By Jeff Capellini, CBSNewYork/WFAN.com
NEW YORK (WFAN) — A lot of people woke up Tuesday morning overwhelmed with anticipation. They couldn’t wait to flip open their laptops and type away about how the Jets’ win over the lowly Dolphins the night before was needed yet unimpressive.
And they’d be right and at the same time totally predictable.
Look, this team had to crawl before it could run. Considering how abysmal the Jets had looked on both sides of the ball over the previous three weeks, if you actually thought they were going to come out Monday night and put together this masterpiece you were living in fantasy land.
I’ll admit I watched the first half a tad bit agitated. I was disappointed they actually came out flat, couldn’t get a first down for 20 minutes and gave up several long gainers on defense. But after the game ended and I managed to sleep for a few hours, I awoke Tuesday morning pretty much in solidarity with this one truth:
The Jets needed any win. They needed it immediately. Sure, it was no work of art, but it temporarily saved their season. Period. End of story. Moving on.
The real question now is was what you saw Monday night enough of a stepping stone to position them for arguably their biggest regular season game of the Rex Ryan era? Mark Sanchez seems to think so, saying after Monday night’s 24-6 win that his team is indeed “back on track.”
My answer: They probably are not.
The 3-3 Jets take on the AFC West-leading Chargers on Sunday in a matchup that is a must-win, just like pretty much every other game from now on. For them to have the opportunity to be one game above .500 heading into their bye, with games against division rivals Buffalo and New England to start November, isn’t a perfect scenario, but it’s certainly better than the alternative.
The one thing you can take to the bank about San Diego (4-1) is it is not Miami. Other than that, the Chargers are in a lot of ways just as enigmatic as the Jets, especially on offense. They never seem to score as much as their roster says they should. The difference, though, is they have found a way to win and when they do put it all together can be as good as any team in the AFC.
The Jets were never in danger of losing to the winless Fish Monday night. Besides this team proving once again it actually needs to work on fielding kickoffs, the Jets took their time in dismantling an opponent they were supposed to dismantle. That in itself was a major positive. If that game had been tied in the fourth it would have been viewed as a loss even if the Jets had eventually won. In the end, they did enough, but did little to improve their reputation in the court of public opinion.
Overall, the positives slightly outweighed the negatives. Quickly:
* Shonn Greene and the offensive line are getting better. They are not close to what they were last season, but they are getting there. The next step will be for Jets’ backs to average 4.0 yards per carry, something they should be able to do in their sleep considering their personnel and the fact that they’ve done it with relative ease in the past.
* Sanchez and the offensive line made somewhat of a quantum leap. The third-year quarterback was sacked just once during an efficient if unspectacular 14-of-25, 201-yard night. Sanchez spread the ball around to seven different receivers and did not turn it over, ran for one score and passed for another.
* The much-maligned defensive line registered four more sacks, running the team’s total to 19 in six games. Not bad for a bunch of no-names with not one do-it-all guy among them.
* Darrelle Revis is pretty good.
But despite the baby steps, the following is why I have to wonder if the Jets will be able to take the giant step needed this weekend against the Chargers. I’ll explain the negative and then why it looms as an even larger problem considering the opponent.
* The offense had four 3-and-outs to start the game. If the Jets pull that nonsense Sunday, they could easily be down 10-14 points and in a world of hurt.
* The defense is still giving up huge chunks of yardage (see the long run by Reggie Bush to start the game and Brandon Marshall undressing Antonio Cromartie later in the half as the most glaring instances). I understand that all defenses get burned, but the Chargers are loaded on paper. When they aren’t being schizophrenic, they are capable of going the length of the field in no time.
* The Jets appear to have big problems at wide receiver. The Derrick Mason trade may have been a boost to the team’s overall morale, but with Plaxico Burress looking like he’s still in training camp and Santonio Holmes and rookie Jeremy Kerley combining for just five catches for 81 yards on Monday, one has to wonder if the Jets can play catch-up or get out to a big enough lead against the Chargers.
* Personnel-wise, I am beginning to wonder if we’ll ever see Joe McKnight and Aaron Maybin get the chance to do what they are clearly capable of doing on a more consistent basis. McKnight touched the ball twice from scrimmage and not once out of the backfield on Monday. Maybin had a sack and two forced fumbles in limited action. Hey Rex, you have to play these two more. There’s really no way around it.
It’s getting late quickly. Regardless of how the next month shakes out, you will in all likelihood know exactly what the Jets are by the time Thanksgiving rolls around. They could easily be 3-6. What would be rather stunning, considering their current state of affairs, is if the Jets somehow get to 6-3. I’m thinking big because the Jets cannot afford not to. Once you hit 5 losses in a season all bets are basically off, especially in the AFC where so many teams are still alive and kicking.
At the end of the day, the Jets and their fans still have no idea what this team is. The Jets still do not have any semblance of an identity on offense or defense. They look like they may be turning a corner, but regression with this bunch seems to always be just a play away.
Odds are, nothing short of a complete 60 minutes will beat the Chargers. The problem is the Jets have yet to play a full 60 minutes against anyone. And at this point still being a work in progress is acceptable for most teams. But not the Jets. They are in third place in their division and eight teams currently have a better record in the conference. This is supposedly a Super Bowl team I’ll have you remember. The time for tinkering was supposed to be over six weeks ago.
The one saving grace that you can feel somewhat confident in is this: Under Ryan, the Jets have always won the regular season game they’ve had to win.
In 2009, the Jets dropped six of seven before winning three straight. They then lost that horrible game to Atlanta at home to drop to 7-7 before closing with a gift win followed by a decisive win. Then came the playoffs and you know the rest.
In 2010, the Jets started 9-2 only to be outscored 55-9 over their next two. What did they do? They went into Pittsburgh in December and won, split their final two and then came the playoffs. You know the rest.
So here we are in 2011. Nothing has worked out the way many had expected. The Jets lost three straight and then did what they needed to do. Next comes another brutal stretch. If they can navigate those three games the schedule does turn a bit more forgiving.
But because these players have no idea who they are yet collectively, we cannot say with any certainty that the playoffs are coming.
Nor can we even hint that we know the rest.
Don’t even try to guess.
Read more columns by Jeff Capellini
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