Giants rookie CB Aaron Ross intercepts a Chad Pennington pass intended for WR Jerricho Cotchery during the Giants 35-24 win on Sunday. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
Yogi Berra may have been able to call the Jets’ loss to the cross-town rival Giants best, because for Gang Green, it was déjà vu all over again.
Looking to march down the field down 28-24 late in the fourth quarter, QB Chad Pennington underthrew a key pass for the second consecutive week, looking to hit WR Jerricho Cotchery. Rookie CB Aaron Ross of the Giants, who proceeded to take the ball in for a touchdown, easily picked off the throw, (one of two interceptions for the defensive back). The score gave the Giants the 35-24 margin they would eventually win the Battle of NY by.
Pennington looked great at times during the day, staying poised in the pocket and evading the Giants rush time and time again. However, when the quarterback would make a mistake, it would be key; two of the three interceptions thrown by Pennington, including the game-clincher, were on passes he telegraphed the entire way, while the other was on a blind heave off his back foot.
“You take two plays and it ruins the whole day,” Pennington said. “That’s what it boils down to.”
The game started off promising for coach Eric Mangini’s team. The defense kicked off the day with some big plays, including a forced fumble by Kerry Rhodes that the safety would pick up and take the distance to give Jets the early lead.
After a Giants drive capitalized by a Derrick Ward touchdown rush evened the game at seven apiece, Gang Green would pick up momentum and take it into the half. Pennington first hit WR Brad Smith in the endzone to cap off a nine play, 93-yard drive to put the Jets up seven.
Then, on the ensuing possession, QB Eli Manning’s first pass was easily intercepted by LB Jonathan Vilma. Kicker Mike Nugent would then make up for an earlier missed attempt by drilling a 47-yarder to put Gang Green up 17-7 going into the half.
Events continued to unfold in the Jets’ favor as the second half began. Although New York’s defense succumbed to the big running duo of Ward and Brandon Jacobs in the form of an early second half touchdown, KR Leon Washington managed to take back the kickoff from Lawrence Tynes the distance, 98 yards—nearly untouched—to give New York a 24-14 lead.
With all momentum in the Jets’ court, it seemed improbable that the Giants would even be able to come close to challenging New York, let alone mount any sort of comeback.
However, starting with the Jets’ defense, the effort began to crumble.
“We were starting to play better, and complement each other, and play much better as a team in all three phases,” Pennington said, “and we just didn’t finish, didn’t complete it.”
While the first half appeared to go smoothly, Gang Green’s defense had serious trouble trying to stop the run. Including the first possession of the second half, Ward, Jacobs and Manning combined for 122 yards rushing.
The team had managed, however, to completely thwart Manning’s passing attack, as he managed only 22 yards passing in the first half on 3-10 through the air, resulting in a paltry 0.0 quarterback rating.
The defensive shortcomings eventually started to hurt the Jets though, as along with the rushing game, New York’s secondary began to break down, allowing Manning to hit his stride.
Big Blue managed to pull within three utilizing their QB, venturing away from their early game strategy. Manning would go five-for-six after the Giants defense held the Jets to a three-and-out, connecting with WR Plaxico Burress, WR Sinorice Moss, and eventually, TE Jeremy Shockey for the score on an impressive nine-play, 68-yard drive.
Looking to bounce back quickly, Mangini’s offense marched down the field effectively, alternating between pass play and run play to find themselves inside the Giants’ 30. Pennington, however, would look deep down the right side of the field for Jerricho Cotchery and, falling off balance, throw a pass that would be intercepted by the rookie Ross, his first of two picks for the game.
Inevitably, as if the Jets were content with their first half performance and ready to head home, the G-Men walked down the field with the aid of two Jets penalties. Burress would put the exclamation point on the drive, receiving a pass from Manning, stiff-arming CB Andre Dyson as the two battled down the sideline, and take it into the endzone for a 53-yard touchdown that would give the Giants the lead.
“I didn’t think there was anyway he was getting out of there since he was so close to the sideline,” Dyson said. “It was a one-on-one tackle, and I just didn’t make the tackle.
“It’s frustrating, but in this league, you’re going to make mistakes, you’re not going to be perfect every week,” he added. “You have to learn from the mistakes and the positive stuff and try to get better for next week.”
After a pair of quick drives, the Jets found themselves an opportunity to rebound from the 28-24 deficit and take the lead. A booming 60-yard punt by P Jeff Feagles set New York up on their own 23 yard line with the arduous task of moving the ball 77 yards for a must-have touchdown.
