On the third day of this new millennium, on a frigid night at Giants Stadium, the New York Jets played with the destiny of their season on the line against a Cincinnati Bengals team with nothing at stake except their first national exposure in several years.
In the first 30 minutes of football the Jets played about as perfect a half of football as is possible, piling up a 27-0 lead while controlling the clock for 25 minutes. They completed the game with still searing intensity to complete a 37-0 pounding of the hapless Bengals, twice preserving the shutout with strip sacks of the Bengals 2nd string quarterback, J.T. O'Sullivan.
The excuses made for the Bengals and the assault on the validity of the Jets belonging in the playoffs poured in. Silly commentary about the Bengals not playing their starters, that they wanted to lose the game to insure the Jets entry into the playoffs (so that they would be their first opponent), showing only a vanilla game play so that they could unleash their attack the following week in Cincinnati when it really mattered and lulling the Jets into a false sense of security. Other than their kick coverage, the Jets played a superb game against an opponent that was clearly not prepared to play them on par.
The fact is that this game did matter. It was an indication of how good this edition of the Jets could be. Not your mother's garden variety of 40 minute wonders that we've seen in the past. A talented and physical team that seemed to be having the pieces fall into place at the right time.
This past Saturday the Jets put an exclamation point on the 37-0 troucing with a 24-14 victory over those same Bengals at their home field.
In the jubilation that's followed I've heard nothing but praise by Jets fans but I see a lack of insight into what they didn't do in their 24-14 victory. The media coverage has been about the maturation and passing of Sanchez, how well Shonn Greene ran, Dustin Keller's explosiveness and the way that the Jet defense made the Bengals passing attack so anemic.
All true, to an extent, but the same Jets who had played so flawlessly the week before also repeatedly missed tackles and failed to follow-up resulting in Cedric Benson gutting them for 8.0 ypc and 169 yards. Other than former Jet Laverneus Coles the Bengal receivers were pathetic and Carson Palmer, once an elite passer, was dismal. The Jets kick coverage continued to allow long returns. It may have been a blessing that Jay Feeley had to punt so that the Jets weak punt coverage wasn't further exploited and exposed by his shorter kicks.
Braylon Edwards dropped a sure touchdown in the end-zone. Keller dropped a pass too. Thomas Jones gained minimal yardage between the guards.
The Chargers can pass the ball as well as any team in football. Philip Rivers may be the best deep passer in the game. The Charger receivers are enormous, especially compared to those of the Bengals and playing at a far higher level and of course their tight end, Antonio Gates can get it with the best of them. The Jets lack elite speed and recovery on defense (save Darelle Revis) so that a missed tackle on Darren Sproles can turn into a foot race to the end-zone. LaDanian Tomlinson is no longer a fearsome runner but allowing him to gash the Jets for yards will keep drives alive and the Chargers will certainly capitalize at some point to Vincent Jackson or Gates or Malcolm Floyd.
Don't be lulled into false security by the numbers. Statistically the Chargers defense allows yardage but they don't allow a lot of points. Don't believe that Sanchez is clear of the woeful play that plagued him this year because he's not. Don't expect that Greene will gain yardage like he did against the Bengals.
The Jets of that frigid night at Giants Stadium are the team that needs to show up in San Diego or the fun that Jet fans are enjoying might hit a wall this coming Sunday.