By Jeff Capellini, CBSNewYork.com
NEW YORK (CBS 2) — What’s right is right. Give the man his due.
The Jets did the unthinkable on Sunday, and they did it in a manner that was as surprising as the victory itself, considering all we knew about them coming in.
If offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer is depicted as the poster boy for all that’s wrong with the team’s offense on the day after losses, he must be lauded on the day after wins.
Especially following a victory like this, likely a season-saving effort that put fans through an emotional meat grinder, but also set the Jets up for a possible holiday buffet if they can pick up where they left off next Sunday in Chicago, likely in the same type of atmosphere against a similar-style opponent.
“Schotty” went from shoddy to not too shabby in 60 minutes during the Jets’ historic 22-17 win over the Steelers. The much-maligned coordinator literally called a perfect game, considering the circumstances. The Jets were coming off a week from hell off the field that only accentuated a two-game slide that featured just three field goals on offense. To say Sunday’s blueprint came out of left field is putting it mildly, but on this day all seems to be forgiven as far as the fan base is concerned.
Well, at least until the next time the Jets’ offense goes into the tank.
But let’s shelve that talk for now, shall we?
The Jets recorded their first win in 12 tries in the state of Pennsylvania — and ended an 0-for-7 string in Pittsburgh — because the defense never broke and because the offense rediscovered not that which led to nine previous wins this season, but instead what was the driving force behind a run to the AFC Championship game last season.
“Ground and pound” returned and quarterback Mark Sanchez the clueless went on vacation.
The Jets took advantage of the absence of Steelers all-world safety Troy Polamalu by going right at Pittsburgh in a mane e mano slugfest that conjured images of the type of performance that should win in the playoffs, regardless of the opponent or the venue. Now I understand winning in New England will take a monumental effort that’s really not worth discussing right now, but send the Jets anywhere else and you have to figure they will show up ready to go. And considering the fact that a division title isn’t going to happen, the Jets are likely going to have to work their playoff magic almost entirely on the road, a place they are currently 6-1.
Schottenheimer kept the Steelers on their heels all game, with a balanced game plan that featured 27 rushing attempts, 29 passes and a ton of misdirection. He stretched the field along the offensive line. The runs up the gut were replaced with runs off tackle, sweeps and delayed hand-offs. Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson accounted for 89 yards on 23 carries and Sanchez played error-free, throwing for 170 yards and rushing for a late-third quarter touchdown that was shocking in scope and flawless in execution.
Facing 4th and short from the 7 with his team down 7, Schottenheimer changed the game by being fearless, something that’s been in short supply for much of the 2010 season. He called a bootleg that was sold so well by Sanchez and Greene, CBS’ cameras and commentators were caught completely off guard. As the black and yellow converged on Greene, Sanchez made a looping run around left end off camera that would have gone for a gigantic gain if it had been called near midfield and if Sanchez suddenly morphed into Michael Vick.
Regardless, the play made the game do a 180. Once tied at 17, the Jets had the look of the executioner instead of that usual victim with a noose around his neck.
Schottenheimer mixed the run with the short passing game. Sanchez shook off the snowy conditions to find Braylon Edwards eight times for 100 yards. He also connected with Santonio Holmes six times, many of which prolonged drives. The offensive line rebounded from poor showings against New England and Miami to open holes against the best run-defense in the league and protected its second-year quarterback to the tune of just one sack allowed.
Most importantly, the Jets never turned the ball over.
Schottenheimer deserves all the credit in the world for standing toe to toe with the mighty Steelers and saying stop us if you can.
They couldn’t when it mattered.
For the first time in a long while all three aspects of the Jets were on the same page. The defense was its usual reliable self. The special teams were amazing. On any other day I’d be writing about Brad Smith (again) and even punter Steve Weatherford, who shook off a bad start to pin the Steelers inside their 10 on numerous occasions. However, the offense — or lack thereof — was the story coming in and ended up being the story coming out.
A similar game plan and the same flawless execution will be needed to beat the Bears in Chicago. They, like the Steelers on Sunday, will have a lot to play for because they will be trying to improve their playoff seeding. Chicago is not as stout as Pittsburgh defensively, but it is still among the NFL’s elite. If you score a touchdown against the Bears in their building, you better frame it because it doesn’t happen very often.
This will be the task facing Schottenheimer and the suddenly resurgent Jets. They have to pick up where they left off. They have no choice. This team has lacked an identity all season and has won many of its games by beating lesser opponents with more individuality than team cohesiveness.
But that may have changed Sunday. Maybe the Jets finally realize ugly and intense is a better way of going about things than flashy and complacent.
Maybe it’s better to punch someone in the mouth and then go for the knockout blow than punching and running, or counter-punching from the opening bell.
Maybe, just maybe, the Jets are who we thought they were back at the end of last season — a team with plenty of flaws but with a firm understanding of what it truly is — a smashmouth operation that only succeeds when every last facet is doing it’s job.
Schottenheimer earned his 2010 wings against the Steelers. Now he needs to coach like he’s bucking for the captain’s chair.