By Jeff Capellini, WFAN.com
NEW YORK (WFAN) — The Jets snatched defeat from the jaws of victory on Sunday — and they managed to do it in as agonizing a fashion as the hardcore and old school fans have ever seen.
And that’s saying something, when you consider the plethora of ways this franchise has trampled on its faithful over the years. I view the 29-26 overtime loss to the Patriots up in Foxborough as being as bad a loss as any since the 2010 AFC title game defeat in Pittsburgh. It was among the worse losses in franchise history, considering the manner in which it all went down. Luckily for the Jets, Sunday’s defeat didn’t end their season.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there was plenty to like in the defeat, that is if moral victories are your thing. The Jets are not folding up their tents and going away, at least for a while anyway. They pretty much proved to the world Sunday that they weren’t the world’s worst first-place team as so many joked and laughed about for a week.
But all of that seems inconsequential right now. For a few days Rex Ryan and Co. need to take their medicine for choking that win away — and choke they did — in spectacular fashion.
Even with all of the mistakes — blown kick-off coverage in the first quarter that turned momentum, Mark Sanchez’s attempted hand-off to Shonn Greene’s neck in the second quarter, Sanchez’s brutal interception later, Stephen Hill’s critical drop late in the fourth — the Jets still found themselves with a chance to win with 2:01 to play in regulation.
But then they played not to lose, something you just can’t do in the NFL if you’re serious about exceeding expectations, or, you know, winning games.
Just before the 2 minute warning and just after Hill’s critical drop destroyed a drive that seemed destined for the end zone but instead ended with a tying field goal, the Patriots’ Devin McCourty, who earlier took a 104-yard return to the house, seemingly coughed up the game with a fumble on the ensuing kickoff. The Jets were set up at the Pats’ 18 and the near-impossible at the start of the game looked extremely possible.
But then the Jets did what they’ve done countless times during their mediocre history — they got overly cautious.
Now whether you want to chalk up that series to offensive coordinator Tony Sparano’s conservative nature or Ryan’s undying belief in his defense, the Jets’ coaching staff showed they weren’t ready to win that game. A weak Tim Tebow draw and a run into the line set up a 3rd and 7. Sanchez then took a 10-yard sack, which cemented the horrifying truth: Tom Brady was going to get the ball back with 1:42 to play.
I don’t care how well the Jets’ defense played Sunday. It actually did a nice job containing Brady and Wes Welker and basically held the New England running game in check after some early problems containing Shane Vereen, of all people. But it wasn’t going to matter and probably everyone in that stadium and tuned in at home knew it. The Pats would go no-huddle and spread the field and with the Jets struggling as they have getting pressure on most every quarterback, coupled with Brady’s quick release, it was going to be at best a tie game soon.
What happened from when the Jets grabbed that 26-23 lead to the Sanchez’s fumble to end overtime was, in the final analysis, unimportant. The Jets needed to make a play prior to Nick Folk’s field goal that gave them the lead. They needed to make damn sure Folk’s kick came with a few seconds left, not the eternity Brady was given. One first down pretty much wins that game right there because it would have forced the Pats to exercise their timeouts. Instead, the Jets never tried to get that first down, until they were forced into the 3rd and long.
By then it was too late. And though that sounds like an extremely pessimistic line of reasoning, it’s not Monday morning quarterbacking. I was screaming like Herman Edwards at the television.
“You play to win the game!”
But yet, there was no urgency. There was no inventiveness. There was no creativity. There was just scared play-calling and a misguided belief in a defense few really believe in.
Up until that point, the Jets had outgained the Patriots by nearly 2 to 1 in the second half. Sanchez ended up throwing for more than 300 yards and completed 68.3 percent of his passes — Hall of Fame numbers by his absurdly low standards. Dustin Keller and Jeremy Kerley were nearly unstoppable outside. The Patriots’ secondary may be the worst in football, yet the Jets showed it the type of respect during crunch time that defies logic.
How could the thought of getting aggressive never cross Sparano’s mind? Where was Ryan and his mantra to take a more active voice in the offense? That series ended up being a fiasco because it could have been season-defining if the coaching staff just had the guts to go for it.
They didn’t and now the Jets are looking up at the Pats as usual, when they should be looking down on everyone in the AFC East heading into a very winnable game against Miami at home. Imagine if after all we’ve seen — the brutal offseason, the season-ending injuries, the Sanchez bashing, the Tebow watch, just to name a few — if the Jets had somehow found themselves 5-3 heading into their bye? God forbid.
What Sunday’s loss did was make this weekend’s game basically do or die. If the Jets are 3-5 heading into their off week and then have to go on the road to Seattle and St. Louis, how confident will you be that they’ll somehow get back home for their rematch with New England on Thanksgiving at .500 and still with a pulse?
For all intents and purposes the Jets went into Foxborough and shocked the hell out of a team that should have handled them. I think the Jets can beat the Pats at home in a month, but not if the wheels that were loosened by Sunday’s loss fall off between now and then.
Fans have a right to blame a bunch of different people for this incredibly stupid defeat, but they need to have some perspective, because, like I said, even with all the things that went wrong the Jets still had a chance to win the last time they had the ball in regulation. You can kill Sanchez for his many mistakes, but you must be fair about it. He played his best game since the opener by far. Hill’s drop looked like death at the time, but was erased by McCourty’s fumble.
The Jets actually played like warriors in that very hostile environment on Sunday, probably better than anyone could have imagined. But it was their sideline leaders — Sparano and, to a lesser extent, Ryan — that let them down.
If the coaching staff doesn’t believe in the players to get the job done when it truly matters, how can the Jets believe in themselves?
Last week I wrote that the Jets probably weren’t ready to win up in Foxborough. I ended up being right, but not by design. I never took into account the yellow streak that runs up the back of the men on their coaching staff.
Until I see otherwise, I’ll never make that mistake again.
Read more columns by Jeff Capellini and follow him on Twitter at @GreenLanternJet
Who do you blame for Sunday’s loss? Or are you still the eternal optimist? Please offer your thoughts in the comments section below …