The Jets had surely made many mistakes in this game, and the coaching staff deserved the majority of blame. The Bears exploited favorable matchups, parlayed an inexplicable fake punt into seven points and locomotive momentum.
Rex Ryan, who made a few thoughtless decisions, was lucky to receive a Christmas gift from the Washington Redskins, but more accurately, Jaguars quarterback David Garrard, whose overtime interception sealed Jacksonville’s fate and punched the Jets’ playoff ticket.
Ryan has now delivered the Jets into the postseason for a second consecutive season, while enduring the growing pains of a young quarterback. This is a commendable achievement. Ryan, however, did not exactly coach his finest sixty minutes in this particular loss. Had this defeat created more serious ramifications, he would have been under fire for a variety of offenses, most unforgivable the aforementioned fake punt, which seemed to reignite a previously slowed Bears offense.
The dubious risk occurred at the beginning of the second half. The Jets went three and out on their first possession, or so it appeared. After falling behind 10-0, New York exploded in the second quarter, piling on 24 points, moving the ball at will offensively. The Jets were clicking on all cylinders, a feat they had not approached in quite some time, due to the inconsistent natures of their running and passing attacks.
On this day, however, Mark Sanchez was flat out marvelous. And Shonn Greene finally flashed the explosive form which so convincingly impressed during last season’s playoff run. Sanchez was accurate on both intermediate and long passes, and exploited the Bears’ inability to cover tight end Dustin Keller. It was Keller, in fact, who cost the Jets a more expansive lead before halftime, dropping an easy touchdown catch. Despite this disappointment, New York still must have been buoyed emotionally, performing admirably on the road against fierce competition for the second straight week. They were in control. With Greene pounding the rock effectively, and halftime adjustments to be enacted defensively, it was not a stretch to assume the Jets would win comfortably.
For all these reasons, and quite possibly more, if one really meditated on the subject long enough, the fake punt made absolutely no sense. The Jets were at their own 40, with a 24-17 lead. Sanchez received the snap from center on fourth down, the Bears defense momentarily surprised. The element of shock was quickly scuttled when Sanchez rolled out, given the momentarily stunned opposition time to adjust. Sanchez flung a short slant to Brad Smith, who was covered by Rashied Davis, a special teamer. Davis contested the pass, and Smith dropped the ball. The Bears took over in Jets territory, and Jay Cutler wasted no time nailing Johnny Knox on a forty yard touchdown volley, beating the coverage of novice safety Dwight Lowery. Lowery tripped and fell while pursuing the pass, making the grab easy for Knox. There was plenty to dwell on at this juncture. Keller’s drop had come back to haunt the Jets. But the fake punt stood at the forefront. The fact that Sanchez’s pass toward Smith was a five yard attempt, not some sort of bomb obviously conjured during game-planning sessions, specifically tailored toward a weakness in the Bears’ special teams approach, made the mistake even more frustrating, from a New York perspective. Lowery had swung the first half toward the Jets with a pick six of Cutler. Now he was a momentary goat, thanks to some poor decisions by his coaches. New York was hardly through providing second guessing material. After deftly avoiding damage from return man extraordinaire Devin Hester in the first half, they decided to really try him, after the proceeding drive stalled. Hester duly returned the punt to the Jets’ 32. This time it took the Bears three plays to score, Cutler finding the emerging hero, Hester, for a 25 yard touchdown connection. As Drew Coleman tried in vain to stay close with Hester, matched up with the burner in a single coverage on the touchdown, the shortcomings of this defensive scheme seemed apparent.
The Jets would tear through Chicago’s defense once more, tying the game at 31 on just four offensive snaps after assuming possession at their own 34. This frenetic drive was capped by a Santonio Holmes 23 yard touchdown catch. Holmes had quite mysteriously come open near the right sideline. Without their sloppy decisions and execution, New York could have been opening up a lead.
Unbelievably, the Jets kicked to Hester again after tying the score. He promptly blazed forty yards downfield, stopped by Nick Folk. Chicago started in Jets’ territory again, and Johnny Knox gave his team the lead once more with a 26 yard touchdown catch. Throughout his aerial theatrics, Jay Cutler stood unbothered in the pocket, the Jets’ pass rush providing all the pressure of a falling feather.
The score was 38-31, and continued fireworks were expected. Instead, the defenses finally clamped down. The Jets began a long, clock winding drive, ending the third quarter at Chicago’s twenty. They would have to settle for a Folk field goal, though, after the Bears finally delivered a stop, breaking up a pass intended for Holmes on third down. When usually reliable Robbie Gould shanked a thirty five yard field goal on the Bears’ next drive, the Jets could have stolen another victory. It was not to be. Charles Tillman knocked down a pivotal third down throw for Braylon Edwards, and Rex Ryan decided to punt from the Bears thirty five, counting on favorable field position for a penultimate drive. The Jets hit a brick wall again, though, and punted again, Steve Weatherford delivering, pinning Chicago at their own five. The Bears would pick up a first down, chewing up the clock and costing the Jets all their remaining timeouts. New York faced an uphill battle to begin with, before Marquice Cole muffed the punt and pushed them back to their own 28. With under a minute remaining, Sanchez finally made a mistake, throwing an interception downfield to Chris Harris. The game was over, and New York would be facing an absolute hailstorm of criticism over their decision-making. Instead, Rex and company received a reprieve, from no less a dysfunctional franchise then the perpetually bewildered Washington Redskins.
And to all a goodnight…!
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