20 December 2010
"OK, Ben. You can stop holding me now. I'm not the other team's linebacker."
After the Jets lost to the Falcons in Week Fifteen last season I wrote an article telling the Jets why their season was over.
I jumped the gun. Their season wasn't over. In fact, it hadn't even begun.
Eleven days later and the Jets were a single victory away from earning an improbable postseason berth. That week I asked the Jets to begin a bloody, vengeful murder spree, a la Phil Leotardo, and obtain retribution against all those who had wronged them in the past.
They granted my wish for three straight weeks but ultimately fell short of complete and total revenge, just like the New York family did in The Sopranos.
Unlike Phil, however, the Jets were given a second chance this fall. For eleven weeks they made the most of their new life just how they promised me they would.
And that's why I didn't jump off the bandwagon after the Dolphins loss (that and because it was moving way too fast and I would've risked life-threatening injuries). I couldn't imagine the season ending because of two measly losses. The Jets were 9-4 and controlled their own destiny. I had invested way too much time and energy in this team. I even had a dream they won the Super Bowl. (I'm not kidding! The only problem with the dream was that they beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl. That made it unrealistic for soooo many reasons.)
Then came Sunday.
The Jets traveled to Pittsburgh to face a Steelers team that had hit its stride in recent weeks, winning four in a row including a season-defining win in Baltimore two weeks ago. New York did get one significant break, though. The Steelers were without their best player, Troy Polamalu. (Seriously, ask any Steelers fan and they will tell you No. 43 is more important to the team than the scumbag who plays quarterback.) But that comes with the territory of playing Week Fifteen football in the National Football League (cheers, Jaws!). The Jets lost their most influential defensive player in Week One. It was no excuse for Pittsburgh.
I had braced themselves for a quick, painless 45-3-style loss. I had no expectations other than Sanchez losing a kidney (I bet the under on The Likely Lad's line) and Matt Spaeth breaking the NFL single-game receptions record. I didn't even have the game in the big box in my picture-in-picture when Brad Smith returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown. There was some crazy ending going on in a game in north Jersey. That was must-see television.
OK. It's 7-0. The Jets will have to hold the Steelers to six points if they're going to win this game!
As you can guess that was not the case.
When the Steelers took a 17-10 lead with a touchdown on their first drive of the second half, it appeared the Jets were about to break. For the first time all season I started thinking about Spring Training. "If Dickey can win 20 and Thole bats .380, they can win 70 games next season!" It really was a comforting thought.
With the crowd at its loudest pitch of the day, Sanchez stomped onto the field with his trademark poor body language and incurable puppy face. Unbeknownst to the television viewer though, beyond that petulant facade laid a man who was about to save his team's season.
Four completions for 35 yards, two third-down conversions and seven plays later the Jets had a fourth-and-1 at the Pittsburgh seven-yard line. For all intents and purposes, this was their season. Get it and you live. Miss it and...and...why can't Dickey win 20 in 2011?! Give me one good reason.
Shonn Greene got it! Wait, what? Where's Sanchez running? Why did Turner just do a fat-guy roll into the end zone?! What is that oblong brown shaped object in Sanchez's hands? By golly he's done it! Sanchez faked out every person in the stadium. It was as good a play action bootleg as you'll ever see (even better than Namath at the Yale Bowl ya old crazies!)
The Jets had been rocked in the mouth. Blood poured from their face. They laid on the canvas staring at the ref as he counted to ten. It was over if they wanted it to be. But in what will hopefully be, you know, one of those season-defining drives, the Jets offense marched down the field for the unit's first touchdown since Thanksgiving night. Most importantly, it was orchestrated by the man who controls the Jets' Super Bowl fate. Normally that last sentence would make me poo my pants, but after yesterday, I probably just silent fart and hope no one notices.
The game was still far from won.
But that's when the defense stepped up! Remember what Eric Mangini called that? Complementary football. The special teams had helped. The offense did their job. Now it was the defense's turn.
Jason Taylor and Co. would shutout the Steelers in the game's final 20 minutes, even earning the Jets two crucial points that forced Pittsburgh to try for a touchdown on the contest's last drive. During that score of minutes New York's defense recorded two sacks, both by Drew Coleman, and had its signature moment of the season when Taylor tossed Mewelde Moore into the end zone for a safety.
It nearly allowed the Steelers to drive 92 yards* in 128 seconds to win the game, but just how it did versus Miami and Minnesota, the defense made the big play when it had to. It wasn't the group's best day, but just like its quarterback, it showed the heart of a champion.
*After the scumbag quarterback rushed for a first down before the two-minute warning, he clearly stepped out of bounds at the 27-yard line. When the game resumed, the Steelers had the ball at the 30-yard line. Then, every time Pittsburgh would spike the ball the clock would blatantly stop a second before the scumbag quarterback threw it to the ground...especially with the spike at nine seconds left. I hate dem' yinzer scoreboard people!
Special, unexpected game balls to Steve Weatherford (three punts inside the 20, two inside the 10 in final three minutes), Nick Folk (two clutch field goals in a tough stadium for kickers; F**k you, Doug Brien) and most importantly, Marquice Cole!
Who knew he was even on the active roster! It was Cole who caught Weatherford's punt at the three-yard line that led to the safety and it was Cole who batted the game's final pass incomplete.
What a truly fantastic win. Once again the Jets reminded us they are a better road team than they are a home team. I wish that wasn't the case but it is. That's a good thing though because they will have to go on the road in Round One and beat a team who they're better than (like last year), travel to New England in Round Two, and finally, just maybe, return to Pittsburgh for the AFC Championship Game on Jan. 23.
For that return trip to happen a lot has to go on in the next 35 days. For starters, the Jets have to travel to Chicago next week where the Rex Sanchez team will do its best to clinch the team's second consecutive postseason birth.
That may not sound like much, but after a brief knockdown, the Jets are back on their feet. Winning may never be easy with this team, but ending their season will be even harder.
Just like last year, the season doesn't begin until early January.
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