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NY Jets: At the break, on the move

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Oct 4, 2015; London, ENG; New York Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) runs the ball against the Miami Dolphins at Wembley Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Flynn-USA TODAY Sports

The NY Jets are on the move, even during their bye week.  At the rate they’re going, the future looks incredibly bright.

Jets fans, here’s something you haven’t heard in years: the future looks bright.  Four games into the season, they’re an impressive 3-1, thanks to a crushing defense, a competent offense and confidence-building leadership.  A 7-5 finish would give this team the 10 wins necessary to make the playoffs.  A wild-card seed — an early admission that they probably won’t overcome the Super Bowl-champion Patriots for the AFC East title — would be an incredible accomplishment.

Gang Green fans can rest assured that head coach Todd Bowles and general manager Mike Maccagnan will never take their collective foot off the accelerator, or off the throats of their weekly opponents.  Even the practice squad has improved dramatically since opening day, because this regime never stops striving for improvement.

Over the past few seasons, things spiraled out of control (Mark Sanchez to Konrad Reuland and Chaz Schilens anyone?).  These days, the outlook is improving.  There’s a new concept permeating Florham Park and MetLife Stadium: quiet professionalism.

This column predicted last week’s drowning of the Dolphins across the pond, their Monday Night Football slaughter of the Colts in Indianapolis, and the opening game rout over the Browns at the Meadowlands.  There was no reason to believe the Jets would come out flat in an embarrassing home loss against the Eagles.

Here are 5 reasons to believe in the Jets as the 2015 season moves forward.

Next: 5. Who's The Mack?

Sep 3, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets head coach Todd Bowles during first half against the Philadelphia Eagles at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

5. Who’s The Mack?

Bowles might be that great field general this franchise has so badly needed.  He commands instant respect with his almost-paternal demeanor.  His strong-silent-type style plays well to the team’s veteran leadership, and that respect resounds with the young players.  There are no unhappy campers on the roster — other than brooding bench-warmer Geno Smith — and no “unnamed sources” in the media.

Bowles comes from the Bill Parcells coaching tree, and he is already proving himself as the Jets most impressive head coach since “Tuna” (who departed the team’s sidelines after just two seasons).  If you are under age 30, you likely only know the inspirational rah-rah of Herm Edwards, the Belichick-ian non-speak of Eric Mangini, and the foolhardy blather of Rex Ryan.

If you’re at least middle-aged — and endured that seven-season twilight-zone of Bruce Coslet and Rich Kotite, sandwiched by one year of an overmatched Pete Carroll — Bowles might already be the best you’ve ever witnessed.  He has certainly benefited from the roster upgrade overseen by Maccagnan, a spending spree necessitated by the previous GM’s spendthrift ways that nearly destroyed the franchise.

For the better part of a decade, the Jets had become a national punchline.  This season’s one lethal blow — to Geno’s jaw — is both a relic of a previous regime, and a stinging indictment of how far things had deteriorated when left to the natural inclinations of owner Woody Johnson.  Special thanks to embattled commissioner Roger Goodell for foisting Charley Casserly into the Jets front office search, that resulted in the brilliant hirings of the new GM and HC of the NYJ.

Next: 4. Shut 'Em Down

Sep 21, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis (24) is congratulated by his teammates after making an interception against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. New York Jets defeat the Indianapolis Colts 20-7. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

4. Shut ‘Em Down

Believe the hype — the Jets’ defense is all it’s cracked up to be. There is an impressive on-field mix of savvy veterans and young headhunters.  The vaunted D-line dominated in the team’s three victories, and next week they’ll have back game-changer Sheldon Richardson — off his four-game suspension, and with something to prove.

The linebackers are playing with a renewed vigor, and if you’ve noticed, there’s been no more questions about the outside pass rush.  Their pricey secondary players have all performed like big-time pros.  Bowles’ defensive sets are inventive and unconventional.

His team is forever attacking and blitzing, and unlike self-proclaimed defensive guru Rex Ryan, never sits back in “prevent” mode (that John Madden once famously said only “prevent you from winning”).

But there are question marks.  The injuries to defensive-leading linebacker David Harris, dominating No. 1 draft choice Leonard Williams, and blossoming former No. 1 pick Calvin Pryor, are worse than the team is letting on.  Ideally, Richardson can quell concerns over Williams’ recovery, and feel-good-story Erin Henderson should adequately replace Harris for a few games.

But can Seahawks’ castoff safety Dion Bailey, a former USC LB impressive in limited action for Pryor against the Dolphins in London, adequately supplant “The Louisville Slugger?”  And is it finally time to welcome back Dee Milliner from the injury list?