After a pair of big completions, one by Brad Smith that gave New York a first down on third-and-long—and with it, some serious momentum—Pennington threw the disappointing interception, sealing the deal for the Giants.
“It’s frustrating, and believe me, it makes me sick to my stomach,” Pennington said, “but that is the game of football.”
Pennington finished the game going 21-36 for 229 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions. RB Thomas Jones and Washington combined for just 49 yards on 22 carries. Coles led the team in receiving with 89 yards on eight receptions.
The Jets are now 4-7 all time against their intra-stadium rivals in the regular season.
In the first half for the Jets, everything—save the running game—clicked. Pennington looked strong and agile in the pocket, Cotchery, Coles and Smith were getting open, and the defense was making some big plays.
Moreover, for the entire game, the kickoff coverage and return teams were flawless for the Jets. Washington had a handful of huge returns, including the touchdown, with Smith acting as an effective lead blocker—his block actually led to Washington being able to take the ball back 98 yards.
In addition, the offensive line looked downright fantastic for most of the game. The only blemish on the record was a botched snap by OL Wade Smith, who filled in for C Nick Mangold briefly when the starter went to the sideline to care for an injury. Other than that, though, the Giants managed only one garbage-time sack a week after racking up 12 against the Eagles, and Pennington was rarely pressured by the fearsome pass rush attack of the Giants.
The defense, not Pennington, was the glaring weakness for the Jets the entire game. In the first half, although the team managed to limit Manning’s game, the rushing attack bruised the defensive line relentlessly. Then, in the second half, the pass coverage buckled, enabling Manning to have a huge second half that included 10-15 passing with 164 yards.
The team’s biggest problem was its inability to tackle, highlighted by Dyson’s one-on-one duel with Burress. However, he was not the only culprit; Vilma was run over on a rush by Jacobs, Revis was bowled over by Ward on the goal line, and S Eric Smith, filling in for the injured Erik Coleman, failed to showcase his tackling ability, as the reserve was unable to wrap up Giants players when they came his way.
The running game coupled with the offensive decision making was also quite poor for the Jets. Jones, expected to come in and act as a feature running back, failed to have a rush longer than seven yards in carrying the ball 13 times for only 2.8 yards per carry. Washington, meanwhile, while effective on the return game, had 10 touches on offense for only 12 yards.
Finally, as the players and Mangini reiterated ad nauseum, the team was very inconsistent for the second consecutive week.
“We discuss every week about consistency, about the ability to finish,” Mangini said. “As much as the first half was positive, in the second half we just could not get going the way we needed to get going and we could not stop the things that we needed to stop.
“We can’t be a fourth quarter team, we can’t be a first quarter team, we can’t be a first half team or second half team; we’ve got to string it together,” he added.
The offense scored only one touchdown, the defense allowed 28 second half points, and while the team stayed penalty free early, its late game miscues gave the Giants five downs instead of four on multiple drives.
The scapegoat for the game was Pennington, with the late interception being the icing on the cake of a three-pick day. With Pennington’s strength lying in the world of intangibles, not arm strength, his poor mental game limited his ability to lead the Jets to a much needed second victory. While the quarterback said all three picks happened because of different reasons, Pennington was easy to read in the secondary, often staring down the receiver he would eventually throw to.
“My whole concern is me, what I can do better to become a better quarterback,” Pennington said.
His surprising lack of intangibles and awareness may raise the question as to whether or not it is in fact time to introduce Kellen Clemens into the system. While Mangini may have reasserted that “Chad is the quarterback,” Clemens arm strength will certainly tempt the coaching staff to consider a switch if next week results in another sloppy loss.
The players may say that no game is must win, including the loss against the Giants. However, with road games in Dallas, New England, Cincinnati and Tennessee on the schedule, along with a home game with Pittsburgh, a 1-4 record may be nearly impossible to overcome in an AFC that typically demands 10 wins to make the playoffs.
“It’s a concern because it’s a hole,” Cotchery said. “We’ve dug that hole ourselves, but we’re confident we can get out of this hole.”
Before their Week 10 bye, the Jets have on their schedule Philadelphia at home, Cincinnati on the road, and then back-to-back home games against Buffalo and Washington. New York virtually needs to go 4-0 during the stretch to get to 5-4 on the season; otherwise, the team will be forced into consecutive must-win games against two of the NFL’s best teams in weeks 11 and 12; the Steelers, and then in Dallas against the currently-undefeated Cowboys.
Rhodes may very well have summed it up best for Gang Green:
“We’re not in a good situation right now.”
Without a bounce back win against Philadelphia next week, that situation may very well become dire.