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Joe Klecko: Jets must ‘fight together’ and not tolerate being laughed at

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Joe Klecko was a brawler, a hostile, mobile and agile war machine who never would have tolerated any opponent laughing at his head coach.

“I’m a New York Jet and I see Fletcher Cox do that? I woulda busted him. There’s no way I would let anybody from another team do that,” Klecko told The Post.

This shouldn’t be another day when C.J. Mosley starts talking about how nobody respects the Jets. It should be a day when the Jets, especially on defense, earn some respect.

Head coach Robert Saleh doesn’t have any players or leaders like Klecko, whose exclusion from the Hall of Fame is criminal. He was a force of nature at three different positions on the defensive line, and though Klecko left the fire-and-brimstone speeches to fellow New York Sack Exchange colleague Marty Lyons, he was asked what he would say to Saleh’s Jets in the locker room before the game Sunday against the reeling Saints.

“You lose one battle — one effin battle — you better not show up on Monday,” Klecko said. “You better have the balls to just knock the s–t out of the guy in front of ya, and then whoever’s running the football or throwing the football. Because if you don’t take the pride in your own game, OK, you’re not worth a damn. And that’s what it’s gonna take. It all comes down to the individual. It all comes down to the individual. You can’t lose a play and just give up.”

Then he added: “And these guys worry more about their damn money nowadays than anything.”

Saleh lacks the horses, but the ones he trots out won’t get their respect unless and until they show up with pride and fight. When Klecko played, he spoke up sometimes on game day, sometimes on Monday, when he deemed it necessary.

“If I watched the film and somebody was abused on the field or something like that, and they didn’t come back and make a fool out of that other guy, I’d have words with that player,” Klecko said. “I always told the guys with me, I said, ‘You want to fight with me or leave me alone, or get the hell out of my way.’ And that’s the way it’s gotta be as a defense, you gotta fight together.”

Jets
Bill Kostroun, AP

Klecko and Sack Exchange partners in crime Lyons, Mark Gastineau and Abdul Salaam engaged in a feeding frenzy around the quarterback.

“We would put fear in a lot of quarterbacks’ eyes and teams because we were so dominant as pass rushers, and we stopped the run too,” Klecko said. “Once you got past the first quarter, and you weren’t having a good day? Oh, s–t. What are we gonna do? Let’s get tougher here because people are expecting us to do this. It’s enjoyable just to put your finger in the ground. It’s go get it, ’cause here I come, and in 2-3 seconds you better get rid of the ball ’cause you’re going down. Knowing that you can do it and knowing when you get it done, it’s just gratifying as hell.”

And that’s how each member of the New York Sack Exchange looked at it. But Saleh needs to do a better job of putting the Jets in position to succeed against the Saints than he has so far.

“I’ll tell ya what was great, it’s the first time I seen him get fired up,” Klecko said. “That was fantastic. He’s showing me more fire now. He’s had success, you can’t deny that. And anytime you have players, though, you can have success. Good players make good coaches.”

Reminded that Saleh was lighting up the officials, Klecko said: “It’s a violent game played by violent guys in a violent way. It carries over. How can you get mad at one of your kids, so violently mad, and the other three not have the effect of it? The house is gonna be disrupted if you’re upset and you’re dad. And he’s dad. He’s the leader. He’s the guy that makes the wheel turn more or less. And if he greases the wheel with that anger, then it’s a great thing. He’s gotta find it. Nobody else. He has to find it.”

Drew Brees threw five TD passes against Saleh’s 49ers defense in 2019, and Michael Thomas caught 11 passes for 134 yards and one TD in a 48-46 San Francisco victory in December 2019.

Brees won’t be playing quarterback (Taysom Hill will be) and Thomas won’t be catching passes on Sunday.

On the other hand, running back Alvin Kamara (knee) will return from a four-game absence and Sean Payton is enduring his first five-game losing streak and the Saints are in desperation mode in the NFC wild-card race.

Jets
Joe Klecko during his days with the Jets.
AP

Klecko was in desperation mode once he heard the playing of the National Anthem.

“Once they played the National Anthem my switch went off,” he said. “I was another person. Leading up to the National Anthem I coulda played with the little babies in the corner, I really could.”

Klecko, second in franchise history with 78 sacks, was nosed out as the HOF’s Class of 2022 senior nominee by former Raiders wide receiver Cliff Branch. Everyone who tried to block Klecko will tell you what an injustice it is that he is not in Canton.

“I think it was about winning every down, winning every war, winning every 1-on-1 … if you’re not mad at yourself if you lose one battle, you don’t belong out there,” Klecko said. “And if you do lose one battle, how could I never lose that battle again? That’s how you have to play the game.”

