Randy Lange NYJets.com Contributor
Ready or not, the regular season is coming. And the Jets’ final stop on the way to Buffalo is Thursday night when they wrap up their summer slate with their 17th straight preseason finale against that other green team, the Eagles.
This year’s game has a slightly different vibe, since there is no “first cutdown” this week, so more than the usual number of Jets will be fighting to be among the 53 players on the active roster and not among the 37 scrambling to find new NFL employers Saturday evening.
But some things remain the same. As second-year LB Darron Lee said, “I’m excited just to finish out this preseason and get ready for Week One. I’m just taking it one day at a time, getting better, looking forward to showing all the work I put in during the offseason.”
Here are seven points to ponder for the Jets’ annual “final final” dress rehearsal against the Eagles:
1. To Start or Not to Start
Since Bowles has named Josh McCown his opening-day QB, would he consider playing McCown and the rest of his first units against the Eagles? “I don’t think it’s unconventional to play starters” in the last preseason game, the coach said, and he has told his players “everybody is up to play.” It would still be on the unusual side. Since Eric Mangini in 2006 began resting his starters for the summer finale, only one Jets HC since has played his “ones” in this game — Rex Ryan gave his offensive and defensive starters one series each in the 2009 finale vs. Philly.
2. Bring On the Birds
The Jets are 0-10 vs. Philadelphia all-time in the regular season, but the preseason is another matter. The Green & White are 23-15 vs. the Eagles in the summer series, which began in 1967 with the Jets’ first-ever game against an NFL opponent in advance of the 1970 AFL-NFL merger (a 34-19 Eagles win). And when the games are in the Meadowlands, the Jets have won eight of the last nine, including in 2015 at MetLife by 24-16.
3. Petty Wants In
Bowles wasn’t ruling QB Bryce Petty in or out of this game after he got a knee scare late vs. the Giants. It would be interesting to see Petty get back under center and continue his hot summer against other teams’ twos and threes, if only to show he’s ready if called on to step in for McCown. And as Petty said, “I’m going to give it all I’ve got to go Thursday.” After his three TD passes, two to rookie WR ArDarius Stewart, vs. Big Blue, Petty is packing a 106.8 passer rating, second in the NFL this preseason behind only Bears rookie Mitch Trubisky’s 112.7.
4. Ground Game’s Cue
This is the last chance to settle on tackles and center for the regular season. It will be imperative for the OL to protect the heck out of all the QBs, McCown, Petty and Christian Hackenberg, but there’s also a good chance to get a feel-good ground game going vs. the No. 26 defense in yards/carry allowed. In 2015 at home vs. the Birds, the Jets rushed for 215 yards. In ’13, Kahlil Bell ran for two TDs. In ’09 Danny Woodhead carried 18 times for 158 yards. In ’06 Cedric Houston went 25-for-108. One last summer opportunity is knocking for rookieElijah McGuire, et al., and the Jets O-line.
5. Kony Island?
Bowles said of the Jets’ recent flurry of signings/trades/waiver acquisitions, “They’ll all play.” Many fans will be eager to see the new No. 94 in action. Kony Ealy is with his third team this year after the Panthers traded him to the Patriots, who waived him Saturday. The Jets would be happy to get the Ealy who averaged 4.7 sacks in his three Carolina seasons, and ecstatic if they got the SB50 model — Ealy is one of only two D-linemen since 1970 to notch three sacks and an INT in a playoff game and the only one to do it on the Super stage. (The other was Garin Veris, who did it against the Jets for NE in the ’85 playoffs.)
6. Secondary School
CB Morris Claiborne might return from his shoulder ding for one last summer fling. Jamal Adams andMarcus Maye may get one last tuneup before their likely distinction as the first pair of rookies to start in a Jets regular-season opener since 1960. And the twos and threes fighting for roster spots should also get a stern test. The Eagles, even with Matt McGloin flinging it instead of starter Carson Wentz, are second in the NFL with 270.7 net passing yards/game.
7. Tuna Trivia
This item has nothing to do with Jets-Eagles but everything to do with the date. Exactly 20 years ago, on Aug. 31, 1997, the Bill Parcells era of Jets football began. It was the earliest season opener in franchise history, and it was a glorious 41-3 rout of the Seahawks in the old Kingdome. Neil O’Donnell threw five TD passes, Wayne Chrebet and Jeff Graham caught two, and Marvin Jones led the defensive effort. Two decades later, the Jets would love to channel the Tuna (one of Bowles’ mentors, after all), surf smoothly from preseason into regular season, and begin the next wave of Green & White football.