The Possibilities Presented by the Playoffs
At the end of the day, Jets fans, management, and players would have little use for style points, should this season result in a Championship. Memories of nagging regular season inconsistency would immediately fade, inconsequential and forgotten.
Do Giants fans remember much about the 2007 campaign, besides that absolutely unbelievable postseason run? Eli Manning’s apparent regression evaporated. A particularly pitiful late season defeat to the Washington Redskins is now basically an amnesiac event. Jeremy Shockey broke his leg. Manning threw a thousand incompletions. It could have been a deflating, defining loss.
Tom Coughlin’s job was supposed to be in jeopardy. All this ugliness was swept away, immediately, following a win on the road, against the Buccaneers in the wild card round.
The playoffs are sudden death, sure. They can also be salvation, a second chance; a redemptive chapter. Why, just a year before the Giants shocked the world, a maligned Indianapolis Colts outfit, criticized for their lack of heart, tenacity, and anything resembling a run defense, launched themselves to a Lombardi Trophy, sustaining a late season transformation through the Super Bowl. Peyton Manning and company, once labeled choke artists, landed the ultimate prize, just around the time their truest believers abandoned ship.
These two tales reveal some kind of obvious truth about sports, and football specifically, that somehow is consistently overlooked. New formulas are created, advancements in statistical studies procured by fine minds, fascinated by all the possibilities presented by a one hundred yard field. Pregame shows remain a staple, predictions and opinions demanded and delivered. But sometimes, within this cauldron, novelty can become lost in a chaotic mist.
Forget analysts, message board visiting fans work themselves into a total frenzy, practically digging a trench to defend their viewpoints. Upsets become inconceivable. Sudden shifts in momentum imperceptible. The sheer randomness of life, an often unpleasant, sometimes wonderful, but altogether unavoidable fact of our existence, is set aside, an undividable denominator, hieroglyphics on a talking point studio sheet. Often in our country, and the modern world, really, what does not make sense, is junked. We want to understand everything, and many are willing to put in the work, an admirable trait within a fast paced society, suited toward easy answers and instant reactions. Even still, for as much tape can be broken down before game-time, along with the intellectual machinations poured into understanding NFL probabilities through advanced numbers crunching, there still exists a pulsating, invigorating strand of unpredictability, coursing through every event governing the game. The game, itself, can be construed as nonsensical.
This is not to say all that hard work is for naught, that the excellent coverage is meaningless, that the number crunching football junkies are charting a purposeless course. Not in the slightest. However, it also should be acknowledged that sometimes, the inexplicable becomes reality, the unpredictable a rule.
And that leads us to the Jets. There’s this misconception going around that the Jets are indeed a stylish outfit, bereft of substance. This is getting it all wrong. The Jets would love to be more stylish. They would have savored a dynamic aerial attack, at the expense of diminished running game. This strange plan, wherein the strength of the team would be purposely under-utilized, was set into effect for the benefit of Sanchez, a talented second year quarterback. Maybe the Jets figured the ground and pound philosophy a potential crutch, a short-term fix in a passing league. It could have impeded Sanchez’s growth. So New York traded for Holmes, and often appeared rudderless, an offense in transition. Sanchez and his weapons did show dynamic flashes. He and Holmes outright won a couple of games, which ultimately, was the difference in this team making the playoffs.
When the Jets lost, though, it was really ugly. A shutout at home to Green Bay, a thrashing on the road against archrival New England, a total Debbie Downer, Buzz Killington fusion against the Dolphins in a soggy Meadowlands. Loses like this affect people’s perceptions, and rightfully so. Not only were the Jets braggarts, practically overflowing with hubris, but they were sometimes aesthetically unpleasing, to an extent that all the hype felt decidedly a fraud.
The road ahead may feel insurmountable, for New York, first a date in Indianapolis with Peyton Manning, a future Hall of Fame signal caller currently riding a four game winning streak and increasing familiarity with backups like Blair White and Jacob Tamme. Should that test be surmounted, Tom Brady awaits. While a case could be made for the Jets defeating the Colts, due to their numerous depth chart advantages, they would be massive underdogs against the Patriots. A serious breakdown of this hypothetical tilt should be eschewed at the moment, for being presumptions. We should consider similar matchups, for the purposes of hope, more than anything else. The aforementioned Giants were supposed to have no chance against Dallas in the ‘08 Divisional playoffs. Their previous visit to Texas resulted in a loss where they allowed 45 points. But because they established the run, and scored a key touchdown before halftime, the Giants pulled out a memorable upset. In the ’06 Divisional Round, the Steelers were supposed to have no shot whatsoever against a juggernaut Colts team, who one year later would win title. The Steelers had been decisively beaten at Indianapolis during the regular season. Lo and behold, two early touchdowns ultimately led to a wild Steelers victory. What about the Carolina Panthers, their ’04 playoff jaunt? They took to the road while shocking the Rams and Eagles. It can be done.
Football is an exceedingly difficult game to predict. The biggest strike against the Jets is their decided lack of a definitive offensive identity. That Panthers team was predicated on the run. Their approach was simple, and it worked. Surveying the Jets’ offense is a cryptic task. They are definitely not an air show, but also decidedly not a strict ground and pound team. If New York can rediscover something vital within; perhaps against an altogether average run defense like the Colts, they may yet scrounge momentum, becoming a freight train. Stranger things have happened. Look it up.