EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ — With glittering confetti swirling after a 37-0 win over the Bengals, Jets coaches and players took a victory lap around the turf of the old Meadowlands stadium. Despite chilling winds that drove across the parking lots and into the stands, players and fans alike braved the cold for a bit longer to celebrate clinching a playoff spot.
Jets kicker Jay Feely has played in New York long enough to know that a win in this, the final game in a stadium bearing another team’s name, was a big deal for a team trying to find fresh footing.
“The Jets have always been the stepbrother in this stadium,” Feely said, “so to close it on such a positive note and to be able to reward our fans and go out, run the lap and thank them, it was a special moment for the fans and the franchise.”
Next year the Jets will move across the street to the as-yet-to-be-named stadium, sharing equal billing with the Giants. Perhaps the team can bury some of the heartbreak in the Meadowlands when they leave.
“There were times where we didn’t know what would happen as far as the season was concerned and where would we end up in the playoff realm,” D’Brickashaw Ferguson said. “It was almost like divine intervention. Teams lost that were supposed to lose and allowed us to be right back in the position.”
The playoffs seemed pretty distant at times this season. After a loss to the Falcons, Jets coach Rex Ryan even said the playoff hopes were dead. But it turns out they weren’t, and the Jets caught some breaks when the Colts rested some starters, and then this week when the Bengals did the same.
“I’m sure that’ll be talked about as probably the reason (we won),” Jets coach Rex Ryan said. “But again, I don’t feel that. Our team was ready to play no matter the quarterback, no matter who was playing or whatever. We weren’t going to be denied tonight.”
And Ryan didn’t miss the opportunity to heighten expectations.
“This wasn’t our goal, to make the playoffs,” Ryan said. “Our goal was much higher than that.”
It was so cold that even some of the hardiest fans didn’t make it all the way through the game. The locker room afterwards was littered with empty packages of hand warmers. Yet there was Rob Turner on the field running through pre-game warmups in shorts and a sleeveless shirt.
Warm was about a mindset.
The Jets dominated on both sides of the ball from the start to the end. At the end of the first half, the Jets had 190 rushing yards to the Bengals 7. Rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez didn’t throw a single interception. Better yet, the Jets had come out of a 4-6 hole to end the season 9-7 and heading to the postseason.
“People say, oh, the Jets can’t show up for the big game,” Jets linebacker Bart Scott said, “but we came out and got the job done.”
True, the stakes are raised Saturday at 4:30 when the No. 5 Jets play the No. 4 Bengals in Cincinnati, and there will be time to discuss whether or not the Jets can expect to so dominate a team who has just as much at risk.
Last night was about the end of an era in a home that never seemed to fit quite right.
“It’s sweet,” Ferguson said. “Can you think of a better story? I can’t.”