ESM EXCLUSIVE: New York Jets OT Mekhi Becton previews 2021 season

mekhi becton, jets

New York Jets first-round pick Mekhi Becton spoke to ESM about the weeks to come and his new endorsement endeavors with Pepsi.

As the anchor of the New York Jets’ offensive line, left tackle Mekhi Becton already has some arduous tasks ahead of him on autumn weekends.

Thanks to a collaboration with Pepsi, however, Becton will not only be able to protect the stars of Gang Green’s revamped offense, but he’ll also have the time and ability to assist Jets fans in preparing their gameday snacks.

Days before the Jets open their 2021 season on Sunday against the Carolina Panthers (1 p.m. ET, CBS), Becton was revealed as the face of Pepsi’s new Jets-centered campaigns, entitled “Made for Jets Watching“. His participation is headlined by an augmented reality endeavor in which a mini version of the Jets’ first-round pick from the 2020 draft assists fans in conjuring up some Sunday recipes, including Pepsi BBQ Sauce, a dressing made with the official soft drink of the NFL.

“As fans across the country return to their favorite gameday watching and game day eating traditions this year, we’ve teamed up with the Jets to help fans unapologetically enjoy the experience all season long,” Kathy Kennedy, Sr. Director of Marketing, PepsiCo Beverages North America, North Division said in a company statement obtained by ESM. “Pepsi wants to give fans the magic of gearing up for game day no matter where or with whom they find themselves watching this season.”

Becton appears in Pepsi’s new league-wide campaign alongside other young talents like Jalen Hurts, Sterling Shepherd, Chase Claypool, and Sam Hubbard. Tenured veteran Devin McCourty and Hall of Famer rusher Barry Sanders likewise appear for their respective squads in New England and Detroit.

“Everything drew me to (this campaign),” Becton told ESM. “My parents they’re really big Pepsi fans and stuff like that. So I always grew up with it, with them drinking it and things like that. So it was just, it’s just a dream come true, honestly.”

With the season opener looming, Becton spoke with ESM about his new partnership and the upcoming trials and the Jets will face in the 2021 season…

mekhi becton, jets

Q: While this is an interesting and hopeful period on the Jets’ timeline, many choose to dismiss such hope as being a case of “Same Old Jets”. How is this team different from prior incarnations we’ve seen on this rebuild?

A: We’re really hungry, we’re a really hungry team. We go to work every day, we go hard every day. We have a lot of things ready to put on display and show the world. We’re ready to go out there and play, we’re ready to show the world what we can do. Our motto is “All Gas, No Brake”. I feel like that explains and defines us 100 percent.

(Robert Saleh) been really great. He brings the energy every day, he makes sure we’re bringing the energy every day. He’s just he’s a great guy, a great coach as well. He never sugarcoats things. He’ll always tell it how it is, so that’s already great to have.

Q: The team addressed its offensive needs in the first round through the selections of Zach Wilson and Alijah Vera-Tucker. What has it been like to work with them and almost guide them through the early stages of their NFL journeys? 

A: (Vera-Tucker) goes to work every day, just like I go to work every day. He likes, he loves to work hard, and I like to work hard. So it’s just great to have two hard-working dogs on the same side and I’m excited about that.

As for (Wilson), he has been great, he’s a great player. He’s going to do a lot of things that a lot of people aren’t expecting him to do and I can’t wait for him to prove the world room. The fact that he was named a captain speaks a whole lot of volume about how he just he’s just a leader already. So it has just been really great, and I can’t wait for fans to see it.

Q: In addition to the rookies, the team added several veteran talents that know to win and contribute. How they helped this team and what impact have the defensive additions left on you, namely DE Carl Lawson?

A: It’s was great to have them here. Guys like Corey (Davis), Sheldon Rankins, C.J. Mosley, they can take control of the team when things are getting out of whack. They are always people that everyone always listens to no matter what they’re saying. It’s been really great and it’s very helpful as well, too.

Carl helped improved me a lot, just helping with my hands, and my feet, just making sure I don’t give up on a play because he’s still going 100 percent. So that definitely personally helped me out a lot.

Q: What stood out to you most about the New York culture when the Jets chose you last season? Was there any additional pressure considering they passed on several elite receiving talents to bring you in?

A: It was love at first sight. The fans are the best, they’re always going hard no matter what’s going on in the season. They’re very loyal and the city has great. Everything in New York drew my attention. I can’t wait to have the fans back in the stands, that’s going to be really great. I’ve seen a little taste of it at the Green & White scrimmage. and when we played Philly, when we played the Giants (in the preseason), Once we get to the regular season, it’s going to be really great and they’re going to be really happy.

I don’t think I had any additional pressure at all (after the draft). I wasn’t even I honestly wasn’t thinking about those (receivers). I was just trying to go out there and perform, no matter who they passed up on. I was just trying to go out there and do what I got to do.

Q: What’s the message you want to send out as a leader and representative of the new-look Jets and how big would it be to make a statement in these early contests against noteworthy opponents (Carolina & New England)?

A: It’d be really great to make a statement early on. A lot of people aren’t expecting us to do good things on the field. But everybody in the locker room knows that we can go out there and perform and do those things that people aren’t expecting us to do. So it’s going to be really great.

To the critics, all I can say is be ready. Just be ready. That’s all I can say. Just be ready. That’s all I’m going to say. Just be ready.

(Special thanks to Katherine Hartley for making this interview possible)

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Fans’ return to MetLife Stadium sets up a special NFL preseason game

It’s all too appropriate that fans return to MetLife Stadium coincides with the resumption of the game dubbed the “Snoopy Bowl”.

Those who venture out to MetLife Stadium on Saturday night will probably forget the final score of the game they paid to see once they get back on Route 3 or the New Jersey Turnpike. But the important part is…they’ll have ventured out to MetLife Stadium.

It’s been 532 days since Giants Stadium’s successor hosted a full-fledged professional football game in front of paying customers. That streak, begun shortly after an XFL contest between the New York Guardians and the Los Angeles Wildcats, finally snaps on Saturday, as the New York Jets and Giants resume their preseason series after a year off (7:30 p.m. ET, WNBC).

The Jets and Giants have staged an annual late summer showdown since 1969, when the former began its Super Bowl defense with a 37-14 triumph at the Yale Bowl. Since the teams began sharing the swamps of the Meadowlands (when the Jets moved in from Shea Stadium in 1984), the game has become a North Jersey tradition, a different kind of fireworks as days slowly get shorter. It’s a night of playful bragging rights, a union of metropolitan football. Upon the naming rights takeover of MetLife, known for featuring the Charlie Brown gang in its advertising, the contest became known as the “Snoopy Bowl”, complete with a beagle-branded winner’s trophy. Fans have kept the name alive in an unofficial capacity despite MetLife severing its ties with the Peanuts franchise.

(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

For a few precious hours, it’s a metropolitan Super Bowl decided by those more likely destined for the practice squad than for The Big Game itself.

“Since the game doesn’t count, the parking lot always had kind of a party atmosphere,” Kenny Watkins III of Woodland Park, NJ and a season-ticket holder at Giants Stadium said of the game. “People in blue and green are tailgating, having fun, playing music, usually there’s a band set up somewhere. It’s more like a concert atmosphere than a football game.”

By now, no one needs to elaborate as to why the series was interrupted. The COVID-19 health crisis shut down many summer traditions across the tri-state area and the nation as a whole, including the NFL preseason and the plethora of regional matchups that come with it. Few mourned the loss of the exhibition slate…preseason football is often seen as a chore in even the best of times…but regular season games played in empty stadiums took on an eerie feeling, even if they were done in the interest of public health. The Jets and Giants were a couple of the 14 teams that played their entire 2020 home slate in an empty stadium.

