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By Peter Schwartz
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It’s amazing how things can change in just a week.
Before last week’s thrilling 22-17 win in Pittsburgh, Jets fans were pressing the panic button after back-to-back losses to the Patriots and Dolphins. Now, while winning the AFC East and hosting playoff games are a long shot, the Gang Green faithful are feeling a lot better as the Jets head to Chicago for Sunday’s contest with the Bears.
While they needed some help during week sixteen last year (even before they got help from Colts head coach Jim Caldwell), the Jets have destiny in their own hands heading into Sunday’s game.
There are three scenarios where the Jets could clinch a playoff spot this week. The Jets can take care of their own business and punch their post-season ticket with a win over the Bears.
“The great thing is that all we have to do is win to get into the playoffs,” says Jets head coach Rex Ryan. “That’s all I know. That’s all I’m concerned with. That’s our focus.”
If they Jets lose in Chicago, they can also make the playoffs with a loss by either the Colts or Jaguars.
But the Jets don’t want to put their destiny on someone else’s hands. They want to finish the job that they started by themselves.
“Our main goal is to win our next game,” said fullback Tony Richardson. “We had a big win and now we move onto Chicago. For us, it’s a must-win situation. We know that it’s going to be a tough challenge for us but I think that we’re up for the task.”
The Jets will certainly have their work cut out for themselves against the NFC North Champions. The Bears are coming off of Monday night’s frozen 40-14 win over the Vikings at the University of Minnesota’s outdoor stadium.
The Bears can beat you in all three phases of the game and the Jets know that they’re in for a challenge.
“We know they’re a good football team,” says Ryan. “Their record proves that. Playing them at their place, it’s not an easy place to play by any stretch of the imagination. They’ll be fired up, but we know how to play. We’ve just got to go out and play to the best of our ability and see what happens.”
Last year, the Jets “earned” a trip to the playoffs by closing out the regular season with wins over the Colts and Bengals. In both of those games, the opponents didn’t have anything to play for although the Colts did have a chance to continue an undefeated season.
Could the Bears be in a similar position on Sunday?
Probably not. They still have a chance to earn a first-round bye so one would think that the Jets will get the Bears “A-game”.
“We’re not satisfied just being division champs and making the playoffs,” says Bears tight end Greg Olsen. “We want to go the whole way. We’ve got two games left. The highest seed you can get gives you more chances of having those home playoff games. If you can get the first-round bye, that would be huge. It’s exciting. But we’re not content. We know where we want to go. We’re not there yet.”
A big issue this week has been the health of quarterback Mark Sanchez. He took a big hit early in the win over the Steelers and underwent an MRI on Monday which came back negative. The Jets are calling it a sore shoulder, but the Daily News is reporting that Sanchez suffered slight cartilage damage.
Regardless of how the injury is characterized, Sanchez believes that he will play on Sunday even if he is not 100 percent.
“I’ll be ready to go for Sunday,” said Sanchez. “I’m planning on playing, whether I am or not. I’m in there. I’m playing, that’s all there is to it and I have to be on the field. That’s what I’m here for and that’s what I’m going to do.”
Sanchez will be facing a pretty good Bears defense including defensive end Julius Peppers who has six sacks in his last five games. It’s a unit that also includes linebacker Brian Urlacher, defensive end Israel Idonije, and cornerback Charles Tillman who ran back an interception 56 yards on Monday night.
While Soldier Field is a tough place to play, the Jets have been road warriors winning nine of their last ten regular season games away from the Meadowlands. They are 11-4 on the road over the last two years.
So, with a couple of exceptions, playing in hostile territory doesn’t faze the Jets.
“If you can win in a place like Pittsburgh, you can win anywhere,” said linebacker Calvin Pace.
“He throws the ball exceptionally well,” said defensive end Shaun Ellis. “He can make all of the throws. Our main objective is to control their running game and make them one-dimensional. We have to put as much pressure on (Cutler) as we can and force him into some bad throws.”
Cutler has a rifle for an arm, however his downfall dating back to his days in Denver has always been inconsistency. When he’s on, he can be deadly accurate.
“He can fit the ball into a hole,” said Jets linebacker Bart Scott. We like to say that he can probably sink a battleship. He’s strong enough. He has that type of power.”
Cutler fired three touchdown passes against the Vikings. On Sunday, he’ll be facing another good defense. He has all the respect in the world for the Jets.
“They’re a very talented team,” said Cutler. “They do a great job scheme-wise. They’re going to create ways to get to the quarterback. They’re going to put pressure on you. They’re going to show a lot of multiple fronts. We’ve got our hands full with these guys. “
Special teams will certainly play a role in Sunday’s game. For the Jets, keeping the ball away from Bears kick/punt returner Devin Hester will be of the utmost importance. Hester’s 64-yard punt return for a touchdown on Monday night was the 14th combined kick-return score of his career, the most in NFL history.
After seeing the footage of the Giants losing to the Eagles on Sunday when Big Blue punter Matt Dodge goofed and punted the ball directly to DeSean Jackson who returned the boot for the game winning touchdown as time expired, it’s not likely that Jets punter Steve Weatherford will make the same mistake.
“Well if we have to, we will punt it out of bounds,” said Ryan.
Placing the ball in the right spot has been commonplace for Weatherford this season. He ranks second in the NFL with 35 punts inside the opponents’ 20-yard line. Against the Steelers, he placed three punts inside the Steelers 10-yard line.
The Jets appear to be back on track after a few weeks of turmoil. Then again, this week wasn’t only about football as the team had to deal with the nonsense of the Ryan internet videos. But this is a team that usually bounces back from these things pretty well.
This will be the 10th meeting between the Jets and Bears. Chicago leads the all-time series 6-3. The Bears won the last meeting beating the Jets 10-0 at the Giants Stadium in 2006. The last Jets win came in 2000 when they beat the Bears 17-10 at the Meadowlands. The Jets are 2-2 all-time at Solider Field but this will be their first look at the stadium since it was renovated. Gang Green’s last road game against the Bears was in 2002 when they lost 20-13 at the University of Illinois. The Bears were playing in Champaign while Soldier Field was being renovated.
Ok it’s prediction time. The Jets had a great gameplan to beat the Steelers and I expect it will take a similar effort to beat the Bears in Chicago. Obviously another tough spot for the Jets but they will have to wait until week 17 to wrap up a playoff spot.
Bears 13 Jets 10.
That’s all for now! Enjoy the game!