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Keidel: Sweet 16

By Jason Keidel
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In baseball parlance they're called utility players – versatile athletes who can assume many positions on the diamond. In football they are called Brad Smith, except that Smith would hit .300 every year instead of the .270 expected of Luis Sojo.

Smith may be the only man on Earth whom Mike Westhoff publicly praises. At least it feels that way, as Westoff brandished his vast vocabulary of vulgarities for the "Hard Knocks" crew over the summer, often drawing morbid parallels between football and frigid realities of nature.

Smith earned his keep and the rare Westoff compliments last night, as the receiver/returner/quarterback became just the fourth player in NFL history to score a touchdown on a kickoff return and a running play over 50 yards.

The game was inelegant, both teams stumbling as though they ate their prodigious dinners five minutes before kickoff. Mark Sanchez and most of his colleagues played like turkeys (you had to expect at least one lousy Thanksgiving metaphor), though it conveniently came against a Cincinnati team that refuses all holiday gifts, falling to 2-9, stripping the luster off a team with Super Bowl expectations.

And perhaps nights like this will cost Marvin Lewis his job as boss of the Bengals, who play a rudderless brand of ball that almost invariably lands on the desk of the head coach. You can't fire 53 players.

It is easy to frame the stars who earn their stripes as the reason their team wins. But lost in the glamour of the end zone and sack dances are the guys with odd numbers for their positions. Smith's No. 16 is normally reserved for quarterbacks, yet he hardly throws the ball. He simply does everything well.

Players like Brad Smith – selfless, determined, and talented – are what make sports special, yet we hear so little about them. We've become so jaded by the self-imposed prerogative by All-Stars who insist that volume is part of the package that it's easy to miss Mr. Smith, who only cares about winning while we don't seem to care much about him. We're all guilty. Except for Mike Westhoff, of course.

Smith aside, the Jets won this game because someone had to. And the Jets find themselves on the proper end of such games rather often, a sign of a very good club that knows nine wins before December don't need an explanation.

Carson Palmer began his career on the short path to Canton, but it seems he never clearly recovered from the knee injury he suffered in a playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2006. Which components of his struggles are physical and metaphysical are for others to diagnose. He certainly has weapons, with Chad and Terrell atop the marquee.

But he doesn't have Brad Smith. The Jets do, and the Jets are 9-2, while the Bengals limped out of a place the Jets call home for the second time in less than a year without much pride, points, or direction.

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