Bus Stops: How Ryan actually may be hurting Sanchez, Jets; more
Tom Brady finally looked completely healthy against the Falcons
Rex Ryan's bravado could be putting his offense at risk
Thoughts in Jim Zorn, the Lions, Raiders, Bucs and more
Throughout the 2009 NFL season, SI.com's Adam Duerson will work with Jerome Bettis to get the six-time Pro Bowl running back's observations about the previous week's games. Bettis retired from the NFL in 2006 after a 13-year career.
Tom Brady is Back. Last week I said Falcons-Patriots would be a barometer game, but for two quarters we didn't learn much. Then I think we finally saw something definitive in the last 30 minutes: we saw a quarterback find his legs.
In the first half of that game, Tom Brady was wildly missing his receivers -- the same thing we've seen the first few weeks. He looked rusty. But in the second half, he was a different man. He had confidence in the pocket. We finally saw that "Ah-ha!" moment that you look for after an injury like the one Brady suffered last year; that moment where he finally stops thinking about it.
Anyone coming back from an injury like his will naturally be cautious. Balls will be under- or overthrown. You won't have the same zip on the ball. Some guys take a few games to get the confidence back; some guys take a whole year. And I think we saw that process winding down in front of our eyes in the second half. A confident Tom Brady is something to be scared of.
...But he's got competition in the division. I don't think you can crown the Jets the class of the AFC East simply off their Week 2 win over the Patriots. Let's hold off until Week 11 in Foxborough -- Tom Brady with a few more post-injury games under his belt.
But I do think these Jets are the real deal, and they remind me of a team I know as well as anyone: the 2004 Steelers. I start with the rookie quarterback, Mark Sanchez. He's not making the mistakes you'd expect from a first-year guy -- the mistakes that cost you football games. Ben Roethlisberger shocked people in the same way. Sanchez is making plays, not just game-managing. More importantly, he's making plays on third down. That's a true leader.
From my experience in a similar situation, here's the upside for Jets fans: this team is going to open up this offense even more as it moves forward. Right now, they simply want to win football games. They can do that by running the football well, playing great defense and getting a few timely plays out of their young quarterback. That was our recipe when Ben came into the league; we really only called on him a few times to make some plays. But he continually came through when he was called on and that gave us the confidence to open up the playbook. I see the same thing in Mark Sanchez and these Jets.
Here's where my Steelers and Sanchez's Jets differ: Rex Ryan. Rex has done a great job of providing these guys with the confidence that they can go out and play with and beat anyone. They've got swagger. That's great for the defense. But I worry about how it can hurt the offense.
If you're on defense, you love this guy, no doubt. He's precisely the type of coach you want: someone who's aggressive and will get in people's faces. But I'm an offensive guy myself, and I would want someone a little more even-keeled. As a running back you're going out there and getting hit. You're taking the shots. And this guy goes out and riles up your opponent? In a way I'm thinking, Come on coach, don't do this to me; don't get people angry at me like this. That's one place where I feel like maybe Ryan isn't really making life any easier for Sanchez.
Brett Favre may have won over that Vikings locker room entirely Sunday. I don't think Brett Favre ever had the Jets behind him 100 percent last year, but he's already had a few moments in Minnesota that have helped ingratiate him towards these Vikings. The first was the fine he took for a low hit -- a block -- in the preseason against Houston. The second one was the amazing 32-yard, back-of-the-end-zone touchdown Sunday.
That one simple play -- a magical play -- goes a long way in their locker room. After so many years where all they needed was a quarterback, they have to be thinking: We won this game because Brett is here and we might not have won it without him.
Does Tarvaris Jackson make that throw? Would they have won such a close game last year? For the players who were on the fence about Favre, all of a sudden these questions are going through their head. I think this could push them onto Favre's side.* A divided team may have been the only thing stopping this team before. Not anymore.
*I've been in their shoes. In Pittsburgh it took some time for us to buy into Ben Roethlisberger. But early in that rookie season we went down to Miami in this torrential rain and the mud and we couldn't get anything done on the ground. Ben won that game late for us in that bad weather and you could see it click with the guys afterward: "OK, if Ben can win this wild game for us, then he's our guy." And we were all better for that belief.
On the other side of the field, that was a solid game all the way through for the 49ers. They showed me an awful lot of positive things despite the loss, especially playing well without Frank Gore, who people thought was the centerpiece of that football team. They could have beaten Minnesota if not for one play. That kind of effort should be more than enough in the NFC West.
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