NFL Preview - Tennessee (0-2) at N.Y. Jets (2-0)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - It's an annual rite of fall.
Or at least a semi-regular one.
The New York Jets, flush with confidence from an eventful offseason, begin the regular year on a momentum-fueled high, accelerating the goals of a fatalistic fan base from simple respectability to a Super February finale.
Even the local newspapers grab hold of the giddiness, subtly changing their early promises of mediocrity to incrementally allow for a .500 record, a postseason berth or, gasp...even more.
Tuesday's New York Daily News - still basking in the glow of the team's 16-9 toppling of New England two days prior - nudged the happiness needle a smidge with a second-day recap under the headline "Mark Sanchez has Jets looking good as gold with win over Patriots, 2-0 start."
"After beating the Texans and Patriots and being all alone in first place in the AFC East," columnist Gary Myers wrote, "this is no longer looking like a 7-9 season."
Until reality sets in.
Usually in the form of a giveaway loss to a sub-par opponent or a crushing defeat to a superior, which puts the season back on a prescribed track and resigns the team's North Jersey fan base to another long sad winter in, well... North Jersey.
Last year it happened when an 8-3 start that had inspired Super talk devolved into a 9-7 finish that cost coach Eric Mangini his job and drove quarterback Brett Favre to, ummm...retirement.
"I think we've learned from last year," cornerback Darrelle Revis said. "The mistakes that we made through the course of the season, where we were high and those last five games, I just think we didn't execute as well and didn't come ready for those games. This year, I think we have a group of guys in here that are mad about that from last year and don't want to let it happen again."
It's unclear whether the Titans are sub-par or superior as they trek toward East Rutherford.
A six-time double-digit winner/playoff entrant in the last 10 seasons - including 13 wins last year - the Titans opened with a three-point overtime loss to Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh. In Week 2, they lost a three-point home game to upstart Houston, squandering a 14-point second-quarter lead and allowing the Texans to score the game's final 10 points.
Finger-pointers of the Tennessee locker room, start your engines.
"Let me set the record straight here: When you are a good football team and you start off the season (0-2) there is going to be frustration, OK? And the only way you get out of it is you avoid pointing fingers at anybody," coach Jeff Fisher said.
"You know what, we're just going to keep getting better. That's all we do. We take it one day at a time. Just keep getting better, not thinking about playoffs, keep working on the little things."
Also in play is a sliver of angst from last season, when the Jets went to Nashville and won, 34-13, ending the then 10-0 Titans' hopes for a perfect season.
Paybacks had better be a, well...you know...or it could be a long season in Tennessee.
The percentage of AFC teams making the playoffs since 1990 after starting 0-2 is 13.8 percent, and for teams starting 0-3, it plummets to 3.1 percent.
Counting the years before the postseason was expanded to six teams from each conference, only five of 284 (1.8 percent) teams that started 0-3 ended up making the playoffs.
As a side note, the game will be one of a series of AFL 50th anniversary matchups between original teams from the rival league of the 1960s.
The Titans began as the Houston Oilers, while the Jets were initially known as the New York Titans.
The Titans own a 21-16-1 lead in the all-time regular season series with the Jets, but as mentioned, were 34-13 home losers when the teams met in Week 12 of last season. The loss was the first for Tennessee after starting 10-0. The Titans won the previous meeting, a 10-6 affair in Nashville in 2007. The Jets were 24-17 winners when last playing a home game in the series, in 2003. Tennessee's last road win in the series took place in 1996, when the team was still the Houston Oilers.
The Jets dropped their only all-time postseason matchup against the Titans/Oilers, losing 17-10 in a 1991 AFC First-Round Playoff from the Astrodome.
Fisher is 4-4 in his career against the Jets, with his 24-10 win in the final week of the 1994 season marking his first victory as an NFL head coach. The Jets' Rex Ryan will be meeting both Fisher and the Titans for the first time as a head coach.
