Mission Impossible 3: AFC Championship New York Jets Vs Pittsburgh Steelers

Victoria SterlingCorrespondent IJanuary 18, 2011

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 16:  Mark Sanchez #6 and LaDainian Tomlinson #21 of the New York Jets celebrate after the Jets defeated the Patriots 28 to 21 in their 2011 AFC divisional playoff game at Gillette Stadium on January 16, 2011 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

Mark Sanchez was not the best quarterback on the field Sunday.  Rex Ryan was not the best coach.  But the Jets were the best team. 

New York Jets!  That was some of the best, most focused, smartest football I've seen in a long time.  And that's taking into account all the Pats football I’ve watched.  Where to start? 

Defense - Just a tremendous job.  Taking away the underneath routes was the obvious way to go to beat Brady.  But saying it and doing it are two completely different things.  Not only does that require a coaching staff willing (and able) to change, but you have to have the athletes to do it.  And, oh yeah, they need to be smart.  At a certain point, we have to give credit to Mike Tannenbaum for putting together this team. What a fantastic group of players. There's a reason the Revis hold out was such a big focus of Hard Knocks.  Darrelle Revis is special.  Rex is right.  It's almost like you get an extra man on defense when he is playing because you just know he's going to take care of his business and won't need any help. I saw Revis make some unbelievable double moves against the speedy Deion Branch. Actually, the whole defense played like their honor was on the line.  Which it was.  You know how I know that defensive effort was awesome?  Belichick and Ryan hugging midfield after the contest.  That was man to man respect on both sides.  Belichick is no dummy.  He saw what a tremendous job was done by the Jets and he's smart enough to know that was a complete team effort backed up by study, practice, grooming replacements for the  inevitable injuries and solid coaching.

By the way - how hot is the Ryan brand right now?  So hot that Jerry Jones had to get in on the action.  I actually love the idea of Rex's twin brother Rob Ryan in Dallas.  I think Rob and Jason Garrett will be a very good match. You will never see the kind of lolligagging under Rob that happened under Wade Phillips.  But I digress.

Offense:  I actually got a tear in my eye at the LaDainian Tomlinson postgame interview.  Seeing his joy (genuine thankfulness, not cocky jockish attitude) was inspirational.  Mark Sanchez?  In a million years if you had told me that the QB with a pick and five sacks was going to be Tom Brady and not you, I would never have believed it.  Strong work.  Much better accuracy with the throws and just giving your guys an opportunity to make plays – you don't have to do everything.  Put your guys in a position to succeed.  They are playmakers.  From the unbelievable catches by Holmes and Keller and Cotchery to dragging two Pats into the end zone by Braylon......just phenomenal effort.  Sometimes it's hard to remember that Sanchez is still so young.  But he's a smart guy surrounded by a good supporting cast on and off the field.  In some of his post game comments he directly credited how lucky he was to get drafted to such a quality Jets organization.

There's something going on with these Jets.  It's hard to describe, but you can see it on the field.  For example, late in the 4th, when Vincent Wilfork back handed Sanchez and center Nick Mangold immediately got in Wilfork's face defending his quarterback, that told me everything I needed to know.  People love to hate on Sanchez because he's pretty and from Southern Cal, but this team has his back.  All the way from the roller coaster of last year's rookie campaign til now.  They're all in.  And just when you think the 2nd yr QB is going to wilt under the tremendous pressure, he goes and has once of his best most mistake free outings of his career. 

Special teams?  No glaring mistakes.  I predict the punt game will get fixed this week.  No way Westhoff doesn't address that.  Pushups for touchbacks is all I can say.

So now what?  Pittsburgh.  The Jets got by them 22-17 last time around in December.  But that was minus #43.  Rex is right; Big Ben is just that: big, and he can keep plays alive.  I watched him on Saturday and sometimes when the play would break down, it was almost like, "OK,  new plan! Everybody run down to the Buick at the end of the street and I'll find you!"  Against the Ravens defense no less. So, you know, no big deal Rex.  Just take away his playmaking ability. 

Brian Schottenheimer?  Keep up the good work.  I talked last week about controlling the tempo of the game and I think the Jets did a masterful job of that.  I like the creative game planning and recognizing that if you can get your quarterback off to a confident start he'll take it from there.  Apparently, Schottenheimer the Elder has been around the Jets games and facility a lot these days.  I like it.  Listen, I was plenty critical of Martyball back in the day (at San Diego), but there is no question he knows his stuff.  I think it’s good for Brian to have that option to bounce ideas off of.  One of the greatest throwaway moments on Hard Knocks was a quick snippet where Rex was in Brian's office and asked him what he would do if he won a Super Bowl ring.  Without hesitation, Brian said, "Give it to my Dad."  Not missing a beat, Rex (also son of a famous coach) said, "Well, we'll just have to win two then."  

That's what I mean about this year's Jets.  There is some kind of lightning in a bottle magic they've got working.  The 2001 Patriots had it.  Listen, I'm not discounting any of the other final four
contenders. They've all earned the right to be here. But any championship run has this ephemeral quality. Whether it was the crazy 2010 “us against the world”  San Francisco Giants, the equally crazy 2010 Lakers with Ron Artest somehow becoming part of the solution instead of part of the problem or 2007 NY Giants upending the 18-0 Pats.....somehow everyone on this Jets team has bought into this quest in a similar fashion.

Think about all the potential divas on this roster. And yet, we see none of that behavior.  You see the team ethos in Braylon Edwards’ blocking.  You see it when teammates pick up Sanchez's spirits after a bad series.  And it's not lip service.  Watch the post game locker room speeches and highlights.  They're not faking.

I like that they have almost no time to reflect on the New England win.  Right back to work.  Next game - Sunday at Heinz Field - preparation starts now. Who knows what happens in Pittsburgh next Sunday.  But to paraphrase something Mark said, "I'd rather be playing than watching next weekend."  Amen.