By Jeff Capellini, CBSNewYork/WFAN.com
NEW YORK (WFAN) — Ah yes, Christmas Eve.
There’s nothing better than the anticipation that comes with spending time with family and friends, seeing children enjoy all the fruits that come with yet another year of good behavior. Nothing.
And this time around stands to be even more memorable than year’s past.
But there will be no snooping.
If NBC has its way you could even end up hearing that jingle, followed by receiving that Lexus that’s supposedly a rite of passage, especially during these trying economic times. Or, perhaps Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law will reward you for catching their new and forced-down-our-throats “Sherlock Holmes” flick during the day by dressing up as Santa Claus and his English elf later that night at your very special gathering.
Make no mistake, Dec. 24 once again has all the makings of that special day you’ve enjoyed since you were a tiny tot.
But all that said, as far as the NFL goes, you are forbidden to look ahead.
If I so much as hear a Jets fan mention the Giants before next Sunday at around 7:30 p.m., I’ll turn your home into a coal mine.
There is work to be done between now and then, work the Jets absolutely under no circumstances can afford to take any less seriously than the work they have put in over the last month, the effort that has helped them save their season and put them in position to actually enjoy Christmas the way they had envisioned some 14 weeks ago.
I keep reading how the Jets ‘ remaining regular season schedule is “favorable.” Sure, the combined record of their final three opponents is a rather unremarkable 16-23. I get it.
But if you think the Jets (8-5) should just waltz through those three games, you are a hell of a lot more arrogant than you should be. Yes, the Jets, on paper at least, should be able to complete an incredible run of six straight wins to close their season, a streak that would give them the same record they had last season and, almost assuredly, the same playoff seed. However, contrary to popular belief, all three of their remaining opponents have plenty to play for, even if at least two of them have no chance to make the playoffs.
I’ll only deal with the first one on the ledger in this space at this particular time. The other two won’t need any introduction or analysis anywhere in the Jets’ oft-uncivilized world once the time is right.
You can kill the Eagles (5-8) for being this “Dream Team” that went afoul of expectations all you want, but the bottom line is they are still very dangerous. They have more weapons on both sides of the ball than the Jets’ last three vanquished opponents combined. They have the ability to run and stop the run. They can pass and stop the pass. We are beginning to see that despite all their dysfunctional issues, they appear to have a sense of pride.
Oh, and did I mention the Jets have never won in Philadelphia in the regular season? In fact, the Jets have never beaten the Eagles in eight tries, whether at Shea, Giants Stadium,Veteran’s Stadium or their current home.
This won’t be easy for the Jets. Lincoln Financial Field can be a brutal place to play, mostly because it’s in Philadelphia, where they hate everyone, most especially sports teams from New York. The Eagles and their fans will want nothing more than to destroy their big brother city’s chances at postseason play, which a loss could very well do if things don’t shake out correctly the rest of the way.
And while the Jets are on a roll and appear to have a better clue on offense and more accountability on defense, they still have not beaten anyone of note since getting embarrassed by Tim Tebow in Denver a month ago. The one thing the Jets have done during their three-game winning streak is beat teams they were supposed to beat, one in dramatic fashion, one with a fourth quarter that was reflective of a team that understood the urgency of the situation and the other, Sunday’s 37-10 pasting of the hapless Chiefs, in the way a contender is supposed to handle a doormat — from the get-go.
But trying to control Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, not to mention underrated tight end Brent Celek and receiver Jason Avant, plus a defense that when on can be as good as once lauded, will require that the Jets do something they still have not done since the Jacksonville game back in Week 2 — play a complete 60 minutes.
Even during Sunday’s rout of Kansas City the Jets had some lulls, primarily on offense. It wouldn’t be fair to judge the Jets defensively either way because the Chiefs were just that bad.
