The New York Jets were fortunate to escape MetLife Stadium with a 28-24 victory last Sunday. They lost the turnover battle, gave up an efficient game to Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, and survived yet another day of inaccuracy from Mark Sanchez. However, trailing by three with five minutes to play, Sanchez led the Jets on 12-play, 82-yard drive that he concluded with a bullet to Santonio Holmes for the game-winning TD. The defense held on Buffalo's final drive, preserving the victory.
There was an unsettling nature to the entire contest. The Jets decided to reward Stevie Johnson with a one-way ticket to Revis Island, and, for the first time in three years, an NFL receiver actually enjoyed his stay there. Buffalo must have seen that you can complete all manners of screens, crosses, and slants when Revis is not pressing the line of scrimmage, and also must have trusted Fitzpatrick enough to make those throws accurately. As a result, Johnson caught 8 passes for 75 yards and a TD.
Johnson's day wound up memorable not for his success against Revis, but because of his TD celebration and his drops in the fourth quarter. After scoring a touchdown to give Buffalo a 14-7 second quarter lead, Johnson decided to celebrate by fake-shooting himself in the leg and duplicating Santonio Holmes' airplane celebration, ending with crashing the airplane to the turf. The referee gave Johnson a perfect 15-yard score for his routine. The ensuing kickoff was mishit by Dave Rayner, and, after the now departed Emanuel Cook recovered, the Jets had the ball at the Buffalo 36. Four plays later, Plaxico Burress, the subject of Johnson's celebration joke, was in the end zone with a tying touchdown. Johnson would go on to drop a post route on Buffalo's last drive that would have put the Bills in the red zone with plenty of time to score, if not in the end zone with the winning touchdown. Johnson would eventually be fined $10K by the league for his poor taste.
As we collect more and more evidence of who the 2011 Jets are, the conclusion should be that they are an average team. This team looks destined for 8-8, or perhaps 9-7. There is no element of the game on which the Jets can truly rely. Their offense lacks the quickness and speed needed to score quickly, and Sanchez normally lacks the precision to sustain the big drives needed to score methodically. The defense has improved against the run, but their front seven features a lack of speed from sideline to sideline, and, while their pass defense is normally very solid, they lack the pass rush necessary to beat the best quarterbacks. They normally have to send five (or six) to get there. Any team that protects well will have plenty of time to carve us up.
Will the Jets ever be able to put all of the pieces together and play a complete game against a good team? Well, luckily for New York, the rest of their schedule lacks any really good teams. The Jets travel to Washington today to face the 4-7 Redskins, who lost six of seven after beginning the season 3-1 before beating Seattle last week. Washington has a pretty good defense and a solid pass rush, but their offense has been unsettled all season, as Head Coach Mike Shanahan vacillated between Rex Grossman and John Beck at QB, neither of which should really be starting for an NFL team. The Jets used to be pure money on the road, especially against a team that's under .500, but the hallmark of an average team is that you never know what to expect. New York may find success early against Washington, or they may struggle the entire game like they did two weeks ago in Denver. Anyone who pretends to know what to expect from the Jets, even people inside the organization, are fooling themselves.
It's not hard to imagine this lack of consistency eating away at the team's psyche. How the team reacts to their current situation will speak volumes about Rex Ryan and his coaching staff, especially that we are now in December with only five games left. The Jets are currently 6-5, one game behind Cincinnati for the final wild card, tied with Tennessee and Denver. The Jets have five conference losses, including losses to teams like Baltimore, Oakland, and Denver, so they are not likely to win any tiebreakers for playoff position, and most likely will have to win at least four of five to close the season to have a chance at a wild card. In order to achieve this goal, the Jets must find the consistency that they have lacked all season, and put together complete performances, 60 minutes at a time, beginning today in Washington. It will be difficult, but certainly not impossible.
Kickoff in suburban Washington is at 1 pm.