It'll all likely be academic anyway. If the 8-6 Ravens and 8-6 Broncos (the current wild card leaders) take care of their own business, the Jets along with the Jaguars, Dolphins, Steelers, Titans, and Texans will be out and left wondering what could have been.
For the Jets, it appears the off-season theme will be ‘what could have been.' As you know, my pre-season prediction was 9-7 and no playoffs. But I didn't think the Jets would lose games the way they did last Sunday to the Falcons. That defeat epitomized what's wrong with the Rex Ryan's club: untimely breakdowns in every facet of the game. The Jets came up small in departments where they are supposedly #1 in the league.
Rankings are misleading. New York's #1 rushing attack was mediocre on a windy day when it needed to be better, only 99 yards on 33 rushes. But the Falcons aren't the Buccaneers or Bills or Panthers, three terrible teams on which the Jets fattened their record. Bottom line: the Jets haven't beaten a good football team since week 2!
They don't deserve to make the playoffs. Ryan's #1 defense crumbled again in the closing moments after totally smothering the Falcons for 55 minutes. Atlanta's 11-play, 73-yard drive in all of 2:49 was reminiscent of the Monday night loss to Miami and the crushing defeat to Jacksonville. When the heralded defense needed a stop, needed to bury the quarterback, the unit got shredded instead.
From missing three field goals in three different ways, to QB Mark Sanchez' three interceptions, to RB Thomas Jones' ineffective running, to receivers failing to get open, to defenders dropping interceptions, to three mindless, damaging 15-yard penalties by Jones, CB Donald Strickland, and LG Alan Faneca, to unnecessarily inciting the Falcons with smack talk all game long, to failing to cover TE Tony Gonzalez at the goal line, the Jets demonstrated that they do not deserve to play late into January.
They are 7-7 for a reason. You can't say "what if." The good teams kick the field goals and go home with a 16-3 or 13-3 or even 10-3 win. The good teams sack the quarterback when it counts. The real teams bury an opponent at home when the opponent has no post-season berth to play for. Instead the Jets behaved like amateurs and executed the most routine play like a Vaudeville act.
The shame is the Broncos and Dolphins lost. Everything fell into the Jets lap again, but they coughed it up like Scrooge used to cough up Christmas.
Next up: the 14-0 Indianapolis Colts. The big questions are how much will the Colts' key players, including QB Peyton Manning, play? Will the Jets be motivated after a deflating loss? And will Mark Sanchez play a clean game?
It's extremely tough playing quarterback in this league as a rookie, especially when your wide receivers don't get separation from DBs. But Sanchez can't force it. His three interceptions vs. Atlanta were thrown into coverage. We know he wants to make a play, but a 5-yard check down to RB Danny Woodhead is better than another turnover.
The Jets will keep it close Sunday. The Colts haven't blown out opponents. The Gang Green defense, despite the late collapses, is a very good unit. Would-be MVP Manning doesn't get sacked (only 10 sacks in 524 dropbacks), but failing to drop the QB hasn't stopped the Jets ‘D' from giving up the fewest scoring drives in the NFL.
But would the Jets finish the job if it's a close ball game with 10 minutes to go? That is the bridge from mediocrity to legitimacy. The Colts are closers. They own the 4th quarter. This Jets team, with a rookie QB and rookie head coach, has come up small at the most crucial moments.