Jets Will Escape Tennessee

Last week, the Jets washed away the painful memories of their heated rivalry with the Patriots by knocking New England down from the AFC East mountaintop. With Jay Feely’s game-winning 43-yard field goal, a franchise that was beaten in ten of their last 12 meetings with the Patriots could finally breathe. For 67 minutes, the Jets ran head to toe with their longtime nemesis and proved to both themselves and the rest of the NFL that they wouldn’t be fading into the abyss during the season’s final strech. The victory gave the Jets confidence as much as it gave them a boost to the top of the division. Running back Leon Washington, who scored two touchdowns on the night, knew the win was a statement.

“It was great for us to go out and make that statement that ‘hey we want to make a stand.’ We feel like we can compete in the division and compete in the AFC,” Washington said.

The win was a measuring stick for the Jets, as they defeated a franchise whom Washington labeled, “like a standard in the NFL on how to run an organization and how to play team football.”

While the Jets had time to savor the victory, building off their success is the next step to take in their quest to the playoffs. One win in Foxborough in November does not make a season, but a victory today in Tennessee may do just that. If there remains any doubt over how good these Jets can be, all questions can be answered today against the 10-0 Titans. The Jets now have their long-awaited spot atop the AFC East, but a victory today can begin thoughts of greater proportions. With a win over the beast of the AFC, dreams of earning a first-round bye can start to look more like reality. The Titans remain the last big measuring stick on the Jets’ 2008 schedule as their remaining five opponents aren’t exactly the 1986 Bears. However, these 10-0 Titans aren’t the 1972 Dolphins and the Jets should fare well today in Tennessee.

While the Titans sit undefeated this season, these Jets match up well. The Titans’ greatest strength is in their running game, as both Chris Johnson and LenDale White have formed a formidable “thunder and lightning” duo. Johnson has been everything the Titans hoped for when they drafted him 24th overall in April’s draft, as he sits second in the conference in rushing with 787 yards. Johnson’s blazing speed (4.25 40-yard dash at NFL combine) gives the offense a weapon in the open field, while White serves as the bruising goalline back. Along with his 470 rushing yards, White also has 11 touchdowns this season. He’s also tied with Baltimore’s LeRon McClain for the NFL lead on third-and-one rushes (7-for-7). Overall, Johnson and White have helped form the seventh-best run offense in the league (132.7 yards/game).

But while Tennessee’s duo of Johnson and White has given many teams fits in 2008, the hard-nosed style plays directly into the Jets’ strengths. With Kris Jenkins plugging up the middle of the defensive line at nose tackle, opposing run offenses have discovered that trying to penetrate the Jets’ line is like trying to penetrate a brick wall. The Jets rank fourth in the NFL in run defense (81.3 yards/game) and have not allowed a 100-yard rusher since White posted 106 on the Jets in a 10-6 victory last December.

If the Jets are able to stop the Tennessee ground game, today’s matchup will likely come down to the battle of ole’ thoroughbreds: Brett Favre v. Kerry Collins. Now in his 14th season in the league, Collins has carried Tennessee to among the league’s best. While he’s often been relied upon simply as a game manager, he’s also had to air it out. Last Sunday, Tennessee trailed the Jaguars 14-3 heading into halftime, but Collins connected with wide receiver Justin Gage for two long touchdown passes (38 yards, 56 yards).

While Collins has proven to be efficient this season (eight touchdowns, four interceptions), having to out-gun Favre is a tall order. The Titans’ secondary has a penchant for forcing turnovers, as the trio of defensive backs Cortland Finnegan and Michael Griffin and safety Chris Hope lead the AFC in interceptions (four), but Favre showed in last week’s overtime win that he knows how and when to tone it down. Favre knows he doesn’t have to pass for 350 yards to win today and that reassurance will carry the Jets a long way. The advantage between the ole’ gunslingers goes to the future Hall of Famer.

This is another classic hard-nosed battle, but the Titans play into the Jets’ strengths. Favre may have to win this one, and he will respond to the order….Jets 21, Titans 16

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