Many of the players that made the New York Jets a success last year will be primed and ready to open the 2003 season—only some will be sporting the colors of the Washington Redskins, while another will be wearing a cast.
Hit hard by free agency in the offseason and a devastating injury to starting quarterback Chad Pennington in the preseason, the Jets take on the new-look Redskins in the NFL opener at FedEx Field.
“There’s a reason we went through last year,” Jets coach Herman Edwards said, equating his team’s early struggles in 2002 with the turmoil of this past offseason. “That’s the card we’re dealt. We expect to win. We always have. Nothing has changed. We won’t back off from that.”
Despite a 2-5 start last season, the Jets rebounded to win the AFC East and advance to the divisional round of the playoffs before losing to Oakland.
Much is still expected of the Jets this season despite the loss of Pennington, who should miss at least 12 weeks with a fractured and dislocated left wrist, as well as the departure of several key free agents, who, ironically, all signed with Washington.
Restricted free agent wideout Laveranues Coles was the biggest loss. The Jets chose not to match the Redskins’ seven-year, $35 million offer sheet, which included a $13 million signing bonus, for Coles, who had a breakout season in 2002 with 89 catches, 1,264 yards and five touchdowns.
New York attempted to replace the missing pieces through free agency with veteran receiver Curtis Conway, guard Tom Nutten and kicker Doug Brien. However, Nutten retired during the preseason and Conway was left in a lurch after Pennington went down during a preseason game against the Giants on Aug. 23.
Pennington, who led the league last season in passer rating (104.2) and completion percentage (68.9), will be replaced by aging veteran Vinny Testaverde, who was benched in favor of Pennington in Week 4 of last season. Testaverde, who turns 40 on Nov. 13, must now guide the Jets through a rugged AFC East schedule as well as matchups with the Giants, Philadelphia, Oakland, Tennessee and Pittsburgh.
“You don’t miss a beat with Vinny,” Conway said. “He still can throw the football and he’s a smart quarterback. There’s a lot of teams in the league that don’t have a backup as good as Vinny.”
If the passing game struggles, the Jets will look to proven running back Curtis Martin and a new-look defense featuring fourth overall pick Dewayne Robertson at tackle, and Pro Bowler John Abraham at defensive end.
The Redskins may not be ready to challenge the Eagles and the Giants in the NFC East, but they should be entertaining with their wide-open offensive style.
Second-year coach Steve Spurrier will employ a two-quarterback system, with second-year man Patrick Ramsey starting and veteran Rob Johnson waiting in the wings. Both have significant targets to throw to in receivers Coles and Rod Gardner.
“We were optimistic last year,” Spurrier said. “But looking back, it was sort of some false optimism. We obviously thought some players who had not done a whole lot in the NFL would become really top players, and it didn’t really work out.
“Now we have more proven players.”
Defensively, all eyes will be on linebacker LaVar Arrington, who led NFL linebackers with 11 sacks last season, but was often displeased with former defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis, who forced the fourth-year stalwart to line up as a defensive end in passing situations.
With Lewis now the head coach in Cincinnati, Arrington and Jeremiah Trotter will be counted on to control the middle of a defense which was ranked fifth in the NFL last year, allowing 299.2 yards per game.
2002 STANDINGS: Jets - 1st place, AFC East. Redskins - 3rd place, NFC East.
2002 JETS LEADERS: Offense - Pennington, 3,120 passing yards and 22 passing TDs; Martin, 1,094 rushing yards and 7 rushing TDs; Coles, 89 receptions and 1,264 receiving yards; Wayne Chrebet, 9 receiving TDs. Defense - Sam Cowart, 91 tackles; John Abraham, 10 sacks; Donnie Abraham, 4 INTs.
2002 REDSKINS LEADERS: Offense - Ramsey, 1,539 passing yards; Shane Matthews, 11 passing TDs; Davis, 820 rushing yards and 7 rushing TDs; Gardner, 71 receptions, 1,006 receiving yards and 8 receiving TDs. Defense - Jessie Armstead, 79 tackles; Arrington, 11 sacks; Fred Smoot, 4 INTs.
2002 JETS TEAM RANK: Rushing Offense - 101.1 yards per game (22nd in NFL); Passing Offense - 213.6 ypg (17th); Total Offense - 314.7 ypg (22nd). Rushing Defense - 123.3 ypg (18th); Passing Defense - 218.1 ypg (21st); Total Defense - 341.4 ypg (24th).
2002 REDSKINS TEAM RANK: Rushing Offense - 118.1 ypg (13th); Passing Offense - 203.4 ypg (21st); Total Offense - 321.5 ypg (20th). Rushing Defense - 109.6 ypg (12th); Passing Defense - 189.6 ypg (5th); Total Defense - 299.2 ypg (5th).
LAST MEETING: Sept. 26, 1999; Redskins, 27-20. At East Rutherford, N.J., Davis rushed for three touchdowns, including two in the fourth quarter, as the Redskins erased a 17-13 deficit with 8:10 remaining in the game.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Jets - QB Testaverde needs 442 yards to become the ninth quarterback in NFL history with 40,000 passing yards. … RB Martin needs one more 1,000-yard rushing season to become the second player to run for 1,000 yards in each of his first nine seasons. Barry Sanders accomplished the feat in 10 straight years. … Last season, DE John Abraham became the first Jet since Mark Gastineau to post consecutive 10-sack seasons. Redskins - DE Bruce Smith has 195 career sacks, and needs 3 1/2 to pass Reggie White for the most all-time. … Washington’s offense led the NFC with a 59.1 red zone touchdown percentage in 2002. … Ramsey was the only rookie QB to throw more touchdowns (9) than interceptions (8) last season.
2002 ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Jets - 4-4 on the road; Redskins - 5-3 at home.
INJURIES: Jets - OUT: QB Pennington (wrist). Redskins - DOUBTFUL: WR Taylor Jacobs (abdomen). QUESTIONABLE: C Wilbert Brown (elbow); C Larry Moore (knee). PROBABLE: DT Jermaine Haley (ankle); DE Peppi Zellner (knee).
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