These are the times that try our souls.
There was legitimate optimism that the Jets could go a mile high and come back down the mountain with a healing victory over the Broncos. No question it would be a challenge and that the schedule did the Jets no favors in this one. But there was no loss of faith in the locker room.
The optimism for me continued during the Thursday. After the first quarter the feeling had drained a bit as the Jets again couldn’t score a touchdown in the opening 15 minutes.
After the second quarter and on into the first five minutes of the third, the thought was that this was going to be ugly, perhaps a “Son of Shrek” game, but that the Green & White would escape with Denver with a W.
With six minutes to play, the Jets defense staring into Denver’s end zone 5 yards away and the Broncos staring at the Jets’ EZ 95 yards away in the other direction, it all looked doable.
“Yeah,” guard Matt Slauson admitted afterward, “we thought the game was in hand.”
But Tim Tebow and the Jets’ own mistakes caught up to them in that last drive. If this endgame scenario didn’t involve the Green Team, it would have been something to observe the latest chapter in the Legend of Timmy T.
“It’s still really hard to fathom,” head coach Rex Ryan said today at the top of his morning conference call with the team’s reporters. “It really is.”
The hardest part to comprehend was how well the Jets’ defense played for 54 minutes and yet how relentlessly the Broncos moved the field on it in the next five minutes. Consider that until that final drive, the D had forced seven consecutive punts by the Broncos, including six three-and-outs. Consider that before that drive, the home team was averaging a healthy drive start of its own 38, including five starts in Jets territory, and had three points to show for it.
Consider that from the second play of the first series through the 11th series, the defense had yielded 101 drive yards to Denver, before yielding 95 on its final 12 snaps.
Denver’s final play, that 20-yard Tebow dash for the end zone that virtually sealed the Jets’ fate with 58 seconds left, involved an all-out blitz call that Ryan would like to have back.
“Hindsight behind 20-20, obviously, we would’ve done something, anything but that,” the coach said today. “But at the time, you make several calls in a game. At that time, we had pressured him. We thought they were going to do really what they did. They ran verticals in the passing game, so we wanted to pressure it, and quite honestly, he made a great play. If you had to do it over again, of course you would’ve called something else, knowing the result.”
Offensively, of course, there was Slauson’s 1-yard return of Bilal Powell’s fumble for a touchdown. The guard became one of only three or four offensive linemen to ever score a touchdown of any kind for the franchise. There was guard Randy Rasmussen’s end zone recovery in the 1972 season opener against Miami, and famously tackle Jumbo Elliott’s TD catch in the Monday Night Miracle vs. those same Dolphins in 2000.
Then there was the asterisk for Trevor Matich’s game-winning touchdown grab from Ken O’Brien in a 28-21 win at New England in November 1991. I starred it because while Matich was a backup center-guard-tackle in his two Jets seasons of 1990-91, he was also a backup TE, and in that role, having traded in his lineman’s uniform No. 64 for a tight end’s 46 a month earlier, made his 3-yard catch with 57 seconds left to lift the Jets that day.
Normally an O-lineman scoring six is a good omen — since 2000, NFL teams are 22-4 when they get such a contribution from the trenches. But when your OL scores your team’s only touchdown, that’s not so good. Slauson seemed pleased that he had made a little history, but he said it was a sad because the play meant nothing in the shadows of this loss.
The locker rooms inside Sports Authority Field at Mile High are larger than most in the NFL, accentuating the grim quiet of the Jets’ postgame activities. Some players declined comment, others talked in hushed tones, then sat with serious demeanors, contemplating what had just transpired.
“I feel terrible. I feel like garbage,” DT Sione Pouha said. “But we’ve gotta bounce back, man.”
“We’re never going to stop believing,” said Slauson.
Nor should they. Fans are upset, and rightly so. And they are joined by the players, members of the front office, and humble Web editors. But the Jets can’t and won’t throw in the towel for several reasons. For one, there is still enough talent, minus mistakes, to win games on this team. For another, as NFL Network’s Rich Eisen recently told Dennis Miller on his radio show, “Things can change so very quickly in the NFL.” The Jets of ’02 (2-5 start, 7-2 finish, AFC East title) and ’09 (4-6 start, 5-1 finish, AFC Wild Card) are one of many examples of that, as, at the moment, are the Tebow Broncos.
The road to the playoffs is steeper than ever. Since the current playoff landscape was introduced in 2002, teams that have started 5-5 have reached the postseason 13 times while missing out 29 times (.310). However, teams that got to 5-5 via two or more consecutive losses, as the Jets have, have only reached the playoffs three of 11 times. (Baltimore, with Ryan as D-Line coach, did it in ’03, Washington in ’05 and ’07).
“I’m looking forward to the preparation and everything, because I think we can get better,” Ryan said. ”We have a resilient team. We’re going to be in this thing. We’re going to be shoulder to shoulder, with coaches, players and everybody, and we’re going to try to find a way to get this done.”
But let’s not put the cart before the horse for the Jets. They can talk about the P-word, playoffs, all they want, because as Ryan rightly said, “Our playoffs start right now.” But to dwell on the enormity of the task is counterproductive. Another NFL truism is this: The Jets now have six one-game seasons ahead of them. Play the one in front of you, win it, move on to the next. And in that way they will show to all of us, and to themselves, what kind of season 2011 will be.
Tags: Denver Broncos, Jumbo Elliott, Matt Slauson, Randy Rasmussen, Rex Ryan, Sione Pouha, Tim Tebow, Trevor Matich
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