For my early Radar entry as I sit in my hotel room five floors above the Thursday morning street noise of downtown Providence, R.I., I thought I’d recall some instances in the past decade that compare to where the Jets will be sitting tonight — one win over New England away from sole possession of first place.
It’s been a while since the Green & White have had this opportunity this late in the season, say from October on. But for a while it was happening almost once a year.
In 1998, the Jets headed south to play the Dolphins on a Sunday night. Both teams had 9-4 records. First place in the East and the looming prospect of a first-round playoff bye were at stake. And the Jets had the fourth-quarter lead, 14-10. But at the two-minute warning in Miami territory, Dan Marino had the ball in his hands.
And then he didn’t. Nose tackle Ernie Logan penetrated and strip-sacked Marino, and nickel LB Chad Cascadden picked up the loose ball and went 23 yards for the only touchdown of his career. That made it 21-10 with 1:51 to play.
The Dolphins’ TD with three seconds left closed it to 21-16 but didn’t change the fact that the Jets were alone at the top, a position they held the rest of the regular season and into their bye.
Two years later, the 2000 Jets had a shot at first place, capitalized but couldn’t hold the catbird’s seat. That game, needless to say, was the Monday Night Miracle.
Fans were going to bed grumpy and pressbox writers were putting the finishing touches on their eulogies as the 5-1 Jets had fallen behind the 5-1 Dolphins, 30-7, late in the third quarter at the Meadowlands.
Then came the greatest fourth-quarter comeback in NFL history as Vinny Testaverde threw touchdown passes to four different receivers, the last to "tight end" Jumbo Elliott, with 42 seconds left in regulation, and John Hall kicked two field goals, the second coming 6:47 into overtime, at about 1:15 in the morning, to nail down the 40-37 thriller.
A shame those Jets went 3-6 the rest of the way and missed the postseason.
In 2001 it was back to Miami as the 6-3 Jets were attempting to climb past the 6-2 Dolphins. And they did, 24-0, as Aaron Glenn and Victor Green took interceptions to the house.
The final game of the 2002 season was a little different, since the 8-7 Jets weren’t playing the 9-6 Dolphins; the 8-7 Patriots were. And when the Pats came back to beat the Dolphins in overtime, suddenly the Jets were staring at the prospect of beating the 12-3 Packers — yes, Brett Favre’s Pack — to win the AFC East and a playoff berth.
The Jets didn’t blink. They crushed Green Bay, 42-17, with the aid of four Chad Pennington touchdown passes, then moved on to blank Peyton Manning and the Colts in the AFC Wild Card Game the next weekend.
Finally came 2004 and the showdown between the Jets and Patriots at Gillette Stadium. The rivals had traveled through the first six weeks of the season in lockstep and now the two 5-0 teams were meeting to determine early division supremacy. It was a tightly played game that wound up, after a scoreless second half, in the Pats’ favor, 13-7.
Playing an opponent for the division lead is something like a solar eclipse — it doesn’t occur every year. For the Jets, it wasn’t going to happen in ’05 and ’07, and in other seasons there can be three-way ties to prevent a clear takeover of first place with one victory, or a so-so start by, for example, the ’06 Jets that prevented them getting a chance to claim first.
But this year is one of those years. Is it an eclipse year, as in can the Green & White block out the long run of success by the Red, White & Blue Patriots? Who will be the stars in this primetime battle for the top? And if the Jets get to the pinnacle this week, can they hold?
All questions to be answered in 12 hours or so.
O-Line of Distinction
The Jets’ offensive line and other blockers should get one more accolade for the job they did against St. Louis on Sunday. Consider that the Jets’ running game gained 206 yards while the pass protection didn’t allow the Rams to sack Brett Favre once.
That’s what I call a "Sackless 200" game — 200-plus rushing yards, no sacks.
It’s a high achievement for an O-line, assuming a victory comes along with it, but that’s usually the case. It was the Jets’ 17th sackless 200 since 1964, and their record in those games is 16-1.
But it had been a while between such performances recently. Before Sunday, the last sackless 200 came in Week 15 of the 2004 season, when Curtis Martin led a 229-yard ground attack, Chad Pennington went unsacked, and the Jets bagged the Seahawks, 37-14.
Then before that you’d have to go back to 1998, when the Jets turned the trick twice at home, vs. Indianapolis in Week 3 and Carolina in Week 13, with Martin running and Vinny Testaverde clean in the pocket.
The Jets have been first-and-great on fourth down. They have attempted to go for it on fourth down nine times this season and have converted eight of those chances for an 88.9 percent success rate that is the best in the NFL.
Of those nine plays, seven have been Brett Favre passes. He has completed six of them, to five different players, all for first downs, for 111 yards and three touchdowns. That calculates to a 158.3 passer rating — the coveted "perfect" rating.
On the two runs, Thomas Jones converted a fourth-and-1, and Favre kept to convert another fourth-and-1.
Tags: AFC East, Dan Marino, Monday Night Miracle, Vinny Testaverde
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