By Jason Keidel
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The moniker of the football club in San Francisco is the 49ers, a truncated version of “Miner 49ers,” a nod to the gold rush of 1849. And this year they’ve been playing like they still live in 1849, not 1949, the year they first joined the NFL.
But the New York Jets have also been setting football back to other eras, epochs, and centuries. So it’s only fitting that both clubs played to a draw after four quarters on Sunday.
While most, functional football teams can take the Niners for granted, the Jets are so bad you’d be hard-pressed to know which team went 10-6 last season, and was supposed to be a bit better this season.
Things are never linear or logical around Gang Green, a franchise that finds new ways to flip football orthodoxy on its helmet. But the Jets played well enough, long enough, to escape the architectural disaster known as Levi Stadium and the athletic disaster known as the 49ers. And when you consider the Niners were up 17-6 late in the game, Jets fans had to be haunted with the spirit of Decembers past. And it felt like the early loss of Matt Forte made it a fait accompli.
But Bilal Powell ran like he, not Forte, is the perennial Pro-Bowler, with 145 yards and two touchdowns. And so it was fitting that Powell bowled over the 49ers for a TD in OT, leading the Jets to a 23-17 victory.
Of course, the last few games of this season are not about jousting for a playoff spot, but rather a de facto audition for quarterback Bryce Petty, who again did little to lead Jets devotees to declare that they found their next Namath. Petty was his typical, nondescript self (23-of-35, 257 yards, INT), equal parts competent and confounding.
It’s hard to slap a handle on Petty. Perhaps it’s that his manner is so slight, it feels like he could be in a room (or a huddle) for hours and you wouldn’t know he’s there. He doesn’t have that singular presence that beams from star QBs. Indeed, there’s nothing about Gang Green right now that gives even their most jaded fans great optimism, a sense that they are on the verge of, well, anything.
You never apologize for wins in the National Football League, especially on the road. But squeaking by San Francisco almost feels like slipping past the JV squad in a scrimmage. We heard all this chatter about the innate genius of Chip Kelly, who got a raw deal in Philadelphia after (barely) posting a winning record. Once he got back to the West Coast, with a track-star quarterback, he could recreate his Oregon behemoth. Despite all the evidence that college coaches flame or fizzle out before the ink dries on their NFL contracts, we keep buying these bogus savants who will use their chalkboard savvy to revolutionize the game. Kelly was so abhorred in Philadelphia, owner Jeffrey Lurie, widely known as a patient and genial man, canned Kelly with two games to go in the season, the NFL iteration of leaving your wife during the honeymoon.
But despite the dumpster fire that is the San Francisco 49ers, the Jets, at times, made them look way too competent. Especially Carlos Hyde, who played the role of Roger Craig or Ricky Watters or Delvin WIlliams. Hyde gutted the Jets for 193 yards on just 17 carries, and San Francisco gained 248 total yards on the ground. No matter how you felt the Jets would finish the season, we all agreed that their defensive line was special. Yeah. The Jets needed every second of regulation just to tie the game, with a Nick Folk’s 51-yard field goal wobbling through the uprights with 38 seconds left.
Then, as with all awful teams, the 49ers failed to advance on fourth down, needing just two yards, and the Jets took it from there.
If there’s a silver lining to this game for Gang Green, it’s that Powell keeps running like a starter, if not a star. The Jets are so busy trying to find an all-world running back, they may not realize they already have one on the roster.
But if you come back to New York/New Jersey with any sense of evolution or revolution, you are woefully misguided. The Jets are 4-9 for a reason. When you consider how much better the Jets were last year, and how humiliated they were last week, you expected more than a nail-biter against a now-1-12 football team.
Nothing substantial happened between 2015 and 2016 that would explain this galling mutation from contender to pretender to bartender — a vocation many current Jets may apply for in the offseason.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel