Monday, July 20, 2009
The Great Giants and Jets What Ifs
The one thing that's easy to notice in my original What If article is that the Giants and Jets weren't really included. This isn't to think that neither team had any less important What Ifs than anyone else. It's because I can come up with many what if scenarios for both franchises since 1984. I've decided to limit it to three each to avoid a particularly long column, meaning I had to cut out a bunch of what ifs, such as "What if Doug Brien could make a field goal in the playoffs against Pittsburgh in 2004" or "What if Plaxico Burress didn't shoot himself last year." So let's begin with the Giants since the Jets history is littered with them.
3. What if Bill Parcells doesn't quit as Giants head coach in May 1991?
Following the Super Bowl winning season of 1990, Bill Parcells took his time deciding his future with the Giants, before resigning on May 15, 1991. The Giants picked offensive coordinator Ray Handley to replace him as coach. The result of this was the immediate fall of the Giants as overnight, the defense aged, Jeff Hostetler and Phil Simms couldn't get a handle on the starting QB job and Ray Handley just stood there emotionless and perplexed on the sidelines. For Giants fans, he was Joe Walton, Rich Kotite that Jets fans are all too familiar with. He even hired Rod Rust, the worst coach in NFL history as defensive coordinator. After going 14-18 in two seasons, he was fired and has not only never coached again, he has never spoke to the media again.
So what if Parcells didn't quit in May '91? Well there's two ways to look at this, either Parcells stayed or he left sooner after Super Bowl XXV. If he stays, they make one final Super Bowl run in '91 and he retires after the season. Then, they would be looking at a Bill Cowher, though there's a good chance they go with Handley again. But, if Parcells left a few days after the victory over the Bills, then the Giants would still have a chance to keep their defensive coordinator... you guessed it, Bill Belichick. He was hired by the Cleveland Browns a week after the win, but before the Giants played the Patriots, Gary Myers wrote that George Young preferred Handley over Belichick because of Belichick's well-known icy demeanor. However, he was popular amongst his defense and if him being coach extends their effectiveness as a unit, the Giants could have been good for a few more years into the 90s. Of course, the Ray Handley era does lead to what if number two.
2. What if Dan Reeves picked Jeff Hostetler over Phil Simms before the 1993 season?
When Dan Reeves replaced Ray Handley for the 1993 season, he knew he had to decide on Hostetler and Simms. Keeping both of them for the '91 and '92 seasons and having them compete for the starting job was bad for both of them. It's never good to have two quarterbacks, because the pressure to perform or be yanked can be too great. Reeves decided to keep Simms for '93 and the Giants responded to an 11-5 season, and almost won the NFC if it wasn't for the Emmitt Smith Game (they wouldn't have beat that Cowboys team in the playoffs if they played them in the Meadowlands anyway). Simms earned Pro Bowl honors, but did most of his work late in '93 with a sore shoulder. Even though Simms underwent surgery that offseason, he still was set to play the 1994 season when the Giants cut him the day after the Rangers Cup win. This led to the Giants rushing the Dave Brown era, arguably the worst QB era in history and that history includes Joe Pisarcik; along with an four year period where there was no star player since Simms and LT were gone.
The less obvious question is what if Reeves picked Hostetler when determining who to keep between the two quarterbacks. Hostetler played his best during his time taking over for Simms since he had job security and that's also what he had with L.A./Oakland Raiders when he signed there. I'm sure his stats would have been similar to what he did in L.A. in 1993, and he led them to a second round playoff appearance, like the Giants did. Most importantly, Hostetler would have been the QB for all four years that Dan Reeves was there and maybe Reeves would of lasted longer than the four years. The Dave Brown era wouldn't have happened in New York as the Giants eventually trade him somewhere else and becomes another team's embarrassment. By the time Hostetler retires, the Giants would be able to draft someone new or sign Kerry Collins like they did.
1. What if Jeremy Shockey catches the dropped touchdown pass when the Giants collapsed in San Francisco?
I think this is the obvious number one though one would think that I would argue about the fateful last play. However, this touchdown would have ended this game and continued a bounce back season. After being one of the first year-after Super Bowl loser slump teams that we have seen lately, the Giants were showing signs of rebounding in 2002. They started slowly, but when Jim Fassel took over calling offensive plays, the Giants won seven of their last nine to make the playoffs. Kerry Collins threw for over 4,000 yards; Tiki Barber had nearly 2,000 yards from scrimmage scoring 11 TD's; Amani Toomer had his finest year as a pro with 82 catches, 1,343 yards and eight TD's and despite only two touchdowns, Shockey gave the Giants a lethal dynamic at tight end during his rookie year, which Giants fans loved, hearkening back to the days of Mark Bavaro.
Following a rugged defensive struggle with the Eagles which the Giants barely won, the Giants went to San Francisco to face the 49ers. Despite a Terrell Owens early touchdown, the Giants offense started to score with ease and the Giants were up 35-14 when Shockey dropped a sure touchdown in the end zone. The Giants kicked a field goal to make it 38-14, and the Niners came roaring back to take a 39-38 lead off an unusually weak defense that season that the numbers didn't show. Everyone remembers the last play as the Giants achilles heel, field goal kicking, appeared and the non-call for pass interference ended the game. The following season, a Brian Westbrook punt return for a touchdown started a slide that ended Fassel's seven-year run with the Giants. It also resulted in a clean house as Tom Coughlin was hired, Kerry Collins was cut and the Giants made the move for Eli Manning. This loss set the stage for the Giants Super Bowl win in 2008.
