Aaron Rodgers, NY Jets, Super Bowl
Aaron Rodgers, New York Jets, Getty Images

Besides talent, there is another element necessary for the New York Jets to win

“Gentlemen, you don’t have enough talent to win on talent alone.”

The movie Miracle captures the task of legendary 1980 U.S. Olympic Team coach Herb Brooks. He makes this bald declaration to his ragtag group of college kids. They are tasked with the impossible: overcoming the invincible Russians to stand up not only for country pride but also for the free world itself in the midst of the Cold War.

In that case, Brooks challenged his players to outwork an opponent they could not outplay. His imperative to them was to work just a little bit harder and a little bit more intentionally every single moment. This was the team that pulled off one of the greatest upsets in the history of sports.

The New York Jets are not in nearly such a predicament. Robert Saleh has the luxury of enough talent to win. But there is still a crucial word from Brooks’ statement that applies now as then: you don’t have enough talent to win on talent alone.

Deliberate practice

Behavioral researchers have done studies about whether innate talent is superior to consistent effort and practice. It may be popular to tell struggling youngsters that effort is more important than talent, but is it, really?

The available data indicates that the answer is a resounding yes. Starting with Benjamin Bloom’s work in 1985, it has been shown that in a wide range of disciplines, including sports, childhood IQ and most physical or innate performative attributes have little correlation with ultimate success. Instead, the world’s elite share the quality of practice.

Not just any practice will do, though: Swedish psychologist K. Anders Ericsson coined the term deliberate practice to refer to the systematic, directed, and focused practice that goes out of the comfort zone in a measured way. He explained, “Consistently and overwhelmingly, the evidence showed that experts are always made, not born.” The way to get there is very specific. NFL practices are designed along those lines.

This is the way that experts attain their craft, but it is also how they retain it. Paying attention to the little things and building chemistry aren’t optional. The Jets must put in that systematic effort. That’s what Aaron Rodgers told them when he saw some slacking around ball security early in OTAs: intentionality is critical. There are no shortcuts to excellence.

The perfect example of this attitude is Sauce Gardner. As a rookie, he had the Buffalo Bills game-planning against him specifically because they know how prepared he is. Stefon Diggs beat Gardner on a stutter-and-go in their first one-on-one matchup. The play was designed because Gardner knew that Diggs had not run a vertical route out of that particular alignment the entire season. The Bills knew that Gardner would be aware of it, as he is a film junkie.

An opponent scheming specifically to play with an uber-prepared rookie is a testament to said player’s commitment to excellence. Gardner is not just preternaturally talented; he augments that with constant practice and preparation, taking nothing for granted.

This is what “All gas, no brake” truly means.

There is no “I” in team

Another Brooks line from the movie: “The name on the front is more important than the name on the back.”

Along with the commitment to excellence must come the commitment to the team over the individual. That has been the Jets’ aim since Saleh took over in 2021; they endeavor to draft high-character, team-first players. They never seemed seriously linked to Kayvon Thibodeaux in 2022, which caused speculation that they were not sold on his character. Instead, they touted the players they did draft—especially Gardner, Garrett Wilson, Jermaine Johnson, and Breece Hall, the team’s top four picks.

This is why one of my first articles on Jet X was about how the Jets dodged a bullet by not trading for Tyreek Hill. This is the predicament they found themselves in with Elijah Moore last year and have seen hints of from Mekhi Becton. There is no “I” in “team”; any player who believes so is a detriment to the unit.

There have been many NFL units over the years that were worse than the sum of their parts. Nathaniel Hackett would know, as his 2022 Broncos outfit fell apart amid whispers about Russell Wilson’s me-first behavior. The Jets watched Bill Belichick build a well-oiled machine in New England by going to the opposite extreme, but that is not Saleh’s way.

Rather, the Jets’ coach wants his players to have the freedom to express their unique personalities. Rodgers stated that he likes the latitude afforded the locker room. Still, the flip side of that has sometimes been a lack of accountability. At this point, if it’s all about the character, that character should be paying off.

Even the mutiny against Zach Wilson last season casts much of the Jets’ team in a somewhat negative light. Being unable to keep team things in-house, despite Joe Douglas’ clear preference to consistently do so, is what keeps the media circus going in a place like New York. In 2023, if adversity comes, the locker room must be strong as a unit rather than fragmenting into casts of egos, cliques, and personal stats.

Rodgers is here to win a championship. So is Duane Brown. These veterans know what it’s all about. The rest of the team must follow.

The little things that aren’t really so little often make a huge difference in the war of attrition that is the NFL season. Focus. Commitment. Team. These must be given more than lip service for the Jets to reach their ultimate goal.

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Rivka Boord has followed the Jets since the age of five. She is known locally for her in-depth knowledge of football. She hopes to empower young women to follow their dreams and join the sports conversation. Boord's background in analytics infuses her articles with unique insights into the state of the Jets' franchise and the NFL as a whole.
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Jim G
Jim G
3 months ago

Excellent points in this article. We had two very classy examples of team first this offseason: Joe Namath offering to “unretire” No. 12 and Aaron Rodgers’ decision to leave No. 12 retired. If Rodgers can be a team first guy, with all he has accomplished, certainly everyone else can be expected to do the same.

I used to watch Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers get in a lineman’s face when he was sacked or a receiver’s face when the receiver ran the wrong route or dropped a pass. That always struck me as “me first” behavior by the QBs. This article got me thinking that maybe their attitude was “team first.” Everyone has to do their job to the best of their ability for the team to perform at its best.

I have no doubt that Aaron Rodgers will hold the Jets offense, including the OC, fully accountable.

Jonathan Richter
Jonathan Richter
3 months ago

Miracle is one of the greatest sports movies of all time, mainly because it’s a true story. I see some of Herb Brooks character in Saleh. Brooks gave his players a character test to make sure he got guys he knew he could push hard. One of his best lines in the movie is “I’m not looking for the best players, I’m looking for the right ones.” That’s how I feel about this locker room. Full of high character guys that will do what it takes for the team to win.

verge tibbs
verge tibbs
3 months ago

This is a reason i dont see hopkins fitting in here. I never liked him as a dude, always seemed me first diva ish whenever ive seen him or read about him. To me the question is do you build a consistent high character locker room all around or do you build that with the thought that you can add a shitty attitude guy but the room will keep him in check?

3 months ago
Reply to  verge tibbs

I’m not so sure about Hopkins’ attitude. IIRC he had a very close relationship w his blind mother who had acid thrown in her face when Hopkins was 10yrs old. He dedicates his play to her. Not saying this makes him totally one way or the other, but I don’t think he’s a “problem child”. I just don’t think we need him for the money he’ll demand.
As far as having a strong enough locker room to “check” an ultra-talented poor attitude guy, the first example I could think of was Randy Moss in NE. It can happen, but I prefer to not roll the dice.
I love what Joe and Robert are building.

Jonathan Richter
Jonathan Richter
3 months ago
Reply to  verge tibbs

Word on Hopkins is he doesn’t like to practice. Not gonna fly in Florham Park.