The last few weeks the Jets opponents have shown no respect for the QB at all and the running game is having a tough time getting on track. Thomas Jones had nowhere to go today early in the game against a defense that was just too fast for him. Jones only had 38 yards in the first 3 quarters of the game and was basically pulled from the game in the 2nd and 3rd quarters. To his credit, a fresh Jones sealed the game in the 4th quarter against many backups and chewed up some valuable time off the clock as he drove them to a big late TD that ensured no chance of Manning returning to the game to try to pull a win out late in the game. Shonn Greene proved more effective than Jones and was actually able to turn the corner on outside runs, something Jones does not have the skillset to do. Greene did a good job protecting the football and was the prime offensive weapon that was used to keep the game close which Manning was still in the game. Greene set up the teams early field goal and kept the Jets from failing in the battle of field position. What was shown again, though, is that when the Jets can not get the running game to carry the team it just makes it extremely hard to rely on Mark Sanchez, who just does not have the poise or composure to carry the offense in a game as important as this one. That is not to say Sanchez played awful. He did was he was supposed to do, throwing short routes and keeping the ball safe, but if the Jets needed more than that today it would have been hard for him to deliver. With the style of offense the team ran you can not expect much from the wideouts. Jerricho Cotchery caught everything he was supposed to and nearly hauled in a beautiful throw near the goal, but just missed keeping his foot on the in bounds. Braylon Edwards had an early drop, but made 3 other catches and would have had a fourth if not interfered with. David Clowney made a bad play worse when he had his number called on run early in the game. An awful game by the offensive line, until the Colts started to pull their players. Twice D’Brickashaw Ferguson just let DE Dwight Freeney go untouched, the second of which potentially cost the team 3 points, and he murdered Sanchez two times. That just can not happen in the NFL. If you see him lined up outside you have to pick him up regardless of what blocking scheme is called. Once the fourth quarter hit they played far better, especially in the run game, the highlight of which was G Alan Faneca making a block for Jones 25 yards down the field.
It is very hard to really evaluate the defense today. When Manning left the game they had held the Colts to 15 points, but there was never a point in time where the defense looked to be in control. The impression was that anytime Manning needed a score he was going to get it, though the Jets did stuff him on a two point conversion attempt. The Colts offensive line dominated the Jets blitz schemes allowing Manning to have giant areas of unoccupied fields to scan. The Jets overplayed the pass, which they really had to do, and Manning exploited it by calling draw plays that resulted in big gains and scores. The secondary was a nightmare, in particular Lito Sheppard. If there was even a passing though that the Jets would give Sheppard that extension in March, that is now out the window. He was brutalized today with poor coverage and terrible penalties. There were other secondary issues covering TE Dallas Clark that resulted in big passes and penalties and even Darrelle Revis was flagged and maybe beaten once or twice, even if they did not result in touchdowns. If anything, the one thing that kept the Jets in the game early was that Manning was missing some very open receivers. Some of the misfires to Reggie Wayne may have been cautious throws because of Revis, but the misses to Clark were just bad throws that Manning normally connects on. Of course it is possible that if Manning stayed in the game they would have been able to slow him down as the game went on, but from what we saw he was likely going to win the game. Once he went out the Jets defensive attitude and scheme changed. Backup QB Curtis Painter does not have even a tenth of the poise Manning has and the Jets seemed to be far more aggressive in their pursuit which led to a defensive TD. Calvin Pace made a great move on that play and Mike DeVito and Marques Douglas both did a good job making sure they ended up with 6 points. The Jets paid far more attention to the run once Painter was put into the game and Donald Brown, who was bouncing off tackles left and right early on, had nowhere to go. With Wayne and Clark out of the game Revis took over the Austin Collie assignment while the secondary target became Hank Baskett. That is a major advantage to the Jets as the Colts went from fielding one of the top receiving corps. in the NFL to one of the worst due to a sideline decision. Still we have seen the Jets lose to backup QB’s many times in the past, including this season, and to their credit there was not letup or mental breakdowns when the Colts made the switch. The Jets were prepared for it and if anything played even more aggressively than before.
