The best Jets player, on offense anyway, all season has been running back Thomas Jones. Jones was third in the NFL in rushing in 2009 and was the centerpiece of everything the Jets were trying to do. He averaged 4.2 yards a carry and generally played the role of Curtis Martin. Then the postseason came, and he disappeared.
Jones is 32 years old, which is 84 in running-back years, and he has looked it in January. He has run for 75 yards on 29 carries, good for a measly 2.6 average. Meanwhile, Shonn Greene, the sturdy rookie from Iowa, has been a godsend, rampaging on fresh legs to a playoff-high 263 yards, including that mad 53-yard dash that essentially cinched the win over the Chargers.
Jones obviously still has his uses — his two-yard run on fourth-and-one in the fourth quarter secured the victory, a play Jones called “one of the top plays of my career” — but it’s strange, and historically unprecedented, to see a team’s best offensive player so marginalized in the postseason. We’ve all known that Greene was the Jets’ back of the future. It’s just that no one realized it was going to happen so soon. It doesn’t help that Jones has been slowed by a knee injury and actually skipped practice yesterday. (He’s expected to be fine for Sunday.)
The Jones and Greene duo is again key Sunday, and even though all the focus is on Greene (we think we’ve read about 100 feature stories on him this week), it’s hard to imagine Jones remaining in the shadows. Once considered a draft flop, Jones has reemerged with the Jets as one of their more consistent runners since Martin, the back for whom he took over. In the playoffs, though, he’s being seen as just an injured old man. This is still one of the best running backs in the NFL. It’s amazing how quickly that’s forgotten in the heat of the playoffs.
All that said, it’s certainly possible the next Jets loss will be the last game Jones plays for the team. It’ll be Greene’s team next year. Greene shouldn’t get too comfortable, though. He’s already
25 24 years old, downright elderly for a rookie back. He’ll be Thomas Jones before he knows it.