82F MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ
The season hasn't started yet, and things already seem bleak for coach Rex Ryan and the New York Jets .
A familiar face is looking to make sure of it.
With rookie Geno Smith starting at quarterback, Ryan and the Jets attempt to put their tumultuous preseason behind them when they welcome their former star cornerback Darrelle Revis and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to MetLife Stadium on Sunday.
Missing the playoffs for the second year in a row in 2012 triggered changes for the Jets, including the hiring of general manager John Idzik and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.
Still, Ryan returns for a fifth season after leading New York to a 6-10 record last year, missing the playoffs again as the luster from reaching back-to-back AFC championship games in 2009 and '10 continues to fade.
Ryan didn't do himself - or the Jets - any favors, overseeing a quarterback competition that produced an injured Mark Sanchez and no clear winner. A dubious decision to insert Sanchez into the fourth quarter of a preseason meeting with the New York Giants on Aug. 24 resulted in the quarterback hurting his shoulder, leaving Smith as the starter.
Ryan defended his decision in a bizarre, combative press conference, a major departure from his media-friendly persona.
With Sanchez potentially out for up to three weeks, things may get even uglier for Ryan if Smith struggles. That's exactly what he did during preseason, completing 22 of 37 passes for 246 yards with one touchdown, three interceptions and a 54.6 passer rating.
"We realize that a rookie quarterback and all that, that's certainly a challenge," Ryan said. "I think our guys are ready to rally behind Geno, and the big thing we've told Geno is, 'You just have to be part of the solution.'"
Revis is looking to do that for the Buccaneers, who acquired him from the Jets for two draft picks and made him the richest defensive player in NFL history by signing him to a six-year, $96 million contract.
Revis' tenure in New York was cut short due to a torn left ACL, and the cornerback known for putting top wide receivers on "Revis Island" says he's aiming to regain his status among the elite defensive players in the league.
"When I go out to practice, I just try to make plays like I have in the past. That's how I've got to approach it. I can't sit here and get down on myself if I don't, if I'm a step late on a play," the four-time Pro Bowl selection said.
"I've just got to keep on improving and keep on building on me getting in shape and getting back to where I used to be playing at an elite level."
Facing the Jets - and a rookie QB - should help Revis and the rest of the Buccaneers get off to a strong start after the team went 7-9 in coach Greg Schiano's debut season.
"I know these guys. I played against them every day in practice. So I've got a bunch of tips on those guys," Revis said. "And the good thing about it, I've been sharing them in our secondary. ... We will come into this game real comfortable. We really will, just from the experience I had there and knowing these guys."
Tampa Bay's revamped secondary also includes former San Francisco safety Dashon Goldson . The Bucs ranked last against the pass in 2012, giving up an average of 297.4 yards, undermining their league-leading run defense that held opponents to 82.5.
Freeman completed 54.8 percent of his passes last year, setting career highs of 4,065 yards and 27 touchdowns while tossing 17 interceptions - nine in the final three games.
Martin was a breakout star in 2012, coming 90 yards short of the franchise record with 1,454 yards and an average of 4.6 per carry while rushing for 11 TDs. He also caught 49 passes for 472 yards and another score, giving Freeman an option outside of top receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams , who combined for 135 receptions and 17 TDs.
They'll face a Jets defense that was eighth in the league last year, thanks in large part to having the second-best pass defense despite Revis' injury. The unit allowed an average of 189.8 yards through the air, and New York selected cornerback Dee Milliner from Alabama with the ninth overall pick in April's draft.
New York also added Sheldon Richardson , drafted 13th overall, to the defensive line in an effort to improve a run defense that ranked 26th by giving up 133.6 yards per game. The Jets are hoping the former Missouri tackle can help collapse the pocket since the Jets' 30 sacks were only better than five other teams.
Despite the rookie additions on defense, Smith will be in the spotlight and that may be especially true after he was expected to be selected early in the first round of the draft before plummeting to the Jets in the second.
He was spectacular at West Virginia last year with a 71.2 completion percentage, 4,222 yards, 42 touchdowns and six interceptions.
"They'll try to rattle my cage," Smith said. "I expect those guys to come out fired up and they want to make a statement. They've got a rookie quarterback and they'll want to hit me and get me off my game, but I expect those things. And I look forward to it."
The Jets are 9-1 all-time against the Buccaneers, suffering the defeat in 1984. They've won seven straight since, with the latest coming on the road Dec. 12, 2009.