So what if Shockey catches that pass and makes the score 42-14? Well, the Niners would have not finished the comeback, or at the very least, it goes to overtime. Then again, maybe the Giants stay aggressive on offense and the games ends at a 52-35 type score. After the win, the Giants would face the Bucs and lose when Collins plays awful against the Bucs defense, shades of the Super Bowl XXXV loss. However, Fassel is definitely in better shape for the 2003 season without a monumental collapse hanging over his head and the Giants probably don't fall apart like they did that season. Which also means they aren't in the Eli Manning sweepstakes. Shockey's career turns out better, since he hasn't been the same after that game. However, the Giants don't win Super Bowl XLII because this would be a time that the Giants would get a new quarterback to replace Collins. That QB could be any of Jay Cutler, Matt Ryan, Matt Leinhart or Vince Young, among some of the recent first rounders at the position. Honestly, as a Giant fan, I don't regret the Niner game because it sets up the latest run of Giants success, something the Jets haven't had.
3. What if the Jets actually made the right draft pick instead of the wrong one?
Then we don't have this video. But for fun, let's see who the Jets missed out on during each draft shown. In 1980, they could of picked Art Monk instead of Johnny Lam Jones; Freeman McNeil was a fair pick in '81; obviously Dan Marino should of went over Ken O'Brien. You never pick a fullback in the first round, while they let Christian Okoye pass to Kansas City. Steve Atwater and Andre Rison should be ahead of Jeff Lageman, Emmitt Smith over Blair Thomas, Chester McGlockton and Levon Kirkland over Johnny Mitchell and as evident in the video, Warren Sapp over Kyle Brady are the remaining players they missed.
2. What if Chad Pennington doesn't injure his rotator cuff during Week 9 of the 2004 season?
Chad Pennington's career was bouncing back in 2004. He led the Jets to the second round in 2002, but then started 2003 injured and the Jets plummeted to 6-10. Pennington was healthy in 2004 and was given a contract extension and proceed to give the Jets a fast start to the season, going 5-0. During a Week 9 loss to Buffalo, he tore his rotator cuff and missed the next three games. Quincy Carter took over at QB and the team went 2-1, but when Chad returned, it seemed that his shoulder wasn't fully healed and the Jets struggled down the stretch to a 10-6 record. They were lucky to win in San Diego when the Chargers played "Martyball", but lost to the Steelers when Herm Edwards played Martyball. Since then, Pennington has continued as a roller coaster ride with even years playing well and odds playing poor or hurt (and if you think this will effect my Dolphins preview, you're right.
So what if Pennington stays healthy for the 2004 season? I don't think it changes their 2004, maybe they beat Pittsburgh, but they don't beat New England. However, if he's not hurt, his 2005 outlook changes completely. If he plays a full season, the Jets aren't 4-12. As a matter of fact, I think they beat a down Pats team for the AFC East, who only won because the Jets and Bills were awful and the Fins were one of those second half surprises. They host a wild card game against the Jaguars and win, before losing to the Broncos in Denver. Most importantly, the injury weakened an already weak throwing arm and without it, I certainly see Pennington still with the Jets, though the team is more like the Eagles of recent memory since the AFC still has the Pats, Colts and Steelers as the dominant teams.
1. What if Dan Marino doesn't fake spike the Jets on Nov. 27, 1994?
The backstory of this game is interesting. The Bills were finally vulnerable in the AFC East after the four Super Bowl losses and were in second with a 6-5 record. The Patriots won two in a row and improved to 5-6, tied with the Colts for last place. After a 7-2, the Dolphins dropped their next two to come down to 7-4. And low and behold, the Jets, under first-year head coach Pete Carroll had recovered from a three-game losing streak to a 6-5 record and second in the division. They faced Miami and lead 24-6, when Marino led a comeback and scored the final touchdown on the infamous fake spike play, winning 28-24. The Jets didn't win another game in 1994 and fired Carroll after the 6-10 finish. Then they hired Rich Kotite, a man who was fired after overseeing the Eagles lose their last nine games in that same season and went 4-28 in those two years.
So what if the Jets beat the Dolphins? They would have tied Miami at 7-5 with four games left with the Pats and Bills at 6-6. The Jets certainly don't lose to Houston and they should beat the Lions at home and if they beat the Pats in New England, they win the AFC East. If they lose, they are a wild card team visiting Cleveland. Even if they don't beat Detroit, they still finish 8-8 and Pete Carroll is still coaching the Jets in 1995. He then gets to prove himself in his first stint as coach, instead of becoming a wash out in the NFL with New England and the best coach in college football this decade. However, the Bill Parcells era likely doesn't happen, since the Tuna has been known to take on teams from rock bottom (i.e. New England, Miami). The Rich Kotite years led to Parcells, and Parcells led to the best season for the Jets since Joe Namath was predicting football games.