Post Game Thoughts: Jets 19 Steelers 24
Just a sad, sad day to be a Jets fan. What happened defies explanation. It looked as if there was no fight left in the dog today as if they left their hearts in New England. But then they battled back and gave us all just a glimmer of hope, but maybe the whole offseason focus on beating the Colts and Patriots left the team too flat for the one last game they needed to make the big dance.
Was there anything positive to say about that first half performance? Not really. The best play of the half for the offense was a bullet QB Mark Sanchez threw to WR Jerricho Cotchery to convert on a 3rd and 13 on the first series. It gave the feeling that the Jets offense could answer the call and bail out a bad start for the defense. Unfortunately it just got progressively worse from there. Going into the game we knew the reason the Jets had played as efficiently as they did on offense was because of the offensive line. But the O-line got manhandled. It is rare to see the Jets linemen overpowered the way they were, but the Steelers defense wanted it so much more and played so much harder and faster that the O-line never had a chance. Guys were pushing linemen back into the QB and they were batting down passes. Pressure came off the edges and brought Sanchez down hard, one of which led to a fumble returned for a score. When the line plays like that you have no chance. Sanchez was awful early. The moment really looked to big for him and he looked more like the second half QB in the Monday Night Massacre than the confident player who suited up the last 4 meaningful games of the Jets season. He went backwards and started zeroing in on certain targets rather than trying to spread the football around. It allowed the Steelers linebackers, when back in zone, to just clog up the lanes where he wanted to go. There were plays again where he and the receivers looked to be on different pages. He thought someone was going to break out and they ran a post. He thought they would stop, but they slanted across. It was just sloppy.
The Jets had to answer off the 4th down defensive stop and they had their worst possession of the game. It began with a terrible play call where they decided to try an end around with Cotchery. Those plays rarely work with Cotchery and the Steelers are a fast defense that flies to the football. The Jets had yet to establish any kind of running game to at least help sell the play and they lost 4 yards. A penalty later and it was 2nd and 19 and the Jets had nowhere to go but to punt. The Jets tried a few runs early and it was just never there for them. Their one last chance was down 10-0 and RB Shonn Greene ran for 3 yards and then two incompletions later the game was finished. Once it got to 17-0 it was probably a pipe dream to imagine anything of merit happening but the Jets decided to try even though it was 2nd and 17. That was probably a poor decision because the game had snowballed at that point and demanded a run to keep the game from getting totally out of hand, but they felt they needed to get something going offensively so they tried.
What happened from there was just a shock. The Jet offense not only bounced back, but basically dominated the Steelers from the fumble forward. Sanchez, who looked so bad early, was probably the better QB on the day. He started firing strikes and spreading the ball around. The beautiful bomb he threw to WR Santonio Holmes to cut the score to 24-10 ignited the team. He was hitting TE Dustin Keller and WR Braylon Edwards on some big conversion plays. He got the ball to Cotchery in crucial spots. It was as if the whole team came to life once Sanchez showed he could do it. Sanchez showed tremendous leadership qualities. There was no sulking at 24-0. No getting down on himself after a fumble. He came out with a hurt arm, manned up, and almost led the team to a miracle comeback. You had one of the youngest players in the NFL basically begging his coaching staff to hurry the game up in the 4th quarter because he understood the situation better than they did. He lobbied the referees to get a time out returned to the team and it worked. He was the guy consoling veterans on the sideline who knew they let a golden opportunity slip away. Sanchez has grown up a lot this year.
The Jets offense almost pulled it off. RB Shonn Greene showed those flashes from last year of a devastating power runner. Why they did not use him more in the game is a question the Jets coaches can only answer, but he was steamrolling players in the second half. The 2nd and long run he had saw him almost decapitate LB Ryan Clark. The blocking had become superb for him as well as for Sanchez from a line that could not block anyone in the first half. The Jets had an opportunity to completely steal the momentum and cut the score to 24-17 when some horrible play calling got in the way. The Jets turned to RB LaDainian Tomlinson, who just had nothing on the day, and he fell short. It was that series that cost the Jets the chance to tie. If they had scored we are probably talking about overtime rather than a 24-19 loss. It ended up being far closer than it had any right to be because of how the offense played late in the game.
