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NFL Preview - N.Y. Jets (0-0) at Houston (0-0)



By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor

(Sports Network) - It's been a long time since the glory days.

Myriad head coaches. Numerous supposed saviors. Even two home fields in two states.

And now they're back.

No, not those glory days, when, in the majestic words of NFL Films, the Jets were finger-wagging "champions of the football world."

That's at least a few weeks - or decades - off, depending on which end of a perpetually fervent and fatalistic fan base is being surveyed at a given moment.

Rather, these were the glory days of 1977 - Jimmy Carter in the White House, Reggie Jackson at Yankee Stadium, the Village People blaring on the YMCA jukebox.

And at starting quarterback for the Shea Stadium Jets...rookie gunslinger Matt Robinson.

It's been 31 years and 10 months - and exactly 491 games, according to the crack NFL stat crew - since the reigning Super Bowl III champions started a first-year man at quarterback, a streak that comes to an end this weekend with the arrival of the newest messiah, delivered straight from USC by way of a late-April draft.

Mark Sanchez.

The 16-game college veteran goes from Pac-10 frying pan to Reliant Stadium fire this weekend in Houston, when the Jets visit the Texans in the watershed first game of the post- Robinson/Todd/Ryan/Nagle/Foley/O'Donnell/Testaverde/Lucas/Bollinger/Pennington /Favre/Era.

Robinson, incidentally, was something less than inspiring in his Nov. 13 debut back then, completing four of nine passes for 32 yards and two interceptions in a 17-0 loss to the Seattle Seahawks - the first shutout win for a predictably awful Year 2 NFL expansion franchise.

He went on to similarly mediocre numbers in a perfectly forgettable NFL career, completing a grand total of 244 passes for 18 touchdowns - and 38 interceptions - over six seasons before quietly exiting the public consciousness with the Buffalo Bills in 1982.

Needless to say, more is expected of Sanchez.

And, though he's preached similarly for at least a few of his successors on the previous list, holdover Jets icon Joe Namath is squarely in the new kid's corner, hours before the big debut.

"It looks like he can do everything in terms of movement and finding receivers," Namath said, in Wednesday's New York Daily News. "He impressed me big-time...so I'm excited about this season coming up."

How agreeable the Texans might be remains to be seen.

An expansion team itself just seven years ago, Houston has made a steady climb toward respectability that's included consecutive seasons of eight wins and at least periodic whispers of wild-card contention in a crowded, albeit wide-open AFC playoff race for 2009.

Coach Gary Kubiak's team was a surging 5-1 in its final five games of last season, knocking off the postseason-bound Tennessee Titans and spoiling the post-Christmas hopes of the Chicago Bears along the way.

Upheaval on the defensive side of things has marked the 2008-09 offseason, with free agents Shaun Cody (tackle) and Antonio Smith (end) now in the fold along with non-offensive draft choices Brian Cushing (linebacker) and Connor Barwin (end).

Recent No. 1 overall pick Mario Williams is the unit's undisputed star after a season in which he recorded 53 tackles and a team-high 12 sacks, though the overall group's ranks in the NFL were a sub-par 23rd against the run, 17th against the pass and 27th in points allowed.

"I don't feel that it's playoffs or bust. I think it's time for the playoffs, but it's not going to be the end of the world," Texans owner Bob McNair said.

"We're not going to go away and disband if we don't make it. We're going to keep working harder every day and try and get better and I know we are a better team. I think we are a playoff team and hopefully that is where we'll wind up."

SERIES HISTORY

The Jets have won all three of their meetings with the Texans all-time, including a 26-11 home victory when the clubs last met, in 2006. Gang Green also won its only decision at Reliant Stadium all-time, a 19-14 win in 2003. The Jets last lost in Houston in 1995, when they fell to the Oilers at the Astrodome.

Texans head coach Gary Kubiak is 0-1 in his career against the Jets. Rex Ryan will be making his initial foray as a head coach.

