PACKERS 9 – JETS 0

Dustin Keller caught the short pass on first and twenty and fell to the turf, corralled by the Packers’ all world cornerback Charles Woodson. But first impressions of this seemingly mundane fourth quarter play proved deceptive. It was very quickly revealed to be one of those rare, unforgettable momentum twists only football can provide. The crowd cheered for positive yardage and anticipated a Jets rally. Maybe Brian Schottenheimer began calculating his next move. In the press-box, a few reporters undoubtedly gazed back downward toward their laptops, temporarily removing their eyes from the field. Then in an instant, Woodson was wrestling with Keller, emerging with precious possession of the football, and racing downfield. It was hard to determine immediately what had occurred, but when a questionable interpretation by the officials became stone cold fact, a dry death grip seized the Stadium.

The Jets could not challenge this turnover, although it appeared that Keller had been down when Woodson executed his heist. This game, a putrid offensive affair matching a misfiring group against an entirely unbalanced one, was now totally tilted toward the road Packers, and the Jets, arriving off a bye and carrying ample momentum, were staring at a shutout.

It’d be a troubling loss on their own turf, in front of a festive gathering celebrating both Halloween, and a talented team. Several signs pointed toward disaster throughout, and all the ill omens would eventually be confirmed. New York fell, forced to acknowledge a second straight subpar game, and another more disappointing truth which just may have long term consequences: the offense has gone awry, in spite of showing definite signs of dominance in three convincing victories against divisional competition.

The Jets wouldn’t be able to reverse their wayward fortunes after Woodson’s pivotal theft, no doubt allowing portions of the fan-base to engage in the time tested tradition of referee excoriating.

But the demise of New York’s thrilling five-game winning streak could not be attributed to this singular shift, no matter how jarring, or ultimately unjust. A myriad of issues doomed the Jets, very few attributable to a stout defense, which manhandled the pass happy Packers. No, if blame must be foisted upon a particular party, it falls directly on the offense. Quarterback Mark Sanchez continues the mysterious regression characterizing his recent performance, a disappointing turn of events considering his spectacular stretch immediately following an initial misstep against Baltimore.

With the heavily hyped Jets stumbling to a loss week one, their sophomore quarterback’s critics quite rightly sharpened their blades and began taking jabs, winding up a haymaker. The signal caller often becomes a symbol for his squad, associated with the entire operation’s successes and failures. And in this case, the connection was quite apt. Like his team, Sanchez had been inconsistent in 2009, finishing strong and shouldering high expectations for the immediate future, leaving many wondering whether the improvement had been real, or the laurels deserved. Sanchez answered the pressure, rallying in the second half of the home opener against New England, and parlaying that forward step into legitimate progress, right up until his success vanished in the thin air of Denver, before the bye week.

The Jets had won that game, despite Sanchez, his completion percentage rapidly sinking into the realm of unacceptability. Against Green Bay, the second year slinger did nothing to alleviate worries. He went an ugly 16 of 38 while collecting two hundred fifty six yards passing, compiling two interceptions and a 43.3 rating. “It’s tough to pinpoint,” Sanchez said afterward. “I’m going to go back and look at the film. I felt good in the pocket. I thought our offensive line did a good job and gave me plenty of time. Sometimes you just have days like this. When we’re playing poorly like that and their defense really gets after it and takes two picks that makes it hard on us. I just have to get better,” he concluded.

 Sanchez was not helped by his receivers, who dropped multiple throws, or a shockingly stalled running game, which inexplicably crumbled against the Packers’ front seven. LaDainian Tomlinson amassed 54 yards on sixteen carries, and Shonn Greene made even less of an impact, converting six carries into twenty-two yards.

 Green Bay, dogged by numerous maladies and forced to rearrange their depth chart, managed to completely dictate tempo. “You have to give credit to Green Bay,” Jets Head Coach Rex Ryan acknowledged. “They did an outstanding job. They’re a good football team. They were better than we were today… We just didn’t get it done as a team.”

  Applauded for a high powered, aerial oriented offense before the season, Green Bay has not quite met the wild expectations laid at their doorstep, forced to conjure an altered identity after losing halfback Ryan Grant. They proved apt grinders on this afternoon, failing to connect on a couple of downfield strikes, but summoning just enough plays to secure an unlikely road victory.

Aaron Rodgers had an uncharacteristic game, completing only fifteen passes out of 34. But he, unlike Sanchez, avoided the interception, and was generally far more accurate when receivers were open.

Mark Sanchez's body language pretty much summarizes the Jets offensive performance against Green Bay as they are shut out for the first time since 2006 9-0. (JetsInsider.com Photo)

Sanchez was a scattershot on a wide array of pass attempts, from intermediate lasers and lobs, to screen passes driven into the ground, and deep bombs woefully underthrown. Tomlinson led the team with five catches, Jerricho Cotchery nabbing four. Cotchery, though, would see his day marred by multiple drops in the fourth quarter, including a crucial near reception lost in the corner of the end-zone.

There would be no heroics from this unit. Santonio Holmes appeared ready to take the game over, but stalled out with three catches and forty three yards. Keller was stripped by Woodson, and his potentially game changing thirty seven yard catch and run, delivered by a scrambling Sanchez during a desperate fourth quarter drive, ultimately went for naught. The offense was again flagged for costly penalties, most significant being a holding call on Keller, which set up his unpleasant rendezvous with Woodson.  “If you win the turnover battle, most of the time you’re going to win the game,” said Woodson in a postgame interview. “To have as many turnovers as we did today, to take away momentum when they were driving on a couple of occasions, we got to put points on the board.” The Packers had quelled the Jets’ momentum. All three turnovers occurred in Green Bay territory.  

For as inefficient as the Jets’ were on offense, the Packers’ defense also deserves plaudits for their showing. Their coverage schemes in the secondary obviously baffled both the Jets’ personnel and coaching staff, as significant playmakers such as Keller and Braylon Edwards hardly made an impact throughout the afternoon, aside from a single play or two. Linebacker Desmond Bishop was a constant menace, finishing with ten tackles. Sack specialist Clay Matthews crunched Mark Sanchez late in the proceedings, and Brandon Chillar also contributed pressure. “Anytime you come in here and can hold your opponent to zero points, it’s great to do,” said Matthews. “Especially for our defense {playing} against such a high power offense. We are happy about it.”

 But most impressive were the interceptions. Tramon Williams’ made a steal similar to his teammate Woodson’s earlier in the contest, ripping the ball from Cotchery’s grasp. The Williams turnover had huge ramifications. Jets Head Coach Rex Ryan, who had already burnt a challenge in the second quarter on a Brad Smith fumble, threw the red flag again, questioning the legality of Williams’ pick. The play was upheld, same as the Smith review. The Jets were out of challenges for the game, which proved a mortal wound after Keller was not ruled down in the fourth quarter.

  Indeed, it seemed every phase of the game had backfired on New York. Even their normally reliable special teams unit sputtered. Steve Weatherford made a long distance run on fourth and long in the first quarter, nearly converting his faked punt into a first down, coming a mere one yard short. The original ruling on the field granted the Jets’ a crowd pleasing chain movement, but it would not stand.  Weatherford, an outstanding athlete, scampered for seventeen yards, but needed eighteen, and a Mike McCarthy challenge cancelled the Jets’ success on an admirable gamble. Nick Folk, previously thriving, missed a thirty seven yarder in the third quarter which would have tied the game. He was outplayed by his opponent, Mason Crosby, who went three for four.

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