By Steve Lichtenstein
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Same Old Jets. Delete. Delete. Delete.
For over four tortuous hours yesterday, I was mentally prepping for the disappointment that has followed so many ignominious defeats in my lifetime of rooting for the New York Jets. The Jets were in Miami and it felt like it was a replay of a game I've seen a hundred times. All the components were on full display.
Facing an inferior team. Check. Committing costly turnovers. Check. Red zone catastrophes. Check. Phantom calls by incompetent referees. Check. Blown lead late in the fourth quarter. Check.
Overthrows on wide-open receivers. Dropped passes. Tim Tebow as a receiver!? Missed tackles. No fourth quarter pass rush. Coverage breakdowns.
How exactly did the Jets win this game?
There's been plenty of criticism thrown around out there at the Rex Ryan/Mark Sanchez partnership, not entirely undeserved, but you have to give them some credit for the unusually high number of times in their three-plus years together they've been able to rise from the abyss to pull out games they have routinely lost in the past.
The Jets 23-20 overtime win over the Dolphins was not a statement game by any measure. They may be sitting atop the AFC East, but it's certainly not pretty. The Jets were outplayed and pretty much beaten up for most of the game. Star cornerback Darrelle Revis was carted into the locker room after suffering a third quarter knee injury (which turned out to be a torn ACL), usually a sign of doom for Ryan's Jets. Ryan's pride and joy, his rush defense, was gashed for 185 yards. Yet somehow they prevailed through perseverance and, yes, some incredibly good fortune.
In the first half, Miami running back Reggie Bush, as I anticipated, made the Jets defense look, according to Jets radio analyst Marty Lyons, like they "were running in concrete," with 61 yards on 10 carries. Well, when you're trying to contain a burner with moves like Bush with linebackers who are closer to retirement than their primes, you're going to look a little slow. It seemed like every play included multiple missed tackles.
But then another Jet blunder in the final minute of the half proved to be the game's first turning point. The Dolphins were up 10-3 but were forced to punt from their own 5-yard line. Jet safety Eric Smith, who I think might be brain dead from all of the leading-with-his-head personal fouls he has accumulated in his tenure, roughed the kicker. So instead of the Jets having a chance with a short field to tie or close the gap, the Dolphins kept the ball.
With only 36 seconds and one timeout left, the Dolphins handed off to Bush on a routine dive play. Should be uneventful, right? At the end of the run, Bush was on the ground writhing in pain with a knee injury and the Dolphins lost their best weapon for the rest of the game.
Not that the game was over at that point. Nor did the Jets put the finishing touches on the Dolphins after a pair of turnovers to start the second half, the first of which was safety LaRon Landry's pick-six to tie the game and the second a fumble recovery that had the Jets set up for a go-ahead score.
Nope, the Jets I know have always had a way of looking prosperity in the eye and then running in the other direction. Sanchez' erratic passing was the primary source of my frustration yesterday. Sanchez' second interception of the game, a badly underthrown ball to receiver Stephen Hill in the end zone on third down from the 7-yard line, gave the Dolphins another life. I can also remember four other shots that should have resulted in touchdowns if only they weren't overthrown. In the Dolphins' house, only 47% of Sanchez tosses were just right.
An especially egregious one was the early fourth-quarter miss of tight end Jeff Cumberland on second-and-goal from the one with the Jets trailing, 17-10. Now, I know Sanchez was planted into the turf by three Dolphins as he threw, but I was disturbed when he later claimed in his press conference that he had no idea where Cumberland was, let alone that the Dolphins stayed away from him like he had a rare flu.
What if he wasn't open? I can't question Sanchez' heart or toughness, but he will never take the next step until he improves his awful field vision, which leads to poor decisions and missed opportunities.
The Jets instead settled for a field goal. At that point, who knew if they would ever get back down there again? Revis was out, so the Dolphins were operating their offense at optimum comfort. A touchdown on their ensuing drive seemed logical.
This stuff happens to the Jets all the time. A ridiculous pass interference penalty on Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie, had the Dolphins in range. Cromartie was in proper position to make a play on the ball but the replacement refs seem to get a kick out of tossing flags for everyone who raises their hand like they're second-grade teachers. (To be fair, Jets receiver Santonio Holmes leads the League in the Most Hands Raised category.) This plus the phantom Anthony Fasano catch on Miami's previous drive (no one saw the ball on the ground in the replay booth either?) had me in full-blown conspiracy-theory mode. A typical Jets script.
But this one must have called for the Jets to move to an alternate universe. Two penalties on the Dolphins set them back and then Dan Carpenter missed a 47-yarder, which had been spitting distance for him.
And the Jets capitalized. Sure, it had some ugly moments, like when Holmes' holding penalty negated the successful screen pass I had been waiting all game for and when Sanchez put too much air under a bomb down the right sideline to an open Chaz Schilens. But Sanchez found Holmes for a couple of first downs and then hit Jeremy Kerley for the go-ahead score with about three minutes left.
Now, I knew better than to count the Dolphins out, even if they had a rookie quarterback in Ryan Tannehill and second-tier receivers. I was dreading that this would be a repeat of the 2009 crushing loss to the Dolphins. In that game, the Jets took the game late only to be dissected by the Dolphins' new-fangled Wildcat, ultimately folding when Ronnie Brown scored with six seconds remaining. At least this time the Dolphins only tied the game in the final minute.
But the Jets drive also brought back some better memories—particularly the stretch in 2010 when Sanchez led the Jets from behind to steal three straight games they had no business winning.
Of course, these Jets never make things easy. They punted on fourth-and-two in Miami territory, a Herm Edwards move, and then Cromartie fell asleep on a deep ball to Brian Hartline. But Carpenter never fully rid himself of the yips and pulled a potential game-winner wide left from 48 yards away after Ryan froze him with a timeout.
The run of good luck didn't end there. Sanchez turned to 'Tone again for a big play to put the Jets in field goal range. Miami coach Joe Philbin then watched in horror as Nick Folk's blocked 33-yard attempt was negated by Philbin's own attempt at a brain freeze. Folk took advantage of his second chance and the Jets escaped.
The Jets have lost so many games over the years in incomprehensible fashion. They're difficult to forget. For all the complaining I do about the deficiencies of Sanchez and Ryan's Jets, I should take the time to remember the games like these that went the Jets' way.
As for the Dolphins and their annoying fans, they may have the Fake Spike game, but now I can add the Brain Freeze Game to the previous soul-crushing ones known for Wesley Walker's 4 TDs, Raul Allegre and, of course, the Monday Night Miracle.
Same Old Fish.
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