By Jason Keidel
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The Giants and Jets have always been a before-and-after photo.
The Jets are the unkempt, unemployed bachelor who camps on the couch and gorges on potato chips and ice cream. The Giants are the after, the ideal, the sculpted, non-smoking aristocrats, who do everything in moderation, marry the dream girl, and rise up the ranks of industry.
Football often espouses parity, yet the same teams win and the same teams fail. Among the buffet of forlorn franchises are are the Lions, who haven’t won since the 1950s; the Browns and Eagles, who haven’t won a world title since the 1960s; and the Bills, Chargers, and Falcons, who are still seeking their first Super Bowl titles.
Put the Jets in that dubious group.
Meanwhile, the Giants are the model of stability, the corporate, management material. They never get too big or too low.
So when they met Sunday, it could easily have been more of the same — the Big Blue, big brothers smashing the losers one more time.
Todd Bowles was the sixth coach to play the Jets since they last beat the Giants, on Halloween, of course, 1993. While the Giants always have stability at head coach, the Jets plant a turnstile at their headquarters, forever ripping the names off the office doors. New GM this year, who hires a new coach the next.
But Bowles, for now, at least, has broken the hex.
When the Giants led 20-10 in the fourth quarter, it read like the ancient narrative. Even when the Jets have a better record and more potent roster, the Giants would win just on muscle memory, on their prerogative as the true, native sons of our city.
But it was the Jets who flipped the historical script, storming back in regulation and then winning in overtime. At 7-5, the Jets are now burned into the AFC playoff race. And now their fans can forget the Victor Cruz game, forget the ignominy of that 99-yard run to the end zone, which propelled the Giants to the Super Bowl and bumped the Jets into another frigid and forgotten winter.
It was the Jets who showed the mojo and moxie to squeeze out a win against all odds. It’s now the Jets ensconced in pennant fever. It’s now the Jets’ flag that flies over the Meadowlands.
It won’t change the history of the last four decades. The Jets aren’t assured anything other than the ephemeral, provincial glory that Sunday delivered. But it was an important step in the Jets’ new arc. It was a game the Jets would normally blow. As soon as they get to the edges of something important, they lose, break your heart the moment you open it.
So the road forks for the Jets. They can either build on the modest, two-game winning streak, reach the playoffs and make Bowles’s maiden campaign a grand victory, or they can slide back into the slow death that has come to define them.
When Geno Smith got his jaw smashed before the season, few thought the Jets were made of January mettle. Not that Smith was so essential, but the haze of dysfunction felt very familiar. Just another soap opera in a franchise defined by them.
But there’s enough talent here to change their fortunes. Brandon Marshall and other high-end players don’t know — or care — about the past. You bring new blood to a middling team with the idea to flush out the old blood.
The symbolism matters. Beating the Giants can serve the twin goals of being a playoff team and being better than the Giants. Despite not being in the same division or the same conference, the Jets and Giants have the kind of proximity that trumps the conventional metrics.
According to the New York Times, the Giants had a 39 percent chance of reaching the playoffs entering MetLife on Sunday. The odds have now plunged to 25 percent, and will slide to 18 percent if Washington defeats Dallas on Monday night.
Four years ago, the Jets messed with the montage of Giants history, defacing the various murals on the walls and halls of MetLife Stadium, an act of epic hubris, typical of a Rex Ryan team. The karma came back on them, as it always has.
Now it’s the Jets who are modest, focused, and victorious, qualities you couldn’t find last year, or the year before, or the decade before. For the first time in a long time, the Jets are the home team, the official team, and the most important football team in Gotham.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel