Back in the 90’s, when I lived in Connecticut, I was a New York Jets season ticket holder. This weekend, I recalled a specific game I took my father to, a late-season meaningless game against the then dynasty Dallas Cowboys. Specifically, it was December 18, 1993. The Jets were particularly lousy and lost 28-7. During the long and mostly silent ride home, somewhere between the Meadowlands and Wallingford, CT my Dad said one thing. “You need to not take these games so seriously, it’s just a game”.
Now, this of course, comes from a life-long Steelers fan, so what does he know about suffering, right? You may be asking yourself, what exactly does this story have to do with the Jets 17-10 victory in Jacksonville Sunday afternoon? It is perhaps only significant to me because I never heeded the old man’s advice. And now, for the first time in the 19 years since that car ride, it is only a game. The New York Jets have won 2 in a row and 3 out of 4 games, and yet it’s only a game. The Steelers and Bengals both lost, keeping our razor thin playoff hopes alive, and still its only a game.
To be honest, I cannot say exactly when I became so ambivalent. Perhaps it’s the idea that at my age, only a team good enough to win it all is worth investing the passion that once caused so much angst. Maybe I have grown so wary of the Ryan and Tannenbaum show that I will not be re-energized until this ridiculousness ends. What I do know for sure is, I watch every week as I have since 1980 and I love the New York Jets as much today as I did at 11 years old. I will continue to watch and I will continue to root, but I am finally taking my father’s advice.
Rex Ryan stated that he started Mark Sanchez because he believed Sanchez gave the Jets the best chance to win. But those were not the most ridiculous words to come out of Florham Park this week. Mark Sanchez’s response of “message received” just about made me choke on my corn flakes. What message? That he needed to play better? He needed to be benched to come to that conclusion? How completely ridiculous…
Sanchez was efficient on this day though, going 12 for 19 and gaining 111 yards through the air. But from the 1:03 mark of the third quarter on, Sanchez threw just three times. Prior to that, his previous 8 completions were all less than 20 yards with half less than 10 yards. Until his final completion of 37 yards to Jeff Cumberland, he had compiled a measly 74 passing yards deep into the 4th quarter. Perhaps most telling was in the two 2nd half touchdowns drives, Sanchez threw just two passes combined, one for 7 yards the other for 10 yards. The final touchdown was all rushing. Seven rushes in total. Seems the best chance for the Jets to win was an effective running game and a defense that was capable of shutting down a struggling Jaguars offense. I can’t but help wonder, with that game plan, why Greg McElroy wasn’t more than capable of executing the offense? History tells us what we have in Sanchez, there is a general consensus of what Tim Tebow’s limitations are, it would be nice to know if there is one quarterback on this roster worth keeping.
Obviously when the level of your opponent is one of the weakest in the league, it is difficult to assess what part of the Jets game was execution and what was the result of a poor performance by the Jaguars. For the moment, let’s take things at face value. The running game, which was made up of equal parts of Shonn Greene and Bilal Powell, was exceptional. While it’s not quite a thunder and lightning duo, their running styles are different enough to impact a defense. Greene being a more physical runner, while Powell hits the hole a little faster and gets to the second level with some space to run. The offensive line run blocking was very consistent and the pass blocking was adequate. There were a few breakdowns, but with the passing game made up of mostly 10 yards or fewer, Sanchez typically had enough time. The defense was by no means dominant, but they did enough to win the game. The lone bright spot for the Jaguars was Montell Owens. He ran for 91 yards, including a 32 yard touchdown scamper, which seemed to be a play where the Jets defense took a break. Owens could actually have walked the last 5 yards and still scored.
The Jets were held scoreless in the first half, equally ineffective yesterday as they were last week against the Cardinals. They made a commitment to run the ball in the second half and it did pay off. But can this team really pull off three in a row by running the ball and playing adequate defense? The opponents over the next three weeks are not playoff bound, but the Titans, Chargers, and Bills will offer much more demanding tests in the coming weeks.
I guess there are plenty of faithful fans in JetNation that are enjoying this little about-face the Jets have produced late in the season. Maybe I should be too. But I am concerned about what is to come. What if wins over the Rams and perhaps the two worst teams in the NFL, the Cardinals and Jaguars, start to make believers of those who may have been ready make changes just a few weeks ago? The remaining schedule may only help to solidify the idea that the Jets are not so bad after all. How much better will the 2013 Jets be if Sanchez is the signal caller? Can the team really get to the next level with cap room issues, a middle first round draft pick, and the development of their young talent? How will they attract a top level receiver if Sanchez is the quarterback?
Wins and losses, I don’t care so much about. The answers to these critical questions are what I do care about. And so should every Jets fan.