Coming off a loss to a winless Pittsburgh Steelers team, and looking ahead to games against the Cincinnati Bengals and the New Orleans Saints, the 3-3 New York Jets faced a crossroads versus New England Patriots: A win would give the team a much-needed split against the AFC East leaders, but a loss brings them below .500, with some challenging games ahead of them.  QB Geno Smith struggled with committing turnovers, but had shown real promise getting the football downfield.  Would we have a repeat of those three interceptions we saw in the second half at Foxboro, or would he be the turnover-free Offensive Player of the Week we saw against the Falcons?

This was Geno’s first chance to face a team for a second time; how would he play against a team getting a second look at him?  In his last encounter with the Patriots, Geno had targets like Santonio Holmes and Kellen Winslow Jr., but this Sunday he finds players like Josh Cribbs and David Nelson on the depth chart.  Even though they come into the game nursing injuries in key positions, it wouldn’t be easy taking down Brady’s bunch (just ask the formerly undefeated New Orleans Saints).      

A lot will be made about how the game ended, but I believe the start of this game was just as important.  The crowd heeded HC Rex Ryan’s request, and came ready to cheer their Jets to a win.  The offense took the field and drove it eighty yards on a Patriots team playing without three of their best players: NT Vince Wilfork, LB Jerod Mayo and CB Aqib Talib.  The Jets utilized a nice mix of runs by Chris Ivory and passes to Jeremy Kerley (including the 12 yard TD) to go up 7-0.  Both would continue to play significant roles in the outcome of this one.

The Patriots offense had their chance to respond, and didn’t disappoint their fans as Brandon Bolden plunged in from a yard away to tie it up at 7-7 after the extra point.  Though they were able to move down the field, it wasn’t without the aid of some miscues by the Jets and their aggressive defensive line.  An offside penalty by Quinton Coples gives the Pats a first down on 3rd and 5!  HC Rex Ryan acknowledged “we gotta get that corrected.”  The Jets were whistled for 9 accepted penalties, costing themselves 45 yards.  Another thing that needs to be worked on are turnovers from the QB position, because on the ensuing possession, Geno Smith serves one up to former Rutgers standout Logan Ryan, who takes it back 79 yards to put the Pats up 14-7.

After a 21-10 first half, the crowd sounded uneasy while the team seemed primed for back-to-back loses.  With New England getting the ball first after halftime, a score would put the Jets in a real hole.  If the Patriots managed a touchdown… the once energetic and enthusiastic crowd could turn on the team in Green & White.  As it has the entire 2013 NFL season, when the New York Jets where backed into a corner, the defense bore its teeth and went looking for blood.  Quinton Coples made up for an earlier transgression by causing Brady to fumble on the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter.  On the second play from scrimmage, Brady flung one in the direction of his returning TE Rob Gronkowski, which was picked off by Antonio Allen and brought back for a TD!  The crowd erupted, the sideline erupted, and the Patriots must have known then… that a sleeping giant was wide awake!        

The PICK 6 sparked a 17-0 3rd quarter where I believe the Jets played their best football all year (on both sides of the ball at the same time).  Geno Smith went 17 of 33 for 233 yards, 1 TD and just the 1 INT for the game.  He proved again that he’s got the arm to attack defenses 15-20 yards downfield with consistency, as well as a short memory on those bad plays.  He also showed he’s got some wheels, scrambling on back-to-back plays to get the Jets in the endzone again.  Geno rushed 6 times for 32 yards, including the 8-yard TD scramble.  Ferocious play by guys like Mo Wilkerson, Damon Harrison & Sheldon Richardson, plus the unbelievable coverage on Gronkowski by Antonio Allen made for a frustrating second half for Brady & Co… then came overtime!   

We remember classic games in NFL history by moments which determined their outcome: The Catch, The Immaculate Reception, The Drive, and so on.  It’ll be hard to remember this game as The Rule 9, Section 1, Article 3 (b) 2 game, but we’ll never forget the rule that cost the Patriots 15 yards and a chance at a second possession in overtime.  Some will argue the flag shouldn’t have been thrown, or it wasn’t really a penalty.  I disagree with both.  I’m not a fan of refs “swallowing the whistle” and letting things go that would normally be called.  If it’s a foul in the first minute, it should be a foul in the final minute.  Whether it should be a rule at all could be debated, but it’s in the books, so it should and must be called when appropriate.  I give credit to referee Jerome Boger and his crew for making a call, knowing exactly what the result of throwing that flag would be.  With another chance at it, Nick Folk kicked a manageable 42-yarder and MetLife Stadium went berserk as the Jets pull off a 30-27 overtime victory!  “Oh man, they were unbelievable,” said Rex about the game-day crowd, “without question it made a difference!”

Rex and the Jets won’t be able to take the MetLife crowd with them to Cincinnati for their encounter with the 5-2 Bengals, but they’ll bring their own 4-3 record and a knowledge that they can, even with injuries up and down their roster, challenge the upstarts in Orange and Black.

 

-Joseph Haas Editor, HCoftheNYJ.com

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