By Steve Lichtenstein
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“I’m going to have nightmares tonight, dreaming that I’ll accomplish something great in my life — only to have it wiped out by a Marty Mornhinweg timeout.”READ MORE: Gov. Cuomo Agrees To Attorney General James' Demand For Legal Referral To Investigate Sexual Harassment Allegations
So said Sam, my 17-year old son, as the clock wound down on the Jets’ brutal 31-24 loss at Green Bay on Sunday.
It’s bad enough that I become such a manic-depressive on football Sundays, but what am I doing to my kids?
I sucked them in early, when parental companionship meant something to them. I was fortunate that the Jets had some modest successes during that period and sealed the deal with my promise that they’d accompany me to the Super Bowl should the Jets ever make it in my lifetime.
I might as well have promised that I’d let them live in the White House should I ever be elected President.
I know that neither these Jets nor I will be in Arizona on February 1, not for football anyway.
And no one really expects them to. Forget head coach Rex Ryan’s pomposity, when was the last time anyone serious picked the Jets to go all the way? 1999?
You see, the Jets are rarely frauds.
It’s worse—they’re teasers. They consistently give false hope to lure their fans into believing that better days are not that far away.
Then they smash that hope into a billion pieces through the most unfathomable defeats.
Like on Sunday, when the Jets stormed out to a 21-3 second-quarter lead over the heavily-favored Packers at hallowed Lambeau Field.
Everything was looking bright, with Jets quarterback Geno Smith maximizing his physical gifts (arm strength, wheels) and minimizing his weaknesses (accuracy, penchant for negative plays). Maybe his Opening Day efficiency was no fluke against a lousy opponent.
The defense, despite an inadequate secondary to deal with Aaron Rodgers, was ferocious in harassing the star Packers quarterback early on.
So now all of a sudden this became a winnable game, one that would have put the Jets at 2-0 with two consecutive MetLife Stadium dates up next on their slate.
My sons and I were giddy over the long-term ramifications. This might not be another lost season after all, we mused.
Of course, the Jets once again morphed into Charlie Brown and the universe played the role of Lucy, who again figuratively snatched the ball away just when Charlie Brown thought he was finally going to kick it.
For those who were spared the misery of the Jets’ latest example of grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory, the quote up top refers to the potentially game-tying 36-yard touchdown pass from Smith to Jeremy Kerley on fourth down with 5:45 remaining in the game. The play was disallowed when a ref ruled that the Jets had used their final timeout just prior to the ball being snapped.READ MORE: COVID Vaccine: Johnson & Johnson Shots Expected This Week, Fauci Urges Americans Not To Be Discouraged By Efficacy
That the timeout was shouted by Mornhinweg, the Jets’ offensive coordinator (or defensive end Sheldon Richardson, who took the blame after the game), instead of Ryan, made no difference. No one on the sideline other than Ryan had that authority. Rules may be rules, but this seems to be an NFL season where they’re made up as the season goes along.
Which begs the question: Why was the ref put in the position of having to distinguish voices from the Jets’ sideline in the first place? What was Mornhinweg thinking?
There was no danger of a delay-of-game penalty as center Nick Mangold was a split second away from snapping the ball to Smith with about 5 seconds left on the play clock. The play actually worked. And at that point of the game, saving that last timeout should have been higher on the priority list. You know, in case Green Bay got the ball back and the Jets needed to stop the clock.
Which is exactly what happened—even though the Jets did pick up the first down following the “timeout” on a short pass to David Nelson, they turned it over on the next set of downs and never got the ball back.
If only that was the sole example of Jets’ dysfunction on Sunday. I’ll just give a few highlights.
A minute into the second half, the Jets burned a timeout on the first play AFTER a lengthy video review.
They even continue to waste timeouts on defense. Twice, Ryan halted play because he couldn’t get his defensive ducks in a row.
Near the end of the third quarter, Jets linebacker David Harris intercepted Rodgers deep in Packers territory, potentially setting up the Jets with a golden chance to even the score. Unfortunately, it didn’t count because the Jets expected 350-pound nose tackle Damon Harrison to be able to run off the field with Rodgers in a no-huddle set. Flag—12 men on the field.
I don’t want to pin this all on Ryan, who clearly hasn’t been dealt a hand with many aces by general manager John Idzik. It’s not all Ryan’s fault that the Jets went into the season believing injury-prone Dee Milliner was a number one cornerback and filled out the depth chart at that position with guys picked off the unemployment line.
Nor did Ryan draft Smith to be the face of the franchise–a spot that he still may not be ready for—and then deprived Smith of the weapons (and—I must mention—a left guard) that he needs to succeed.
In fact, Ryan has been better at doing more with less than any other coach in the franchise’s history. The 2013 iteration was projected for Rich Kotite-like immortality, yet Ryan coaxed that group to a respectable 8-8 record. Ryan has the third-highest winning percentage among all Jets coaches and owns the team record for most playoff victories.
But considering the franchise’s track record, that isn’t saying much.
The Jets haven’t even hosted a playoff game since January 2003, when Sam and I braved freezing temperatures to watch the Jets rout Peyton Manning’s Colts, 41-0. We stood the entire game–I had to hoist Sam on my shoulders so he could see. TV timeouts were a godsend that day.
That’s a memory I am grateful I was able to impart on my son. It was similar to those I shared with my own father, who took me to two Islanders’ Stanley Cup hoistings.
Sam may have been kidding about the Mornhinweg nightmares, but I worry I should know better about the damage that comes with devotion to such a tortured franchise as the Jets.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.
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