To the Jets last night’s 17-13 loss to the Denver Broncos in the church of Tim Tebow, felt more like “The Exorcist,” than a happy go lucky gospel led religious revival. Where that cliched final scene of horror was only a matter of time. Jets fans endured the final moments, watching through their hands like a Friday the 13th film, as the last drive took the Broncos 95 yards to an improbable victory. One that not only placed the Jets into the thin air of uncertainty. It left them trapped in their own fears. With concern and confusion as to what time is the right time for turning up the “risk and reward” dial on either side of the ball.
The Jets had come off of an emotional 37-16 loss to the hated Pats just days prior to this Thursday night matchup. In the altitude against a bizarre, yet effective run based Bronco club, featuring of all things, the option formation. All signs pointed towards a Jet letdown, highlighted by schematic confusion on the field. None of this was to be the case however.
The Jets came out focused on defense, and certainly clear about their intent on offense. One that was to be a mistake free”war of attrition.” Featuring a game long patience to grab any lead, then force the throwing challenged Tebow into trying to gain it back.
The way things were playing out, this shotgun gameplan, put together virtually on the flight out to Denver, was on it’s way to working to perfection. However, an inability to decide upon when to open up the offense, or go for broke and smother Tebow on defense, let things fester for too long. Part of the reason for the decision not to go for the kill, with the ball, was understandable to some degree.
Starting RB Shonn Greene had exited early in the game with a rib injury. Therefore right off the bat, the offense had to deal with more insecurities regarding ball security. Trying to limit mistakes by Sanchez, as the Jets coaches often do, was made more difficult after rookie Bilal Powell fumbled on the Denver goal line, and Joe McKnight, who was the primary ball carrier, fumbled after a long kickoff return. Who could the Jets turn to even if they wanted to put the Broncos away?
A run game in fear of putting the ball on the ground, with a QB who the Jets sidelines are always handcuffing, behind a line that offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer seems to doubt during five step drops or more by Sanchez, made for a unit that was walking on eggshells all night.
Those wondering about where the downfield attack asked themselves “where was Santonio Holmes? Why is the only play to Dustin Keller a rollout throw into the flat? How can a team have any room to work if they don’t make the field longer than a ten yard box?”
Playing in fear of a mistake was of course heightened further after Sanchez erased 40 plus minutes of attrition work, by throwing away 7 points and the lead late in the third quarter. In a game where a touchdown felt like 40 points.
It only made sense then, that on a key third down, with the chance to keep the ball rather than give the angelic Tebow one more chance, the Jets chose to run a draw to Powell. Rather than risk the decision making of Sanchez again. Behind a shaky line, with Broncos Dumervill and Miller (already having big nights) ready to pounce from the blindside and change the game.
Why NOT put the safety of insuring a much needed road win in the hands of a Rex Ryan’s defense, right? Right. Sort of.
When the Broncos DID get the ball back with 5:00 left down 13-10, the Jets needing one negative play, feared the big play. Perhaps an aggressive call to create one from coordinator Mike Pettine could have hurt the Jets but also could have created a loss of yardage. A fake blitz look up front could have caused a Bronco lineman to jump out of concern for a sack. Instead, the Broncos milked the clock, moved the chains, and drained the Jets. Slowly. Horrifically.
In fact, after Jim Leonhard missed his chance to close the deal by over pursuing a screen in the end zone on a play that started the nightmarish drive, the only attack the Jets went on, came on a mortally self inflicted middle blitz package. One where Tebow ran like a Pop Warner QB around the left side, virtually untouched, for the game winner with 0:58 seconds left.
Why blitz then? With third and eight, and the Broncos already in game tying FG position? Why not be the aggressor on the other teams twenty yard line? Because they needed proof that Tebow could do it. So he did. for seventy five yards. Rex Ryan, envisioning a brutal bloody ending, like a Hitchcock film said, “blitz.” From the inside. With no insurance that the edges would be guarded. Too little, too late.
The Jets are not dead yet. 5-5 in a conference where many teams will end the weekend with at least four losses, means that with six games left, there is hope. What makes it FEEL like 2011 is over, is not the record as much as how the Jets looked last night.
They played scared. Afraid of themselves. The Jets were afraid to open up the field and take a shot at knocking that team out of their collegiate strategy. They were afraid to attack defensively, miles away from their end zone. Against an option QB with no arm accuracy whatsoever. They were afraid to close the game out on either side of the ball. So the Broncos thanked them for an opportunity instead, and did it for them.
Fear took over this team last night. As it has for much of the year on offense. THAT’s why the Jets season feels as though it has hit a point of no return.