Throwback Thursday is a feature at Turn On The Jets, where we take a stroll down Jets Memory Lane and reminisce about past great Jets games against the upcoming week’s opponent. (Word to be taken with an enormous grain of salt: “great”)
The New York Jets and Atlanta Falcons don’t play each other very often. Once every four years, to be exact. This Monday’s game will be just the 11th all-time meeting between the teams, with the Falcons holding a slim 6-4 advantage. Recently, this hasn’t been a series that has produced exciting or well-played games. In 1995, the Falcons defeated the hapless Jets 13-3, thanks to three picks from Boomer Esiason, who just four games into playing for Rich Kotite must have been using football as a way to hone his comedic skills in preparation for his post-playing media career. In 2005, the Falcons blew out the Jets 27-14 (the score was closer than the game itself) in a slopfest that included seven combined turnovers. I guess that’s what happens when Vinny Testaverde, Brooks Bollinger and Michael Vick are the quarterbacks.
But as any Jets fan knows, there are bad Jets games, and then there are agonizing Jets games. What separates the bad ones from the agonizing ones is usually expectations. When Rich Kotite is the coach, or aging Testaverde or Boomer the quarterback, there’s only so much optimism one can have. When you employ people like that in critical positions (in the case of those QBs, at that points in their careers), you’re going to play in a lot of bad games.
But in 2009, when the Jets were 7-6, on the precipice of the playoffs with an exciting, boisterous rookie head coach and a promising young quarterback, the excitement level was understandably high. So a poor performance resulting in a grueling loss felt like a kick to the groin. So, let’s reminisce about it, yeah?
At the time…
Billboard No. 1 song in the U.S.: “Empire State of Mind” by Jay Z f/ Alicia Keys. Being from the area, and the fact that this became the de facto anthem of the 2009 Yankees’ World Series title, I’ve always been a fan of the song. It makes total sense that people from the New York area love it. But there’s no shot this song was big in, say, Indianapolis, right? I’ve been there, and they HATE New Yorkers. I’d imagine a quick way to get the crap kicked out of you is to put this on the Touch Tunes at a bar in Boston.
No. 1 movie in the U.S.: “Avatar”. I didn’t see this in 3-D, and apparently that was the wrong thing to do. Which, to me, says all you need to know about Avatar.
Jets’ record coming in: As previously mentioned, 7-6. Year 1 of the Rex Ryan/Mark Sanchez era, probably the most bi-polar four-year run for any team in the history of sports.
Falcons’ record coming in: 6-7. Despite winning their final three games of the regular season, 2009 was the lone season of the Mike Smith-Matt Ryan era that didn’t end in a playoff appearance. But, honestly, this was probably better off for Falcons fans than actually getting to playoffs, only to watch Mike Smith derp around all over his “When And When Not To Go For It On Fourth Down” chart and crash land into the offseason.
The 2009 season was one of the Jetsiest seasons in the history of the Jets. They started out great under the new Rex-Sanchez regime, only to struggle heavily through the dog days. The hot dog. The wristband. At 7-7, the game against the Falcons was crucial. If they lost, the Jets were going to need a lot of help in order to make the playoffs. Knowing what we know now, that after this game Rex thought the Jets had been eliminated, the effort the team put forth looks even more appalling.
It’s worth pointing out that sometime around December 19th or so, the tri-state area had probably 10 inches of snow dumped on it. With the game at 1 o’clock, there wasn’t exactly time to shovel or melt all the snow out of Giants Stadium (other than the field, which was clear), so the seats and aisles were largely still covered in snow. According to pro-football-reference.com, the wind chill was 13 degrees at kick off. Likely because of the weather, there were plenty of empty seats. Basically, if you do bad things during your life, God will send you to Giants Stadium on December 20, 2009 and force you to watch Jets-Falcons.
Seemingly the norm with these Throwback Thursday games, things started off okay! Well, er, Sanchez did get picked on his first drive of the game, and the Jets went three-and-out on their second drive after Atlanta took a 3-0 lead, but third time was the charm! Sanchez hit Braylon Edwards for a 65-yard score, giving the Jets a 7-3 lead that they took into the second quarter. The Jets’ defense followed the score by admirably doing their job – they forced the Falcons to punt on their next six drives, including four three-and-outs.
But the Jets offense couldn’t muster a thing. Their three drives in the 2nd quarter ended in a turnover on downs, a pick and a missed field goal. So they took their 7-3 lead into the third quarter as well, where again the defense held firm. They finally allowed the Falcons to move the ball on a long drive that began late in the 3rd and bled into the 4th, but Matt Bryant missed a 48-yarder, so the Jets’ lead stayed at 7-3 with 10 minutes left in the game. The Jets took over at their own 38 and engineered their best drive of the game. A mix of Thomas Jones and Shonn Greene (starring in ‘Slow and Slower’, coming to a theater near you this summer) and few short Sanchez completions waltzed the Jets down the field and just inside the red zone. Naturally, the drive stalled, but the Jets were well within Jay Feely’s field goal range.
Field goal range only means anything if you protect, and the Jets chose a brilliant time to ignore that whole part of the operation. Feely’s kick was blocked. But fear not, right? The Jets’ defense had been brilliant! Surely after struggling all day, the Falcons couldn’t put TWO straight long drives together, right?
Well yes they could, because, Jets. More specifically, the Rex Ryan Jets. Does any game better encapsulate the maddening inconsistency, what’s become almost the signature feature of Ryan’s defense with the Jets, than this one? On their first 10 drives of the game, Atlanta gained a total of 157 yards. I’m no sabermetrician or anything, but I think that’s pretty good! But alas, with 4:27 to go, the Falcons took the ball from their own 27 yard line and went 73 yards in 11 plays. As is the Jets wont, they helped the Falcons out with a crucial facemask penalty on Donald Strickland after Roddy White had gained 16 yards, bringing Atlanta all the way from their own 42 to the Jets’ 27 in one large chunk. Five plays later, Tony Gonzalez caught a six yard touchdown on a do-or-die, 4th and goal play; the Jets’ defense finally cracked. Naturally, Sanchez was intercepted on the Jets’ final drive, and the Falcons escaped with a 10-7 victory.
The loss temporarily ruined the holidays for Jets’ fans, but thankfully Santa eventually showed up, wrapping up Jim Caldwell and placing him under our collective tree. The Jets won their final two games, snuck into the playoffs, and made some serious noise for a team with rookies at coach and quarterback.
But in the moments and days just after the Week 15 loss to the Falcons, a playoff run felt far, far away.