What a heartbreaking loss that was.
There were so many “if only” turning points for the Jets. If only someone had made a tackle for the kickoff returned for a touchdown. If only Stephen Hill hadn't dropped a sure touchdown pass a few steps from the end zone. If only, as the Jets were frantically battling in OT, having held the mighty Pats to a field goal, Mark Sanchez hadn't taken a sack and fumbled.
There were so many missed opportunities.
But my biggest take-away from the game is this: The Jets haven't quit.
Rex Ryan deserves tremendous credit here. The Jets played hard against perhaps their fiercest rival. And they almost pulled it off. That's the difference between Ryan being fully engaged and being how he was last year—a CEO-type head coach, not very attuned to the day-to-day workings of his team. There is a major difference this year and you can see it on the field. The accountability is everywhere.
After the loss of Darrelle Revis and Santonio Holmes, I had this team written off. But the Jets showed me something in Foxboro. They showed moxie and fight. They're pulling together instead of descending into the awful offense-versus-defense sniping that developed last year.
Losing Revis was a terrible blow. But I think the loss of Holmes is addition by subtraction. In my opinion, the biggest beneficiary is Mark Sanchez. That seems counterintuitive, considering Holmes was Sanchez’s best playmaker. But if you think about the offensive chemistry of this team, it’s not.
When Holmes was active, you never knew what diva-like behaviors he would exhibit. And Sanchez didn’t have the clout to shut him down—especially not when Ryan was not around to back him up. Sure, Holmes is a gifted receiver, but he was also a thorn in Sanchez’s side.
Now, that is a non-issue. Now, Sanchez is the undisputed leader of the huddle.
He has more experience than many of his young receiving corps, which automatically confers some authority. Plus, there is now opportunity for these receivers and tight ends, many of whom you have to scramble to look up to find out where they played their college ball.
They’ve been so lost on the depth chart behind the “throw it to Holmes” strategy; now they get a chance to show what they can do. Jeremy Kerley is lighting it up. Stephen Hill, dropped pass or not, continues to develop. Throw in Sanchez having more comfort with his offensive line protection, and...well, who knows?
How will we know if that is the case? First, the Jets must beat Miami. Teams with playoff aspirations must record a win over a rebuilding division rival.
Going into the bye at 4 and 4 isn’t as awful as it looks.
At the beginning of the year, I thought the Jets had to win the division or they would likely be out of the playoffs. There were just too many other AFC teams that looked stronger with a shot at those 5 and 6 Wild Card slots.
Now we've got seven weeks in the books and things look quite different. My guess is Denver is going to win the AFC West. The other three teams in that division are a mess. Baltimore will probably win the AFC North. Houston will take the AFC South, and the Pats will win the AFC East.
Who does that realistically leave in the hunt for the wild card? Well, you can never count out the Steelers. The Bengals could surprise everyone. I don't see anyone with enough wins in the south for a wild card berth. Suddenly, the Jets still have a shot.
It's easy to laugh at that with the Jets record at 3-4, but their division record still looks solid and will look even better if they can beat Miami. There is no reason the scrappy Jets can’t take a 4-4 record into the second half and get hot against a schedule that is much easier than the first eight weeks.
The Jets need to take care of business by beating Miami and recalibrate after that. This thing isn't over.
There is still a lot of football left.