The only game that may have been worse than this was the Monday Nighter. It was the same kind of effort where the Jets looked totally shaken by the cold. The entire defense was playing high which allowed RB Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman to just run all over them in the first half. The banged up Steelers offensive line, which was hurt even more when their center went out early, just mauled the Jets defensive front. The Jets just looked tired and maybe that extra game really took something out of them compared to the Steelers getting a bye week. You have to really admire the way the Mendenhall played. The second effort he showed early on the plays where the Jets were wrapping him up was tremendous. He had two and three Jets handing onto him and he would get those extra few yards to pick up a first down or get a score. The tackling was miserable. The Jets needed a big game from LB David Harris to stop the running game and he was nowhere to be found. If this turns out to be his last game in Jets green he has to be very disappointed in his play. The few times he had his hands on a runner he slipped off him, but most of the time he was getting pushed down the field by a blocker. He was also the guy chasing the receiver on the game clinching catch. LB Bart Scott was constantly being taken out of plays and when he did have a chance to make the stop he was just coming up short and letting the guy get an extra few yards.
Watching QB Ben Roethlisberger play is pretty entertaining. His ability to escape pressure is outstanding. There were so many times the Jets seemed to have him dead to rights in the backfield and he would dance away and find a receiver wide open for a completion. Other times he ran on broken plays to pick up crucial first downs and a score. Whoever was to spy on him was terrible on the day. On the score two Jets ran into each other at the snap to set it up, but I could not tell what happened on the other countless running plays from him. That is not to say he had a great game, because he did not, but part of that credit has to go to the players in the secondary. They covered exceptionally well and almost shut down the pass attack completely. If there is one thing that the Jets will be upset about when they go back and watch the film, besides the tackling, is how many dropped interceptions there were on the field. CB Darrelle Revis, who played very well, dropped a ball that most corners would make. Revis had tremendous coverage on the play and became the receiver but just dropped it. CB Kyle Wilson had a ball hit him in the hands. S Eric Smith tipped a ball that Revis was in position to intercept. The linebackers dropped a ball in their hands. There were plenty of opportunities, the Jets just could not convert on them. Had they done so maybe the end result would have been different.
The team certainly played better in the second half and seemed to almost have things figured out. They pressured Roetlisberger and brought him down a few time. DE Trevor Pryce probably had the best game of anyone up front and played as if this was his last opportunity for a Super Bowl, which it probably was. Still they had to play flawless and they could not do it. With the clock the biggest enemy of the team they had to force 3 and outs and more often than not could not do it. The Steelers caught them twice on the final drive of the game where the Jets needed to force a punt to have a chance to win. That was the most frustrating part of the game. A completion to TE Heath Miller, a position the Jets had been unable to cover almost all year, and another to the 4th WR on the Steelers. They had nobody to blame but themselves for being in that position and it will haunt the team all offseason.
Penalties were an issue. Twice CB Antonio Cromartie got caught on 3rd down penalties. S Eric Smith had a terrible penalty where he hit the defenseless receiver across the field. As a player you just have to be aware of what the rules are and be especially knowledgeable about how close the Steelers games are officiated because of the physical nature of most Steelers games. They don't swallow the whistles in the games because they don't want them to get out of hand, especially on a national stage, though the Steelers somehow got away with a hit on a sliding Sanchez later in the game.
Nothing cooking for the special teams today. P Steve Weatherford continued his horrible run to close out the year. At a time when the Jets desperately needed a big punt, Weatherford shanked one for 29 yards. Another was a terrible line drive punt. He is not under contract for next season and may have played himself out of a job with the Jets next year. The Jets front office has not been kind in the past to special teamers that melt in big spots.
