Part of Carson's philosophy is constant change. At times this season he has used six linebackers. He has come in with six defensive linemen, stationing Mark Gastineau as a blitzing middle linebacker. And when the Jets go to a four-man pass rush, Klecko lines up at any of the four positions, seldom repeating one alignment. Klecko got that final sack on Sunday when he stunted inside from the defensive right end spot, and he came in clean.
The Jet defense is a testimony to Carson's ingenuity. An injury-ridden secondary has performed at a consistently high level, with a lineup that's ever changing. Lynn, for instance, has bounced around every defensive backfield position. Carson got together with his linebacker coach, Dan Radakovich, who was with him in Pittsburgh and L.A., and decided to switch Lance Mehl, one of the game's finest outside backers, to the inside, where he's having an All-Pro year.
"When I first saw him I thought he was going to be an average player," Carson says of Mehl, "but he turned out to be a jewel. On every good team I've ever been with there's been one guy who's naturally on the same page with you—all the time. You don't have to sit down and explain things a million times. He can anticipate what you're talking about. He knows. That's Mehl."
The difference between the Jets who were 6-6 after 12 games last year and the current 9-3 team is 831 fewer yards given up. New York came into the Patriots game ranked second in defense in the AFC. But there's the quarterback, too.
Ken O'Brien, the fifth QB drafted in the great Class of '83, was a non-playing rookie. The sixth and last was Dan Marino, who went to the Dolphins three picks later. For two seasons the fans didn't let the Jets forget it. Until now. Nobody's knocking Marino, who has spectacular talent. Maybe the NFL's quarterback rating system isn't all that accurate, but going into last Sunday's contest O'Brien had the top mark in the league—a grade of 97.3, 17.8 points better than Marino this season.
In the off-season O'Brien lost 12 pounds, went on a weightlifting program and spent long hours with Zeke Bratkowski, the old Lombardi Packer who was hired in January. What has emerged is a very competent quarterback to lead the Jets' offense. In the words of New England defensive coordinator Rod Rust, "The thing that impresses you most about O'Brien is his judgment. He knows what he's doing. He doesn't make bad decisions."
Sunday's game didn't hurt O'Brien's ranking—20 of 33 for 311 yards, one TD and no interceptions. The third-period TD was spectacular—88 yards to Wesley Walker, O'Brien reading blitz and getting the ball off in a hurry to Walker on a quick post from the right side. The Patriots fouled up their coverage—"I didn't hear the blitz call. I was playing zone," cornerback Raymond Clayborn said—and Walker was through them and gone before they could figure out what had happened.
The ingredients are all there for the Jets. Freeman McNeil, one of the game's classiest runners, saw limited duty on Sunday because of a sprained ankle, but Johnny Hector stepped in to rush for 97 yards. Rookie wideout Al Toon (six catches, 78 yards) is a budding superstar. Walker can still burn you deep. The defense is inspired. Maybe, just maybe, this is the year.