That’s how you have to play the game, and no one will be laughing at you or your head coach when you do.

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Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death

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Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death

Legendary NFL coach and broadcaster John Madden died Tuesday morning at 85, the NFL announced. News of the football icon’s passing hit Twitter on Tuesday evening, and athletes, coaches and broadcasters from across the sports world reacted.

Fellow broadcasting legend Dick Vitale, who is currently battling cancer, called Madden “the greatest analyst of all time of any sport” in his Twitter tribute.

Former Yankees pitcher and notable Raiders fan CC Sabathia said “your legacy will live forever.” Madden coached the then-Oakland Raiders from 1969-78, a couple of years before Sabathia, a Vallejo, California native, was born. Lakers star LeBron James had similar words about Madden’s lasting legacy, adding an infinity emoji.

Former tennis star and social justice activist Billie Jean King recalled meeting Madden as a “privilege.”

Radio voice of the Rangers Kenny Albert, a five-sport broadcaster who’s been with FOX Sports since its inception in 1994, shared a photo circa 26 years ago to remember Madden.

ESPN’s Bomani Jones took a bit of a shot at current color commentators, noting that Madden “set an unreachable standard.”

Frank Caliendo, who’s made a career out of impersonations, including one for Madden, said he was surprised how emotional he felt.

Several football players, and others, including Saints running back Mark Ingram II and former Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, credited Madden with being part of the reason why they love football.

Rams wide receiver and NFL MVP contender Cooper Kupp quote the late coach in his tribute: “The road to Easy Street goes through the sewer.”

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Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence

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Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence

MINNEAPOLIS — The Knicks got back another body in rookie point guard Miles McBride, who was cleared from protocols Tuesday and rejoined the team in Minnesota.

But there is no longer any hype for the rookie’s return. Kemba Walker is back as the starting point guard and coming off winning Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors with four standout games, including his Christmas Day spectacular. The Knicks have gone 2-2 since Walker regained the starting job.

“It’s great,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He had a great week. He’s playing great basketball. The team winning helps him get recognized and he was a big part of driving that winning. It’s great for the team.’’

McBride was also spectacular in his last outing before getting COVID-19, when he played the entire second half Dec. 16 in Houston and seemingly earned a spot in the rotation. In fact, McBride had strung together two decent outings before he was ruled out. But things have changed since his emergence and McBride is likely back to being a bit player.

Without a practice, McBride wasn’t even expected to see time when the Knicks faced the Timberwolves to kick off a four-game road trip.

Miles McBride
NBAE via Getty Images

Of course, with Walker’s arthritic knee, anything is possible. The Knicks play Detroit on Wednesday in a back-to-back, so it’s uncertain whether Walker will complete both contests. In addition, Immanuel Quickley is out of COVID-19 protocols but Thibodeau wasn’t sure he was ready for meaningful minutes.

That left Walker against the depleted Timberwolves, who were missing their three top players (Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell), all because of COVID-19 .

Kemba Walker
Kemba Walker
USA TODAY Sports

When McBride got sidelined by the virus and Derrick Rose needed ankle surgery, Walker was resurrected by Thibodeau and it’s been a stunning comeback story.

Though Thibodeau has clear reservations about Walker based on his nine-game banishment due to his defensive malaise as an undersized point guard, he admitted after the Christmas Day triple-double against Atlanta that Walker is playing “much more aggressive.”

Walker’s triple-double that featured 10 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds was a lot different than his prior outing, when he scored 44 points against Washington.

“I thought his passing was terrific,’’ Thibodeau said before the Knicks resumed their schedule.

“Kemba had control of the game. The game tells you what to do. That’s what I loved about the way he played. I don’t think he forced anything. They puts size on him and were aggressive in their pick-and-roll coverage. He didn’t fight it. He attacked pressure the way you like to attack pressure. You don’t fight pressure with pressure. Don’t try to split it. Get rid of it, go to the backside. Let the game tell you what to do.’’

The Knicks coach is finally seeing all the elements of what Walker can do. Before his demotion, Walker was nothing more than a no-defense, 3-point shooter whose plus-minus was an abysmal minus-122.

Thibodeau was also concerned about his durability in sitting out two of the three back-to-back sets. The last load management game in Atlanta in late November triggered Thibodeau’s decision.

But now it’s only superlatives from Thibodeau in judging the last four games.

“Sometimes it’s going to be his shooting, sometimes it’s his penetration and getting in the paint to force a collapse and sometimes they’re being aggressive with their traps get rid of the ball quickly,’’ Thibodeau said. “The overall play, his rebounding. When your guards rebound, those are key to fast breaks. The more guard rebounding we get the better we can be. ‘’

The Knicks still have three players in protocols — centers Nerlens Noel and Jericho Sims and the newly infected Wayne Selden. Quickley and Kevin Knox were cleared on Christmas but were held out for conditioning.

