In what was regarded by many as a “meaningless” game, the New York Jets beat the Cleveland Browns with an impressive effort on Sunday. Many teams often crumble once they are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, but the Jets fought like a team with new life. Rookie quarterback Geno Smith was efficient with three touchdowns and no turnovers. The defense held tough on their own end of the field multiple times. Overall, it was an exciting game to watch, especially from the south end zone. I was fortunate enough to attend the game with my father, a life long Jets fan since the Shea Stadium days.
Growing up, I attended one Jets preseason game and one regular season game every year since I was five years old. My dad had season tickets he split with my uncle for a long time. When the old Meadowlands was knocked down and MetLife stadium was built, the unreasonable prices of “PSL’s” (personal seat licenses) led my father to move on from the tickets. I grew up in a working class family raised by a Dad that has been a proud New York City firefighter in the Bronx for over 30 years. The ownership of the Jets and Giants thought it would be better to fill the lower tier with high end executives, the types of “fans” that show up once a year. I’ll stay on topic and avoid the bitterness, because honestly there is none.
As a senior in college, I’m home very rarely. I cherish my time back home and planned to attend the Jets vs. Browns game with my Dad no matter the importance of the game. I cover the team because I love the team, even if I do over-defend players at times such as Geno Smith and Dee Milliner. I had realistic expectations entering the season, telling a friend on his online radio show that I projected the Jets to win six or seven games. The roster was not entirely devoid of talent (obviously there are holes), they are just young players that need time to develop.I put on my Alabama Joe Namath jersey and headed down to MetLife in the surprising 70 degree weather. The parking lot was fun as always, filled with fans who were in the holiday spirit. I enjoyed an adult beverage with my father and headed into the stadium, with the same excitement I had (possibly more) since that first time as a five year old at the meadowlands. The stands weren’t overly packed, an understandable part of attending a game featuring two teams out of the playoff race.
Geno Smith was tossing a ball to Kellen Winslow, the former Brown that brought a different edge to the game on Sunday as the coin toss quickly approached. I thoroughly enjoy going to the game because you can key in on specific match ups, unlike television that obviously follows the ball. I’ve been a pretty big fan of Dee Milliner since his days at Alabama, where I watched him play quite flawlessly against my Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the BCS championship last season. Before joining Turn On The Jets, I wrote for a draft website and had Milliner as my highest rated corner back.
I had vowed all week on twitter for the Jets to match up Milliner with Josh Gordon, who was supposed to be the best player on the field Sunday. Gordon has been superb all season and is one of the more exciting talents in the NFL. The Jets drafted Milliner with hopes he can contain players like Gordon one day, so why not break him in as a rookie?
I got my wish, as Milliner took on Gordon much of the day 1 on 1 (I did expect safety help). My dad would constantly point “look Con! They’re not even giving Dee help over the top, that’s crazy!” It certainly was and at times it made him play off too far, but overall Milliner had a fantastic showing. It was his first real break out game of a very tough rookie season for him, but it excited the fan base.Speaking of exciting the fan base, how about rookie defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. It is quite rare to see a rookie play not only with confidence, but heart. The way him and Damon Harrison protected Geno Smith after a late shove out of bounds was refreshing.
Even more bizarre was Santonio Holmes holding Rex Ryan back from not only fighting with the refs, but the Cleveland secondary. It was a fun moment for the crowd and really highlighted how unified Rex has made this team, a team many “experts” across the country projected to win two to four games.
As halftime approached I went to a bar between sections 108-111, figuring I’d treat my Dad to a beer in exchange for getting the tickets. They do “last call” at halftime now, an understandable move to limit intoxicated drivers and rowdy behavior late in the game. What was odd was how the bar operates. My Dad stepped outside for two seconds to take a phone call and the door guard would not let him back in. Another man nearby began to tell my Dad how the bar hadn’t been open all season. It was all strange but I just carried on back to my seat, anticipating an exciting second half.
Obviously many of you reading this watched the game and enjoyed a beautiful second half from Gang Green. The defensive line drew pressure, Geno Smith operated with precision, and Chris Ivory battered down the opposing defense. I continued to watch Dee Milliner frustrate Josh Gordon, as he deflected passes and bodied him as much as possible.Geno Smith darted for 17 yards into the end zone, sending the crowd out of the stadium with smiles on their faces. The team took a victory lap after the clock expired, a thanks to the fans at the last home game of the season.
People can say whatever they want about that victory lap, but that is what separates Rex Ryan from a lot of previous Jets coaches. Listening to his post game conference on the car ride home, the man constantly talks about the fans. He connects fans to the game and to the team. He has established a culture within this fan base that seemed to be lacking for quite some time.
If you want to see Rex Ryan go at the end of the season, I understand your frustration. The offense has been borderline anemic and the team has missed the playoffs three years in a row now. At times they play undisciplined football and lack the necessary preparation in must win games. Sometimes, a team must head in a new direction no matter who is in place. It is just the nature of the business, especially in a market such as New York where long term success is extremely rare to find.
All I ask is do not forget what he brought to this franchise. Stay or go, he always put in everything he had to this team and its fan base.
After the Mangini era, this fan base needed a little bit of electricity. They needed a fat guy at the podium declaring he did not take the job to kiss Bill Belichick’s rings. The guy at the podium who defended his players, the players that jump at every opportunity to defend him. The guy at the podium that constantly thanks the fans, the fans like me that will continue to support this team throughout my life, no matter how frustrating it may be at times. After all it is more than just a game, it is a connection between my dad and I that we will always share as the years pass us by.
Follow Connor Rogers: @Real_CR3