Returning to the scene of the not-so-prime.
Pete Carroll will coach the Super Bowl in a stadium in the same Jersey parking lot as the one where he got his first head-coaching shot. In fact, this month is the 20-year anniversary of Pete Carroll getting his first NFL head-coaching job.
This month is also the 19-year anniversary of Carroll getting fired from his first NFL head-coaching job.
That’s right. Carroll Chudzinskied the Jets’ job.
Carroll succeeded Bruce Coslet as Jets coach on Jan. 7, 1994, and had the team at 6-5 in November, with the 7-4 and slumping Dolphins coming to town for a late-November game. A win, and New York would tie Miami for the lead of the AFC East. And the Jets were up 24-6 late in the third quarter of the game. That was a strange mix of a Jets team. (That is not the first time, nor the last, for that.) Boomer Esiason and Art Monk teamed that day for five aerial connections for 108 yards. Esiason to Monk! Bet you didn’t know they ever played on the same team.
But this is the game that will hurt even the thickest-skinned of Jets followers until the day they die. Marino threw a couple of touchdown passes to Mark Ingram (the dad) to get Miami close, and, in the final two minutes, Marino drove Miami 84 yards to the winning touchdown. But not just any winning touchdown. With the clock running and the ball at the Jets’ 8 with 32 seconds left, Marino hustled to the line. The man who called the plays into Marino’s helmet that season was backup Bernie Kosar, and he immediately got the idea to use something Miami had practiced but not used in a game: the fake spike play. So Kosar suggested it, and Marino loved it.
“Clock! Clock!” Marino yelled at the line, and he gave Ingram a stare, the kind of stare Ingram recognized as, Be ready, because I’m coming to you, and sure enough, the Jets relaxed, and Marino threw a line drive to Ingram for the game-winning eight-yard touchdown.
Sunday night, Carroll recognized the importance of that moment. “It could have been entirely different had we just hung on and won that game,” Carroll said. “When you look back on it, that’s what you would point to, because we lost four games after that as well.” That’s right: The Jets finished on a five-game losing streak. In the last week of the season, Carroll called Esiason into his office and told him, “Boomer, we’re gonna make some major changes around here, and you’re gonna love them.”
But after the last loss, owner Leon Hess, sure his 6-10 team had more talent, fired Carroll and hired Rich Kotite, who’d just been fired as Eagles head coach. That really worked out. The Jets went 4-28 under Kotite.
“To this day I have no idea why Mr. Hess fired Pete after one season,” Esiason said. “He was brilliant. He was the Chip Kelly of his time. I wish he’d have stayed our coach.”
Two things about that Miami game. Ingram caught four touchdown passes from Marino in the second half. Ingram’s now in jail until 2019 on money-laundering and fraud charges. And there was the matter of Esiason’s trip home to Long Island after the game.
“I’m in traffic at the Lincoln Tunnel [the route from East Rutherford to Long Island, via Manhattan] and next to me there was an accident, and I’m thinking, Should I get out of the car and help? So I do, and the woman in this car is slumped over the wheel, with a cigarette in her hand. I rap on the window. ‘Lady! You okay!’ She opens her eyes. She says, ‘Boomer? BOOMER? Man, you guys suck! How’d you lose that game!’ ”
* * *
This is a very significant storyline this week.
I just don’t know exactly how to quantify it.
Peyton Manning has never faced any of the eight Seattle defensive backs in the regular season or playoffs. He has faced the Seahawks twice in the preseason, but not when it’s counted since Oct. 4, 2009, a span of 68 games, including postseason. And, obviously, they have never faced him in a real game either.
Comparing the Seattle secondary in that 2009 game—when Manning riddled the Seahawks for 353 yards in a 34-17 Indy win—and now:
|Seattle, Oct. 4, 2009||Seattle, this week|
|Kelly Jennings, Ken Lucas||Starting corners||Richard Sherman, Byron Maxwell|
|Deon Grant, Jordan Babineaux||Starting safeties||Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor|
|Travis Fisher, Josh Wilson||Backup corners||Jeremy Lane, Walter Thurmond, DeShawn Shead|
|Lawyer Milloy, C.J. Wallace||Backup safeties||Chris Maragos|
Now the question: Who gets the edge—Manning or the Seattle secondary—because of the lack of exposure these two sides have had to each other?
At first blush I’d say Manning, because, well, as Richard Sherman said a few days ago, “You can’t get in Peyton Manning’s head. If you get in his head, you’ll get lost.” Manning, and his new coordinator-in-crime, Adam Gase, are very good are figuring out things to show a defense that they’ve never seen before. Last week against New England, Virgil Green, a tight end who’d never carried the ball in 47 previous NFL games, lined up as a lone back in the backfield in a three-wide, two-tight-end set—and Manning handed it to him. Gain of six. The second touchdown pass of the game, a three-yard flip to Demaryius Thomas, was invented Friday night during a post-practice flurry of emails and voice memos (I wrote about it last Monday). The point about these plays: New England coach Bill Belichick has faced Manning 15 times since 2001, and he’d never seen either of those two plays before. Imagine if you’re Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and his secondary. You can study every snap Manning has taken this season. You can look at Denver’s 1,297 plays in 18 games, and you can analyze Manning’s 738 pass attempts. But do you know you’ll be seeing what you’ve seen regularly this year? Andre Caldwell was thrown 19 balls in a late-season three-game stretch; Jacob Tamme got 13 Manning targets in an earlier three-game run. Manning, when he needs to, involves the rest of the roster, not just his big four.
But Seattle has an edge here in that Manning hasn’t been able to replicate the Seahawks’ talent, size and physicality in practice. Other than Sherman staying at left corner—that’s an absolute given—we won’t know for sure until the game starts how Seattle plans to defend the wideouts. You can be sure tight end Julius Thomas will get the intimidating brunt of 6-3, 232-pound strong safety Kam Chancellor’s attention. The closing speed of free safety Earl Thomas is misleading.
We’ve seen Manning use different players at different times, and without regard to making sure everyone in the offense is treated fairly. That’s why it wouldn’t surprise me to see a guy like Caldwell, Tamme or Montee Ball take a prime role in the Super Bowl. Manning is not going to force the ball to Demaryius Thomas if he’s blanketed by Sherman up the right side.
For once, the beaten-up story angle of the week (just watch)—Peyton Manning against the best secondary in football—could turn out to be the overwhelming story of the Super Bowl.