No matter. The Knicks go as Kemba goes.

“He’s much more aggressive,’’ Thibodeau said. “That was the challenge. At the beginning of the year he and Evan were two new starters. Sometimes guys are trying to fit in. he’s being very aggressive which is the way we want him to play. Not deferring at all. When he and Julius [Randle] are aggressive like that our team is different.’’

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Bar raises dramatically for Zach Wilson in matchup with Tom Brady, Buccaneers

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Zach Wilson and Tom Brady

When Zach Wilson stares across the MetLife Stadium field at the opposite sideline this Sunday, it won’t be Trevor Lawrence he’ll be looking at as his game-day counterpart.

Lawrence, drafted by Jacksonville one spot before the Jets selected Wilson at No. 2 overall last April, is a contemporary.

This Sunday at MetLife, the Jets rookie quarterback won’t be staring at a contemporary on the other sideline. He’ll be staring at the GOAT.

Tom Brady.

The bar raises dramatically for Wilson and the Jets, who are coming off of their feel-good, get-well win over the woeful Jaguars and Lawrence this past Sunday.

Brady and Buccaneers, who are 11-4, NFC South division champions and seeking to repeat as Super Bowl champions, play the Jets, who are 4-11 and seeking more signs of development from their rookie quarterback.

To say this is a step up in competition for Wilson and the Jets going from Lawrence and the Jags to Brady and the Bucs is as obvious as pointing out that Tampa Bay receiver Antonio Brown has had a few off-the-field incidents during his otherwise stellar NFL career.

There hasn’t been a lot to keep the interest of the Jets fan this season — other than watching Wilson’s development. That took an unfortunate pause for the four games Wilson missed with a knee injury, but he’s been back for five games and has looked like a better quarterback, throwing only two interceptions in those games (none in the last three) since returning from his injury.

The problem, though, is that Wilson hasn’t been producing enough touchdowns, throwing for three of them and rushing for four others in the past five games.

Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg; AP

Baby steps, though.

Wilson was the better quarterback this past Sunday when matched up with Lawrence, who threw for more yards than Wilson did, but Wilson ran for 91 yards, including his electric 52-yard scoring jaunt, and made key throws when he needed them.

Wilson will not win Sunday’s game against Brady and the Bucs throwing for the 102 yards he had against the Jaguars. He and the Jets will need more.

Consider this: Brady enters the game having thrown 37 TD passes and for 4,580 yards this season and averages a league-high 305.2 passing yards per game.

Then this: The Buccaneers average 29.5 points per game this season, second most in the NFL.

And this: Wilson doesn’t have a single 300-yard passing game, averages 183 passing yards per game and has thrown seven TD passes in 11 games.

Seven TD passes is a pedestrian two-game total for Brady.

Wilson and the Jets are playing with house money anyway in what always has been a developmental season, so Sunday against Brady should, at its very least, be a great measuring-stick learning experience for Wilson, who’s studied Brady on tape.

Wilson revealed this month that he watched film of Brady before the Jets played the Eagles on Dec. 5 in an effort to pick up tips on how Brady worked against the Eagles defense when he played them earlier in the season.

“I thought it was really cool to see kind of how he went through his whole process, how he navigated the pocket, different things like that,” Wilson said at the time.

On Sunday, Wilson gets to see that process up close as Brady tries to dissect a Jets defense that has yielded 29.9 points per game this season, the most in the NFL.

That puts an added onus on Wilson to produce on the other side of the ball, because he knows Brady is going to get his. Wilson will likely need to produce four TDs — any way he can — for the Jets to simply remain competitive with the Super Bowl champs.

That’s a lot to ask of a 22-year-old kid who’s produced just 11 TDs in his 11 starts, up against Brady, who’s thrown 618 TD passes and for 83,784 yards in his remarkable career.

It, too, is a lot to ask playing against an aggressive Tampa Bay defense that’s ranked No. 9 in the NFL in points allowed (20.8 per game) and is led by former Jets head coach Todd Bowles, who’d surely like to send a holiday message to his former employer.

If you don’t think Bowles will be blitzing the bejesus out of Wilson, then you probably think Antonio Brown is a living saint.

The good news for the Jets is that Wilson has shown incremental improvements, particularly when it comes to his decision-making and quicker releases on his throws.

“He’s coming along, he’s getting more comfortable, he’s calmer back there,’’ Jets coach Robert Saleh said Monday. “He’s in a great headspace and it’s going to be fun to watch him grow, continue to grow.’’

A big part of that growth will take place this Sunday as he watches the GOAT operate from the opposite sideline at MetLife.

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