By Peter Schwartz
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There was a time, a long time ago, when the connection between the Jets and Halloween was not a very memorable one.
Well, it was something that has stuck in the memory of many, but in more of an infamous way.
On October 17th, 1988, there were 41 incidents of improper behavior on a Monday night at Giants Stadium as the Jets were hammered by the Bills 37-14. Fans batted around a pumpkin while also burning paper hats. There were 15 arrests and 56 ejections that night and the evening led to a new policy where beer sales were cut off at halftime.
Twenty-two years later, the Jets have a chance to have a better lasting-memory of Halloween when they host the Packers on Sunday.
It has been far from a spooky season for the Jets who are tied with the Patriots and Steelers for the best record in the NFL at 5-1. Winners of five straight games, the Jets are eager to get back on the field after the bye week.
"We're definitely hungry," said right tackle Damien Woody. "We're riding a nice winning streak and nobody wants to lose. Nobody wants to have that taste in their mouth. It feels good to get the preparation going towards an actual game. As good as that bye week was, we feel even better playing a football game."
The Jets offense will be facing a Packers defensive squad that has been banged up including a season ending wrist injury for linebacker Nick Barnett. However, there are still some concerns for Gang Green like ball-hawking cornerback Charles Woodson, linebacker A.J. Hawk, and linebacker Clay Matthews who leads the NFL with 8.5 sacks.
Woody will have the responsibility of making sure that Matthews doesn't get his hands on Mark Sanchez.
"I just go about business as usual," said Woody. I don't do anything special. I just study a lot of tape and then from the tape, just try to make sure the guys that are running the scout team, make sure they give you a good look. If you do that, then you should have a pretty good feel for when you go out there and play the game."
Sanchez will be looking to bounce back after throwing a couple of interceptions in the Jets' win in Denver before the bye. He hadn't thrown a pick all season but still led the Jets to victory over the Broncos thanks to his late game throw to Santonio Holmes that drew a controversial pass interference penalty.
On Sunday, Sanchez will have his work cut out for him against a Packers defense that features a "psycho package" where they move players around.
"(It's) just a relentless group," said Sanchez. "(They are) tough players, high-motor guys all the way around highlighted by (A.J.) Hawk and Clay (Matthews). I know Clay pretty well, just from playing at school (USC). He's sure making a name for himself in this league. You have to be smart with a guy like (Charles) Woodson and it looks like a couple of their defensive backs might be coming back, so we'll see."
Hooking up with Holmes a few times would help Sanchez get things going. The win in Denver was Holmes' second game since returning from his four-contest ban to start the season. As he gets more accustomed to the offense, Holmes will see more passes coming his way.
After the bye, the Jets returned to work on Monday giving Holmes a full week of practice as he continues to get comfortable.
"I expect him to get a few more opportunities this week," said head coach Rex Ryan. "But again, we have such a mix that some weeks it could be that he gets more than Braylon (Edwards) or he gets more than Jerricho (Cotchery). That's what's great about having the kind of players we have. Is it Brad Smith? What are you going to get? That's what you like."
On the other side of the ball, Ryan's defense will have to concern themselves with quarterback Aaron Rodgers and a Packers offense that can certainly stretch the field.
In fact, Rodgers can be just as dangerous with his legs as he is with his right arm. He's the type of quarterback that can give the Jets trouble, as he is extremely effective when he is out of the pocket.
Rodgers leads all NFL quarterbacks with three rushing touchdowns.
"The kid can run it," said Ryan. " He's accurate with the football. He's probably the most accurate quarterback in the league on the move and that's saying something. He can get out of the pocket and he plays live with his feet. (He's) very accurate on the move. He can really zip it and he's got some good receivers to throw to. This is going to be a good challenge for us."
Rodgers has been very effective in his ten career starts against AFC teams completing 207 of 340 (60.9 pct.) for 2,794 yards with 18 touchdowns and just 6 interceptions for a 97.4 passer rating.
Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis proclaimed this week that his hamstring is now 100 percent so he is expected to regain his role of shutting down the opposition's number one receiver. This week, that would be Greg Jennings and his five touchdown catches.
But Revis points out that the Jets' success will come down to putting the heat on Rodgers.
"Their passing game is amazing," said Revis. "Aaron Rodgers, I think, is one of the best quarterbacks in the league. They have some good wide receivers, too. Greg Jennings (and) Donald Driver, they've been there for a long time and they've been making a lot of plays. We have to hold up on the back end this week and try to get Aaron Rodgers, as well, with our pressure."
Driver did not catch a ball in the Packers' Monday night victory over the Vikings. That ended a streak of 133 straight games with a reception for Driver who has been bothered by a quad injury.
Whether it's Jennings or Driver, Revis is ready for the challenge of keeping both of them on his island.
"Every week, I have to be there," said Revis. "That's my job. I have to cover these receivers the best way I can. It doesn't depend on who it is, it doesn't matter if it's Greg Jennings or Donald Driver. Like I said, those two guys are great receivers. (Antonio) Cromartie and me have our hands full this week."
For the Jets, the objective is simple. Stay on a roll while getting better. They have won five straight but understand that they have plenty of room for improvement.
"You build something during the regular season, so winning five straight is a big deal," said running back LaDainian Tomlinson. "You gain so much when you're on a winning streak. You gain confidence and you understand how to win in tough situations. There are just so many things that you learn when you go through winning streak."
A winning streak is also something that Jet fans have to learn how to deal with. The Gang Green faithful hasn't seen too many extending runs of winning over the years, but they will pack the New Meadowlands Stadium on Sunday hoping to see their time win number six in a row.
Chances are, if they bounce around another pumpkin, this time it will be to celebrate good times.
MOVING UP THE CHARTS
Jets running back LaDainian Tomlinson is off to a great start this season with 490 yards and five touchdowns on the ground along with nineteen catches for 107 yards receiving. Tomlinson needs twenty or more rushing yards on Sunday to join Hall of Famer Walter Payton as the only running backs in NFL history with at least 13,000 rushing yards and 4,000 receiving yards in their careers.
The Jets lead the all-time series against the Packers 8-2. Gang Green has won three straight including a 38-10 win in Green Bay back in 2006. The last meeting between the two teams at the Meadowlands was in 2002 at old Giants Stadium when the Jets beat the Packers 42-17 to clinch the AFC East.
You always worry about being flat coming off the bye week, but the Jets appear to be refreshed and ready to get back to work. That's why I think they will beat the Packers 27-17 on Sunday.
Enjoy the game everyone! Check back on Monday for the post-game blog!
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