By Peter Schwartz
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It certainly has been a roller coaster season for the Jets.
After the lockout, they reshaped their roster and then tinkered with it during training camp and then again throughout the season. It took longer than expected, but the Jets have come together and regained their swagger as they try to make their way into the postseason.
With three games to go, starting on Sunday against the Eagles, the Jets control their own playoff destiny at 8-5. They are in sole possession of the 6th seed in the AFC and they can punch their ticket to the playoffs with wins in their final three games.
There’s a saying that you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression, but the Jets are proving that to be just a myth.
After a three-game losing streak dropped them to 2-3 and a two-game slide that left them at 5-5, the Jets have that new lease on life that they were looking for.
But while the Jets are trying to scratch and claw their way into the playoffs, their primary focus is on this Sunday’s game with the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Make no mistake about it. It’s playoff time right now. The Jets continue to take things one game at a time — and that’s not just coach speak coming from head coach Rex Ryan. The players have bought into that philosophy as well.
“We coach speak the heck out of it,” said center Nick Mangold. “It’s one game at a time because that’s all that matter. This (the Eagles) is all we have to focus on.”
The Jets will be facing an Eagles team that has underachieved based on the pre-season “Dream Team” expectations. But while they are 5-8 this season, the Eagles are dangerous, especially with Michael Vick back under center.
But the Jets will be challenged with finding a balance in defending Vick. They could fall into the trap of worrying too much about Vick’s legs instead of his left arm.
“That’s a possibility,” said linebacker David Harris. “If you worry about him running, you might lose track of one of those fast wide receivers getting downfield. DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin have been thriving off of that. So, you just have to play all-around good defense.”
Jackson is also a big threat on special teams returning punts. While the Jets hope they don’t have to send T.J. Conley out there that often, his job will be to keep the ball away from Jackson.
How dangerous is he?
“I think there are people around here that might be able to answer that question better than us,” said Ryan referring to Jackson’s game winning return against the Giants last season. “Let’s face it, if he doesn’t make that return, Green Bay doesn’t even go to the playoffs last year. “He is one of those guys where you have to hold your breath every time he gets it and it’s like, “Oh, just get him on the ground.” He is a special returner.”
For the Jets sake, one has to hope that Conley follows instructions unlike Matt Dodge.
Defensively, the Eagles can bring the heat. While they give up over 22 points per game, they are ranked second in sacks with 42. They have a ton of playmakers including defensive end Justin Babin (15 sacks), defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins (5.5 sacks), safety Kurt Coleman (4 interceptions) and cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha (3 interceptions).
“They’re some of the best players I’ve seen all year on tape, so it’s going to be another great challenge for us,” said Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez. “They have great pass rushers, two, three, really stellar corners, a couple good safeties and fast flow linebackers, so we’re going to have our hands full this week and we’re going to need a great effort.”
The Jets have made a habit out of great efforts this time of year since Ryan took over in 2009. Gang Green is battle tested when it comes to winning important games in December and January. Since their up and down season this year has put them in a tight playoff race, it’s hard to bet against them finding a way to punch their postseason ticket.
“I guess we work well under pressure,” said cornerback Darrelle Revis. “Guys have been rallying together and we’re just coming to a point where we just want to win games and that’s what we’re doing now.”
If they can rally together for three more wins, the Jets will have accomplished something that they have never done before — and that is three straight trips to the playoffs.
But first things first and that’s trying to do something else the franchise has never done before.
Beat the Philadelphia Eagles.
THE JETS/EAGLES SERIES
The Eagles lead the all-time regular season series against the Jets 8-0, 4-0 in Philadelphia and 4-0 in New York/New Jersey.
Most of the games have been close including the most recent contest, a 16-9 Eagles victory at Giants Stadium back in 2007. Perhaps one of the most memorable (or least memorable) games between the Jets and Eagles took place on October 3rd, 1993, a 35-30 Philly victory at Giants Stadium.
