Why Mark Sanchez and the New York Jets Are Playoff Bound in 2011

Justin WordenContributor IIIOctober 25, 2011

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 23:  Mark Sanchez #6 of the New York Jets talks in the huddle against the San Diego Chargers at MetLife Stadium on October 23, 2011 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

The entire 2011 season hung in the balance last Sunday, and the New York Jets' comeback victory has saved the season.  

This has been on of the most frustrating years in recent history for Jets fans. It seemed like every week, there was more talk about the team's struggles and stories off the field, and that really hurt their performance on the field.

After starting off the season at home with a close win over a talented Dallas team and a blowout of the Jaguars, tough times hit Gang Green.

Once they left MetLife stadium and headed to the West Coast, the squad ran into a hot Raiders team. The Jets were suffering some jet lag, and Antonio Cromartie took it upon himself to almost single-handedly lose the game.

The next two weeks were the Jets' lowest point of the season, including losses to their biggest division rival, New England, and an embarrassing game in Baltimore. As a fan who attended the Baltimore game, I can say it was probably the most frustrating and hardest game I have watched since their 45-3 debacle in New England last season. 

With these three losses in a row, the Jets then faced Miami on Monday Night Football. It was a game the Jets should have won and needed to win, and they went out and did what they needed to. The restored some of their confidence and got them ready for their biggest game of the season.

The game versus San Diego was the defining game for the New York Jets season. Sitting at .500 going into Week 7, a loss meant that the Jets would go into their bye week with more losses than wins and be very far out of the playoff hunt. On the other hand, a win meant they would go into the bye over .500 and with a lot of confidence moving forward in the season.  

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 23:  Shonn Greene #23 of the New York Jets rushes against the San Diego Chargers at MetLife Stadium on October 23, 2011 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

When the offense came out this week, it looked like it was going to be a long afternoon. They lost the lead early on a turnover, and it was looking like the season was all but over going into halftime down 21-10.  

Rex Ryan was able to once again work his magic during the break, and the offense and defense both looked like they were completely different teams in the last 30 minutes of the game. Some of the changes that were made got the team back to real Jet football and will propel them in the second half of the season.

The biggest change offensively was a recommitment to the running game. The team basically put themselves on Shonn Greene's back, and he carried them to a victory. In the second half, he looked like the runner everyone expected him to be coming out of Iowa, not the player he has been during the last few regular seasons.  

Greene has always shown up in the playoffs, but his regular season stats were never what they should have been. Last week's 20 attempts for 112 yards showed that the Jets want to get back to running the football and doing what they do best.

Another big part of the offense was Mark Sanchez's newest toy in the red zone: Plaxico Buress. Although Burress only had four catches, three of them were for touchdowns. He hasn't quite yet reestablished himself as a top receiver, but this week was a big step towards regaining his rhythm and proving that he is still unstoppable in the red zone.

The defense in the second half was almost flawless. For the San Diego Chargers to be held scoreless for a quarter is a big deal, but for the Jets to hold them the entire second half is nearly unheard of. Philip Rivers looked lost, and the secondary managed two picks off one of the best quarterbacks in the league.

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 23:  Plaxico Burress #17 of the New York Jets celebrates his third touchdown against the San Diego Chargers at MetLife Stadium on October 23, 2011 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

One of the biggest knocks on the Jets defense has always been the fact that they cannot cover a tight end. After Antonio Gates had a very solid first half, including a touchdown, the Jets basically shut him down in the second half.  If they have that problem worked out, it just makes the defense even more scary.

An overlooked fact from the game may be the experience and playing time that Kenrick Ellis got against one of the league's best dual threat rushing attacks. With Mike Devito inactive, Ellis held his own and was in the middle of numerous big run stops, even though he fell victim to an injury in the first quarter and did not return. I am sure there will be some growing pains along the way, but the sooner he gets consistent playing time, the more of an impact he can make.

The last part of the Jets arsenal that will help them into the playoffs is their special teams play. Every single kickoff was run out by the Chargers, and nearly even one of their return men was stopped before the 20 yard line. Combine this with the explosiveness of both Joe McKnight and Jeremy Kerley, and you have the best special teams unit in the NFL.  

The most telling part of the game was the Jets' stand on the final drive of the game. Clinging to a six point lead, Philip Rivers took the field ready to march his team to victory. With no timeouts, the Jets only allowed Rivers to hit check down after check down for minimal gains. The defense was flying all over the field and never let a Charger reach the sideline and stop the clock. This led to a fourth down play where Rivers threw the ball well out of bounds and sealed the victory for the Jets. 

So what can we expect from New York going forward?  If they follow the same game plan they did in the second half of the Chargers game, there will be a lot of success on the horizon.

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 23:  Jeremy Kerley #11 of the New York Jets falls to the ground against the San Diego Chargers at MetLife Stadium on October 23, 2011 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

On the offensive side of the ball, they need to continue riding Shonn Greene and LT.  The running game is what gave Rex Ryan all his success in New York, and they should have never gotten away from it in the first place.  They also should continue giving Jeremy Kerley a large role in the offense, as he has proven to be one of Mark Sanchez's favorite targets.  Combine this with Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress in the red zone, and the offense has the potential to come together over the bye week and explode in Week 8.

On the defensive side, just let your players play.  Darrelle Revis has once again established himself as the best corner in the NFL (without question), and Antonio Cromartie and Kyle Wilson both had solid games. Jim Leonhard has returned to be the vocal leader of the group, and if they continue to win battles in the trenches, the defense will continue to dominate.

At the end of the day, the Jets will be either a 10 or 11-win team.  My gut is telling me they win 10 games and make it into the playoffs as a wild card team.  Once they are in the playoffs, Rex Ryan has shown he has the magic up his sleeve to make a run, and hopefully this year, they will finally make a trip to the Super Bowl.