While expecting the Jets to march 80 yards on every drive is unrealistic, they still did look a bit disheveled during a few stretches of the first half. But the good news is the Tom Moore influence on the offense was readily apparent while the outcome was still sort of in doubt. The play-calling was nicely balanced. Quarterback Mark Sanchez was not put in precarious situations that would have forced him to throw into coverage, as evidenced by the fact that Jets receivers combined for all of three catches for 22 yards, including not a single grab by their hottest receiver, Plaxico Burress. Tight end Dustin Keller became a factor again and LaDainian Tomlinson was used as originally advertised.
And the Jets rightly leaned on Shonn Greene as both a runner and receiver. Greene is on pace to maybe hit that 1,150-1,200-yard rushing mark many penciled him in for back in the preseason and he’s clearly worked on his hands because they throw to him now and, to the surprise of many, he catches the ball.
However, the efficiency will need to continue against the Eagles because as the Jets will soon find out Vick is not Tyler Palko or Rex Grossman. Yes, Vick is wildly inconsistent and it seems like a stiff breeze is enough to knock him out of games from time to time, but he remains dangerous nonetheless. If I’m Rex Ryan or defensive coordinator Mike Pettine I instruct my charges to keep the slashing quarterback in the pocket as much as possible. Make him throw to beat you. Hope the Jets build off Aaron Maybin’s resurgence and their five-sack effort from Sunday. Do not let Vick improvise, for that’s his ultimate strength.
McCoy has quietly turned into an elite NFL running back. In deference to the great Cris Carter, all McCoy does is score touchdowns … and slice up opposing defenses and catch passes. The list goes on and on. He’s a true offensive beast.
Maclin, when healthy, is a stud of a receiver, and Jackson, when not pouting or otherwise acting like a child, can change any game at any time. Celek always seems to be open and has very good hands, and Avant does all the little things, plus many of the spectacular things that are often overlooked in the final analysis. Heck, even Riley Cooper can be dangerous if you don’t pay attention.
You shouldn’t expect the Jets to shut this team down. The combination of all that skill, playing with a purpose and competing in their own building in front of a mob of folks who wouldn’t give a second’s thought to stealing all of your Christmas presents will have the Eagles extremely keyed up for a matchup that many thought back in August was a Super Bowl preview. Well, this game might very well be the Eagles’ championship game. To expect them to lay down is crazy. On the contrary, I expect them to bring it much like they did against the Giants a few weeks ago and this past Sunday against the formally surging Dolphins.
So it’s imperative the Jets score points, a lot of them. They’d be well-advised to get out to some kind of lead and then not go into a conservative shell, which sometimes happens with this bunch because they’re not too good at embracing prosperity.
And if you think I’m overreacting or giving the Eagles way too much respect, I’ll just say this: Nobody in their right mind expected Tebow to do what he did to the Jets. Yet he did it. What that loss did was galvanize the Jets into more of a united front. I’m not saying they have since regained the “swagger” so many fans love to use as a badge of honor, but they did come to realize the seriousness of the situation. Now, the Jets are in a situation where one loss could end everything. They likely won’t have the luxury of learning from another loss, unless they plan on taking their lesson into next season. The Jets are simply more self-aware now, and not in the manner we’re accustomed with dream quotes for reporters.
The Jets know what needs to be done because they’ve been in playoff mode for a month. So it really doesn’t matter that Sunday’s opponent is the Eagles. The same approach would have to be taken regardless of the foe. But when you look at all the talent the Eagles have and at a coach in Andy Reid who may not have won the big one yet, but always seems to have his teams in position late in seasons to at least compete for a ring, the opponent and venue this weekend will, without question, pose the most difficult of challenges for the Jets since they got shellacked by the Patriots the second time.
The only way Christmas Eve week has the chance to live up to the hype is if both New York teams take care of business this week. And while I generally do not concern myself with what the Giants do, they should kick around the crappy Redskins on Sunday at home.
That will leave the Jets to live up to their end of the bargain.
And winning in the madhouse that is always Philly, considering all that’s at stake, could very well be the only way we truly learn if these Jets are, indeed, everything many believe they are cracked up to be.
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