The New England Patriots head into the 2012 season as the reigning kings of the AFC East. There's been a lot of discussion about whether or not they can hold their throne with the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills circling them like sharks.
Thing is, there's no blood in the water for these sharks to smell. The Patriots have gotten much better, which is amazing, considering they just went to the Super Bowl.
Truth is, not much has changed in the AFC East. The Patriots have a firm grasp on their crown, and there's no concrete reason to believe they'll relinquish it anytime soon.
The Patriots have a rivalry with the Bills, but it's nowhere close to the bad blood they share with the Jets. With the Patriots and Jets, the vitriol runs deeper than your run-of-the-mill divisional conflict. This is about something much more sinister.
But this article isn't about the roots of the rivalry. This article is about something else entirely.
I want to know why this heated rivalry is so lopsided. Why do the Patriots keep winning while the Jets keep losing?
But the truth is more complicated than that.
However, the quarterback position is a good starting-off point for this topic.
Mark Sanchez is a good mid-level quarterback, but he hasn't been able to take the Jets to the next level. His quarterback skills and his leadership skills are debatable.
So what did the Jets do over the offseason? They gave Sanchez an extension. Then, they brought in Tim Tebow, whose quarterback skills are also debatable.
The Jets have essentially done what the Cardinals have done: They set up a quarterback competition between two guys who struggle to get the job done.
Of course, the Jets won't say it's a competition. They've made it clear that Sanchez is their guy.
And in all honesty, I believe them. I believe that they believe Sanchez is their quarterback. But my question is: Why do they believe this?
It's the second preseason game. It's not time to hit the panic button. You gotta improve and learn from this stuff. I know we can do it. I've seen this team play much better than this, I've seen it in practice. The encouraging thing is we have the right personnel; these guys will go watch the film, they'll go study, they'll understand why it happened and come out next week and play well.
This quote, in a nutshell, represents everything that's wrong with Sanchez from a leadership standpoint.
Forget the "panic button," how about the "change button"? The Jets only won eight games last year. They missed the playoffs and now they're 0-2 in this preseason. If you don't change now, then when?
Sanchez says he's seen his team play better in practice?
I don't even know what that means.
He's seen his team play better against themselves during scrimmage? He's seen them play better during OTAs and training camp? He's seen them play really well when they aren't playing against another opponent?
None of that makes any sense.
Do the Jets really have the proper personnel to fix this? I don't think so. If they did, Sanchez wouldn't be their quarterback and Rex Ryan wouldn't be their coach. This team wouldn't be repeating the same mistakes over and over.
After the game, Tim Tebow chimed in with this quote:
I don't think you can get frustrated. We haven't even played a real game. When the regular season gets here, that's when it's for real.
Here's my question for Tebow: Why isn't Giants versus Jets a real game? Because it's preseason?
Not only should it have been real, it should've been personal.
The Giants beat up on the Jets last season. The Giants embarrassed them. In fact, the Giants were so enraged over the Jets' juvenile antics, it essentially sent them on a warpath through the postseason which culminated in a Lombardi Trophy.
So, why wasn't this a real game? Because it doesn't count in the final tally?
If it isn't a real game, then why get dressed? Why play? Why did the fans show up to cheer?
Of course preseason games are real! And you know who agrees with me? Bill Belichick.
We're in a new season. Look, I understand it's not the AFC championship game. I understand that. Here's where we're all at: It's our first competitive opportunity of the year. It's our first time to go out and compete against a very good opponent. I understand it's not a game in the standings. Let me tell you something: If you're playing in a game or coaching in a game, it means something. Means something to me, means something to you. It's an opportunity for us to establish our level of performance and build on it next week. All right? It's football time, fellas. Let's get into it.
This is why Belichick has five Super Bowl rings.
In fact, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have eight rings between them. They have those rings because every game is business. When it's preseason, it's business. When it's the regular season, it's business.
When they win, they learn from the victory. When they lose, they learn from the defeat. The Patriots are always in a state of "becoming." They're constantly evolving.
The Jets don't evolve. They stay put.
Many expected the Jets to evolve this season, but why would anyone expect that? Read Sanchez's quote. Read Tebow's quote. Their words are the definition of "staying put."
I'll admit, though, it was strange to hear Tebow give such a dismissive response to their loss to the Giants. Remember, this is the guy from the Florida Gators who once famously said after a loss (via ESPN.com):
To the fans and everybody in Gator Nation, I'm sorry. I'm extremely sorry...I promise you one thing, a lot of good will come out of this. You will never see any player in the entire country play as hard as I will play the rest of the season. You will never see someone push the rest of the team as hard as I will push everybody the rest of the season. You will never see a team play harder than we will the rest of the season.
That's a far cry from, "We haven't even played a real game."
But his stoic response to the Jets' preseason loss is very revealing, not necessarily of Tebow, but of the Jets.
It's about culture. The Jets have a culture of losing. The culture rubs off on everyone.
I'm assuming the Jets acquired Tebow for his leadership, in the hopes that he'd help repair the damaged locker room from last season. But is that possible?
How can Tebow flourish in a leadership role as the backup quarterback? He's not the defining voice of the team like he was in Florida or Denver. A team's soul can only be fixed by a leader. Tebow certainly has "leadership" in his DNA, but he isn't the leader of the Jets. Sanchez is the leader.
Tebow can only do so much. If he's more passionate than Sanchez, it'll create a wave of uncertainty in the Jets' locker room, with regard to whom the players should be listening to.
This isn't a solution, it's just more chaos.
Meanwhile, the Patriots keep winning. Why? Because that's their culture. The Patriots keep winning because they abide by the Patriot Way.
Here's a perfect example: Rookie Chandler Jones was recently asked about the similarities between him and Jason Pierre-Paul. Jones responded (h/t Mike Petraqlia, weei.com):
Jason Pierre-Paul is a great player. And I'm a different player from him. I'm not going to sit here and compare us two. But he's a great player and I respect his game. I have no comment on the comparison.
That, right there, is a perfect Patriots answer. He answered the question by praising his enemy and refusing to really answer the question. No controversial statements, no media fodder, no head-scratching comment, just an intelligent, selfless response.
That's the culture in New England. It rubs off on everybody, even the rookies.
That's why the Patriots keep winning and the Jets keep losing.
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