by Tom Shane
The good news is that the AFC East title is there for the taking. The bad news is that Herm Edwards apparently doesn’t believe his Jets are good enough to take it. How else to explain going into Baltimore to face Ray Lewis and Ed Reed with a game plan that seemed intent on sending Curtis Martin into the teeth of the Ravens defense play after mind-boggling play?
Saddled with a Hackettesque ultra-conservative gameplan, Brooks Bollinger, the Jets third-string quarterback, spent most of the day handing off to an ineffective Martin or throwing the ball out of bounds when his first (and only) option was covered. Obviously operating without a shred of trust from the coaching staff, Bollinger’s priority was to keep the ball away from a swarming Ravens defense instead of trying to score points, much less touchdowns. With Curtis Martin (yet again) finding no room to run, managing a measly 30 yards on 13 carries, and with Bollinger effectively there to take the snap and hand it off, the Jets offense had nowhere to turn except for the sideline after another one of their countless three-and-outs. How bad was the Jets offense? Through the first 58 minutes, when the Ravens were playing eight and nine men in the box, the Jets managed a whopping 90 yards of total offense, good for six first downs. Bollinger finally found some room, and some time, to throw in the final two minutes of garbage time, inflating both his and the team’s stats to 152 yards of total offense and eight first downs.
The series that most embodied the Jets impotence on offense took place in the third quarter after Victor Hobson returned a Jamal Lewis fumble 43 yards to the Ravens one-yard line. Not surprisingly, the first call was a Curtis Martin dive up the middle for no gain, followed by an ill-conceived Bollinger bootleg to the left side that netted a loss of two yards. Following a Curtis Martin trap play for no gain, the Jets were forced to kick a chip-shot field goal. They would not threaten again.
The question has to be asked, if Brooks Bollinger can’t be trusted with throwing the football down the field against the eight and nine-man fronts that the Ravens were sitting in for the entire game, then why even have him on the roster? Sure, he’s the third-string QB, and those guys aren’t supposed to get a chance to take any meaningful snaps during the regular season, but when your #1 QB is as brittle as Chad Pennington has been, and your back-up QB hasn’t exactly been an iron man throughout his career, the Jets staff had to realize that Brooks Bollinger taking the field was at least a possibility, if not a probability. One of Herm Edwards’ maxims has always been “You play to win the game.” But watching the Jets on this day, one has to wonder how, exactly, the Jets braintrust imagined they could beat the Ravens with a quarterback that they didn’t trust to throw the ball, handing it off to a running back that was averaging 2.9 yards per carry before being stonewalled on Sunday (2.3 YPC on his 13 carries) against Ray Lewis.
On the positive side of the ledger, the Jets defense played relatively well, limiting Jamal Lewis to 81 yards on 29 carries and holding the Ravens offense to one TD, scored late in the third quarter. John Abraham and Jonathan Vilma were especially active, with Abraham beating Jonathan Ogden off the corner on several plays. The Jets were held without a sack on QB Anthony Wright, however. Wright, Baltimore’s back-up QB, wasn’t much better than Bollinger on the day, but his timely strikes down the middle of a wide open Jets zone defense put the Ravens in position for Matt Stover to kick two field goals in the first half. With the Jets showing no signs of life offensively, Ravens HC Brian Billick also pulled in the reigns of his offense, knowing that the Jets weren’t prepared to threaten the end zone.
The road gets rougher for the Jets next week when they host the 4-0 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs, like the Ravens, have a tough defense, but they also bring with them one of the top offenses in the league, featuring rookie sensation Cadillac Williams and WR Michael Clayton. If the Jets go into that game with the same offensive gameplan as they used Sunday against the Ravens, they will get blown out, and booed out, of the Meadowlands. And considering that they just signed on the dotted line to stay on as the second team in New Jersey for the next century, they might not want to anger the current residents.
Amazingly, as inept as the Jets have been this season, a division title is still not out of reach after New England’s surprising losses to the Carolina Panthers and the San Diego Chargers. Currently, the Miami Dolphins lead the division (during their Bye week), with two wins, matching the Patriots’ win total to date. The Bills, who have struggled with second-year QB J.P. Losman at the helm, have matched the Jets at 1-3. That leaves the Jets within striking distance with twelve games left to find a quarterback that can right what is now a sinking ship. Whether that will be Vinny Testaverde or Brooks Bollinger, the Jets need to figure it out soon, before they get into the heart of their brutal upcoming road schedule (Atlanta, Bills, Carolina). As the saying goes, it’s getting late early for the Jets.