Post Game Thoughts- Jets vs Colts
The Jets were about 32 minutes away from the Super Bowl when everything seemed to go wrong and the defense allowed Peyton Manning to wake up and open up a downfield passing attack that the Jets had no answer for. It’s a crushing loss that just brings back painful memories of 1998 for those of us who remember that best as the Jets high point as once again we go another season without a Super Bowl appearance.
Very little blame can be put on the offense today. Mark Sanchez may not have had the greatest statline of his career, but he made some throws that rookies simply do not make. It is hard to take a silver lining out of a game like this, but if there is one it is the play of Sanchez. Sanchez was in complete control out there. He threw darts all over the field and stood in the face of pressure and delivered huge throw after huge throw putting the ball only in the place he receivers could get it. His play action play was excellent and his TD pump fake was very good. He looked like a star. Going into the game the Jets needed big games from at least two of their three receivers and they got it from all three today. Braylon Edwards made a beautiful move that led to a 80 yard touchdown. Dustin Keller had a touchdown. Jerricho Cotchery made some incredible sideline grabs all day long. These guys all were there when they were needed. The big loss came when Shonn Greene went down with an injury. It forced Thomas Jones into the featured role and the offense did not do nearly as well. The Colts defense did not give Jones nearly the same respect they gave Greene. The playaction began to falter and he and Sanchez just did not even look to be on the same page on a crucial drive early in the fourth quarter, Jones had a good year for the team and should come back next season, but it is very clear that he will be in a big diminished role next season. The offensive line did their jobs. For the most part they held the dominant pass rushers in check today and on a few early runs there were the Jets linemen delivering hits to the Colts linebackers.
There really were two crucial drives where the Jets offense will get some blame and in both cases it falls on the offensive line. It will be overlooked because of the final score, but the Jets had a chance to put the game away after they recovered a Joseph Addai fumble on the Colts 29 yard line with about three and a half minutes left. It wasn’t so much important that the Jets scored a touchdown there as it was that they took time off the clock in getting a field goal. 17-6 at halftime would have likely won the game for the Jets, but it was not to be. Damien Woody jumped offsides on a 2nd and 7 that put the Jets back 5 yards that killed the team. The next play the line gave Jones no room and he lost another 5 yards to set up a third and long. No first down opportunity, no time off the clock, and that was pretty much all she wrote for the team. The second killer drive came when the Jets fell behind 20-17 in what was going to be a track meet and had to answer the score. They were able to move out to midfield when a D’Brickashaw Ferguson offsides set up a 1st and 15 and with Greene out of the game forced the Jets into pass-pass-pass mode. Even with Sanchez playing pretty well, most of what he did was going off playaction and that threat was gone in that situation. It is likely that the game was over at that point, but that drive was the real last gasp and the penalty ended the drive.
It started out great today. They murdered Manning with pressure and simply were more physical than the Colts up front. The Colts started to run the ball to keep the pressure off Manning and even when the defense was starting to lose steam they were stiffening up inside the 10 and holding the Colts to three instead of seven, which was the formula the team needed to win. There were a handful of defenders playing extremely well. David Harris looked like a man possessed. Calvin Pace made a “oh my God” play when he forced a fumble. The Jets got a good push when Manning tried to sneak the ball to the end zone. But most of the good them left the game. The first problems of the game came when the seemingly always injured CB Donald Strickland quickly went out with a groin injury which forced Lito Sheppard back into action. Sheppard, who was benched by the coaching staff for the game, was awful. He could not cover anyone and gave the Colts a tremendous amount of confidence. The secondary problems certainly did not end with him. Dwight Lowery showed one of the many reasons why the Jets pass defense was so bad in 2008. Lowery did not have the speed to cover anyone and was constantly picked on all day. It seemed as if Manning threw to his man 60% of the time and almost every time was a completion. Im not sure how many yards Lowery gave up but it seemed like it was close to 200 yards. Just horrendous. Drew Coleman was allowed to play and he showed exactly why the team usually likes to just use him on special teams. He showed no ability to play a ball once it was in the air and looked as if he did not belong on the field. As the pass rush faltered the Jets looked unorganized and went back to playing that old method where guys were caught out of position napping. Even Darrelle Revis today had his problems. Reggie Wayne got the best of him for the second time this season and Revis is going to go home very disappointed with his game. Wayne fakes Revis out of his shoes after a catch and in general the Jets secondary was terrible tackling. The Colt receivers made them look foolish after they caught the football.