But welcome normalcy has finally started to emerge from the pandemic, primarily thanks to vaccination efforts. Caution is still in place due to COVID’s Delta variant but football fans have eagerly made their way back into stadiums as the first official week of preseason action continues. 

In some ways, the true value of Saturday’s game is found not on the field, but rather the stands, which is set to host a de facto family reunition of thousands.

“Saturday is going to be special even though it’s just a preseason game,” Peter Schwartz of Long Island told ESM. “It’s appropriate that both sets of fans get to be at the first game with fans because this area has been through so much over the last 18 months.”

“It’s been awesome to have fans back,” Arizona defender J.J. Watt said during an in-game interview with KPNX during the Cardinals’ preseason opener against Dallas on Friday night. “It’s been awesome to have fans back in the building. After last season, everybody playing in empty stadiums, it’s an incredible feeling to have these fans back, to have the energy, to have the excitement.”

A few necessary adjustments might still have to be made. To reduce touchpoints, for example, MetLife Stadium has transitioned to cash-free transactions at all concession and retail outlets. But it’s well worth it to get back in the New York football groove.

“I think you should just be courteous to those around you, making sure that you’re not doing anything too obnoxious or breaking any of the COVID precautions in place,” Joe Gucciardo of Howard Beach said of the precautions. “I think having the Snoopy Bowl be the first game back is somewhat bittersweet. It’s fun, you can go with a buddy who likes the other tri-State team and jaw at each other all night.”

Both teams have offered sneak previews of their respective returns to fan-filled stadiums as their respective training camp proceedings continued. The Jets first hosted the Green & White Scrimmage last Saturday night while the Giants capped off their Fan Fest with a public practice on Wednesday night.

(Photo by Alan Schaefer/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Intrasquad scrimmages, however, don’t replace the feeling of showcasing your gridiron stuff against another opponent, especially one you’re forced to share the country’s largest media market with. Staten Island native and Jets fan John Maleka is looking forward to seeing his team showcase their young talent in a MetLife Stadium adorned in blue, as Saturday’s tilt is a designated Giants home game. Fellow attendee and Montville resident Dave Strum anticipates a “sea of green and blue”, which he labels a welcome change from his last East Rutherford excursion.

Strum, after all, was at the Jets’ last contest held in front of fans, a 16-10 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in December 2019. Alas, many attendees went home unhappy: black and yellow outranked green on that temperate afternoon, which was completely understandable with the Steelers’ playoff implications and the nine-loss Jets’ lack thereof entering what was each

Jets head coach Robert Saleh isn’t so much interested in New York bragging rights, but can’t wait to see his group go up against another…it just so happens it’ll come against Joe Judge’s gang.

“I think every NFL team is ready to see somebody else,” Saleh said this week, per notes from the Jets. “We’re sick of each other, we’re sick of seeing the same defense, we’re sick of seeing the same offense. They’re ready to see a different color and they’re ready to go against different schemes and be challenged in different ways. It’s going to be fun, I’m excited for the group.”

Lately, bragging rights amongst each other in a meaningless summer exhibition have the only thing Jets and Giants fans have had to celebrate. Neither team has made a playoff appearance since the end of the 2016 season. The 10th anniversary celebration of the Giants’ Super Bowl XLVI triumph comes with the bittersweet reminder that the upset win over New England is the metropolitan area’s most recent NFL postseason win.

But the redemptive naivety of the NFL preseason is that everyone goes in undefeated and undeterred. Win the game, and happy times are ahead. Losses can be blamed and excused on the idea that it’s “only preseason”.

While the Giants are holding most of their premier talents out of Saturday’s game, the Jets are set to put on a youthful showcase. Even the most stubborn Gang Green hater can admit that there is legitimate potential behind this team, headlined by the arrival of new franchise quarterback Zach Wilson.

