Monday, December 20, 2010

Jets hold on for key win in Pittsburgh

In the NFL you are only as good as your last game, which means that Jets were one of the league's worst teams heading into Pittsburgh despite their 9-4 record. Their offense hadn't scored a touchdown since November and they were about to face one of the league's best defenses, albeit without star safety Troy Polamalu.

Do I think this game might have a different outcome if Polamalu was healthy? Polamalu is probably the best safety in the NFL and an absolute game-changer, so this game could have easily gone a different way with him in the lineup. But the Jets beat their opponents that were actually on the field and that is really all that matters.

When Brad Smith took back the opening kickoff for a touchdown, I thought the Jets were in good shape. I actually came into the game saying the first team to score a touchdown would probably win, considering the Steelers have been far from spectacular on offense this season as well.

The Jets were able to rush for 106 yards against Pittsburgh, the highest total of any team this season. This performance came on the heels of losing tackle Damien Woody for the season, a loss that many including myself thought the Jets couldn't afford.

Mark Sanchez took care of the football and was an efficient 19-for-29 passing, taking advantage of his receivers' newfound ability to catch the football, namely Braylon Edwards. And while the Jets defense allowed almost 400 yards they bent but didn't break for most of the game, with half of those yards coming on two 90-plus-yard drives from the Steelers which resulted in only 7 points (the last one ended as time ran out deep in Jets territory).

As a Jets fan who is used to the failings of this team over the years, I was skeptical heading into this week. I thought the Steelers defense would be Sanchez's undoing, but the kid hung in the pocket and made some difficult throws into tight spaces in big situations. And that play fake on the fourth-and-one bootleg that turned into a touchdown really showed one of Sanchez's biggest strengths: ball fakes.

Sanchez can run play-action and pump fake with the NFL's elite at the quarterback position and it was proven once again that the Jets can beat a playoff team on the road with him at the helm as long he stays efficient and doesn't get careless with the football. I'm much more confident in this team heading into Chicago this weekend than I was a few days ago.

After bad losses to New England and Miami, I thought the Jets were destined for a Week 17 showdown with Buffalo (who just beat Miami) that would determine their playoff status. Now they can clinch a spot with a win and while they won't win the division, their 6-1 road record bodes well for their chances against either Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Kansas City or San Diego.

We've all seen Sanchez have his issues in cold-weather games and luckily for him, all of those teams besides the Chiefs play in domes or warm climates. Traveling to New England, Pittsburgh or Baltimore for a second-round game will be a challenge, but once you get to that point anything can happen. After all, nobody gave the Jets a chance in a cold-weather game on the road this week and all they did was beat the likely #2 seed in the AFC.

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