The Jets exited the field of Met Life stadium on Sunday, entering the much needed rest of a bye week as owners of not only a crucial comeback win, but possibly of a roadmap containing an identity and blueprint for the future.
Down 21-10 midway through the third quarter to the 4-1 Chargers was not how Gang Green had drawn up their pre game battle plans against a Bolts offense known for delivering high powered knockout blows. Then again, neither was a 3-3 start to a 2011 season that was racing towards a scenario that would have left the club three games back of first place with half the year already in the books. Then it all came together. On both sides of the ball.
A ten play 55 yard TD drive that started with 7:30 left in the third quarter, was soon followed by a game changing interception by, who else, Darrelle Revis. Just like that, a two score deficit became a one score lead. Along with it, the reemergence of hope for a season that a short while ago, contained Super Bowl goals.
Credit the eternally embattled offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer for making a point to get ALL Jets skill position players involved during the first half. This attention to detail not only gave Shonn Greene (20 carries -112 yards) the amount of carries that Rex Ryan often insists will make him a War Machine again, but it helped keep another embattled Jet, Plaxico Burress, attentive long enough to add two more TD catches to his three score day.
Looks to speedy rookie Jeremy Kerley with carries finally given to Joe McKnight, gave the Jets some unpredictable flavor. This as Sanchez took shots to big play Santonio Holmes (who had an incredible diving TD reception called back due to a holding call) as well.
The offensive line also stepped up again. Credit the recent return of Nick Mangold from injury and the improved play of Wayne Hunter at RT (who helped slow down Miami’s pass rushing star Cameron Wake the week before) for the rise in quality. With the offensive line coming together to help spearhead a balanced attack (Sanchez 173 yds passing. Jets rushing attack combined 162 yds), the Jets were able to surpass their 24.2 points per game average just enough to turn things over to Rex’s defense. A unit that was also doing it’s share of growing.
While Revis was busy taking star WR Vincent Jackson (1-15 yds) out of the equation, the Jets were busy trying to sort out their first half issues of once again dealing with the tight end. This was not your normal one, somehow burning them up and down the field though. It was future hall of famer Antonio Gates. Gates was open early and often during the first half but better coverage by the safeties, linebackers, and emerging second year CB Kyle Wilson on Gates in the second half (Wilson’s first NFL interception late in the 4th to help seal the win) was a big reason that the Jets held the mighty Chargers offense scoreless after halftime.
Scrap heap gem Aaron Maybin, provided his third sack and added some pressures to a defense that exited the game 6th in the NFL with 18 sacks. The notion of pressure from both Calvin Pace and now Maybin, with weekly lockdown coverage from Revis, could now get another boost INSIDE the numbers from players like Wilson.
Should this and Antonio Cromartie’s work towards keeping his hands to himself (as he did for the most part on Sunday) begin to solidify, than THIS Jet defense, during this modest two game win streak, may have found a rocket boost in two places; Pressure and coverage.
Now add Special Teams into the equation. With McKnight and Kerley having safely allowed the Jets to have moved beyond the loss of current Buffalo Bill Brad Smith due to their big plays during the first seven games, the Jets can add the potential for big plays into their new formula. One that abandoned the overload of pass or run for a less obvious mixture.
In September, the Jets tried to feature Mark Sanchez as a fantasy football owner’s dream. In October, they tried to delve into the past with the ultra conservative Ground and Pound. Against the Chargers, in the final game before the Winter months arrive, they blended both. Letting everyone join the party in doing so.
When the air attack would end up in turnovers, Jets coaches would often retreat into treating Mark Sanchez as an adolescent. A teenager not to be trusted alone in the house while the parents were out for the night. During the Chargers win however, Sanchez, despite any recent proof of an ability to lead the club all day with his arm, was imparted with a measurable amount of faith from the Jets sidelines. It payed off, as key pieces provided big time production at the right time.
Burress was BROUGHT HERE to be fed in the Red Zone. Sanchez fed him. TE Dustin Keller, the true safety valve wasn’t forgotten. He was featured. Greene’s engine was made to plow over ground like a tank after the engine was properly heated. Sunday, the third year back was given the ball. Time and again. The Jets overall ability to finally use their weapons collectively, helped the club finally move the chains. In doing so, it allowed the defense the opportunity to stay rested and settle in.
The Jets, at 4-3, have not played well enough against enough quality teams, to simply assume that they are now undoubtedly headed for a third straight playoff appearance under Ryan. They ARE however in position to, for the first time this year, put the search mission to rest. The Jets, if even for a brief two quarter stretch, showed themselves who they are, and who they can be. A team that runs the ball efficiently while using the air to both threaten and damage.
They are a team that will always leave a top receiver stranded while pressure and coverage thanks to the surprising play of Maybin and Wilson, may help tighten the screws even tighter on the opposition.
Buffalo and New England are up next. It won’t be easy. However, a Jets team that may now be firing on all cylinders, will be tough for opponents to beat as well. The Jets can use the second half comeback that saw 17 unanswered points, as a template going forward, provided they can show that all of the miscommunication that went on weeks back inside of the Jets locker room, was like their inconsistent play, a thing of the past.
Those faces are starting to fall in place. Just in the nick of time. November is here and that means that it is time to make the push for the playoffs. The Jets are set up to do that now. To be a team that CAN surge head on into January, and perhaps even beyond. For the first time this season.