The Jets, with all the Sturm und Drang of this season, are a team that perpetually has something wrong. The defense is playing to its potential? Well, Mark Sanchez can’t lead a team to a title. Sanchez starts to pull it together? The defense suddenly can’t stop anyone. A big win over the Steelers that salvages the season? The coach has a thing for feet. No matter what happens with the 2010 Jets, this season will be remembered as the most wildly dramatic in franchise history, to the point that you almost forget the team plays actual games, against actual opponents. It’s all just story line this year. The Jets lost a discouraging, but not that discouraging, game to the Bears yesterday 38–34, one that will be completely forgotten in two weeks. Because the Jets will be playing a playoff game. That’s all that really matters. The first hurdle has been cleared.
Surely, the Jets had higher hopes than the No. 6 seed they’re headed for — remember, it’s actually lower than last year’s No. 5 seed, a season that the Jets had no business making the playoffs in — but the worst-case scenario now is that the Jets’ season ends in disappointment, rather than disaster. The Jets bought the ability to lose to the Bears yesterday by beating the Steelers last week, who, by the way, are a better team than the Bears are. They bought the ability to take next week’s game in Buffalo off. That win was the biggest one all season, and maybe the biggest one in two seasons. It makes the Bears loss hurt less.
What also makes the Bears loss hurt less? That Mark Sanchez might have played the best game of his career. He was 24-for-37 for 269 yards and one touchdown and one (costly) interception, which is particularly impressive considering the shoulder issues that almost kept him out this week. Sanchez was forcing it on the last drive, which led to that interception, but he didn’t force it at any other point in the game. That’s why he played so well. The Jets have been asking Sanchez to be an efficient, smart quarterback for two years, and there was no better example of it than yesterday. If he plays like that in the playoffs, he will give the Jets a chance to beat anyone. (Except for maybe New England. But we’ll deal with that later.)
Sanchez would be the parading hero today, overcoming injury and studding out, had the Jets defense not had their worst game of the year. The Jets have been trying to disguise a weak spot at safety for weeks, but that fell through yesterday; they were attacked there all day. But the larger issue is the total lack of a pass rush. To be fair, the pass rush yesterday was dialed back, with the Jets focusing on shutting down the run and letting Jay Cutler beat them. (He did.) This will also be the strategy against likely wild-card-round opponent Kansas City. It might be more effective against the Chiefs. It better be. Because yesterday, the Jets defense looked worse than it has since Rex Ryan took over.
But this is not a disaster. The Jets will play their last home game of the season next Sunday against the Bills, in front of a bored crowd, likely playing Mark Brunell and a series of backups. Since the Patriots exploded into the supernova they are right now, that has been the best the Jets could hope for. And well, they got what they hoped for. Not a disaster. Just a disappointment. So far.