AFC Championship Game: The Aftermath and What Lies Ahead For The New York Jets

Victoria SterlingCorrespondent IJanuary 25, 2011

PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 23:  Mark Sanchez #6 of the New York Jets warms up prior to their 2011 AFC Championship game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on January 23, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

Oh New York Jets…how you break my heart.

That game was winnable.

And don’t you dare blame this on Mark Sanchez (yes he fumbled and the turnover was the difference in the score, but you could make a strong case that Brick missing the block on Ike Taylor and allowing Taylor to blindside Sanchez is just as responsible).

And while we’re at it; there will be no more talk about any perceived lack of toughness from the SoCal kid.  Who was wearing long sleeves Sunday Night?  Big Ben.  How Sanchez came back in after that Taylor sack, I’ll never know.  It looked like his neck got jacked up and he was obviously wincing in pain and holding his left arm too.

He played with more desire and moxie than I’ve ever seen him play with. Don’t think for a minute that he is not a competitor with the heart of a lion under that handsome veneer

I’ll tell you who you can blame this on.

The coaching staff.

How in the world can you let the Steelers go up 24 to nothing and not call a time out for the defense to regroup?

You completely lost control of the tempo of the game.

Didn’t anybody scout the Steelers?  They have this guy named Rashard Mendenhall.  You might want to put some defenders on him.   Good grief.

The Jets acted like they were surprised to see him.  Where did the tackling technique go?  What about getting low?  This is 100% on Rex Ryan.

Call the guys together during a timeout and make some coverage adjustments.  The adjustments after the half were brilliant, but it was too little too late.

Offense?  I rewatched the game, this time with my head, not my heart, and I can’t put my finger on the malaise that the offense displays at the beginning of games.  It’s like they just can’t get in a rhythm.

One thing Brian Schottenheimer used to do is call a long ball early in games.  Really stretch the field vertically.  Sometimes they got lucky and one of the wide receivers came down with it.  But it almost didn’t matter if it was incomplete. It put opposing defenses on notice that that play is in the playbook.  It loosened up the defense.

As I rewatched, the Jets wide receivers seemed to run into so much traffic in the middle of the field.  Whether it was the Steelers not sure if run or pass was coming…they clogged up the lanes.

For a variety of reasons, there were a lot of drops, late/errant passes and less running than you’d think.  I think other teams are on to the strategy of starting Mark off with easy dink and dunks and some runs and are laying in wait for third and long and hoping to get the Jets to punt.  You’re not going to get much past Dick LeBeau.

So now what?

I think that once the contract situations with the receivers are worked out, Schotty and Mark and the wideouts need to sit down and review every snap of every offensive series from the entire year.  I wouldn’t mind an outside pair of eyes (Dick Vermeil? Kurt Warner?) taking a look and giving his opinion.

There are at least 16 other teams in the league that would kill to have a QB of Sanchez’s caliber.  Yes.  I said it.  And yet, I still have yet to see a full game called that maximizes his talent.

4th and 1 at the goal and you run it up the middle?   (I know there were headset problems.)  Still, that call should have been naked bootleg to the left.  Exactly the same way they scored in Pittsburgh 5 weeks prior

You know the Steelers are going to stack against the run.   What are you thinking Brian Schottenheimer?  Mike Tomlin must have been dancing with glee.  Forget that they got the safety on the next Steelers possession. 

Championship teams score touchdowns.  Period. 

Speaking of which,….I liked Mark’s instincts in that goal line stand to try not to burn a timeout.  Brian is going to get most of the heat for those four attempts coming up with no points.  But as I rewatched, I realized it was almost a perfect storm of breakdowns. 

Mark couldn’t hear Brian in the headset, but Brian didn’t know that.  I think it was Cavanaugh that finally figured out that Mark was frantically trying to signal the headset was out.  He instantly alerted Brian, who raced out to meet Mark and give him the call.

