Sure the Jets home (road?) game in front of thousands of Terrible Towel waving fans at the Meadowlands looked like all of their games this season except the home opener against New England. It was close late. The Jets needed someone to make a play. This time, Leon Washington did. His 33-yard punt return set up the Jets' game winning field goal in overtime to drop the Steelers to 7-3.
The 19-16 win was bittersweet, wasn't it? Gosh, if only the Jets could have pulled out a couple more of those close ones (Eagles, Bills twice, Bengals, Ravens, Redskins), they'd be in contention, right?!? Well, let me put my foot down at this point. I may be wrong (again), but don't get fooled into thinking it works that way.
The Jets are what they are, 2-8, because they play winning football about once every five weeks. On Sunday versus Pittsburgh, the Jets did make some marked changes and improvements, but looked a lot they have in their previous losses.
First, the ugly. The Jets offense continued its tradition of scoring just one touchdown, set up by a long flea-flicker pass from QB Kellen Clemens to WR Laveranues Coles on the opening drive. The pass was underthrown, forcing Coles to slow down just enough so that he'd be tackled short of the goal line.
Until the Jets last drive of regulation during which they drove the field to set up K Mike Nugent's game-tying field goal, the Jets offense sputtered. Yes, RB Thomas Jones rushed for 117 yards on 30 carries, but the ground game success did not help the passing attack. Kellen Clemens (14-31, 162 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) struggled under a fierce pass rush.
The Jets offense was helped a great deal by several Steelers penalties, including a 41-yard pass interference call, but the unit did not capitalize. Three consecutive 1st-and-goal drives ended in field goals by Nugent.
What's up with Brad Smith? He dropped a very catchable fade pass in the endzone from Clemens in the 4th quarter. Clemens wasn't great against Pittsburgh, but he didn't get help (again) from his depleted receiving corps (Coles sat out much of the game with an ankle sprain). The relative few Jets fans who bothered to attend this home game must have been pleased when Clemens uncorked several long passes. Except for the flea-flicker, none came close. The receivers were well covered.
When judging Clemens' performance, keep in mind Pittsburgh defenders couldn't hold on to some would-be interceptions. CB D'Shea Townsend dropped a pass he could have taken all the way back for six.
Until the Jets score more than one touchdown in a game, I won't get excited about Clemens. He faces another tough assignment on Thanksgiving, although the Cowboys defense is susceptible to the pass.
"It's been a great challenge for us each week, especially offensively, there are a lot of good defenses that we have on the schedule," said Clemens. "We always embrace that challenge and try to be as successful as possible."
The Jets woeful defense wrote a totally different story versus the Steelers. Using the bye week to tweak their approach and player rotation, Eric Mangini and defensive coordinator Bob Sutton produced a brilliant game plan that stymied the Steelers vaunted running game (33-112, 3.4 average) and confused QB Ben Roethlisberger (15-25, 195 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT). Most of the Jets seven sacks were forced by good coverage in the secondary. DE Shaun Ellis woke up and LB David Bowens was utilized to great effect.
So as the Jets prepare to play the NFL's second-best team, the Dallas Cowboys, on Thanksgiving, what should you expect?
TE Chris Baker thinks you might enjoy Turkey Day. "We know that we have a good team. We have been in pretty much every game that we have played, but lost them for whatever reason. What we have to do is go out and execute," Baker said on Tuesday.
The win over the Steelers proved the Jets can beat just about anyone, right? It proved that in this mediocre league the Jets can squeeze out a win against a decent opponent for one week.
My prediction is Cowboys 30, Jets 17. But I retain the right to admit I am wrong again next week before making another "expert" prediction. It's tough to admit to knowing nothing.