By Steve Lichtenstein
» More Columns
If you were expecting an apology for the Jets' 28-23 white-knuckle victory over Jacksonville on Sunday, you won't find one here.
Jets fans have been on the opposite end of these types of games far too often throughout their tortured past. You know, the ones with chances galore to win in the fourth quarter, only to be done in by egregious turnovers.
The Jaguars outgained the Jets in total yardage, 436-290, on Sunday but they lost two fumbles and threw an interception on three of their final four possessions.
When you're an awful team -- and we now know why the Jaguars' record stands at 2-6 -- those roadblocks are typical and virtually impossible to overcome.
We still don't know what exactly the 5-3 Jets are these days, but as much as they tried to give the game away with poor clock management and breakdowns in their defensive backfield, in the end a series of big plays -- by both the renowned and the less heralded -- as well as the avoidance of negative plays pretty much saved their season.
This was a game the Jets desperately needed following consecutive road losses at New England and Oakland. Had Gang Green stumbled again -- this time to an obviously inferior opponent at home -- all sorts of panic might have set in by the time the Bills (and former coach Rex Ryan) arrived in town for the grudge match on Thursday.
But the Jets got it done. The how and the why are irrelevant in the big picture.
That's not to ignore the deficiencies in the Jets' performance that could cost them down the road against more competent teams.
Those concerns include the Jets' pass defense, which surrendered 381 yards to Jacksonville's Blake Bortles, who may be an improved quarterback but is no Tom Brady. The running game has been grounded for the last three games -- Chris Ivory's 26 yards on 23 carries on Sunday were the fewest in NFL history by a running back with that many attempts, according to ESPN.com.
And coach Todd Bowles continued to fray Jets fans nerves with his conservative decisions at the end of both halves. Playing not to lose with 1:30 remaining in the second quarter merely shifted momentum when Jacksonville scored a late touchdown to cut the Jets' lead to 14-10. Later, it nearly altered the outcome.
If not for the good hands of wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who was pilloried for a key drop in the Patriots loss, the Jets might have been flying much lower this morning.
The Jets were facing a 3rd and 4 from Jacksonville's 44 with 1:55 remaining in the game. The Jaguars were out of timeouts. A play that produced a first down would have sealed the win.
Obviously, the last thing you want in such a spot is a turnover. The next-worst result would be a play that stops the clock.
The Jets nearly did both. On a running play.
Ivory took a handoff and veered left, but had the balled jarred loose by Jacksonville linebacker Telvin Smith. Marshall, who also recovered the Jaguars' onside kick that secured the possession, pounced on the ball seven yards behind the line of scrimmage to avert disaster.
Why Bowles doesn't trust his passing game playmakers in these situations mystifies me. Marshall and Eric Decker have become dangerous weapons for quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who thumbed his nose at the torn ligaments in his left thumb to throw for 272 yards and two touchdowns with no turnovers.
It's not that big of a gamble to attempt to get four yards on a throw to win a game, or to embark on a two-minute drill at the end of a first half when you have all three timeouts. I've seen other teams do it -- I swear.
Just a minute earlier, with the Jets nursing a 21-16 lead and facing a 3rd and 5 from the Jaguars 20-yard line, Fitzpatrick threw up a prayer into the left corner of the end zone. Marshall and Jacksonville defensive back Davon House were handfighting from the line of scrimmage to the goal line, but Marshall was able to make an adjustment to the ball in time to make a terrific diving catch with 2:41 remaining.
Was Marshall's separation legal or should a penalty have been called for offensive pass interference? Did the ball hit the ground before he completed the catch or did Marshall's hands secure it underneath?
It doesn't matter. The refs didn't flag House for keeping his hands on Marshall after the five-yard barrier, nor does anyone have a clue these days as to what constitutes an NFL catch. What counts is that Marshall once again made the play of the game.
Jacksonville still had opportunities to come back from two scores down, especially after Bortles sliced through the Jets' secondary in three plays to cut the deficit to 28-23 before the two-minute warning. But when the Jaguars finally got the ball back with 54 seconds and 92 yards to go for an improbable victory, they gave it away on their first snap.
Bortles was flushed out of the pocket by Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson and linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin. Rolling right, Bortles' pass on the run was picked off by Marcus Williams. It was the second interception of the day and fourth of the season for the second-year reserve defensive back.
Mauldin was another young player who stepped up to play an instrumental role in the win. The rookie third-round draft pick supplanted 2012 first-round bust Quinton Coples on the edge to revive the Jets' pass rush. Mauldin registered two sacks among his four hits on Bortles.
Overall, the Jets defense produced six sacks and three takeaways (Jacksonville's Nick Marshall also muffed a punt that was recovered by the Jets Kellen Davis to set up Marshall's score). On the other hand, outside of two sacks allowed the Jets' offense executed relatively mistake-free.
Whether you believe that turnover counts are random or that they are evidence of a team's ineptitude, there's no arguing the impact they have on games. According to pro-football-reference.com, teams that win the turnover battle win the war about 78 percent of the time. Since 2010, teams that had a takeaway ratio of at least plus-four have gone 113-3 (.974 winning percentage).
The Jaguars were minus-4 on Sunday. Case closed.
For a FAN's perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1
for more features.