It is very easy to find the turning point of the game. With the game firmly in control Manning got the ball back with just over two minutes. All the Jets had to do was make one more stop. When Manning is held under 10 points in the first half the track record is very spotty in the playoffs. The Jets had that opportunity to create that situation for Manning and could not answer the challenge. The Jets coach would not have wanted the situation any differently. His defense with a chance to ice the game. Austin Collie ate the Jets alive with his route running. When a secondary meltdown that looked to be the fault of S Eric Smith led to a 1 minute score the game was more or less over. 17-13 Jets was about the same as 23-17 Colts. It swung the momentum that badly, completely changed the pace of the game, and the defense never recovered. They only forced one punt past that point in the game.
Jay Feely has not had a lot of big games in his career and came up short in this one. Playing inside the dome he missed a big FG at the start of the game and then missed a longer range FG later on. It really is that first miss that is the killer miss. Who knows how the game would have changed. It most likely did not cost the Jets the game, but it is so depressing to once again be writing about a bad special teams play. Im not sure there was ever a season where the Jets special teams played so poorly all season long. Steve Weatherford punted well and cemented his role as the leader in the punter race next season. Brad Smith had some nice returns and the coverage team played very well.
I’m sure there will be some gripes about the coaching, especially the conservative nature at the end of the first half or seeming lack of adjustments at the half, but there is not much a coach can do when they simply play a better team. The Colts WR’s were far too polished for a secondary that simply has little talent on the field. The Jets strength is not dropping their Lbs into zone coverage and flooding the secondary. Its attacking and letting their guys play bump and run coverage for a short period of time. It did not work against Manning. The Jets were extremely creative on offense early on. They attacked the Colts on first down. They varied the run/pass attack. They had the brilliant Smith Wildcat pass play. They were hurt losing Greene as the offense was centered around him being on the field. Ryan called two timeouts in the first half to get the proper packages on the field which worked and certainly had his team ready to go at the start of the game.
The one area where you could criticize Ryan just a bit is when he went ballistic on the sidelines when the referees did not call a blatant personal foul when Sanchez got hit well after he delivered a pass. That is something a more seasoned head coach would not have done. The team feeds off of Ryan and Ryan did not look calm there at all. He slammed his headset and hat down in front of the referee and made a scene on the sideline that may have made Lou Piniella blush. He took himself out of the game there and it was easy to see that he realized the game was slipping away and he did not know how to react. Two years from now he would not do the same thing, but today he did and that was bad for the team. All Ryan did was emphasize to the team that it was getting away from them and he did not know what to do.
This one stings so bad. There was likely not a Jets fan in the world that did not for a brief second think Super Bowl when the defense recovered that Addai fumble. Everything was going the Jets way at that point. The offense looked unstoppable. The defense looked like they would have enough room to make it happen. And then that two minute drill ended the dream. The Jets were so close, just like in 1998, and had a meltdown that just changed the game.
It hurts. There was an atmosphere surrounding this team that had never been here before and likely never will be again. That is not to say the Jets will not be here again, just that the situation will be different. There was so much enthusiasm going into this game by the city. Nightly news broadcasts talking about the Jets. The pep rally’s in Times Square. A sendoff in Florham Park. And a team that really bought into it and played up the relationship with the fans. This was not the business like atmosphere that surrounded our 98 team or many of the other championship runs that have graced the New York sports scene. This was a throwback to the college days where it is a giant party where the team, coaches, and campus all come together to create a special moment. It is a shame it had to end now.