WHEN THE TITANS HAVE THE BALL
Veteran Kerry Collins has gotten off to a decent if not winning start to 2009, climbing to third among active quarterbacks with 37,853 passing yards. He's faced the Jets once in his career - while with the New York Giants - and completed 24-of-40 passes for 303 yards and two touchdowns. Running back Chris Johnson shook off a slow Week 1 start with a breakout game against the Texans, scoring on a 91-yard run, a 57-yard run and a 69-yard reception while amassing a career-best 284 combined yards. His 254 rushing yards are the AFC's best through two weeks and his 10 catches lead the team. Elsewhere, wideout Nate Washington caught his first TD pass with the Titans last week, and rookie Kenny Britt - first round, 30th overall - has averaged 17.8 yards per catch on six receptions.
With their throttling of the Patriots last week, the Jets became the first team since 2006 to allow neither a rushing nor passing touchdown in the season's first two weeks. New York allowed a TD on a turnover to Houston in Week 1, then three field goals against the Patriots. As a unit, the 241 yards they've surrendered on average through two games is best in the league. Linebacker David Harris and lineman Jamaal Westerman had a sack each against the Texans, and Harris leads the team individually with 16 tackles. In the backfield, cornerback Revis is again showing Pro Bowl form, having held Randy Moss to just four catches. He intercepted his first pass of the season as well. In Week 1, he held Andre Johnson out of the end zone.
WHEN THE JETS HAVE THE BALL
Now the toast of the town after winning a training camp duel with Kellen Clemens, Sanchez can become the first rookie QB in franchise history to win his initial three starts. He's completed 32-of-53 passes through two games for 435 yards, two touchdowns and a 91.3 passer rating. For his career, workhorse running back Thomas Jones averages 102.6 yards per game when he has at least 20 carries. He's posted 161 yards on 34 rushes so far in 2009. He's tied with Tennessee's LenDale White atop the AFC with 15 touchdowns since the start of 2008. All-everything back Leon Washington had eight carries for 82 yards and scored twice the last time he faced the Titans, and he ranks second in the AFC with a 29.4-yard average on kick returns. Among the receivers, wideout Jerricho Cotchery has averaged 90.7 yards per game in three career meetings with the Titans, and leads the Jets with 10 catches for 177 yards. And tight end Dustin Keller, who's averaging 16.6 yards per catch so far, picked up first-down yardage on four of six catches the last time he faced Tennessee.
For the Titans, the news isn't quite as good. Transition on the fly has been difficult, with Chuck Cecil taking over as coordinator from the departed Jim Schwartz and All-Pro interior lineman Albert Haynesworth now a member of the Washington Redskins. After the shootout with Houston last week, Tennessee is averaging an unsightly 388.5 total yards-against in two games and is an uncharacteristic minus-1 in turnover ratio. Three players have recorded at least one sack through the first two games - Jevon Kearse, Tony Brown and Jason Jones - while defensive backs Cortland Finnegan and Vincent Fuller have an interception apiece. Linebacker Keith Bulluck - a native of New City, N.Y. - returns close to home against the Jets, while Finnegan seeks his second straight game with an INT against them.
Johnson for the Titans and both Keller and Cotchery for the Jets look like locks, while matchups and hunches dictate the rest. Cases can be made to play either of the starting quarterbacks, along with Washington for New York. Defenses could be sleeper gems in either direction, though the game could just as easily wind up 30-27 as 13-10. Wide receivers are a viable risk as well - Britt and Washington for Tennessee and Chansi Stuckey for the Jets.
The Jets are surely stoked. They're obviously home. And they're clearly still feeling the buzz from slapping down their biggest rival in a showdown game last week. All the ingredients that lead to a stern test for new coach Rex Ryan and his ability to keep his players in check emotionally. Add to the fact that Tennessee is hardly a pushover and figures to be even more ornery considering an 0-2 start, in which it's been outscored by only six points. All historical signs, as Gang Green long-time fans know, point to a New York stumble. But Ryan's performance so far warrants collateral at least until it goes bad.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Jets 17, Titans 9
09/24 10:49:48 ET