Monday, January 24, 2011

Oh those teasing Jets!

(photo courtest of

For the second straight season, the Jets lost in the AFC Championship game. And for the second straight season, they decided to show up for only one half of football. Who's to blame? Read on.

-Everybody loves to hate on Rex Ryan but after wins in Indianapolis and New England, people were singing his praises and rightfully so. He talked the talk and his team responded by walking the walk. Many people questioned the Jets "respectful" tone this week and how the team would come out on Sunday. Well, they were flat.

The Jets defense couldn't tackle me on the opening drive and the Steelers chewed up eight minutes, leaving the Jets cold on the sideline in single-digit weather. New York's offense couldn't get going and left their tired defense to fend for themselves against Rashard Mendenhall, who ran like a man possessed in the first half.

-Speaking of not going the offense going, Brian Schottenheimer's job should be in serious jeopardy after Sunday's playcalling debacle. When the running game was getting stuffed, he forced the issue. When it was working, he tried to get tricky.

When Shonn Greene busted free for 16 yards on second-and-18 and the Jets converted the ensuing third down to the two-yard-line, the playcalling seemed obvious. In four-down territory, you run the football at least three times and ride the horse that got you there. Greene was stuffed on the one on first down and a second-down pass was incomplete.

Any coordinator with a brain, even against the Steelers defense, would run twice with Greene. If you can't get one yard on two plays with your bruising halfback, you don't deserve to score anyway. But Schotty tried to get cute and throw a quick pass, which was incomplete.

On fourth down, he inexplicably called a handoff to LaDainian Tomlinson, which was stuffed. The Jets got a safety on the next play but they needed seven points, not two, and shoddy playcalling here was a major reason the Jets missed out on the five points they needed to force overtime.

-Bart Scott couldn't wait for Sunday. Why Bart, so you could spend the first half flailing at Rashard Mendenhall after missing numerous attempted arm tackles? Normally when players are excited and "can't wait" for something they come out hitting people in the mouth, which is what I expected from Scott.

Shame on you, Bart, and shame on the rest of the Jets defense for not showing up until it was too late. They played a great second half, but you can't let your team fall in such a big early hole against a legitimate defense and a championship-caliber quarterback.

-People are going to talk about Mark Sanchez and how he's proven for two straight seasons that he can't win a championship. And they're obviously right, as any quarterback who takes his team to the brink of the Super Bowl in his first two seasons in the league (and only his third as a starting quarterback beyond the high school level) doesn't have the necessary tools to win a Super Bowl.

Blasphemy. Yes that first-half fumble was awful and proved to be one of the many differences in Sunday's game. Sanchez has to feel that pressure better, but that will come with experience. He had about three seconds to throw on every play during that drive, so some of the blame also belongs on the offensive line.

Sanchez probably isn't going to be the league's best quarterback or even one of the top five, but he can be a top 10 NFL quarterback and a Super Bowl champion. People doubted Drew Brees as far as four years into his career and now, he's regarding as a top-five quarterback, if not top three. The great thing about the NFL is there's always next season and the past really doesn't matter.

Numerous times this season, Sanchez has shown me toughness, moxie and a never-say-die attitude. Many times would have folded down 24-0 after the first half, but Sanchez wouldn't let the Jets lay down in Pittsburgh. And he has shown his willingness to work to improve over his first two seasons.

Players improve drastically from year-to-year in the NFL, which is why it's so difficult to predict player performance from one season to the next. Sanchez took steps forward this season and I expect more of the same next year; the real question is whether his supporting cast will be good enough to make another deep playoff run.

But that's a story for another post, as the Jets have numerous important free agents to sign and not enough money to keep them all. And despite my heartbreak at the moment and the miserable drive home from Heinz field, I'm proud of my team.

They overachieved (again), at least compared to the expectations of everybody outside of that locker room. But Ryan had these guys believing in themselves all season and for now, he is a great coach for this team. I don't believe in moral victories, but I'm much more excited for next season after seeing them try to come back yesterday instead of giving up. J-E-T-S!

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