Jets QB Brooks Bollinger proved against San Diego that he deserves a shot as the Jets starting QB. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
This may be a game Jet fans remember for a long time. Not for the team’s horrific defensive effort that let the San Diego Chargers get off to 14-0 lead, en route to a 31-26 victory over the Green and White. Not for QB Vinny Testeverde's valiant last stand as a veteran
leader of these not-so-hopeful band of Jets, suffering through an injury filled nightmare of a season. Not for the fact that with the loss, these Jets fell to 2-6 - as talk of the playoffs is now just
a pipe dream.
Rather, the Jet faithful may have just witnessed the coming of age of QB Brooks Bollinger.
This is the same - 3rd string - Brooks Bollinger who was thrown to the lions (or to be exact, the Ravens), with a conservative game plan drawn up to go backwards. The same Bollinger who seemingly couldn't throw a pass over 20 yards. The same Bollinger who previously looked like a deer in the headlights, just trying to survive in the NFL. This Sunday it was a much, much different Brooks Bollinger.
Trailing 28-13 in the 3rd quarter - Head Coach Herman Edwards inserted Bollinger in the lineup for a gimpy Testeverde, and it was the spark the Jets badly needed that nearly turned a lackluster loss into a most improbable victory.
Bollinger (11-20, 106 yds, 2 TD's) came in with 3:44 left in the 3rd quarter and led the Jets on two scoring drives, with each ending in a touchdown pass (the first TD passes thrown by a Jets QB since Sept 18). The first drive, a 13 play, 75 yard march, was highlighted by Brooks' 1st pass a roll out after a fake handoff to RB Curtis Martin
(21-72-1) where Bollinger found RB Jerald Sowell for a six yard gain. Later on a 3rd and 2, Bollinger scrambled five yards for a first down. Bollinger also found the forgotten TE Doug Jolley for a 12 yard gain down to the Charger 6 yard line. At 2nd and goal from the 5, Bollinger located Sowell for a 5 yard score, cutting the Chargers lead to 28-20.
After the once formidable Jet defense predictably allowed a Charger field goal to push their lead back to 31-20, Bollinger was even more impressive on his 2nd drive (7 plays, 48 yards). Starting at the
Charger 48 yard line, thanks to Justin Miller's 45 yard kickoff return, Bollinger went to work with the Jets wide receivers. Brooks hit Laveranues Coles for an 11 yard gain to the San Diego 37. He then found Justin McCareins for 17 yards down to the Charger 20. Then, on a precarious 3rd and 18, Bollinger threw a perfect out pass to the ageless Wayne Chrebet for 20 yards, to the Charger 8. He followed that with a beautifully placed ball to Coles for his 2nd touchdown pass of the day, cutting the Jets deficit to five - at 31-26.
After DE John Abraham stripped Charger QB Drew Brees of the ball and LB Jonathan Vilma recovered it at the Charger 30 yard line, the Jets were back in business. With 3:06 left, the Jets were unbelievably in position to win the game, as Bollinger threw a bomb on 1st down
that barely missed McCareins outstretched hands. After a 9 yard pass to Coles and two Martin runs for six yards, Bollinger once again found Chrebet on a big third down pass to the Charger nine yard line. Thanks
to a Charger unnecessary roughness penalty, the Jets had a first and goal from the Charger three yard line. It was all a young QB trying to win a game could ask for.
With 1:40 left and only three yards to gain for the Jets to win the game, OC Mike Heimerdinger forgot who the Jets were. Heimerdinger had called a great game, taking advantage of Bollinger's quickness and
accuracy, while mixing in the run with Curtis Martin. When Bollinger came into the game, Dinger' varied his plays beautifully. However, when Martin was stuffed for no gain on first down, the Jets still had 1:07 left and three plays to work with. Why not take advantage of Bollinger's quickness with a roll out or QB sneak? Why not spread the field and run Martin again as there was still a lot of time, in case he didn't make it? Why call the hardest pass to complete, a fade, on 2nd and again on 4th down, with so many other attractive, fast hitting options? On this day, the Jets almost made enough plays to win, but when it counted most, they didn't get it done.
Blame for this loss falls squarely on the defense. The Jets D was asleep at the wheel again in the first quarter, getting outscored 14-0 (54-7 for the season). RB LaDainian Tomlinson (25-107-3) torched the Jets defense for four touchdowns (three rushing, one receiving) and they just could not handle stud TE Antonio Gates (8-132). Bollinger almost saved the day, by leading the Jets to their best offensive output of the season. But the Jet defense was reprehensible, as only Bollinger's heroics, put them in a position to even think about winning the game.
With a win, the Jets would have only been potentially a game back of first place New England. Now, they might be three games back after the Monday night game is over. Mired in the AFC East basement with a 2-6 record, there is no talk of playoffs. But there was one silver lining in the loss to the Chargers.
Brooks Bollinger has earned a shot to show the Jets and their fans what he can do over the second half of the season. For better or worse, it is now Bollinger's time to try and establish himself as a formidable NFL quarterback. In this season of high expectations, this is a scenario that Jet fans would have never dreamed of. But now that it is reality, Bollinger's plight remains the most compelling reason to watch this Jets team.
In Brooks we trust. Let the Brooks era begin.