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Thanks to a laughably mediocre AFC, the 6-7 New York Jets are actually relevant in the playoff picture. Yesterday's 17-10 victory over the now 2-11 Jacksonville Jaguars wasn't pretty but it was a win nonetheless. Just like last Sunday's win over the Arizona Cardinals, the Jets eked out a victory over a bad team with a defense-first, run heavy approach. The Jets have suddenly reverted back to the style of play that Rex Ryan implemented back in 2009 (and in 2010 but a little less so). With success - if you want to call two narrow victories against all-time bad offenses "success" - and a soft schedule the rest of the way, this is how the Jets are going to play for the remainder of the year. Buckle in!
The main difference between the win over Jacksonville and the one seven days prior over Arizona was that Mark Sanchez made it all the way through the game this time. That's not to say that he played well. He didn't. But the Jets didn't ask him to do much, and they never used backup Tim Tebow while last week's hero Greg McElroy was back in a baseball cap and holding a clipboard all day, inactive.
The Jets' defense had a second straight dominant performance, totally suffocating a bad offense. Muhammad Wilkerson was all over the field and anyone who watches him on a consistent basis knows he's one of the best defensive linemen in the league. If Wilkerson were on the Baltimore Ravens or Houston Texans, you'd probably hear a lot more about him.
Rookie Quinton Coples has steadily improved all season and played what was likely his best game as a pro, registering his third sack of the season. David Harris looked like pre-contract-extension David Harris maybe for the first time this season. I think Jets fans should keep cautious optimism because the team's last two opponents are among the worst offenses in the league. Still, credit goes to Rex Ryan for seemingly turning this thing around.
Shonn Greene and Bilal Powell ran amok in the second half behind an offensive line that played up to its potential. I'm not sure what CBS color commentator Solomon Wilcots was talking about when he mentioned that Shonn Greene has put together a really good year, because that's untrue on a staggering amount of levels. Regardless, Greene did his job on Sunday as did Powell, who looks like he could be in the mix as a second running back option next season.
Mark Sanchez's big third down completion to Jeff Cumberland on the Jets' final drive didn't totally ice the game as it should have, but it was a great clutch pitch-and-catch and deserves recognition. However, it was Sanchez's only meaningful throw of the day.
Outside of the completion to Cumberland, Sanchez wasn't very good at all. He was inaccurate most of the day, and even when he did have time to throw and most NFL offenses would get a guy free down the field, Sanchez's receivers couldn't find any separation. Sanchez did turn the ball over once, getting strip-sacked by Jason Babin, but it didn't end up being a death knell. The turnover occurred inside Jags' territory but not in the red zone. You'd like to Sanchez stop fumbling, but that specific play was something that happens across the NFL every single week. It wasn't a turnover borne from a poor decision. It was a bad play by left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson and a good one by Babin.
Kyle Wilson might have continued wagging his finger and constantly celebrating, but he played his usual sub-par game. He was the sole reason Henne converted a 4th-and-15 with the game on the line.
This is strictly my opinion, so only take it for that. I don't profess to be right, and I certainly hope I'm wrong, but I don't think the Jets can win out playing this style of football, even with their soft schedule. Eventually you have to put up some points. The Jets' next three opponents all have better offenses than the ones they've faced the past two weeks. Next week on Monday Night, the Jets visit the Titans. New York's run defense still let fourth-string Montell Owens go for
over 100 yards 91 yards yesterday. They face Chris Johnson on Monday. In two weeks, they'll have to deal with Ryan Mathews, Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates, and the San Diego Chargers, who just went in to Pittsburgh and laid the smackdown on the Steelers. They're not a great team by any stretch, but they are markedly better than the Jaguars and Cardinals, the Jets' latest victims. If the Jets go into Week 17 with a playoff spot on the line in Buffalo, the rival Bills will be up for the game trying to knock the Jets out.
The Jets are playing this brand of football by necessity, they think. They feel like they can't win unless they reign Sanchez in. Maybe they can't, but what does that say about the long-term health of the franchise? Why play Sanchez and put McElroy back on the bench if you're going to try to eke wins out against bad teams? The NFL in 2012 is a passing league, an offensive league. Don't you need to find out a little about whether Sanchez can carry to load? If you're admitting he can't, why is he playing? It's not that the Jets can't win a few games playing this conservative way - they have and they can. But the chance of this keeping up and sustaining any real success this season and beyond is probably very slim.