By Jason Keidel
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By some hiccup of happenstance, nearly all my friends are Jets fans. I needn’t explain the torment of the 42-year Super Bowl drought and all its trappings, from Gastineau Games to Mud Bowls to 10-0 at halftime in Denver to 17-13 in Indy…
The Jets love doing this to you, this sporting lap dance. And just when you’re all in, ready for the Champagne Room, the lights flash on and the club closes.
So it was last night. With everything to gain or lose, the Jets chose the latter. The bulk of my friends are fuming over Brian Schottenheimer’s play calling, but he didn’t give up 37 points. (Perhaps you’d argue he surrendered seven at the end.) Last night wasn’t about tactics; it was about temerity. New England wanted it more. Much more. There’s no other way to explain the score despite the disparity in talent.
The first drive was Exhibit A. The Jets, passing on first down, sliced the Patriots’ malnourished secondary all the way down the turf, setting up first-and-goal, with the Patriots clearly on their heels. Jets Nation rabid. National television. No points.
The Jets (5-4) had countless chances to pound the Patriots (6-3). But between bungled interceptions and fumbled punts, the Jets were the ones who looked like the team shredded by injuries and clouded by incompetence, not New England. For such a lopsided score, you’d never know the Jets had so many chances to win.
Of course, this doesn’t mean the Jets are out of the playoffs. But the AFC is deep this year (nine teams have at least five wins) and a spot on top of the AFC East is the only sure way to play in January, a spot they put in serious peril last night, at home, with so much at stake. New England has the easiest schedule in the NFL the rest of the year, and if the Jets miss the playoffs this season, last night is the reason.
New England’s haters (and I am chief among them) accurately assert that the dynasty days are over, that the Patriots haven’t won a ring in seven years, pointing proudly to 18-1.
But the Jets – and their fans – don’t have the prerogative to be derogative. Bill Parcells famously said you are what your record says you are. Using that criterion, Gang Green is gangrenous, losing a vital game on the very turf the expected to defend in January. This is the problem with Rex Ryan’s confetti shower confessions and promised parades. You actually have to back it up someday. Surely we agree that it will take at least ten wins to make the playoffs, meaning the meandering Jets must go 5-2 the rest of the way.
You’ll point to the four road playoff wins over the last two years, but the Jets lost, on the road both years before the Super Bowl, because it’s so tough to win three postseason games away from home. (Only the Packers, Steelers, and Giants have done it.) This is the problem with living on the edge every year. You eventually fall off.
Despite Bill Belichick’s bio as a defensive savant, his cherished defense has been brutally bad. Despite drafting 25 defenders since 2007, the Patriots have hemorrhaged yards. Predictably, the Jets were able to run the ball and pass the ball. But not score the ball. This doesn’t speak to strategy as much as mindset. Last night was a referendum on desire.
I can’t name four defenders on the Patriots’ defense. I’m still trying to pronounce No. 50’s name. The whole unit reminds me of those extras from the set of the old Star Trek series. Always clad in red, you knew they’d be vaporized in the transporter or morph into a salt cube in the first five minutes in the show. Only Kirk and Spock remained. Just like Belichick and Brady.
The Patriots were hurt and cold, most of America jumping off their bandwagon as though it were on fire. The Jets were healthy and hot, with their bandwagon bulging after whipping Buffalo last week. As Cris Collinsworth perfectly put it, this was supposed to be the “changing of the guard night.”
How’s that going?
Feel free to email me: Keidel.Jason@gmail.com