K Nick Folk continued to be short on kickoffs, but did make his one field goal attempt of the day. His short kick after the Jets cut the game to a one score game combined with awful coverage saw the Steelers out to the 40 yard line. It is a play that nobody will recognize but was huge in the outcome of the game. If Folk gets off a better kick and the Jets coverage teams actually play well and hold the Steelers to the 25 yard line the whole complexion of that final drive changes. You can bet that Mike Tomlin is not calling passes if his team is not at mid-field. Those passes can only be called because if they fall short and the team does have to punt they know they are backing the Jets up on a long field. They can take a sack and not have it mean anything. If you are inside your own 30 you do not have that same luxury. You have to be much more aware of playing the clock and not taking a negative play.
LB Jamaal Westerman had a big penalty where he ran into the punter to give the Steelers a 1st down. He came in unblocked, yet somehow totally missed the ball and went right into the punters leg. He was saved by an interception on the same drive, but it cost the Jets time on the clock. The Steelers kicked away from WR Brad Smith early and he did nothing when he did get his chance.
It is hard to really say why the Jets came out so badly at the start. Did Rex Ryan have them too wound up? Were they too overconfident and he didn't read that properly? Was the play calling that bad on both sides of the ball? I don't think anyone can really answer those questions, maybe not even Rex himself. Give Ryan a ton of credit for getting his team calmed down in the second half and at least making it a game. I don't know what he said or what he did at the half, but the Jets looked like an entirely different team. He will probably be kicking himself for going all out down 17-0 since those 7 points are really what put the game out of reach, but at the time he felt they had to do it. Late in the game he understood they needed to play for 7 and made the right decisions to go on a few forth downs. His biggest issue was that he waited far too long to push the pace of the game. He understood they needed to score touchdowns, but waited until the clock hit 5 minutes remaining to really play the pace they should have been playing from about 8 or 9 minutes onward.
I have no idea why the announcers were saying Rex should have gone for two points when the score was 24-18. If the Jets don't convert and the Steelers get a big kickoff return or make a play to set up a field goal attempt they eliminate the Jets at 27-18. At 27-19 the Jets still have a fighting chance. You always wait until the last possible minute to take that two point attempt and the Jets were not there yet. That was poo announcing by the CBS crew.
That brings me to the offensive play calling. I really hope this is the last game Brian Schottenheimer ever calls with this team. It is not even that the offense played poorly. Once the game settled down they played well, but that drive where the Jets could have cut the score to one touchdown just ruined the whole day for me. With the ball down on the goalline and the team running well they fell apart. He could not decide on a play for 2nd down and had his young QB running over to the sideline to get a call in. It was so late that the play had no hope. With Greene running so well they somehow passed twice with just inches to go. On 4th down the Jets have one option in short yardage- Shonn Greene. Instead he opts for LaDainian Tomlinson who has been terrible in short yardage this year and was awful in the game. It just made no sense. The following drive after a questionable completion to Edwards, which was a catch, they again took way too long to get a play in and next thing you know Sanchez is diving into the leg of his center and hurting him. And then he went back to LT on another 3rd and short. Under 4 minutes in the game and the Jets have to huddle up to get plays in. He is just completely unprepared for situational football.
As a fan you just wait so long to see it happen and this year you could really feel it with the way the playoffs went. The worst thing about the game is the fact that there is just no logical reason for that bad start to the game. It made this a very hard to digest. From the Sanchez turnover onward the Jets dominated the game. The difference is that the Jets defense only created two points despite multiple opportunities whereas the Steelers created 7. Had the Jets settled down earlier or were prepared better you have to think that the outcome would have been different.
