Jets come up short again as playoff hopes dwindle.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Maurice Jones-Drew darted through an open wound within a punctured Jets defensive line, bursting beyond the second level before blazing into the end zone. It was the first quarter, and the Jaguars had just converted a Mark Sanchez turnover into six points. The sequence could have been aberration, but on this Sunday, a temporarily overwhelmed New York defensive unit was simply not able to reverse the negative momentum. This was a harbinger, a prelude to another dispiriting home loss, and perhaps, the first true signal of an entire season slipping away.
Ironically, the signature moment of Jones-Drew’s virtuoso effort occurred when he voluntarily downed himself. Indeed, the ultra aggressive, tenacious tailback intelligently decided to burn more time off a ticking clock late in the fourth quarter as Jacksonville moved in for game winning field goal. The Jets, who wasted two timeouts on offense and defense due to mental lapses, could only watch dismayed as Jones-Drew’s maneuver allowed nearly every second left to bleed away until Josh Scobee booted the 21-yard game winner.
Jones-Drew entered the contest as the undisputed star of small market Jacksonville, and his dominating performance did nothing to lessen his reputation. The pintsized battering ram, flashing blinding acceleration belying a battery-like frame, charred the Meadowlands turf in the first half, wracking up 93 yards. “We are a young team and we fight,” said Jones-Drew when asked to assess his team. “The effort was never the issue, and that was something big I wanted to harp on the last couple of weeks.”
It seemed the loss of star nose tackle Kris Jenkins had finally caught up with the Jets, a thoroughly dominated defensive line rendering their linebackers powerless to stop Jones-Drew. In fact, Jones-Drew was barely touched on several plays before advancing into the secondary, an unabated locomotive.
As if the hammering rushes of this miniature terror were not enough to contend with for an obviously unsynchronized Jets defense, Jaguars passer David Garrard matched his running back’s scintillating first-half. Every facet of the multi-talented quarterback’s game shined, as he picked apart a staggering opposing secondary with precise intermediate throws. He connected with Mike Sims-Walker for a twenty-six yard touchdown strike on the Jags’ final first half possession. “It was a slant route and they were playing off,” Simms-Walker said. “I just tried to get in the hole as quick as possible. David made a good throw and I just broke a tackle and got up-field.” The score punctuated a ten-play jaunt. This successful turn had followed an eleven-play march that culminated with Garrard utilizing his able legs for an eleven-yard scrambling score. Garrard engineered the nifty run with a quick pivot outside a collapsing pocket.
The second half proved another exercise in frustration for Gang Green. The defense slightly atoned for their wretched showing in the first two quarters, but could not close the show after being given a lead to protect. Meanwhile, Mark Sanchez and company had to endure the frustration of cashing in a key fourth quarter score before witnessing Jacksonville efficiently return fire.
The Jets entered the third trailing 21-13. Offensively, an otherwise productive initial half was blighted by a Sanchez interception on the game’s first play, of which Jacksonville took full advantage. “The early mistake can’t happen. Just a physical mistake, an underthrown ball,” conceded Sanchez afterward, a specific admission he would own up to several times. Sanchez and the offense responded splendidly to the early frustration with a field goal and touchdown.
After being held in check for nearly the entire second half, Sanchez drove the Jets downfield as the fourth quarter waned. Trailing the contest 21-16, New York dramatically converted three third downs, two delivered via huge gains through the air. “The last drive of the game. A great effort. The O-Line gave me a lot of time,” said Sanchez.
They were pushed to the brink at the Jacksonville fifteen, facing fourth and one. Kicking a field would have been the conservative play, but Rex Ryan decided to go for the jugular. The decision appeared brilliant after Shonn Greene ran outside to the one-yard line, Thomas Jones breaking the plane a play later. But this seemingly decisive shift was tainted by both an inexcusable timeout, called before the Jones run, because too many men were on the field, and a failure on the two-point conversion. Delivering on the two-pointer would have given the Jets defense, perfect in the second half, some margin of error. But a floating Sanchez heave intended for Braylon Edwards was broken up, and the Jaguars had their chance. “I’ve got to get it to Braylon quicker,” admitted Sanchez, again acknowledging an underthrown ball. “The throw was a little behind me,” said Edwards, speaking about the crucial incompletion afterward. “The safety came in, hit me in the ribcage, he made a play.”
It would be difficult to describe the Jets’ defensive day as anything else but bizarre. They were manhandled in every single way through the first half, sliced and diced by Jones-Drew and assaulted through the air by Garrard. There was absolutely no indication that they would be able to curtail the barrage. Yet, shockingly enough, the roles flipped, and suddenly the Jets were bullies, totally shutting down an offense that had appeared unstoppable. “The Jets came out in the second half with a new agenda,” said Garrard. “Bring pressure strong and weak, overload everything. We were trying our best to pick some of those things up, but it seemed like they were always bringing one more guy than we could pick up.”
The redemption song was all cued up with five minutes left. Thomas Jones had just hit pay dirt. The stadium was rocking. The siren was blaring. The momentum was theirs. And then it was all gone. A key third down Garrard completion at the Jaguar 38 to Mike Thomas turned the tide. For, Garrard’s next completion would to a wide-open Mercedes Lewis down the seam, who had eluded Kerry Rhodes. The blame was not all his, however. Rex Ryan obviously implied that Rhodes was not supposed to be singled up on the play, and fellow safety Jim Leonhard accepted responsibility for a communication breakdown. “I was trying to get a coverage switch,” said Leonhard. “In hindsight, we should have burnt the timeout.”
These theatrics allowed Jones-Drew to take his knee, receive the due plaudits.
The Jets actually stopped Jones-Drew when they didn’t intend to. Ryan revealed the Jets tried to let Jones-Drew score on his first run inside the ten. This error cost New York their final timeout “We called a freeway,” said Ryan, referring to the specific play. Jones-Drew was stopped, accidently in hindsight, by Marques Douglas and Sione Pouha with 1:48 remaining. “You try to make it look good,” Ryan said, before adding ironically, “That’s about the only time we tackled him.”
The Jets remained in the game partially because Quentin Groves fell down while returning a third quarter interception, blowing an easy touchdown. “I saw Mark Sanchez raise up to throw the screen and I told myself, ‘just catch the ball.’ When I caught it I said, ‘get to the end zone.’ As I got closer to the end zone, it felt like it got further and further away.” This bizarre occurrence set-up a whole strange montage, as the Jags and Jets exchanged ugly turnovers, first on a bubbled handoff exchange by Jacksonville, and then a muff by Braylon Edwards after a 41 catch and run. ‘That’s football, you never know what’s going to come, when it’s going to come,” Edwards exclaimed.
When asked if it was frustrating to be losing so many games with New York after escaping Cleveland, Edwards probably summed up the thoughts of many when he said, “It sucks.”
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