Rookie coaches chasing momentum
Momentum plays huge role in success of new regimes in the NFL
Rex Ryan's Jets and Josh McDaniels' Broncos enjoying 3-0 starts
There's still hope for new regimes that are off to a poor start
The Jets have it. So do the Broncos. I'm pretty sure the 49ers still have it, even though they lost on Sunday. And who knows, the Lions may have just started to get it after snapping that 19-game losing streak. I'm talking about momentum, of course, which is a very real thing in the NFL.
Momentum and belief are critically important to every team, but especially those with a new head coach or a new starter at the all-important quarterback position. Belief and momentum are also somewhat reciprocal in that the momentum created by consecutive wins can foster an even greater belief in what the new coach is selling or the new quarterback is doing.
Take the Jets, for example. Their fast start may have been aided and abetted by head coach Rex Ryan's tough talk during the offseason, but his bluster would have amounted to very little if they had started poorly out of the gate against the Texans and the Patriots. Instead, they started off with a bang and now that big snowball of belief keeps getting bigger and bigger as it rolls downhill, picking up win after win.
And if you don't think that gutsy Sanchez collision at the goal line for a touchdown on Sunday did wonders for him in the eyes of his teammates and kept that momentum going, you're kidding yourself. At the end of the day, players want to know that their quarterback is going to lay it on the line for them to get a victory, and that's exactly what he did. Now if he can get it done this week on the road against Drew Brees and the Saints, that snowball may never stop.
Compare the Jets' success with Denver's. The Broncos didn't enter the season with the same bravado Ryan was spewing in New York. In fact, the ugly Jay Cutler divorce and subsequent Brandon Marshall antics had many wondering how bad the team would be and how long new coach Josh McDaniels would last. So much for that. The Broncos are 3-0, thanks in large part to the miracle touchdown reception by Brandon Stokley in the opener. Make no mistake, getting that first win is a powerful momentum builder for a new head coach.
That said, it will be interesting to see whether the Niners can sustain the momentum they had until the final two seconds against the Vikings, when Brett Favre tore their hearts out like the guy in Indiana Jones. Some teams can bounce back from a devastating loss, while others allow heartbreak to linger or, worse yet, be the catalyst for a tailspin. Talking with some of the Niners before the game about their feelings for head coach Mike Singletary and quarterback Shaun Hill, I sensed they are too tough mentally to let one remarkable play keep them down. My money is on the Niners to sustain the momentum they worked so hard to capture in weeks one and two.
Of course, negative momentum can come into play as well. When things are going poorly, players expect things to continue to go wrong. A turnover here, a penalty there, and a "here we go again" mentality can set in. I played on the Washington Redskins team that started 0-5 in 2001 under Marty Schottenheimer and the Buffalo Bills team that started 0-4 in 2004 under Mike Mularkey, so I know how doubt can creep in among players. I know exactly how those guys in Kansas City, Tampa Bay, St. Louis and Cleveland are feeling right now. But there's still hope.
The 2001 Redskins used a game-winning LaVar Arrington interception return for a touchdown against Carolina in Week 6 to jumpstart a five-game winning streak. The 2004 Bills bounced back to reel off six wins in a row at one point as old lady momentum seemed to be on our side. The stark contrast between how teams feel about themselves when everything is going wrong and how they react when everything seems to be going right is staggering.
Time will tell which teams that have gotten off to a fast start will suddenly find their winning ways coming to a complete halt. Or, just the opposite, which of the teams that appear to be dreadful at this point will find a way to get their fate turned around. What we do know is that momentum is an amazing force in the NFL, especially in the postseason, where a team like the Arizona Cardinals can get on a roll and ride that momentous wave all the way to a Super Bowl.
Kyle Orton, Josh McDaniels and the Broncos have taken advantage of a soft schedule to get off to a 3-0 start.
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