The Jets raced out to a 21-0 lead thanks to a trio of Boomer Esiason touchdown passes. Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham suffered a fractured left fibula in the second quarter so Bubby Brister came on to replace him.
After the Eagles cut the lead to 21-14 at halftime, Esiason threw his fourth touchdown pass of the game hitting Johnny Mitchell on a 65-yard scoring play in the third quarter to give the Jets a 14-point lead.
The Eagles would rally to tie the game at 28 in the fourth quarter before the Jets regained the lead when Brister was called for intentional grounding in the end zone. With the Jets up 30-28 and driving, Eric Allen picked off Esiason at the Eagles six-yard line. On what NFL Films once called the greatest interception of all-time, Allen raced 94 yards for the game-winning touchdown.
You can watch it here:
“Painful,” said former Jets defensive lineman Marvin Washington on Facebook after seeing my link to that video. “I remember thinking where are all of our fast guys to catch him?”
Allen made his way through a few missed tackles for what was definitely a painful moment in Jets history. However, for those who are nostalgic, it was good to hear Pat Summerall and John Madden again!
When the Jets were 5-5 and there was talk that they could still make the playoffs by winning out over their final six games, I felt that they would stub their toe somewhere along the way.
I think that happens this week. It’s a terrible match-up for the Jets as they try to shut down Vick. Without Jim Leonhard, the quarterback of the Jets defense, I can see things getting a bit chaotic as they try to find someone to shadow No. 7 in green.
Eagles 27, Jets 17
THE WILD CARD RACE
As we have discussed, the Jets are in control of their playoff destiny with three weeks to go in the regular season. If the Jets win out, they will head to the playoffs for the third straight season, something that has never happened in franchise history.
AFC Wild Card Standings
1) Steelers 10-3
2) Jets 8-5
Bengals, Raiders, Titans are 7-6
According to http://www.playoffstatus.com, the Jets now have a 55% chance of capturing the 6th seed, a 1% chance at the 5th seed, and a 44% chance of not making the playoffs.
Here’s a look at the remaining schedules for the AFC Wild Card contenders:
@ Eagles (5-8)
@ Dolphins (4-9)
@ Rams (2-11)
@ Chiefs (5-8)
@ Colts (0-13)
@ Texans (10-3)
The Jets have scored 13 touchdowns over the last three weeks. That ties them with the Packers, Patriots and Saints for the most touchdowns in the NFL in that time span.
During the Jets three-game winning streak, Mark Sanchez has passed for 526 yards, thrown 7 touchdowns, rushed for two more scores, and has a passer rating of 95.2.
With a safety against the Chiefs, the Jets defense has recorded six safeties since Ryan became head coach, the most in the NFL since 2009.
The Jets lead the NFL in Red Zone efficiency through thirteen games. The have scored touchdowns on 30 of 42 chances for a percentage of 71.4. The Jets have scored touchdowns on their last 12 trips inside the 20.
The Jets are 6-0 when Shonn Greene rushes for 100 yards. He scampered for 129 in the win over the Chiefs. What do you think the formula will be this week?
VOTE FOR SHONN!
Greene is a finalist for the FedEx Ground NFL Player of the week. The other finalists are Brandon Jacobs of the Giants and Marshawn Lynch of the Seahawks. Fans can vote for their choice at nfl.com/fedex up until 3 p.m. EST on Friday. The winner will be announce Friday on NFL Total Access on the NFL Network and on NFL.com.
This past Tuesday, The New York City Department of Education, the New York Jets, and Lime Connect, an organization that connects people with disabilities for career opportunities, congratulate the 100 winners of the “Be a Champion” essay-writing contest that launched at the beginning of the 2010-11 school year.
Jets linebacker Aaron Maybin was on hand for the event at Baruch College. The inspirational essays reflect on what it means to be a champion as these students prepare for the challenges of high school and set goals for life after graduation.
That’s all for now! Check back Monday for a Jets/Eagles recap!
What’s your prediction for Jets-Eagles? Sound off below!