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NFL Preview - Tampa Bay (0-0) at N.Y. Jets (0-0)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - It would have been hard to design a more nightmarish scenario for the New York Jets, for whom the bloom is miles off the rose from two straight AFC Championship Game appearances in 2009 and 2010.
They enter 2013 with an unproven running back in Bilal Powell, an unknown quarterback in Geno Smith and without their best player in Darrelle Revis, who, inconveniently enough, was traded during the offseason to the team -- Tampa Bay -- that just happens to be visiting MetLife Stadium in Week 1.
Perhaps the only thing that could make it worse would have been to start the year with a trip to New England. But don't worry, folks, that comes next week.
In the mean time, the opener against the Buccaneers will also be the organization's curtain-raiser for general manager John Idzik, who was hired to replace Mike Tannenbaum; and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who comes in to clean up after the Tony Sparano debacle.
The most familiar name who'll be occupying the same space Sunday is head coach Rex Ryan, though the consensus is that 2013 will be his final season atop the Gang Green herd unless the Jets do something completely unexpected -- like win as many games this season as they lose.
The latest straw to weaken Ryan's job security back came in the third week of the preseason, when he hastily inserted presumed starting quarterback Mark Sanchez into the fourth quarter of a game against the New York Giants. Naturally, Sanchez was hurt while scrambling to complete a pass, sustaining a right shoulder injury whose severity has still not been precisely articulated.
The latest estimates are that Sanchez will miss three weeks, leaving the ball at least temporarily in the hands of Smith, the ex-West Virginia star who was plucked in the second round of April's draft and looked during the preseason like, well -- a guy who'd been drafted in the second round a few months before.
"They'll try to rattle my cage," Smith said. "I expect those guys to come out fired up and they want to make a statement. They've got a rookie quarterback and they'll want to hit me and get me off my game, but I expect those things. And I look forward to it."
Smith was 22-of-37 for 246 yards and a touchdown in his summertime appearances, but the three interceptions and dreadful 54.6 passer rating are much more a concern these days.
"We realize that a rookie quarterback and all that, that's certainly a challenge," Ryan said. "Our guys are ready to rally behind Geno, and the big thing we've told Geno is, 'You just have to be part of the solution.'"
It's unclear what role in the "solution" is to be played by Revis, the perennial All-Pro who missed most of what turned out to be his final season in New York with an ACL injury. His perpetual issues with contracts and holdouts was assumed to be the main reason Idzik dealt him to Tampa Bay, rather than vainly attempting to sign him to another long-term deal.
The Jets got a pair of draft picks in exchange, while the Buccaneers immediately inked Revis to a six-year, $96 million deal -- the richest for a defensive player in league history.
As for "Revis Island," its czar has pronounced it ready to entertain visitors.
"When I go out to practice, I just try to make plays like I have in the past," he said. "That's how I've got to approach it. I can't sit here and get down on myself if I don't, if I'm a step late on a play. I've just got to keep on improving and keep on building on me getting in shape and getting back to where I used to be playing at an elite level."
He's also not been shy about sharing secrets gleaned from his days in green.
"I played against them every day in practice," Revis said. "So I've got a bunch of tips on those guys. And the good thing about it, I've been sharing them in our secondary. We will come into this game real comfortable. We really will, just from the experience I had there."
Revis isn't the only high-profile newcomer to the Buccaneers' defensive backfield. He's joined by ex-San Francisco safety Dashon Goldson, who was acquired as a free agent.
Tampa Bay's run defense in 2012 was stout -- allowing 82.5 yards per game -- but its pass defense was leaky, surrendering a league-worst 297.4 yards.
On offense, the Bucs have several weapons at the disposal of quarterback Josh Freeman, who was coveted by many Jets fans when he came out of college the same year as Sanchez. The lanky passer has been similarly inconsistent, however, and completed just 54.8 percent of his passes with 17 interceptions last season, though he also established career-highs with 27 TDs and 4,065 yards.
His best backfield accessory is second-year runner Doug Martin, who fell 46 yards shy of 1,500 and scored 11 times on the run, while adding one more TD along with 49 receptions for 472 more yards
through the air. That out-of-the-backfield threat provides a nice alternative for Freeman, who can also target Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams when he looks down the field.
Those two melded for 17 touchdowns in 2012 and are faced with a challenge during Week 1 that'll have one locked up with Revis' former running mate, Antonio Cromartie, and the other vying for space with Revis' would-be replacement, first-round draft pick Dee Milliner.
Also gone from last year is Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, who left for Buffalo. Veteran NFL alum Dennis Thurman is the new DC in New York, though it's presumed he'll again operate -- as Pettine did -- under the thumb of defensive guru Ryan.
The Jets chose both Milliner and former Missouri d-lineman Sheldon Richardson within four picks of each other in the first round. New York was porous at best in defending the run in 2012 and managed just 30 sacks with a generally anemic pass rush.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
Smith will get a baptism by on-field fire against the Buccaneers, who are likely to match presumed No. 1 receiver Stephen Hill with their new defensive toy, Revis. It wouldn't be surprising to see Smith try to prove his street cred by targeting Revis, and it'd be less surprising to see Revis want to reestablish himself with a pick-6 or two in his old home stadium.
The matchup is similar going the other way, where Freeman will see No. 1 target Jackson locked up with Revis' former cohort in the New York backfield, Cromartie. A more interesting microscope, however, could be trained on the meeting of No. 2 receiver Williams and Revis' heir apparent, first-round draftee Milliner.
If a group of young, impressionable players are ever going to buy in to Ryan's fifth-year motivational speeches, it'd be in their home opener in Week 1. The problem is, the team on the other side -- in this case, Tampa Bay -- is better than the Jets at nearly every pertinent position.
Unless Smith looks less like a rookie QB than he has throughout the preseason, it looks like a subpar start in the swamps of Jersey.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Buccaneers 24, Jets 20
09/05 11:26:53 ET
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