The Jets fell to 8-4 today with a 34-17 loss to the Broncos in the Meadowlands. The only thing worse than New York's play was the weather in the local area. New York remains a game up in the AFC East but now trails Pittsburgh by a game for the second seed and first round bye. Any realistic hope of taking the AFC's top seed is gone. The five game winning streak came crashing down with a thud.
Linebackers: Peyton Hillis gashed New York's defense for 129 yards on 22 carries. The narrative will likely be that Denver and especially its center Casey Wiegmann handled Kris Jenkins. The truth is that Jenkins and Sione Pouha threw Wiegmann around like a rag doll for most of the game. The problem was that the linebackers failed to fill the gaps, beat their blocks, or finish their tackles. To his credit, Wiegmann did not quit his blocks on Jenkins. Even though Kris was getting a push, the linebackers behind him needed to step up and make plays. They failed miserably.
Abram Elam: The shine came off his apple today. Elam was late in coverage and missed a tackle on Eddie Royal in the first, which led to a long touchdown. He got beaten for the knockout score in the fourth. His tackling was sloppy at points in between. Elam went back from being the secondary standout of 2008 to the mistake-prone safety of 2007. New York has been in no rush to get Eric Smith back into the lineup. That could change after this game.
Arm Tackles: The linebackers and Elam both contributed mightily to this problem, but the entire defense consistently failed to finish its tackles, which allowed Denver plays to extend for extra yardage.
Lack of Defensive Adjustments: The Denver offense has big play capabilities. It made sense to come out conservatively on defense. However, after a half of Jay Cutler standing in the pocket forever and his talented receiving corps having all day to get open against a suspect secondary due to a lack of pressure, it behooved the Jets to bring more pressure in the second half. Instead, there were more three and four man rushes. One of the rare blitzes caused a panicked Cutler to throw a redzone interception to Dwight Lowery.
Fourth and Out: In the third quarter, the Jets had 3rd and 1 near midfield. Instead of running the ball with Thomas Jones, who was already over 100 yards once, Brian Schottenheimer called a pair of play action passes. This was with a big offensive line and facing one of the worst rushing defenses in the league. Perhaps Schottenheimer should have tried using his jumbo set to pick up a single yard just once in those two plays.
Officiating: The Jets got whipped. The officials did not make the difference. However, that does not make up for the truly horrid job the men in stripes did in this game. Ed Hochuli is off the hook. There is a new worst call in the NFL in 2008. It came in the first quarter. Jerricho Cotchery dove on a fumble on a botched reverse. A Denver defender touched him down. After Cotchery was touched, the Broncos batted the ball away from him, picked it up, and ran into the end zone. Somehow, rulebook be darned, the officials decided that the play was still alive and gave Denver the score. Since the league does not want teams challenging who comes out of a scrum with a fumbled ball, recovered fumbles are not reviewable. Unfortunately, the NFL did not realize it would have officials mess up calls as obvious as this one. The Jets later lost a challenge when the referee quickly looked at the wrong foot to see whether a Denver player was in the end zone when downing a punt. This was topped by this crew letting twenty-five seconds run off the clock late in the fourth before they realized the Broncos' medical staff was tending to an injured player.
Cutler-Favre Comparisons: Three MVP awards, two Super Bowls, a Vince Lombardi Trophy, over 400 touchdowns, 50,000 passing yards, 9 Pro Bowls, and 7 All Pro teams separate them. But, hey, they both throw with a lot of velocity so comparing them is valid. You bet, Rich Gannon.
Thomas Jones: TJ was one of the few Jets to play big in this game. His 16 carries and 138 yards included touchdown runs of 59 and 29. The longer run was aided by Denver's safeties lining up in the wrong spot and a superb job by Brandon Moore of sealing his man. The shorter run was all Jones. Thomas fell on defenders but did not hit the ground and alertly never stopped running, even as the Broncos quit on the play. Denver unsuccessfully challenged the play. It would have been a makeup call for the Cotchery fiasco except it was the right call. Jones was never down.
No Huddle Offense: The no huddle offense returned in the third quarter and helped the Jets move the ball. Its use shows that Brett Favre is now fully comfortable with the playbook. Chad Pennington used this very effectively in 2006 to exploit mismatches and tire the opposing defense. With versatile guys like Dustin Keller and Leon Washington, this can be a very effective weapon down the stretch.
A tip of the cap to Denver. They absolutely dominated a Jets team that was red hot. Although they are inconsistent, they can beat anybody when at their best. It would be easy to talk about how the Jets got too full of themselves, but the fact of the matter is that they were due to come back down at some point. Only one team in NFL history has gone undefeated. The Jets can be excused for one lousy performance. If it continues at San Francisco, it will be time to show a bit of worry. The Broncos were at their best, and the Jets played poorly for the first time in over a month. There is no reason to dwell or overanalyse.