.
9. Remember the Jets: The Titans' playoff run reminds me of the 2009 and 2010 Jets. Like the Titans, the '10 Jets were the No. 6 seed and pulled two upsets on the road, thanks to a strong running game and fantastic defense. The formula worked so well that it didn't require a lot of production out of the quarterback position. In fact, Mark Sanchez didn't pass for more than 200 yards in any of the four playoff wins in those two seasons.
Until these Titans, the '10 Jets were the most recent No. 6 seed to reach a conference title game.
10. The last word: "I tell you what: I would think every Jets fan, if you look at it in a sense that we won six out of our last eight, they ought to be damn positive and feel real good about that improvement going into the next season. That has to feel real good with some players coming back healthy. I'm not making excuses, but they did go through a heckuva bad hand that was dealt to them after leading 16-0 against the Bills [in Week 1]. It seems like they couldn't get a good card from the deck for a while." -- Namath on the state of the Jets