But precious seconds had by then ticked off the play clock.  Looking back (and forward in case that ever happens again) I wonder if it would have been better to take the delay of game penalty?  So you move back five yards?  So what?  It’s still manageable short yardage to the goal line.  Reset the clock.  Get reorganized and have everybody on the same page regardless what the call is.  They are unbelievably lucky that fiasco didn’t result in a turnover. 

This is the third year in a row that Rex has lost an AFC Championship game. 

It’s time to take a look in the mirror. 

Ground and pound all you want against the Buffalo Bills of the world, but championships will be decided against the murderers row of QBs  that you just faced and almost vanquished. 

You must be able to match strike for strike and that means airing it out and not just in panic time.  The time is now to elevate Sanchez from being a game manager to being a game changer. 

Listen, I’m not against running the football.  It keeps the defense honest.  But because opponents know it’s coming, they can easily attack it, get up close to the line and block the lanes (how many tipped passes on Sunday?) and that’s why you find yourselves with so many 3 and outs.

I know this team is capable of change. 

They laid off the blitz and beat Manning and Brady.  The defensive game plan against the Pats was nothing short of brilliant.  But you are under-utilizing your greatest asset and that is Sanchez.

So, let’s talk about that. 

There are a lot of good things to take away from this season, but I would argue that the biggest thing of all for the entire team is Sanchez’s mastering the ability to bring the team back from behind in the clutch.  They absolutely did not have that last year. 

Sanchez engineered four come from behind victories this year.  He almost engineered another one last night.  If all you want to do is hand off the ball, let Kellen Clemens take the snaps.  It’s like you’re driving a Ferrari and refuse to shift out of 1st gear.

I’m not saying Sanchez is hall of fame, but think how far and fast he has come.  Remind yourself that he only had 16 college starts.  He puts together a winning season in his rookie year as a starter in arguably the hardest division in football and has won FOUR road playoff games, including at Indy and at Foxboro. And, oh yeah, he withstands the New York media.

This is not your fathers NFL any more Rex and Brian.  Something has to change.  The overall play calling has to get more creative early and you need to start putting points on the board early. 

One nice thing I like is that you are starting to see Sanchez being given respect by retired QBs who are on the air as commentators. 

I think at first a lot of them discounted him because he is pretty and hails from USC.  I have a feeling the conventional wisdom was – “He’s Matt Leinart 2.0”.

No way.

Not with how his resume reads now.  Not with his work ethic, demeanor and talent.  The Marinos, Esaisons and Aikmans of the world know what it’s like to play that position.  You can see the change in tone of their analysis of Mark.  They recognize how good he can be.  Drafting a QB is such a crap shoot.  Jets?  Barring injury, you are set at that position for the next ten years.  And he will only get better. 

As far as I’m concerned, the 2011 campaign starts today. 

Everyone needs to go home, lick their wounds and get rested and healthy.  We don’t know what the labor situation will be, but the team needs to plan like they will be playing in the fall. 

Mike Tannenbaum is going to be a busy man.  There are some tough decisions to be made.  Thank goodness Sanchez, Mangold and Revis are locked down.  They are essential. 

After that I’ll defer to Rex on the defensive staffing. 

I like the receiving cor and hope they can all stay.  But the Jets absolutely must get more depth on the offensive line to protect the QB when the line suffers the inevitable injuries. 

And they need another running back. 

I say keep LT for his intangibles, leadership, willingness to block and comfort factor for Mark if they can make the money work.  But he’s not the #1 RB on this team.  That’s Shonn Green.  An injury to Green killed them in last year’s AFC Championship.  They need either another power running back, or a small, quick RB who can zip in and out of holes in the line. 

Oh wait, that guy’s in New England now.  Well, then either find someone in the draft or trade for someone who is willing to make a deal to be on a playoff team. 


More than anything, though, I think Rex, Brian and Mark need to sit down this summer and have a meeting of the minds on what the offense will look like this fall. 

Mark is just 24.  He’s already made it to the playoffs twice.  He is just entering his prime.  And he’s not a diva.  If this Jets organization is serious about winning championships, everything, EVERYTHING, must go into maximizing Mark’s opportunities to succeed.  He will not let you down.  I can promise you that. 


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