Tonight’s Jets win was massively important to the home team, and they played like it, which is great. The Bengals played like it didn’t matter to them at all. The Jets won 37-0, in weirdly dominant fashion. This was the type of game in which NBC didn’t even introduce the Jets defensive players graphic until halfway through the second quarter. The Bengals looked awfully eager to go home. The Houston Texans, the team the Bengals’ lethargy cost a playoff spot, must have been bashing their collective heads against the wall, watching this. (The third-quarter interview with depressed Texans quarterback Matt Schaub sounded like it should have been taking place in a shrink’s office.)
It’s difficult to tell what to make of the Jets’ blowout tonight. The Jets looked light years better than the Bengals, but heavens, who wouldn’t have? Here was Carson Palmer’s line tonight: 1-for-11, 0 yards, 1 INT. Palmer will do better than that next week even if he throws with his left hand.
There was plenty to be encouraged by. Mark Sanchez didn’t turn the ball over. Shonn Greene is running hard and dangerous, a grand complement to Thomas Jones. The defense… well, the defense threw a shutout, and shushed Chad Ochocinco. Brad Smith is emerging as a serious odd-duck option: He’s capable of scoring in every possible way, throwing, returning, running, catching. He’s a joy to watch.
But again: The Bengals made the decision not to try tonight, deciding that they’d rather play the Jets next week than the Texans. They couldn’t quite have imagined this would happen… but the Cincinnati Bengals of next week will look dramatically different than the Cincinnati Bengals of tonight. The Jets have to feel better about their chances than they might have had they played horribly, but Rex Ryan is no dummy: He knows it’ll never be this easy again, even against the same team next Saturday.
Tonight’s not the night to worry about that, though. Tonight, the Jets, who looked to be in for a long rebuilding season in the wake of the Brett Favre fiasco, have improbably, amazingly, made the playoffs in Ryan’s and Sanchez’s first season. You might not think much of their chances, but that they still have a chance at all is a massive accomplishment, no matter how much luck had to do with it. The Jets closed out Giants Stadium (probably) with an easy victory that sent them into the playoffs. Now that’s how you start a decade.