For the better part of a decade now, New York Jets fans have probably allowed themselves to take a few glorious minutes each spring to wonder: Could it really be happening, could the Patriots finally be on their way down the other side of the mountain?
The answer to that question has been consistent: No. Nope. Nuh-uh. Just when you think they’re done, they’re standing on a stage getting the Lombardi Trophy from Joe Namath.
So take this for what it’s worth — not much — but this time feels different.
The embarrassing Week 17 loss to the Dolphins to throw away a first-round bye. Getting dismantled on their home field by the Titans on Wild Card weekend. Tom Brady’s obvious unhappiness with the offensive weapons around him, and the possibility — which seems to be growing by the day — that he’ll be playing somewhere other than New England this fall.
All is not well in Foxborough. There are cracks in the foundation. Eventually, things will crumble. All great dynasties, in all sports, eventually do.
Perhaps this is the beginning of it. Perhaps this is just a blip on the radar, a weird few months before Brady returns to play until he’s 68 years old and wins 10 more Super Bowls. But either way, this is a critical time for the Jets.
After half a century of mostly futility and 20 years getting their teeth kicked in by the Patriots, the first year of this decade is likely to set the tone for the rest of it.
We could look back on 2020 as the year Joe Douglas was able to start building a real foundation around young quarterback Sam Darnold, or the year that began to reveal that the new general manager might not be the answer.
This might be the season that coach Adam Gase finally gets results that are worthy of his reputation as an offensive mastermind, or the season in which it becomes painfully obvious that the Jets hired another coach they shouldn’t have.
Darnold could make a massive leap in the next 12 months, confirming that he is ready to pull the Jets from the depths of their recent despair. Or perhaps he struggles, leaving everyone wondering if the Jets are having the quarterback rug pulled out from them again.
Of course, not all these situations will be so cut-and-dry. There will be murkiness and room for interpretation. But at the end of the year, we should know which way the needle is pointing. And for the Jets, it better be up.
If the Patriots really are faltering, the Jets better be ready to capitalize in the next few years on an opportunity they haven’t really had since the turn of the century.
If they don’t, they could be overtaken by a Bills team that appears to be on the rise with one of the best defenses in football. Or caught by a Dolphins team that showed some real promise with new coach Brian Flores last year. Or perhaps even thrown back to the cellar by the Patriots, as Belichick rises again in his final act.
If the Jets don’t prove that their turnaround is well underway this season, they’ll miss the playoffs for the 11th straight year, tying a franchise record. And the misery could go on for much, much longer.
So in the end, the Jets shouldn’t be worried about what side of the mountain the Patriots on. That’ll take care of itself. But the Jets need to make sure they’re finally on the way up.