Jets vs. Colts: Rex Ryan's crusade against pretty-boy football
In the Jets vs. Colts AFC championship game Sunday, the New York Jets and Head Coach Rex Ryan will be trying to prove that smashmouth football can still succeed in today's NFL.
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This has accomplished the NFL’s goal. It is now as exciting and offensive as at any moment in its history. This year, 10 quarterbacks threw for more than 4,000 yards. In 2000, three did. In 1990, only one did. In fact, more than half of the 4,000-plus yard seasons in NFL history have been amassed in the 10 years since 2000.Skip to next paragraph
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But it’s not the sort of foggy-breathed, frozen-tundra-of-Lambeau-Field football that makes men lower their voices an octave and talk about “warriors” and “gladiators” of the gridiron.
In short, the pretty boys have won. Both championship games today will be played in domes, for goodness sake. There, the field won’t even be tundra, much less frozen.
In this way, the Jets – as much as powder-blue Houston Oilers uniforms or Tom Landry’s fedora – are throwbacks. If they beat Peyton Manning and his Colts Sunday, they can call their defense Gang Green or D. Rex. They can strike a blow at the heart of pretty-boy football and its High King Manning.
Defense wins championships (?)
The model the Jets will try to follow to the Super Bowl Sunday is one as old as the NFL and its working-class, teeth-chattering origins in the early winter of the upper Midwest. The traditions and playing styles established in those days and climes gave rise to football's prime maxim: Defense and a good running game wins championships.
And so it was for much of football history.
Quarterbacks were stewards of championship offenses – often gifted, but rarely given free rein. Super Bowls were won on the legs of runners and the backs of defensemen.
Dan Marino and Dan Fouts might spin the scoreboard like a pinwheel, but neither won a Super Bowl. Jeff Hostetler and Mark Rypien, however, have rings because they were cogs in a winning machine far greater than themselves.
Yet the slow upward arc of the passing game and its influence on the NFL – begun by Johnny Unitas and accelerated by Joe Montana – has seemingly now passed a tipping point. Of the four teams remaining in the postseason, for example, three have elite quarterbacks who threw for more than 4,000 yards this season: the Colts (Manning), Vikings (Brett Favre), and Saints (Drew Brees).
The Jets’ Mark Sanchez may join those ranks one day, but as a rookie, he is the Jeff Hostetler of conference championship Sunday: His job is less to help his team than to avoid hurting it.
Yet one senses that the mountainous Ryan might prefer it this way.
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