As far as games between 0-1 teams go, they don't get much bigger than this one between the Jets and Patriots. The reasons are many, but none are as important than the status of the two head coaches.
Bill Belichick needs his team to show improvement in Year Two after a 5-11 season and if its dreadful season-opening loss to the Bengals is an indication, the rebuilding process may crumble under its own weight.
In New York, the Jets stumbled and bumbled out of the gate, losing a 45-24 game at home to the Colts in the debut of Head Coach Herman Edwards. The Jets flopped in a mistake-ridden performance that New York scribes compared to Rich Kotite's 1995 debut, a 52-14 loss at Miami. Everyone knows that Kotite was run out of town as is almost customary for Jets head coaches.
So both coaches desperately need a win to not only gain their players' confidence, but also to stem the questions about their own ability.
With the Jets, much is riding on the arm of 37-year-old quarterback Vinny Testaverde, who is operating in the West Coast offense for the first time in his 15-year career. After a rough start to the preseason, Testaverde came on strong in late-August and played well in the opener, completing 17-of-25 passes for 175 yards and two touchdowns without an interception.
All the talk in New York is about Testaverde's return to 1998 form when he had a career season with 29 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. After missing 1999 with a ruptured Achilles, he returned last year to throw a league-high 25 interceptions. To expect him to return to 1998 form is unrealistic, but he certainly can be much better than he was a year ago when the Jets dropped their last three games to finish 9-7 and out of the playoffs.
For certain, he has a better receiving corps this year with second-year man Laveranues Coles coming on strong this summer to beat out free agent signee Matthew Hatchette for the starting job opposite the steady Wayne Chrebet. Coles had 22 receptions for 370 yards last year, but six of those catches and 53 yards came against the Patriots last October.
While that trio is an upgrade over a group that included Dedric Ward last year, it still lacks the attitude and big-play ability once provided by Keyshawn Johnson.
While learning the West Coast offense installed by new coordinator Paul Hackett, expect Testaverde to rely on short, high-percentage throws while taking occasional shots downfield to keep the defense honest.
With that in mind, running backs Curtis Martin and Richie Anderson will be vital parts of the passing attack. Anderson had a career-high 88 receptions last year on his way to the Pro Bowl and tied Martin for the team lead in the Week One loss with six grabs. Also, tight end Anthony Becht, a 2000 first-round pick, managed four receptions in the opener and will need to prove reliable for Testaverde to keep the chains moving with his arm. He had 16 receptions last year and remains unproven, but this year will be big for him.
However, Martin is such a threat as a runner that he helps keep the pressure off Testaverde. In the new offense, the Jets hope to utilize Martin the way the 49ers did Roger Craig, who once eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season. He has six straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons to his credit and has rushed 1,052 times in three years with the Jets — a heavy load to say the least.
If the Patriots fail to account for Martin and Anderson, they could face a long day on defense. They will have to do a better job on Martin than they did on Corey Dillon in the opener.