WHEN THE JETS HAVE THE BALL

Sanchez and Co., under the guidance of returning coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, aim to provide New York's fourth straight win against the Texans. Among the young QB's weapons are veteran running back Thomas Jones, who led the AFC with 1,312 yards last season and seeks a fifth straight year over 1,000. His 15 touchdowns overall and 13 on the ground established Jets records. Alongside, the dangerous and versatile Leon Washington led the league and set a franchise mark with 2,337 combined yards in 2008. On the outside, in his one career meeting with the Texans, Jerricho Cotchery caught seven passes for 110 yards. Also among the pass-catchers, tight end Dustin Keller was second among NFL rookies at the position last year with 48 catches and 535 yards.

For the Texans, the aforementioned Williams - initially thought an unwise choice ahead of Reggie Bush, Vince Young and Matt Leinart - is best in the AFC since 2007 with 26 sacks. Meanwhile, partner-in-menace DeMeco Ryans, a fourth-year linebacker from Alabama, notched a team-high 112 tackles last season. In addition to the incoming free agents and draft picks, the ball- stoppers will also be buoyed by the return of veteran cornerback Dunta Robinson, who ended a holdout and signed a one-year "franchise player" tender that will pay him $9.957 million this season. Robinson, a 2004 draft pick, made 38 tackles and two interceptions last season. He is the franchise's all- time leader with 13 INTs and has made 331 tackles in 68 games. Overall, the Texans gave up 336.6 yards per game last season and were minus-10 in takeaway ratio.

WHEN THE TEXANS HAVE THE BALL

Offensively, several individuals were streaking along with the entire team at the close of last season. Incumbent QB Matt Schaub has won six straight starts at home while completing 143-of-209 passes for 1,831 yards, 11 TDs and a 109.2 passer rating. His 3,043 air yards in 2008 were a career-best. Young running back Steve Slaton's 1,282 yards established a franchise record last season and averaged 101.6 yards in his last five games. Pro Bowl wide receiver Andre Johnson has posted a 98-yard average in three career meetings with the Jets, totaling 294 yards. He led the NFL with 115 catches for 1,575 yards last season and averaged 136.1 yards at home. Fellow wideout Kevin Walter has eight touchdowns through the air, and Pro Bowl tight end Owen Daniels notched personal-bests in receptions (70) and receiving yards (862).

Defensively, Michael Pettine debuts as defensive coordinator after coming with new head coach Rex Ryan from the Baltimore Ravens staff. Also debuting in green and white is free-agent signee Bart Scott, a menacing linebacker who'd played for Ryan and Pettine with the Ravens. He's seeking a fifth straight season with at least 100 tackles. In the backfield, safety Kerry Rhodes led the secondary with 81 tackles last season and Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis recorded a career-best five interceptions. End/linebacker Bryan Thomas returns to the fold after leading the defense with 5� sacks. Notably absent, however, will be tackle Shaun Ellis and linebacker Calvin Pace, both of whom are under suspension. Ellis is eligible to return for Week 2 while Pace is out until Week 5. As a group, the Jets surrendered an average of 329.4 yards per game in 2008 and were minus-1 in takeaway ratio.

FANTASY FOCUS

The Jets sent a plethora of players to the Pro Bowl last season, but nearly no one on the current roster jumps out as automatic starts this season. Jones is a gimme based on yardage and touchdowns, while Washington approaches the same status based on all-around usefulness. The studs are more plentiful on the Houston side, where Schaub, Slaton, Johnson, Walter and Daniels are all useful, at least until more is known about the prowess of the Ryan/Pettine defense. Kicker Kris Brown could play an important role as well.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

And so the question becomes, is Sanchez the second coming of Namath...or Robinson? Truth told, in his first real NFL exposure and facing a team clearly on the rise, he's more likely to fall in the middle - perhaps along the Browning Nagle-opening day arc. Nagle, a second-round pick in 1991, emerged as the starter to begin 1992 and threw for 366 yards in his losing debut, prompting optimism in spite of the result. Unfortunately for Gang Green, he was out of town 12 starts later, after winning just three times. The Texans are a quality opponent with a pressure defense that'll harass the rookie, and enough offensive tools to suitably test the Ryan/Pettine mettle. Their road to AFC respectability begins seven days before the Jets' one does.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Texans 24, Jets 20

09/10 14:00:27 ET

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