By Steve Lichtenstein
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Kids may say the darnedest things, but many times they’re simply blurting out the painful truth.
So when Titans tight end Delanie Walker was shoved out of bounds by Jets safety Dawan Landry 9 yards short of the game-winning score as time expired on Sunday, my 14-year old son Jack couldn’t contain his disappointment.
“The Jets just blew next year,” he said.
As anyone who sat through that tortuous 16-11 affair in Tennessee knows, the Jets lost more by winning than if they had actually fallen short on the scoreboard on Sunday.
That’s because the Jets improved their record to 3-11 while the Titans joined three other clubs that sunk to 2-12. Thanks to losing out on a tiebreaker with Washington, the Jets are currently sitting in the sixth slot in the 2015 NFL draft.
That in turn will likely kick the Jets out of the sweepstakes to snare one of the top quarterbacks, namely Oregon’s Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota or Florida State’s Jameis Winston (winner of the 2013 Heisman), in the draft. No one outside the respective war rooms knows for sure, but you’ve got to think that both Tennessee and Tampa Bay will be looking hard at that position given their current depth charts.
It should also be noted that no one can guarantee that either Mariota or Winston will develop into an elite NFL quarterback. The difference between the pros and college is staggering. Every Mariota throw on his highlight reel seemed to go to a wide-open receiver, which won’t be the case once he sees how much speed NFL defenses present. For every Andrew Luck, there’s three Jamarcus Russells.
Ah, but if the Jets could have secured a top quarterback in the draft, at least we wouldn’t be subjected to another year of Geno Smith.
Smith was at his serviceable best on Sunday, meaning he didn’t turn the ball over and managed to complete more than 50 percent of his passes. Of course, he was dropped for three sacks—including one for a safety—and left a few big plays on the field with missed throws to open receivers.
As much as coach Rex Ryan loves his Ground and Pound, that’s not the way things are done in the NFL any more. In his first two seasons, Smith has yet to earn Ryan’s trust to go out and WIN games instead of just trying not to do anything that will lose them.
General manager John Idzik, who drafted Smith in the second round in the 2013 draft, wasted this entire season to prove what everyone else knew by the end of September—whether or not Smith has the tools to be a franchise quarterback.
He so doesn’t, and now the Jets are in the position of needing a new one before training camp 2015.
So of course Jack, as well as legions of Jets fans, was rooting hard for Tennessee on Sunday. At this point of the season, what would one more win over another lousy team accomplish?
Unfortunately, as I explained to Jack prior to the game, tanking isn’t that easy. Sure the 76ers have perfected it into an art form (their play at the end of the fourth quarter in their loss to Memphis on Saturday should be investigated) in the NBA, but football is different.
In addition to Ryan, who surely knows he will be ousted and doesn’t want to go down in flames, there’s both the standard professionalism of NFL players as well as the need—since most are on voidable contracts–to perform their jobs well enough so they can keep them next season.
In a bit of irony–since in the third quarter he needlessly stepped out of bounds at the 33-yard line to nullify an 81-yard touchdown and later dropped a key third-down pass–I mentioned to Jack before the game that maybe someone like wide receiver Erik Decker could do it because he has guaranteed money coming to him next season.
Decker’s reaction to the drop may have looked suspicious to me, but you’re not catching seven balls for 100 yards if you’re tanking.
No, all of Ryan’s Jets will surely play hard to the last down in Miami.
Still, they couldn’t resist one more tease for the fans who were praying for a defeat.
Tennessee may have needed to travel 81 yards in the last 21 seconds, but these are the Jets. Even with the very mortal Charlie Whitehurst under center for the Titans, Jets fans knew from past traumas that this was not insurmountable.
The Titans reached their own 42-yard line when the refs put one second back on the clock for a final play. The set-up was perfect for Music City Miracle II.
A short pass, a lateral, an overhand lateral back to Whitehurst on the right side, and yet another lateral to Walker at the Jets 42. It may happen, if Walker can only see Whitehurst trailing him to his left waiting for one more pitch about a dozen yards away from paydirt…
Alas, Walker ran out of real estate. The Jets won a game in the present, but likely lost out at a shot at a brighter future.
In his postgame press conference, Ryan dismissed those of us who believe in that interpretation of events. “A real Jets fan wants to win,” said Ryan. “It doesn’t matter what pick you get.”
Here’s the problem, Rex: Jack and I will still be rooting for the Jets next year while you probably won’t.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.
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