Sadly it did not happen that way and the Jets are going home yet again, one game before the Super Bowl. This was reminiscent of the 1998 game where you could point to a few plays and say if they just did this different or did that different they would have won the game. Sometimes football is just a game of inches and in this game the Jets couldn't get those extra inches. It hurts so badly because it seems they never get those inches in a game. They never can get those breaks that another team gets. Sanchez fumbles and it's a score. Roethlisberger fumbles and it's a safety. The Jets get a 15 yard foul while the Steelers hit Sanchez on a slide and don't get one. It just never seems to go in the Jets favor.
That takes nothing away from Pittsburgh. The way they played that first half was brilliant. They crushed the Jets. It was a game of men versus boys and all the men wore black and gold. When they had to run the clock they did it at the end. Twice Roethlisberger completed passes on the final drive to win the game. When the Jets had those opportunities they failed. You can not play as bad as the Jets did early and win a game, especially on the road.
You feel bad for certain players on the Jets. This was probably the end for DE Shaun Ellis. Ellis played his heart out last week, but his time is probably up. RB LaDainian Tomlinson, who was close so many times, probably saw his last opportunity vanish yet again. Who knows what the future holds for Braylon Edwards and Jerricho Cotchery. LB Bryan Thomas is probably done with the team after a 10 year career. Even LB Jason Taylor can get a mention here. He is not a Jet, but he has had a great career and just never got the opportunity to play in the game. There are countless other contributors to this team that probably wont be back and may not get a chance elsewhere. For them this is an extra sad day. You feel for those players.
Like I said coming into this game this loss, for as bad as it is tonight, is not a failure. Two Conference championship games in two years is the kind of stuff that Peyton Manning got tons of credit for. You don't fluke two in a row and the Jets are a team that has finally arrived. Will they win next year? The odds are probably against it. It is tough to come back from two years like this especially since the Jets have yet to show an ability to get up for 16 regular season games, but look at a team like the Steelers. They will fall back into the occasional 8-8 year as a way to refuel and come back to win a title.
There are clearly bright signs. Sanchez really played well in the second half and played well for most of the year. He is a leader on the field. Watching him yelling at his staff for not playing with any sense of urgency is the sign of someone who “gets it”. If you are looking for growth from a player look no further than the way he melted down in the second half of the Monday night game compared to the second half of this game. It was night and day. If Sanchez has arrived so has the franchise.
There are things that need tweaking on the team. They need upgrades on defense. They have to get more athletic up front. What they have are a great group of rotational guys, but they need starters. They need pass rushers. They need maulers up front. They need a safety that can cover and play up in the box. It is actually amazing that the defense played as well as it did when you consider the talent level of the players, with the exception of the two starting cornerbacks. It is a testament to Rex Ryan for them to do as well as they did these last two years and another reason to be confident about the future. Imagine if they had better players how good they would be.
Nothing to be ashamed of as a Jets fan. I'll still be wearing my Jets jacket proudly and waiting for July to roll around when the team goes to camp. This is a team that plays hard and battles even when the chips are down. Besides that trophy you cant ask for much more than that. It's a far departure from what most Jets teams have played like through the years.
For those of you who have followed the non-cap related stuff throughout the season and offseason thanks for reading. The site had already carved out a niche with the cap and readership has gone way up this season and I know of number of regulars who both post and don't publicly post who read the things on the site. Hopefully the little junk I write up here can give someone a 10 minute escape from the real world or give them something to glance over with their kids.
Once the CBA gets hammered out, and despite all the dramatic talk of a cancelled season Im sure it will, I will try to tackle some of the upcoming contracts for the Jets free agents and who will likely stay and who will likely go. I have a very busy year planned personally, but will try to sneak in some time to keep up with the articles in the offseason with things like the follow up to the Sanchez projections and some article about how this current group, which I really believe is going to lead to a title one day, came to be. By the time football season rolls around I should be a bit more in tune with my schedule so Id expect to be able to produce most the same stuff during the season. I'll also be working on finding some other type of platform to use for commenting or potentially forum posting to allow for easier feedback. As long as it stays football related I think that should be a benefit for the site.
September 2011 cant get here fast enough. Go Jets!