Post Game Thoughts: Jets 31 Dolphins 23
It seems that almost every year when these two teams meet they always play close games that come right down to the wire and this game was no different. The Jets gave the fans a lot of anxious moments in this game, but the continued maturation of a young QB proved too much for the Miami Dolphins on this night, as the Jets get their revenge on a Dolphin team that swept them last season.
Mark Sanchez continues to grow and emerge as the leader of this ball club. Sanchez played exceptionally well throwing for 256 yards and 3 scores. He continued his streak of no turnovers and while I am sure a certain radio host will say he got lucky on a dropped interception by a defensive lineman that was not the story tonight. The story tonight was a QB that answered all the critics with a huge game on the road against a division opponent. Early in the game Sanchez used TE Dustin Keller, who had a spectacular first half, to jump out to a quick lead and get the Miami defense backpedaling. Sanchez did a number of things that will not show up in a stat sheet. A year ago Sanchez would have made certain throws that might have resulted into turnovers, but tonight he went through all his reads making the smartest choice even if it meant an incompletion. Sanchez' 20 yard pass to WR Braylon Edwards with about 4 minutes left in the game on a 3rd and 10 is the type of play a star QB made. Keller put back to back games together for the first time since perhaps his rookie year. Keller was a stud in the game and his performance went beyond the great first half stats. Keller made a number of good blocks in the running game and was the guy that drew the help on Edwards big score. Edwards made the two biggest plays of the game and also contributed with excellent run blocking, shaking off a week of off the field problems. RB LaDainian Tomlinson continued his resurgence of his career with another great effort. He is a big play waiting to happen once he turns the corner. He is a huge upgrade over what was here last season. He may not end up with the gaudy stats, but his contributions can not be downplayed. Hopefully he holds up all season. WR Brad Smith made the most critical plays of the game and was the unsung hero. He had a great run for 16 yards on 3rd down to pick up a first down on a drive that eventually led to a FG and made another big run on the game sealing 4th quarter drive. Everytime the Jets seemed to use him in the option formation he made it work against a defense that should know that type of offense better than anyone in the NFL.
There were of course negatives with the game as well, most of which lies with the offensive line. LG Matt Slauson does not look like he belongs in the NFL. His penalties he picked up are almost inexcusable. Slauson just gets physically overwhelmed at times and is going to get his QB killed. Slauson cost his team at least 4 points in this game. RT Damien Woody had some penalties and had his hands full with LB Cameron Wake, who he did not look like he could contain. Woody is a solid veteran presence but this will likely be his last year starting if he does not pick up the pace. All in all this is nowhere near the same level of play that the Jets had last year from the front 5. RB Shonn Greene and WR Jerricho Cotchery continue their mediocre contributions. In Cotchery's case it is clear that Sanchez has developed more chemistry with Edwards and Keller which may explain the lack of receptions, but Greene has no excuse. Right now he is making 2009 look like a fluke. The Jets will need him in the future so hopefully he can turn things around.
Just like last season in Miami, the Jets were physically overwhelmed by the Dolphins players. Midway through the third quarter the defense looked like a beaten group. The TV cameras showed pictures on the sidelines of players that looked completely exhausted in the Miami heat and when they were in the game they were just getting pushed around. The third down defense continues to be terrible and somewhere Tom Brady has to be scratching his head wondering just what happened last weekend. Chad Henne, who has been horrible this season, carved up the Jets defense to the tune of 363 yards. They could not hold a 14 point lead and nearly blew the game in the 4th quarter when they allowed Miami to drive from their own 25 to the Jets 10 yard line in about 50 seconds. CB Darrelle Revis can not get back soon enough. CB Antonio Cromartie had a number of good plays on WR Brandon Marshall, but Marshall had his best game as a Dolphin and put up huge numbers in the game. CB Kyle Wilson was a disaster on the field. The speed of the game right now looks to be too much for Wilson, who was beaten over and over in the first half. He nearly gave up a huge pass on the Dolphins opening play but was saved when Henne overthrew the WR Brian Hartline. Miami clearly targeted him all night when he was matched against a wide receiver. WR Davone Bess had 60 yards against him in the first half and Wilson also picked up a huge interference call when he just bowled over Hartline. The Jets adjusted somewhat in the second half by putting him on the slower less skilled TE Anthony Fasano, but it's clear that Wilson has a long road ahead of him. He is showing no ability to play the ball in the air and seems to be confused about how to read the receiver. S Jim Leonhard's lack of size continues to be exploited as teams are taking their chances when they realize the shorter Leonhard is the safety help. This may be the one area where the team misses former S Kerry Rhodes who was more physically imposing than the small Leonhard. The Jets need to get S Brodney Pool in the game more. He made the big pass deflection on the last drive of the game while S Eric Smith gave up one score and got run over on another play.