After week after week of letting the team down the Jets special teams finally came up big. Brad Smith has made a great return man this year and he made a great return on the Jets lone TD of the day. Whether he made the decision to return that kick or the coaching staff instructed him to make the return, it was a brilliant choice that completely caught the Colts off guard. He read the play perfectly and outran the kicker and one other player to tiptoe the sidelines and score. That score changed the entire game. Bryan Thomas made a huge block on an extra point that was really responsible for keeping the game from getting out of hand early. There is a major difference in perception between being down 9-0 and 10-0. Steve Weatherford had a strong game punting. Cotchery fielded punts well today and Jay Feely made his field goals with no problems.
Give Rex Ryan credit for having the team prepared today and basically sticking to the gameplan that he felt would keep the team in striking distance until the Colts decided to bring in the reserves late in the 3rd quarter. Ryan only got caught once with a 12 men on the field call and made a gutsy call to go for two points in the 3rd quarter. I’m sure there will be some debate about chasing points on the talk shows, but he made that decision with the assumption Manning, who stayed with a helmet on until the middle of the 4th, was coming back into the game. You have to try to maximize points. Offensively the team had a smart gameplan that kept Sanchez under control and the decision to go with the quicker Greene over Jones, which allowed a fresh Jones to close out the game, was key in winning the game. Special Teams may have had their best game of the season.
Two weeks ago people would have said you were crazy if you believed the Jets would control their own destiny in week 17. Last week the coach of the New York Jets would have said you were crazy if you believed the Jets could even have a chance at the playoffs. Yet here we are with the Jets fully in control of their own destiny as they take the field in week 17 in front of what should be a wild crowd as the Meadowlands is likely closed forever.
The Jets took care of business today. They were relatively competitive with the undefeated Colts before the JV took over at which point the Jets dominated the game. I’m sure there are some teams out there that are going to complain about what the Colts did today, but those teams all had their own opportunities this season to take advantage of things like playing the Browns, Raiders, and Chiefs multiple times this season. You should not fault a team for taking advantage of breaks in the schedule and that is all the Jets did today- take advantage of a break in the schedule. Are the Colts without a few key starters any worse than the Raiders and Chiefs at full strength? I don’t think so.
The Jets will have a chance to do something very special next week against the Cincinnati Bengals. There is an outside chance that this will be the prime time game as it is likely the only game on the schedule that is a guarantee to decide one of the playoff spots. The Bengals have already clinched the AFC North, but have not been playing good football of late and may be looking to go into the playoffs with a little steam with a road win against a quality opponent in the Jets. The Bengals and Jets are very similar teams. They both rely on defense and running the football. Both play ugly games where the underdog often remains far closer than they ever should. About the only difference is that QB Carson Palmer has more experience than fellow USC alum Sanchez.
Next week is a must win on all levels for the Jets. You can not get as lucky as they did today and then not seal the deal in front of the home crowd. A win would mean huge things for the future of Mark Sanchez. For years Eli Manning skated by on the fact that his team went to the playoffs every year even when he was not playing well. It makes it much easier to stick with your investment when you make the playoffs unlike the Joey Harrington’s of the world who never see any success and quickly find themselves out of a job. A trip to the playoffs validates everything the coach has tried to do this season. He came in and sold the fan base on a team that was really not ready for what he was claiming they would be, but it will make his message much more believable next year if he leads his team into the playoffs next week. Eric Mangini parlayed one year of success against a poor schedule into three more years of head coaching. Rex Ryan can do the same for himself with a win next Sunday. One win puts the fans, players, and coaches all on the same level of satisfaction and will help ease the pain of a very long offseason that would have been filled with tons of finger pointing and criticism. One win is all it takes and hopefully the Jets are finally up to the task. Go Jets!