When the New York Jets opened training camp, it seemed as if they were heading toward a season of turmoil and controversy. First, the team was blindsided by the news that star defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson had been arrested earlier in the month for allegedly drag racing with a 12-year-old boy in the backseat, carrying a loaded handgun and reeking of marijuana.
Then, in the second week of August, defensive end I.K. Enemkpali broke starting quarterback Geno Smith's jaw during a locker room altercation. The Jets may have moved on from the braggadocious Rex Ryan, but a culture of chaos still appeared to permeate the organization.
But after that, something strange happened. Enemkpali was released (and subsequently picked up by Ryan's Bills, because of course), veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick was named the starting quarterback, and the rest of Jets camp continued without incident. It finally seemed as if -- what's the word -- "stability" had returned to the Gang Green.
New head coach Todd Bowles is the man to thank for that.
The contrast between Ryan's and Bowles' styles have never been more apparent than this week. Under Ryan's leadership, the Jets almost always talked a big game heading into their biannual matchup against the New England Patriots. But with Bowles at the helm, it's mostly been cliche after cliche. (The exception is Marcus Gilchrist, who said he prepares for Tom Brady the same as he does Kirk Cousins.)
Offensive guard Willie Colon told the New York Daily News this week Bowles is the driving force behind the Jets' silence. "You know why," Colon said. "New regime."
Indeed. After missing the playoffs for four straight seasons -- including limping to a 4-12 finish last year -- the Jets are currently 4-1. They have arguably the best defense in football, a top-10 offense and appear poised to be the Patriots' toughest challengers in the AFC East.
That's what the Jets were at the start of Ryan's tenure. They won three of five games against the Pats in the 2009 and 2010 campaigns -- including a Divisional round victory at Gillette Stadium in January 2011. But that success was fleeting, and now the Jets have lost seven of their last eight contests against the Patriots.
And even their one victory throughout this stretch came with an asterisk: on Oct. 21, 2013, Patriots defensive end Chris Jones was trying to block an overtime field goal attempt, and became the first player in NFL history who was flagged for pushing a teammate into the line of scrimmage. It was a player-safety rule that was enacted the previous offseason, and gave Jets kicker Nick Folk a second chance after he had missed his first try. He nailed the kick through the uprights for the Jets W.
Though the Patriots and Jets is commonly billed as one of the NFL's great rivalries, the truth is it's anything but. Ever since Bill Belichick infamously resigned as the "HC of the NYJ" in January 2000, the Patriots have won all but 10 of 32 meetings between these two sides. Ryan's teams were able to close the gap for a brief stretch, but then were left in the dust.
It's far too early to project whether Bowles' Jets can truly give the Patriots a run in the AFC East over the next several seasons. But they have a chance to win Sunday, and unlike in the past, they seem content to do their talking on the field instead of off it.