The run defense was solid for the most part as RB's Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams did little. NT Sione Pouha and DE Mike DeVito both seemed to do a solid job in controlling the line of scrimmage. LB David Harris was a monster. He was all over the field and made some tremendous hits in the backfield. This was his best game of the season. Shaun Ellis and Jason Taylor both had a sack, but the Jets are still missing that ability to hit the QB consistently. They had a few other pressures on the night, but Henne had far too much time in the pocket on most plays. With Revis' out of the game it becomes harder for the team to blitz and Miami did seem to have a number of max protect plays to keep Henne clean which may have also contributed to the lack of pressure. Right now the best hope for the Jets pass rush is to see what happens when Taylor, Ellis, and Calvin Pace are all on the field at the same time once Pace returns from injury. All in all a pretty bad game for the defense and this is two of three games where they have shown some bad tendencies on 3rd downs. Unless they get that fixed it will be hard for the Jets to play at the same level they did last season.
Maybe Eric Smith is a lousy safety, but the guy can block punts. He found his way into another one tonight and it should have put the Jets in a commanding position if not for some offensive penalties. Brad Smith had a tremendous night returning kicks. His 50+ yard return should have changed the momentum of the game but the team failed to capitalize. P Steve Weatherford had a number of excellent kicks and K Nick Folk continued his strong play. The coverage teams certainly seem to be far superior to last years version.
I'm sure there will be some criticism of Rex Ryan for not challenging a clear incomplete pass by Bess early in the game, but he was trying to save his challenges for a more crucial point of the game. In hindsight it may have looked like the wrong choice, but at that point in time he has to have the faith in the defense to stop Miami. Ryan did make a great decision to have a player fake injury to get his team a breather. Denver did the same thing to us in 2008.
Offensively the team was brilliantly coached. They had a great gameplan to utilize Keller early which allowed the field to open for Edwards late. They made great use of Smith in his wildcat package and really made some excellent play calls. Ryan made some good adjustments as the game went on, namely taking Wilson off wide receivers and getting Pool in the game for the final play. Penalties continue to be an issue with this team and that has to be fixed. The Jets did not have this problem last season and it may be that Ryan changed up his prep work with the team just assuming that they would be fine this year. Clearly they are not. The staff also looked awful late in the 2nd quarter as they burned 2 time outs in about 5 seconds because they did not know who to send onto the field and what plays to call. It was an awful series of plays. But the bottom line was the staff trusted the QB to make plays and he won the game for them. In week 1 they would not have trusted him to do that.
It sure feels great to finally be on the winning end of one of these nail biters. Last year the Jets always seemed to lose these games. They lost twice to the Dolphins this way. In Miami the Dolphins scored on the final play to win the game while in New York the Dolphins stuffed the Jets on a 4th down with the game on the line with no time remaining. This year the Jets got to stuff the Dolphins in the same situation.
Clearly the Jets have a lot of work to do if they want to contend for the Super Bowl, but they have put themselves in a really good spot with a 2-0 record in the division. They have the Buffalo Bills next week and a win puts the Jets at 3-0 with two of those wins on the road. That would be a dominant position in the division, especially considering the Vikings, who look lost, would be the week 5 opponent.
This was a huge win for the Jets tonight as it gets that last taste of bad memories from last year out of the system. To do it in front of one of the best and loudest Miami home crowds in recent memory makes it all the more impressive. The team puts behind them a week of all kind of off the field controversy and problems with a win. A win makes all the problems go away. A loss would have intensified the problems and possibly hurt the team. Now hopefully the team can turn the page, stop the off field problems, and just focus on football for the next 14 weeks.
The team did more than enough bad in this game to where they should not fall into the trap of underestimating the Bills next week. The Bills played a great game against New England which should help the Jets mentally prepare for a big game rather than a walkover type of contest. They fell into the trap last season against the Bills and hopefully they learned from that. The growing confidence of Sanchez and the offense around him is really what teams need to ensure they avoid those traps.
The Jets look like they can win games offensively this season and if they can get the defense and offense to play well at the same time, as they did in the 2nd half against New England, it has the makings of a truly special team. But the staff has to work hard to get the Jets to play at that level consistently and they have to get the team to cut down on the excessive penalties. You can not win in this league by giving free yards to the opposition. If Rex Ryan can do all of that a AFC East division crown should be the Jets to lose.