by Travlis Hallingquest
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HardKnocks2023-Pic1-1024x573September 11, 2023 will mark the 22nd anniversary of America’s second day (after Pearl Harbor) of infamy: The September 11, 2001 terror attacks. The following years were long roads of psychological and physical recovery.  One of the coping mechanisms was to carry out leisure activities as usual, which included sporting events. The New York Jets will host the Buffalo Bills on Monday night football, on this September 11th.  2023’s HARD KNOCKS captured a Jets team that should be a formidable force in the regular season. The preseason journey of this Jets team ranks among the most memorable in the history of HARD KNOCKS.

The E1 on-field appearance of HARD KNOCKS narrator Liev Schreiber immediately became one of the most iconic moments in HBO SPORTS history. HARD KNOCKS E2 opens with a presentation to the JETS staff and players. The presenter is not a coach or owner, but rather a mentalist. Yes, you read that correctly, a self-certified practitioner of abnormal cognitive abilities was present to motivate the Jets. Mentalist-magician Oz Pearlman wowed the green & whites with classic card tricks, a goldfish sporadically appearing in Aaron Rodger’s hand and the completion of a puzzle piece. The latter featured wide receiver Mecole Hardman placing his hand in a pile of pieces and then sweeping half of the pieces onto the floor.  Then, Pearlman had him pillage through the remaining pieces, select two, and choose one to throw away. Next, Hardman was led to an easel. What was unveiled under the cover was a nearly completed New York Jets puzzle, missing only the piece Hardman had in his hand. Lastly, Pearlman asked Hardman whom he believes the Jets are going to play in the Super Bowl, and what the final score will be. Hardman stated his team will defeat the 49ers 31-21. The finale featured Pearlman turning over the puzzle to reveal the Jets and 49ers logos and a 31-21 score in favor of the Jets.  Although a mere preseason game, this episode featured the Jets destroying the Carolina Panthers 27-0.

Episodes 3 & 4 deep-dived into the physicality of the sweet gridiron science. It is some of the most intense practice footage captured by HBO Sports.  Several fights broke out among teammates, with the reason being sheer competitiveness. Since the Antonio Brown shenanigans of HARD KNOCKS Oakland, the ego complex has been relatively subdued on HARD KNOCKS.  The Jets seem to be a well-oiled machine that merely needs to find their stride. The backup quarterbacks watch footage of Aaron Rodgers receiving snaps and putting the ball into play. The secondary quarterbacks all know Aaron’s style and are tasked with stating if the action will be a run or pass play. Their guesses are mostly incorrect (as were mine); a testament to Rodger’s gridiron IQ.

Episodes 3 & 4 also followed the plight of defensive tackle Quinnen Williams. Williams was a member of the 2018 college National Champion Alabama University team. Williams’s skillset continues to improve with the Jets. The franchise recognizes his talent, and the young defensive tackle has inked a four-year $96 million contract. Williams’s demeanor is cool, calm, and collected, with his aggression being unleashed on the 100-meter rectangular space that showcases America’s greatest pastime. As an MLB fan, I still stand by the fact that football is America’s true pastime. The Jets come short against the Buccaneers, but the team’s synergy remains palpable.

The penultimate and/or final episodes of Hard Knocks usually feature prospective team members being added or cut from the roster. This season, the Jets asked HBO Films to not film these tough decisions. We may not see the actual cuts happening in camera, but the tension is palpable.  In E5, Defensive Coordinator Jef Ulbrich states the pressure is not to just make the Jets team, but the other 31 NFL teams. Vying for any spot in the NFL is nearly as difficult as producing the numbers on a mega-millions lottery ticket. Missing this reoccurring and effective element may be unfavorable for some viewer’s experience. However, the curiosity about the effectiveness of this 2023 Jets team makes up for this slight detriment.  The 2022 Jets had everything going for itself, minus a solid quarterback. Time will reveal if Rodgers has more in the tank, or is on his last weeks in the NFL. Rodgers primarily received snaps in practice; the coaching staff waived playing the future hall of famer in the first preseason games. The series closes out with the Jets topping their across-the-city rivals the New York Giants. Rodgers briefly played in the final preseason game and shined with a touchdown pass to receiver Garrett Wilson, last year’s offensive rookie of the year.

Thus ends HBO’s most upbeat conclusion to HARD KNOCKS.  The NFL season begins September 7, 2023 with the Kansas City Chiefs hosting the Detroit Lions.

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