The impromptu dance routine quickly caught fire on the Internet, with a hashtag all its own and clever memes popping up within hours. #jetsdancetoanything came about late in the Jets’ 34-21 win over the Bills on Nov. 2, with the starting defense moving and shaking to the music blaring at MetLife Stadium during an extended television timeout.
Within hours, the dancing was set to songs that ran the gamut of musical taste from Barry White’s “You’re The First, My Last, My Everything” to “A Charlie Brown Christmas” to “Saria’s Song” from The Legend of Zelda to the theme song from “Laverne and Shirley.” It was a wonderfully refreshing wave of enthusiasm that perfectly captured what an unlikely group of Jets players has turned into during a most unlikely season.
A Jets team that had been so belittled coming into 2017, with predictions of failure coming from just about everywhere outside the locker room, suddenly has gone from doom-and-gloom to cute-and-cuddly.
Already with four wins — more than even the most wide-eyed optimist could have imagined a little more than halfway through the season — this overachieving team has been a surprise to just about everyone.
The Jets have never looked at themselves as anything other than a team with legitimate playoff aspirations, as crazy as that may have sounded coming into the season. As crazy, in fact, as it might sound now, even though they’re in the mix of AFC postseason contenders.
“Even coming into this season, I thought we could make the playoffs,” said second-year outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins, who won AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors after helping the Jets beat the Bills. “I knew what kind of team we had, the kind of players we had in this locker room. Now, other people didn’t think so, but they’re just coming to realize it now. Our thoughts are no different now than they were at the start of the season. It’s just other people’s thoughts that have changed.”
The spontaneous outbreak of dancing during the Bills game was simply the latest manifestation of an exuberance and joie de vivre that has been a part of this team from the start. Demario Davis pumping his fist in the air. Rookie Jamal Adams wiggling his legs. Buster Skrine waving his arms. Mo Wilkerson shaking his head. It was nothing new from a team that has broken into similar dance routines at a moment’s notice during practice and in a locker room that often is raucous.
Walk into that room, and you’re likely to hear Kony Ealy bust chops with his teammates, or see Adams dance near his locker, or hear the usually sedate Wilkerson exchange yucks with teammates. And then there’s the makeshift cornhole toss, with two garbage cans standing about 30 feet apart and players competing against one another by throwing water bottles into the small circle on top of the receptacles.
“This is a brotherhood here,” said Ealy, who was claimed on waivers from the Patriots shortly before the season started. “We’re happy with each other.”
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Even the bottle game is a reflection of the camaraderie, which truly seems genuine on a team whose locker room issues last year mirrored a 5-11 record that resulted in a sweeping offseason roster purge.
“It’s a part of building not just character, being around each other, it’s a part of building who we are as people, who we are to one another,” Ealy said. “It’s just basically having fun and being cohesive with one another, no matter if you’re from the University of Florida or from a community college. It doesn’t matter. This is about us enjoying each other’s company and getting to know one another.”
The dancing also is a manifestation of a sense of team harmony that simply wasn’t there last year.
“The thing we did out there [during the Bills game] is the same thing we do in practice,” Ealy said. “We do the same thing every day. We do it in warmups before the game. We’re not going to change who we are.”
Ealy understands if some may misinterpret the dancing as a sign of cockiness and perhaps even a lack of sportsmanship. After all, many Jets were upset when Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch started dancing on the sideline late in a Week 2 blowout win in Oakland. But Ealy said Lynch had earned the right to dance, just as the Jets had last Thursday.
“Marshawn Lynch started doing it, and at the end of the day, it’s something he can do if he wants,” Ealy said. “He was in the moment, his team was up, they had momentum, and he’s obviously a big part of their team. He had the opportunity to carry the momentum, to make it bigger for the fans. It’s something you do for yourself, your teammates and the fans. I’m fine with that. At the end of the day, we didn’t go out and do the things we needed to do [against the Raiders]. It had nothing to do with him.”
Davis, who has embraced a bigger leadership role this season after taking over at inside linebacker from David Harris, said the dancing is “part of our DNA. We have a lot of confidence. We like to have fun and we like to play fast. It caught on with social media, but it’s nothing new to us.”
The Jets do know when to get serious, though. They understand that all the good feeling from their nationally televised win over the Bills will quickly unravel if they can’t follow it up with a win on Sunday against 2-6 Tampa Bay.
The Bucs will go with former Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in place of the injured Jameis Winston, and they’re also missing Pro Bowl receiver Mike Evans, who was suspended one game for knocking Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore to the ground last week.
“We have to continue to work and show great discipline,” Davis said. “[The coaches] are putting in a really great game plan, and it’s going to require great focus on the details, doing the small things correctly and doing everything we can, because it’s going to be a challenge.”
Said Jenkins: “You never want to get too excited, because anything can happen. My high school coach always told us that all the people who talked you up and said good stuff about you [after a win] are the same people that are going to be talking down on you if you don’t have a good game. So don’t set yourself up for that kind of trap.”
With a win, the Jets would go into their bye week at 5-5 and very much in the AFC playoff conversation. A loss, and the optimism would take a significant hit.
But win or lose, the Jets insist they’ll continue to believe in themselves — even if doubts from outside the locker room persist about whether they should be taken seriously.
“We can beat anybody as long as we play our game,” center Wesley Johnson said. “I know most teams say that, but we believe it. We know it to be true. Part of that is just sticking together and trying to make sure that everybody has a great game.”
That’s where the locker room camaraderie comes in.
“A big emphasis in the offseason was learning how to work together, be tighter,” Johnson said. “No one gets upset, we hold each other accountable, but we also have fun with each other, and that’s been crucial this year. You’re just a little more on the same page. When we’re on the field, we understand what the other guy is doing. That comes with reps, and it comes with being close to each other.”
Strange as it may sound, the Jets truly believe they are playoff-worthy.
“I do think we can be a playoff team,” Jenkins said. “We have to stay consistent, keep doing the thing that got us the wins we’ve had. You don’t want to just have flashes. You want to be consistent.”
Ealy sounds almost insulted when he’s asked if this team is good enough to make the playoffs.
“I mean, we’re professionals like everyone else,” said Ealy, who was with the Panthers when they played in Super Bowl 50 against the Broncos. “Maybe somebody in college wouldn’t be good enough to make a playoff run, but I wouldn’t ask that particular question, because I feel like any team [in the NFL] is good enough to make the playoffs, especially if you’re putting forth the effort that we are.”
In fact, just getting to the playoffs isn’t good enough for Ealy.
“We’ve got big goals, the same goals as thirty-something other teams in the NFL,” he said. “It doesn’t just stop when you say, ‘Oh, we’re accomplishing one thing like making the playoffs.’ Our goal is to win a Super Bowl, just like everybody else.”