Sunday, December 27th, 2009: With little hope left to save the season and make a playoff run, the Jets stared down a frightening opponent in the form of Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. Jim Caldwell decided to take the safe route and sit most of his starters in the second half, including Manning. New York capitalized on this and made Curtis Painter look like the rookie that he was. The scoreboard read 29-15 at the end, and I realized that the Jets were just one week away from "backing into the playoffs" and they looked poised to make a run.
Sunday, January 3rd, 2010: The Bengals simply looked sloppy in Giants Stadium as they took a beating from the Jets. They amassed zero first-half passing yards and appeared unprepared. Just six days later, there would be a Saturday afternoon matchup between these two teams again.
Saturday, January 9th, 2010: Mark Sanchez had a mistake-free game in which he passed for 182 yards on 12 completions, tossing one ball to Dustin Keller in the end zone and none to the other team. The run game was successful as well, accounting for two scores as Shonn Greene ran for 135 yards in this 24-14 New York Jets victory.
Sunday, January 17th, 2010: In the divisional round of the playoffs, the Jets had a bigger challenge to face than the previous week: the San Diego Chargers. Phillip Rivers looked to be unstoppable. But Nate Kaeding looked back to his rookie season in 2005, remembered how he singlehandedly blew a playoff game against the Jets, and did the same thing again! Kaeding missed three field goals, and the Jets pulled off a 17-14 win to advance to the AFC Championship Game.
Sunday, January 24th, 2010: Despite an early 17-6 lead, Gang Green just couldn't hold on to make a trip to Miami. Peyton Manning flew down the field at the end of the first half to cut the lead to just four points, and he didn't stop there. Two more touchdowns later, the Colts were up 30-17 and Manning had 377 yards, connecting with Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie for 274 yards. The Cinderella story had come to an end, and the Jets packed up their bags and headed home.
Since that day, the Jets have taken a rollercoaster ride that left me convinced that they'd win a Super Bowl three different times and convinced that they aren't capable of making the playoffs four different times. They haven't ever been a very consistent team, so that comes as no surprise, but the amount of talent this team pulled together during the offseason had many fans believing that this would be a new and improved New York Jets.
From the unexpected rejuvenation of LaDainian Tomlinson's career, to the explosiveness Santonio Holmes has added to the pass game, to the dominance of Antonio Cromartie, this is by no means the "same old Jets." Last season, I could've blamed at least four losses entirely on the play of Mark Sanchez. This year, I'm not sure that he is completely accountable for any of the team's losses. In fact, he has singlehandedly won a few games.
Regardless of a 10-4 record, the second best in the league, the words "undisciplined" and "inconsistent" continue to fly around when this team is discussed. Maybe that's because they've struggled against teams like the Detroit Lions, Houston Texans, Cleveland Browns, Miami Dolphins and Denver Broncos. Maybe it's because Braylon Edwards had a DUI, Sal Alosi tripped Nolan Carroll and Rex Ryan likes to make amateur softcore porn videos with his wife.
The Jets need to take the momentum that an upset win over the Steelers provided and carry it into Chicago next week. The Bears have a tough defense and can boast that their front seven is one of the most dominant in the league at stopping the run. The good news for the Jets is that they match up extremely well against this Chicago offense.
Matt Forte and Chester Taylor are not exactly a daunting opponent for a Jets defensive line that has been abusing running backs all year long. As for the passing game, the Bears have some talent in the receiving corps. Johnny Knox is turning into a very valuable target in his second season in the league. Devin Hester is always a threat thanks to his speed. And Greg Olsen has always been solid at tight end.
Unfortunately, those three have the unfortunate task of taking on Revis, Cromartie & Co. The New York Jets secondary is one of the best in the league, and they will be looking to capitalize on the mistake-prone Jay Cutler this Sunday. Cutler has stated that he will challenge Darrelle Revis, as it would put their team at too much of a disadvantage to simply avoid a certain receiver for the entire game. Good luck to you with that, Mr. Cutler.
A win in Chicago would mean two consecutive victories against other "elite" teams. The only opponent left would be the Buffalo Bills in what could potentially be a meaningless game at that point. The Jets will look to finish this season with a few consecutive wins just as they did last year. They will most likely face a tougher road than last year though.
In the wild-card round, the Jets would be lucky to get matched up against Jacksonville or Kansas City, but they may be stuck facing the Indianapolis Colts for a shot at revenge. Should they win in the first round, the divisional round opponent may be even worse. The Jets will face either Pittsburgh or New England, two teams they have beaten this season (going on to get routed by the Pats in their second matchup).
The momentum is in their favor. Overcoming a tough Chicago Bears team may mean quite a lot for this team's psyche and confidence level heading into the playoffs. This Sunday is the Jets' chance to show the world that they are as good as advertised. They are just 2-3 against other "elite" squads as of now, beating the Pats and Steelers, but losing to the Pats the second time along with losses to the Ravens and Packers. Finishing 12-4 with an even record against the league's finest is a lot more convincing than 11-5 with just two wins and four losses against other great teams.
Does this team have what it takes to gain some composure and make a deep playoff run? I think so, but you can decide for yourself.