FALCONS 10 – JETS 7

Field goal follies and a laggard offense that included three more Mark Sanchez interceptions, doom the Jets and their playoff run.

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – Missed opportunities.  Costly penalties.  Shooting themselves in the foot.

 This record’s been played too many times over the course of this season of Jets football.  And it reared its ugly head again this afternoon, as the Jets gave away another winnable game in their Giants Stadium confines that have become anything but friendly.

This time it was a 10-7 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, a team they had dominated for 57 minutes of play Sunday.  Gang Green had held a 7-3 lead since the first quarter, but when the final gun sounded, they were on the wrong end of the scoreboard, with Matt Ryan’s six-yard touchdown throw to Tony Gonzalez in the game’s final minutes proving to be the difference.  All the Jets were left with was nothing but the haunting thoughts of opportunities they’d let slip away, an all too familiar feeling.

There was not one, not two, but three misplayed field goals by kicker Jay Feely and the field goal unit.  The first came in the second quarter, when holder Kellen Clemens botched the snap on a 23-yard try, forcing the Jets to leave the field with no points.

Falcons TE Tony Gonzalez celebrates after scoring the winning TD during the Jets 10-7 loss to Atlanta.

Falcons TE Tony Gonzalez celebrates after scoring the winning TD during the Jets 10-7 loss to Atlanta.

“I dropped the first one,” Clemens said.  “It can’t happen.  It’s a chip-shot field goal and Jay is of course going to make it.  It doesn’t matter what the conditions are, you have to get the ball down.”

The second came just 13 minutes later, when Feely pushed a 38-yarder wide right as time expired, leaving the Jets halftime lead at 7-3.  And the third came in the game’s final stanza, when Feely’s 37-yard try was blocked after a high snap.  Any one of those goes through, and the Jets are driving on that final series to win the game, not tie it.

But the field goal unit isn’t all to blame.  There were the costly penalties on both sides of the ball, totaling six in all for 65 yards.  None of these miscues were more costly than the 15-yard facemask penalty that placed the Falcons 15 yards closer to the Jets’ goal line on the final drive of the fourth quarter, followed a few minutes later by an unnecessary roughness call on Alan Faneca on the ensuing series.  That inexplicable foul put the Jets inside their own 15, on a drive where they were trying frantically to tie the score and force overtime in the game’s waning seconds.  If neither of those penalties happen, who knows how this game ends up.

There were also three interceptions by rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez, one of which lead to the opening field goal of the game in the first quarter – a 24-yarder by Matt Bryant – or the three points that proved to be the difference in this affair.  While the offense did move the ball fairly well and put the field goal unit in position to score points, Sanchez’ picks still put his defense out on the field in more high-pressure situations than they’d particularly like.

I’m speaking of the defense that for the fifth time this season allowed an opponent they had dominated for nearly 60 minutes to drive the field and score to take the lead in the game’s final minutes.  A defense that, while they only gave up ten points, had at least four sure interceptions slip through their fingers, one of which would have ended the game on the Falcons’ final series.  The unit that had dominated another Sunday afternoon is left with the sting of another crushing loss, and the inability to close out another victory.

“It never should have happened,” safety Jim Leonhard said.  “The frustrating part about the whole day is we left a lot of plays out there, myself included.  We never should have been in that situation.  Defensively, we had the opportunities to pull that game out.”

We left a lot of plays out there.  Those words are the 2009 Jets in a nutshell.

Time and again, they’ve had the opportunities to put themselves in a position to win football games.  And time and again, they’ve found ways to blow those opportunities.  Whether its interceptions, penalties, or special teams gaffes, it’s always something different with this team that ends up putting them on the wrong side of the scoreboard.

Think about the winnable games this team has had.  Their home games against Buffalo and Jacksonville were there for the taking.  And then you have today.  If they’d even won two out of those three, they’d be at 9-5, in the driver’s seat for the AFC Wild Card and tied for the AFC division lead with two weeks to go.

But they’re not.  This team is 7-7, and needs a miracle to find its way into the postseason.  The picture-perfect 65-yard bomb from Sanchez to Braylon Edwards in the first quarter was not enough to overcome the assortment of miscues in all phases of the game.  Indeed, the New York Jets were dealt their knockout punch on this sunny Sunday afternoon in East Rutherford.  And in a fashion no one wishes could be deemed typical, the blow was self-administered.

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