Now the Jets have to regroup and focus on next season. Making it this far in the playoffs means very little. When we made it this far in 1998 it seemed as if it was a given that we would be back in 1999. When it did not happen in 1999 we figured 2000 was our year. Next thing you know its 2009 and you cant believe that it took this long to get back to this place. And its not just the “same old Jets” that fail to do it either. How many times did the Falcons get back to AFC Championship game this decade? How many years did it take for the Saints to get back to this stage after people wrote them into the Super Bowl the last two years? Just look at Dan Marino in Miami. He made the Super Bowl as a rookie. Never got close again. The Jets have to be smart and not look at this past season as a guarantee for future success. They did that in 2005 and again in 2007, two of the bitter disappointments of the last decade.
The Jets will be limited in what they can do in free agency this year unless there is a last second push to extend the current CBA. The trade market is more or less going to be closed to the team. About the only free agency money the Jets will have to use this year is whatever money Lito Sheppard, who most certainly will not be back in 2010, receives in the open market. This is going to be a team that is going to have to improve through the use of draft picks. Whether it is using them in the draft or via restricted free agency the Jets have areas that they have to improve in. The team needs a player that can find a way to get into the backfield without scheming. Pace flashes, but would be a deadly complement to such a player. The team needs a more athletic number two corner and possibly a safety to split time with Jim Leonhard. On offense they might be looking for a slot receiver and some extra bodies on the offensive line. But none of these are really a glaring need and as long as the Jets do not fall into the trap they did in 2005 any move they make to improve the team should work. Just do not stand pat and trade up for one guy and assume that 2010 is just a continuation of 2009.
We all know the sad history of this team. Killer injuries. Bad coaches. Crushing losses. It is in our DNA to expect the worst after a loss like this. But this is not a team that is far off. For all of the negativity that surrounded Mark Sanchez and his interceptions he has his moments and no objective viewer can watch his performance in these last three games and say that they have not seen a change. Sanchez grew up in the playoffs and made passes that only a franchise QB can make. He is only 23 years old and the sky is the limit with him. Rex Ryan has a bright future. He does not show the disconnect with the team that plagued Eric Mangini or the poor football acumen of Herman Edwards. He coached a brilliant defense most of the year and grew into the role of head coach as the season went on. The team played so much better once he accepted that role. They became a team rather than two units playing in the same game and Rex realizes it.
This is the type of youth that was not here in 1998. You had an older QB in Vinny Testeverde and an old coach in Bill Parcells. That was a franchise with a smaller window. Young coach and QB is a very large window of potential for a team and there may not have been a period in the last 30 years where that looked to be the case for this franchise. I would not have believed it going into the year where the Jets looked like they were built for a 3 year window that started in 2008, but those two have shown enough flashes to where it is believable that they will trump the rest of the team makeup. If only one of them hits in the NFL you have the makings of a team that at worst will equal the early 2000’s success of Edwards teams. If both are the real deal you have the makings of the perennial contender . We have never had that. Maybe we will finally get it. 2010 will probably tell us a lot about our future. I’d like to think we are in good hands, but only time will tell.
Saying this does not make the loss hurt any less, but this was never supposed to be about 2009 when the season began. For all of the Ryan bravado, which bit him in the behind plenty of times early this year, this was always supposed to be a year about growing and contending for the playoffs. . Had Ryan coached as well early as he had late the Jets would have won the division going away. Not only did the Jets make the playoffs in a wonderful sendoff to their old stadium, but the Jets were a contender for the Super Bowl. That was way more than the team realistically anticipated. As long as the organization uses this as a springboard for the future this loss will go away with time and instead of being the usual “what could have been” memory that plagues us it will be looked at as the turning point for our franchise with something special to follow. Go Jets!