Most importantly, can these tough guys hold up for another 12-16 games?

Next: 3. Bust A Move

Oct 4, 2015; London, United Kingdom; New York Jets running back Chris Ivory (33) is defended by Miami Dolphins linebacker Koa Misi (55) in Game 12 of the NFL International Series at Wembley Stadium.The Jets defeated the Dolphins 27-14. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

3. Bust A Move

So, when was the last time the Jets had a dependable offense? Ryan Fitzpatrick handing off to Chris Ivory and throwing to Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker is probably on par with Chad Pennington handing off to Thomas Jones and throwing to Jerricho Cotchery and Laveranues Coles, or Vinny Testaverde handing off to Curtis Martin and throwing to Keyshawn Johnson and Wayne Chrebet.  But that was 2007, and 1998, respectively.

Esteemed offensive coordinator Chan Gailey is proving his reputation for working with the talent he has, as opposed to trying to make his roster fit a playbook.  And you get the idea that even with some scary-bad throwing decisions by the veteran QB Fitzpatrick, Gailey will increase the workload for his prized pupil gunslinger, and will incorporate young injury-recovering receivers Devin Smith and Chris Owusu as part of that attack.

Brandon Marshall believes he’s the best WR in the league, but he might not be the best one on this team.  RB Chris Ivory — former GM John Idzik’s finest acquisition — is on course for an All-Pro season. These exciting developments are due to the fact that the team’s offensive line has played outstanding.

Nick Mangold and D’Brickashaw Ferguson continue on their paths as all-time Jets.  Breno Giacomini, other than his usual one or two killer holding penalties, has been solid.  Free agent acquisition James Carpenter has fit in perfectly.  The much-maligned Brian Winters stepped in last week for an injured Willie Colon, and pancaked Miami’s Ndamukong Suh all game long.

It’s all part of building a potent NFL franchise.

Next: 2. Can I Kick It?

Oct 4, 2015; London, United Kingdom; New York Jets kicker Nick Folk (2) kicks an extra point during the first half of NFL game against the Miami Dolphins at Wembley Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Flynn-USA TODAY Sports

2. Can I Kick It?

After four games, special teams remain a question mark.  This is where the team must most improve if they plan to be 2015-2016 contenders.  Assistant coach Bobby April Sr. understands that he is under the microscope.

On the downside is the punting game.  Ryan Quigley is a solid directional kicker, but too many of his boots are resulting in dramatic punt returns.  Is that the fault of the kicker or the coverage?  The Jets’ fifth-year punt returner Jeremy Kerley must hold some league record for fair catches.  He doesn’t fumble, but has he ever broken the big one?

Jet fans take for granted kicker Nick Folk, among the NFL elite.  His kickoffs never get returned and his field-goal accuracy is off the charts.  You think the Steelers, Broncos or Buccaneers, who all recently fired their placekickers, wouldn’t be all over Nick Folk?

But Gang Green still lack that explosive kick returner.  Zac Stacy is not the answer.  Expect Chris Owusu to give it a go upon his return, and don’t discount recent practice squad acquisition and former Patriot Kenbrell Thompkins.

The Jets have some serious work to do on their kicking game if they plan to kick things into overdrive.

Next: 1. Time For Some Action

Sep 27, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; The New York Jets huddle during warms ups prior to a game against the Philadelphia Eagles at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steven Ryan-USA TODAY Sports

1. Time For Some Action

Considering what the New York Jets have been through, no one can be disappointed by a 3-1 start.  There are so many promising signs, but rest assured that Bowles and his staff are taking nothing for granted.

Unlike a certain previous regime prone to trash-talking and over-hyping of talent, there is now a profound maturity and focus that permeates the sidelines.  There’s no mindless personal fouls, no head-scratching difficulties with time-outs and clock management, and no shrinking from big moments.

It has been suggested that the schedule-makers have been kind to the Jets.  But that remains to be seen.  Of their 12 remaining games, there’s still four against the Patriots and Bills, and hostile road crowds to endure in Dallas, Houston and Oakland.  So reaching the playoffs will be difficult but not impossible.

After this off-week to lick their wounds, Gang Green will be perfectly set up for next Sunday’s home game against the Kirk Cousins-led Redskins — a winnable game against a rejuvenated opponent who will not easily roll over.

At the quarter-pole of the 2015 season, there’s many reason to feel positive about the Jets’ chances.

Next: NY Jets: Top 3 players on a historic pace

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