It wasn't the Mud Bowl, with interceptions galore, questionable field conditions and an offense that was shut out. And it wasn't 1998 in Denver or 2009 in Indianapolis, when the New York Jets had halftime leads but couldn't close the door on their opponents. Sunday's AFC Championship heartbreaking loss most resembled the team's first round loss to the Buffalo Bills in the 1981 playoffs. The Jets fell behind by the same 24-0 score in the second quarter, stormed back, but ultimately lost, 31-27. On that day, Richard Todd had a pass picked off at the Buffalo two-yard line with seconds left on the clock. This year, it's Pittsburgh's fourth-quarter-goal-line stand that will be remembered as the key moment of the game that will be second guessed for decades to come. Of course, if the defense came out ready to play in the first half and made a few tackles, things might have turned out a lot different. Back in September, I wondered which New York Met team the Jets would resemble this year: The swaggering 1986 team that won it all or the all-talk, collapsing 2007 version. It looks like 2007 is the winner (with a little bit of 2006 thrown in, too). The Jets' defense on Sunday proved to be much like the Mets' bullpen that season, with a meltdown that cost the team a chance at a championship. Of course, the Jets made it a lot further than those Mets, and a downward spiral into oblivion leading to firings galore will most likely not be Gang Green's future. They should be on an upward slant in the next few years, with Rex Ryan, Mark Sanchez, Darrelle Revis and the rest of the core in place. But this season, they talked the talk and couldn't walk the walk. And even though the season's over, Antonio Cromartie keeps on talking, and cursing, and threatening other players . . .
Now on to the other top stories of the week in the world of New York sports.
Explosion, Part II: Earlier in the season the New York Knicks broke out of a six-game losing streak with a giant explosion of goodness. Can they do it again? After snapping another streak of six consecutive losses by defeating the everybody-beats-the Wizards, who came into the game with an 0-20 road record, the Knicks rocked the Garden with a resounding, feel-good win over the villianous Miami Heat on Thursday. Danilo Gallinari hit a huge three-pointer at the end, and had a huge fourth quarter, Landry Fields also hit a big three, and played an all-around Landry-like game, and Raymond Felton knocked down all his free throws to put the game away. Sorry, LeBron James. Amar'e Stoudemire will be in the starting lineup in the All-Star Game. He works hard, he produces, he's a leader and he's accepted everything that comes with playing in New York. What more could you ask for?
One Half Down, One to Go: They're gritty, they're feisty, they're plucky, they're fearless, they're tough and they're resilient. They forecheck, they grind, they play defense, they hit, they block shots and they play with heart. They're the 2010-'11 New York Rangers, at the unofficial halfway point in the season. They closed out the heading-into-the-All-Star-break stretch by beating Atlanta, 2-1, in a shootout, defeating Washington, 2-1, in a shootout and losing a tough one to Florida, 4-3, on one of the flukiest goals you'll ever see (of course, they tied up Monday's game on a fluky goal of their own). After Monday's win over the Capitals, Brian Boyle summed up the season when he said, "You know what? I don't have anything new for you. It's the same old. We never give up. The way we grind, we have confidence we can wear teams down." The Blueshirts haven't missed a beat no matter who's been out with an injury, but when they return from the break to play Pittsburgh next Tuesday, they just may have a couple of welcome-back gifts waiting for them: Ryan Callahan and Vinny Prospal. And there's no doubt they'll all pick up right where they left off, working hard as usual. And isn't that what fans crave the most, a blue-collar team that is easy to root for?
New Jersey Uprising: What's going on in the Garden State? The New Jersey Nets and New Jersey Devils have gone a combined 10-2-1 in their last 13 games. They're both still in last place, but all that winning at least gives the two teams hope for the future. Brook Lopez threw in the game-winning shot with 1.4 seconds left to beat Cleveland on Monday, and the team saw almost everyone in the rotation contribute in every game. The Nets finished with an impressive 4-1 record on their home stand, and they've blown by last season's win total. Snooki and Kim Kardashian were present for the Nets' only loss, on Saturday against Dallas. Maybe there's a lesson in there somewhere. Meanwhile, on the ice, Jacques Lemaire has the Devils playing like his old 1970s Montreal Canadiens, as they steamroll through the league trying to make the biggest comeback in hockey history. They went 2-1 this week, and are 6-1-1 in their last eight contests. But the bad news? Lemaire won't be returning next season.
Island of Misfit Toys: The New York Islanders claimed Evgeni Nabokov on waivers, stealing him from the Red Wings. The goalie refused to report to Long Island--nothing personal, mind you--so the Islanders had no choice but to suspend him. He did say he'd be willing to change positions and play center field for the Yankees, though. But who needs him, as 20-year-old Kevin Poulin looked outstanding in the team's last game, a 1-0 loss to Pittsburgh. The Isles went 1-3 this week, and finished off the first half of the season just ahead of the Devils in the standings. If you would have told the team before the season began that they'd be ahead of New Jersey in the standings at the end of January, they'd be ecstatic, figuring they would be in first place. Finally, Matt Moulson will be celebrating over the break, having just signed a three-year contract.
What's on Second? The New York Mets went flipping through their rolodex of former second basemen to fill a couple of minor-league managerial positions. Tim Teufel was given a promotion and moved up to Triple-A Buffalo, while his old platoon partner, Wally Backman, has also moved up the ladder, being handed the reins to Double-A Binghamton. Meanwhile, Ken Boswell, Al Weis, Felix Millan, Doug Flynn and Edgardo Alfonzo are all saying, "Hey, what about me?"
Put Me in Coach (But Not in Center Field): Brian Cashman opened up a can of worms by mentioning "Derek Jeter" and "center field" in the same sentence. He referenced Robin Yount as a shortstop that moved to the outfield, but the Brewer legend was 29 at the time. Carlos Beltran was the oldest regular center fielder in baseball last year, and he was 33. Of course, New York Yankees history is littered with shortstops switching to center field, with Mickey Mantle and Bobby Murcer being the most obvious examples. They were teenagers when they made the position switch, though. But Derek Jeter is Derek Jeter. He can do anything, right? In real news, the Bombers signed former Cy Young winner and oft-injured Bartolo Colon to a minor-league deal.