Monday, December 21, 2009

Jets blow golden opportunity, fall back to pack at 7-7

Forty-six minutes, 10 seconds. In a 60-minute football game, that is how long the Jets held a 7-3 lead over the Falcons. Too bad that 46:10 didn't include the final 1:38.

When Matt Ryan found Tony Gonzalez in the endzone on fourth-and-goal from the six-yard-line, it capped what has been a frustrating season for Jets fans. On the play before, Darrelle Revis (who better make the All-Pro team) almost came up with a diving interception to seal the game. And on the ensuing drive, Mark Sanchez was picked for the third time in the game.

Maybe the Jets should've started Kellen Clemens. Their defense was dominant and even though their running game wasn't as punishing as usual, Sanchez's three picks are what ultimately doomed the Jets. At least Clemens took care of the football last week against the Bucs.

The structure of this team is not built for success with a rookie quarterback, and that has been proven game in and game out this season, starting with the Jets' first loss against New Orleans. Although Clemens' bobbled snap on the first of three unsuccessful field goal attempts shows that he wasn't particularly well acclimated to the Meadowlands cold yesterday either.

Kicker Jay Feely and the field-goal unit also had a rough day, as he missed a 38-yard attempt and had another blocked. Just one of those field goals would have made the score 10-10 after Gonzalez's touchdown, and two would have given the Jets a victory.

This will always be a season of what-ifs for the Jets. They lost five games by five points or less, including four in the final two minutes and four within their own division (two to Miami, who is also 7-7 now).

With six teams tied at 7-7 in the AFC, the Jets losing the tiebreakers to most of those teams and matchups with the Colts and Bengals on tap, the playoffs are pretty much out of the question. They may not even reach .500, which would do nothing for him but guarantee a higher draft pick.

Speaking of the draft, what should the Jets look to improve? They are set at the skill positions and along the offensive line, but they could use another weapon in the passing game. The three receivers with first-round potential are Oklahoma State's Dez Bryant (who should go in the top 10), Notre Dame's Golden Tate and Illinois' Arrelious Benn.

The Jets could also look to draft a defensive end, as Shaun Ellis will be 33 at the start of next season and Marques Douglas is far from a world beater. Florida's Carlos Dunlap, Georgia Tech's Derrick Morgan and Ohio State's Cameron Heyward may all be available in the middle of the first round.

Any of those three players would give the Jets the ability to rush the passer without blitzing, something they were unable to do this season. An improved pass rush would only improve the league's best pass defense and make the Jets defense even more intimidating.

If New York has given up on Vernon Gholston, they could also look to upgrade at outside linebacker. This seems to be the least likely scenario with their current personnel, but Texas' Sergio Kindle is an intriguing mid-first round prospect who played defensive end for the Longhorns.

I know I'm talking like the season is over while the Jets are still mathematically alive, but football isn't played with an abacus. This team needed help even with a win this week, and that loss showed me that this is not a playoff-caliber team yet.

Give Mark Sanchez another year to develop and add an impact player or two in the draft, and this team could compete for a division title next season. The pieces are all in place for the Jets to be an excellent team, as long as Sanchez can work on limiting turnovers in the offseason. You can't be a successful ball-control offense if you can't control the ball.

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