CHICAGO IL - DECEMBER 26: Johnny Knox #13 of the Chicago Bears catches a touchdown pass in front of Antonio Cromartie #31 of the New York Jets at Soldier Field on December 26 2010 in Chicago Illinois. The Bears defeated the Jets 38-34. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Today the Jets lost to the Bears at Soldier Field in Chicago by a 38-34 score. Gang Green now sits at 10-5 with one game left in the regular season. The Jets, however, are in the Playoffs because the Redskins gave them help, defeating the Jaguars in overtime. That takes a lot of the sting out of the defeat. New York will not be one of the twenty teams that will see their season end next weekend. They will be one of the twelve to get to play a game seventeen. Like any roller coaster game, the losing team was going to end up being frustrated by the opportunities left on the field. Both clubs blew double digit leads and let the game get away when it appeared they were in control.
More after the jump.
Second Half Pass Rush: After living in the backfield in the first half, the Jets could not get anywhere near Jay Cutler for long stretches in the second half. It would be easy to blame the play calling as many seemed to. I have a tough time getting on Rex Ryan and Mike Pettine, though. They played coverage instead of blitzing plenty of times. The result was the same. Cutler had all day to throw. When nothing is working, it is tough to blame the play calls. I think the most symbolic play came right before Cutler's third touchdown pass of the third quarter, when Brandon Manumaleuna, a tight end, manhandled Shaun Ellis without any help. Don't blame the coverage. Don't blame the play calling. For a second straight week, the Jets could not generate a pass rush for long stretches against an abysmal pass blocking team. That is on the guys up front. They got outexecuted.
Kicking Twice to Devin Hester: The Jets were not giving Devin Hester a chance in the first half. Yes, the Bears were consistently getting the ball past the 35, but that was part of the sacrifice to avoid a big play. I can understand kicking once to try things out. The second one was beyond puzzling. Hester's punt return went 38 yards. His kick return went 40. There was no reason to for the Jets to try their luck.
Equipment Team: It sure didn't seem like the equipment guys picked out the right cleats for the players. Jets were slipping over the grass like it was a skating rink. Darrelle Revis did early on a completion to Devin Hester. Dwight Lowery did on a touchdown pass. James Ihedibgo did on Hester's punt return, when he was the guy who had the best chance of tackling Hester to minimize the damage.
Running Back Work Load: When one back is running for 5.8 yards per carry and the other is running for 2.2 per carry, the guy averaging 2.2 should not get 13 carries to 12 for 5.8. That is what the Jets did with Shonn Greene (5.8) and LaDainian Tomlinson (2.2) today. It's not that LT looked totally washed up. There were a few times where he beat a man to the corner on outside runs. He also looks good in the passing game. However, Greene looks like a complete back right now. He hits the hole quicker. Even a fraction of a second can mean the difference between a guy at the first level getting a hand on you or not. He gets through arm tackles better. He also showed good speed getting to the corner on outside runs. We are to the point where LT's appearances should probably be limited to spelling Greene and working as a receiver and a blocker on third down. Limiting LT will make him more effective like he was early in the year because he can go all out and not have to conserve energy for the next play. I am not really sure what the coaching staff saw to indicate these backs were equally as dangerous today, and that is the only reason they should get roughly equal carries.
Not Stacking the Box on the Final Bears Drive: Matt Forte ran for a first down on Chicago's last drive as the Bears were looking to bleed the clock. This probably cost the Jets a minute or so with the ball. The Jets should have sold out on the run. For whatever reason, they did not.
Vernon Gholston: Forte's early 22 yard touchdown run happened because Vernon Gholston got wiped out by one blocker on the play. Forte ran right where Gholston was supposed to be, and blockers hit the second level since a lineman got taken out so easily.
Santonio Holmes as Anything But a Receiver: No excuse for fumbling the ball. Also no excuse for the illegal formation penalty. It's common sense to look over and see whether you are covering anybody. I know Robert Turner isn't really a tight end, but the Jets run enough jumbo formations that Santonio should know Turner was eligible. He also knows Wayne Hunter was the starting tackle. Part of the blame goes to Mark Sanchez for not identifying it, but Holmes should know better.
The Front Seven: This time there is no doubt the Jets allowed a back to go for over 100 yards. There were many times where the Jets had Matt Forte pinned in the backfield, but somebody didn't finish the play, followed by Bryan Thomas and Calvin Pace losing contain.
Marquice Cole: When you are blocking on a punt return, you need to be aware of the ball. He might have cost the Jets close to 20 yards of field position to start the final drive.
Kyle Wilson: While Joe McKnight has played very well on special teams, Wilson is quietly struggling a lot blocking gunners on punt returns. He badly lost his assignment on the second to last return, which resulted in a minimal return for Jerricho Cotchery, who had a man in his face when he caught the punt. Mike Westhoff probably should have helped Wilson with a double to set up a big return, but it was still not great execution.
Brad Smith's Drop on the Fake Punt: I know Smith doesn't have the best hands, but that was a catch any NFL receiver should make regardless of what you thought about the call.
Brad Smith's Pass: I have been calling for a pass, and I am sure it will keep defenses more honest. This is good. I did not, however, like the straight drop back. I think it needed to start out as a fake run to draw everybody up and get the receiver wide open. Braylon Edwards had a step on his man, but Smith needs a guy to be wide open to hit a big play. Brad might be more accurate than a typical Wildcat quarterback, but he is far less accurate that a normal quarterback. Hitting a guy in stride is too much to ask.