The Jets spent this offseason doing what they could to make sure his NFL transition was as seamless as possible, bringing in receivers Corey Davis and Keelan Cole, who will likely see some time on Saturday. Draft choices Alijah Vera-Tucker and Elijah Moore aren’t expected to partake, but have nonetheless offered optimism. The hire of Saleh has also received universal acclaim.

“There’s a whole new vibe to this team from the front office to the new quarterback and the new ‘toys’ sprinkled throughout the offense and defense,” Meleka said. “It feels like the Jets fans have more to look forward to in this game, especially since Wilson is slated for the first quarter while (Giants quarterback Daniel Jones) is out. More specifically, the new coaching staff and the new schemes on both sides of the ball finally give these Jets players an opportunity to make a name for themselves and begin their journey to solidifying a spot on the 53-man roster.”

“So far, the atmosphere around the Jets has been nothing but excitement for the future of the franchise with Coach Saleh and all their young studs: Moore, Wilson, and (linebacker Hamsah) Nasirildeen,” Strum added. “Jets Nation will definitely be fired up for some preseason action against the local rival team.”

Time will tell if more restrictions lay on the road ahead as the Delta variant remains stubborn. But for the time being, provided that fans remain vigilant and use their best judgment, it’s fine to view Saturday’s game at its surface: a welcome back to a frivolous, if not cherished, Garden State tradition, a landmark in the battle against the hated pandemic.

“It is definitely fitting that football returns to New Jersey in Jets vs. Giants fashion. Although a meaningless game to some, this game, gives me a little bit of hope that the end of the pandemic is in sight and will be a milestone for how far we have come from the beginning of the pandemic until now.” Strum said. “Although I’m a little nervous with the new Delta variant going around, I am definitely excited to feel the atmosphere of thousands of screaming fans cheering on their team, the smell of food cooking on the grill before the game, some J-E-T-S chants with fellow Jets fans in the parking lot.”

True to football form, however, he’s not letting a joint celebration get in the way of a little good, old-fashion metropolitan smack talk.

“I might have to thank some of them for letting Elijah Moore fall to us in the second round.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

VIDEO: Bills Mafia greets division champs upon return to Buffalo

Precipitation and the wee hours of Sunday morning were no match for Buffalo Bills fans welcoming their team home.

The Buffalo Bills received a welcome fit for division champions as they arrived home from Denver early Sunday morning.

A contingent of fans, many of whom appeared to adorned in masks and face coverings, braved darkness and rain to greet the Bills at Buffalo Niagara International Airport upon their return from a Week 15 win in Denver. The victory allowed the Bills (11-3) to clinch their third playoff berth over the last four seasons and their first AFC East division title since 1995.

Bills fans, known as “Bills Mafia”, have been known to gather at the airport after big victories on the road, most recently doing so when the team returned from a Sunday night win in Pittsburgh last season. Social distancing protocols in the wake of the ongoing health crisis have prevented Bills Mafia, often referred to as one of the most entertaining and passionate fanbases in the NFL, from visiting Bills Stadium in Orchard Park this season. But they apparently sought to capture the game day experience, if only for a short while, after this monumental occasion.

With games in Orchard Park staged in front of empty stands, many newcomers to the team experienced the passion of Bills Mafia for the first time.

Among the chants uttered by the crowd were “Super Bowl” and “MVP”, the latter in reference to quarterback Josh Allen, who referred to the gathering as “wild” in his Instagram story. In other social media shares, Dion Dawkins and Josh Norman documented their drive out, where some overzealous, unmasked fans get somewhat close to their open windows. Trumaine Edmunds also shared his exit, though he kept his windows up.

Despite this, many fans appeared to be masked at the event. A socially distanced viewing party of Saturday’s game, a 48-19 win over the Denver Broncos, was held at the Transit Drive-In, which also hosted a viewing of the University of Buffalo’s football tilt in the Mid-American Conference Championship Game in Detroit the night before. The Bulls fell to Ball State 38-28.

The Bills return to action next Monday night against the New England Patriots (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN) before their regular-season finale in Orchard Park on January 3 against Miami.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags