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The Game That Crushed Me

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When you ask most Jets fans about painful losses, they'll be able to rattle off plenty. The Doug Brien Game in 2004 comes to mind. So does the 1998 AFC Championship meltdown in Denver. Older fans will cringe remembering the Gastineau Game in Cleveland. There's also the Marino fake spike game. A few will point back to Christmas Eve in 2000 in Baltimore or the Cary Blanchard Game in Buffalo followed by the Sunday night rout at Houston to end 1993. This Sunday's matchup with the Jaguars takes me back to a loss I've never recovered from, the Week 3 game in 2005 the last time the Jets hosted Jacksonville.

Remember how exciting things were at the start of the 2005 season? The Jets had come a field goal away from upsetting Pittsburgh in the Divisional Playoffs the year before. The team was supposed to be even better and challenge New England for the East. There were new toys like Ty Law. The team was supposed to have an edge and was a trendy Super Bowl pick. Chad Pennington was in theory supposed to be fully recovered from his rotator cuff tear and finally ready to step into the area of championship franchise quarterbacks.

Things started off really, really badly that year. The Jets played one of the worst games you'll ever see in the opener, an embarrassing loss at Kansas City, spared a shutout only by a garbage time touchdown drive by Jay Fielder. A victory over Miami in the home opener seemed to right the ship. That set up a Week 3 contest against the up and coming Jaguars. Words cannot describe how painful the loss was.

The Jets fell 26-20 in overtime. The sure handed Wayne Chrebet couldn't hold onto a pass in the end zone near the end of regulation that would have won it. Rookie return man Justin Miller fumbled away a punt with the Jets leading in the fourth quarter on his own 16 that gave the Jags a really short field they converted into a touchdown. This alone, though, wasn't enough to crush a promising season before it started.

The Jets lost their top two quarterbacks for the year that day. Chad Pennington tore his rotator cuff for the second time after back to back sacks on New York's struggling offensive line. Jay Fielder suffered a season ending shoulder injury of his own a few plays later. Pennington actually returned and played the rest of his game with the torn rotator cuff, just as he did at the end of the previous year. When we found out the severity of the injury the next week, there was no doubt. What looked like a Super Bowl season was over before September. We had to watch the indignity of the rest of a painful 4-12 year that saw the Jets get so desperate they signed Vinny Testaverde off his couch.

The game had greater residual damage. It ended any doubt whether Chad Pennington could carry a team to a championship. Many of us still believed he could. He had looked like a budding franchise quarterback during his first three years as the starter. A second devastating shoulder injury left the area ravaged. There was no doubt Chad had the necessary leadership tools and every intangible in the book, but sapping his arm of what already was not great strength left him very limited. What he's accomplished in retrospect after the injury is remarkable, but he'll never be a guy who can lift a team to a championship on his own. There are too many things he can't do, too many throws he can't fit into traffic. He needs to be surrounded by a great team and be put into a game manager role.

I've never been the same. I know you tend to expect the worst as a Jets fan, but that game made me leery of even hoping things will go right. The Jets had everything going for them that year, a ton of talent, confidence from the year before, and a stud young quarterback. All hope was lost with 13 games left. Three quarters of the season was just playing out the string. Even the Playoff loss to New England in 2006 and last year's loss at home to Miami didn't sting as much as they used to. I saw them coming. I didn't get my hopes too high.

I hope one day Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez can lift my spirit again. Until then, I'll be left remembering the pain of a bitter September Sunday four years ago against the Jaguars.