Mark Sanchez: If there was something encouraging we can take, it was definitely how well Mark Sanchez played. This was as good of a performance as you will see from a young quarterback. He finished 24 of 37 for 269 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception. There was much to like. One thing I noticed was the way Mark was looking defenders off. Contrast that with the Dolphins game two weeks ago. Sanchez was staring down receivers and telegraphing passes. He was hitting his men in stride, showing uncanny accuracy. He also made perfect passes into tight windows. Chicago has a defense that does not blitz much. They drop a lot of guys into zone. That means receivers can find holes, but these windows will be tight. There are a lot of defenders converging on the area quickly so a quarterback must quickly identify the holes and deliver an accurate throw on time with zip. Mark was doing that well. He also did a good job taking what the Bears gave him. When the corners gave the receivers cushion, he hit slants all day. Heading into the Playoffs, the Jets have to really like the quarterback playing this way. In three of the four previous losses, this team would have won with even average quarterback play. Today the team would have won with even average defensive play. I don't think you can get on Sanchez for not producing a winning score because I don't see any throw he left on the table to an open receiver. Even on the interception, he was at the point of the game where he needed a lot of yards quickly and had to take a chance forcing the ball to make something happen. Finally, he was great in the face of the pass rush avoiding sacks. Mark should get an A+ or an A at worst.
Dustin Keller: It seemed like the passing game was keying on Keller early, which I think was a good idea. Chicago's scheme has their safeties playing a lot of deep zone. That means the tight end gets linebackers, which favors Keller even against Chicago's athletic corps. He did good work exploiting this early. Later he started camping out shallow over the middle, a good idea since the middle linebacker drops deep in the Tampa 2. You can argue the drop in the end zone was the difference, but Dustin played well.
Braylon Edwards: Effective on both slants and in finding the holes in the zone. He finished with 6 catches and 78 yards.
Santonio Holmes: Effective on both slants and in finding the holes in the zone. He finished with 4 catches, 69 yards, and 1 touchdown.
Wayne Hunter: Last week I warned against giving Hunter too much credit because the Jets gave him a lot of help with Robert Turner, Ben Hartsock, and LaDainian Tomlinson. I really didn't see much help today, which makes the job he did incredibly impressive. He handled Peppers seemingly with ease when matched up. Maybe Rex knew what he was talking about calling Hunter the best backup lineman in the game. Damien Woody could not have had a better game.
Offensive Line: Given the degree of difficulty facing Peppers, I had to give individual kudos to the tackles, but the entire line was fantastic giving Sanchez a clean pocket and creating running room.
Nick Folk: Is he finally over his slump after another perfect (2 for 2) day. His kicks to keep it away from Hester were also executed well.
Tony Richardson: I think part of it is that the Jets run him so infrequently that there is an element of surprise, but he picked up a pair of tough first downs on runs.
Jerricho Cotchery: He had a tough job on both of his returns, but he looked more slippery than I have ever seen him look on the 14 yarder.
Brad Smith in the Wildcat: I think part of it was execution, but I was glad to see the Jets get him to the perimeter on the calls for him today to use his deceptive speed and strength. Once again, having an option to pitch it makes a big difference. A defender either has to take Smith and takes himself out of the play once the ball is pitched or has to take the pitch guy and allows Brad to run right by. It is one less defender to deal with.
Brodney Pool: He was fantastic in coverage. He broke up several passes and was not burned.
Dwight Lowery: That is why some of us wanted him to play safety. He was an interception machine in college at the position. He is at his best reading the play in front of him and jumping routes.
Coverage Guys: I thought the Jets played well in coverage all day. When they were generating pressure in the first half and forcing Cutler to get rid of it in a timely matter, the Bears struggled to move it. Even in the second half when Cutler had all day, I didn't think the guys in the back played poorly. I thought the Jets were in good coverage on all three touchdowns. They forced Cutler to make a great throw. I still wouldn't trust Cutler in a big spot, but I tip my cap to him today because he made great throws.
First Half Pressure: It felt like the Jets were living in Chicago's backfield in the first half, overwhelming and confusing the blocking, and forcing Cutler to get rid of it quickly. I'm not sure what happened in the second half.
- I know people will be all over the fake punt call because it didn't work. It is one of those things that make a coach a genius when it does work and an idiot when it doesn't. Sean Payton probably would have been the goat of the Super Bowl had the Colts recovered the onside kick. While I'm not sure I would have made the same call, I have a tough time getting on the coaching staff for it. It wasn't a spot at the field where the defense should have been in a dire situation had it failed. It was in a spot where the gamble working might have led to a two score lead and total control of the game. Finally, the play worked as drawn up. The Jets ended up with a wide receiver being covered by another wide receiver. The quarterback threw a good ball. It should have been caught for a first down. I can accept if you don't think the risk was worth it even had the team made it, but I cannot get on the staff too much.
- This game probably would have been more disturbing had the Jets been run out of the gym by a quality opponent for the second time in four weeks. It looked like it might be going that way at 10-0.
So the Jets are in. This loss was disappointing but ultimately meant nothing. Maybe things would have different if the Jets were on a four game losing streak and had not beaten a contender, Pittsburgh, last week. They did, though, and are back in the Playoffs for the second straight year. Given the strength of the AFC, that is impressive. There is no such thing as backing into the Playoffs. The Jets earned a spot with 10 wins. They will be one of the top two non division winners in the conference. Nobody on the outside deserves a spot over them.