Monday, January 17, 2011

Why, Yes, I Will Make A Point About Picking The Jets Rather Obnoxiously

Some of you, that is to say my close friends I was watching the first round of the playoffs with, gave me a rather hard time for insisting the Seahawks would get absolutely pasted by the Saints in the first round nine days ago. My reasoning for making this bold, bold proclamation was because Seattle, based on some rather compelling empirical evidence, were terrible this year. Well, as some of you saw I ate my fair share of craw last weekend, when the Seahawks somehow toppled New Orleans, but I suppose I got a measure of vindication yesterday afternoon when Seattle revealed its true High School caliber selves after a loss to the Bears that was about 50 times worse than the score would indicate. My true vindication came about three hours later, however, when those pesky, bizarrely arrogant Jets pulled off an upset win over the dominant New England Patriots that just about no one expected.

Well, except me. Duh.

That's right, while most people had the Patriots not just advancing to this coming Sunday's AFC Championship Game, but to win the whole shabang, I stood strong, and boldly, confidently and fearlessly picked the Jets to topple their division rivals and make a second consecutive AFC Championship Game appearance. If "So yeah, let's go with the Jets, I guess. Why not?" doesn't sound like steadfast belief to you, I'm not sure what does.

Now, I have made it more than abundantly clear that I'm a Giants fan, first and foremost, but the Jets are a peculiar case for me. I wouldn't say I'm a Jets fan, obviously, but the Giants and Jets play once every four years, making a rivalry somewhat hard to maintain. Really, I have no actual distaste for the Gang Green. Frankly, I actually like to see them win and find myself rooting for them more often than not. Granted, if they lose next Sunday it won't kill me, whereas if the Giants were to make the NFC Championship Game and lose I'd be utterly devastated, but it's still nice to see the Jets succeed, which really may have accounted why I picked them as opposed to football acumen or reason. And if they should actually reach the Super Bowl for the first time in 42 years, well, it'll basically seem like one of those wild events that you just never thought you'd live to see.

I suppose my only hope at this point is that the Jets have learned from last year. In his postgame press conference, head coach Rex Ryan said the only difference between this year's AFC Championship Game and last year's is that they plan to win this time. I find that kind of statement a little odd considering they clearly planned on winning last year, too.

You have to give Rex Ryan a little bit of a breather for being unable to think clearly though. Anyone who saw his press conference could notice that his eyes were bloodshot and I wouldn't be surprised to hear that he might have teared up during his speech in the locker room. This was obviously an emotional win for the Jets, who, you get the impression, actually believe it's them against the world. To them, unlike with most teams, this isn't bullshit. They really wanted to come out and prove they were better than New England's comic foil. The Jets were no Falstaff. They're the team to beat. At least in their minds. Anyone who doubts they feel that way should take a look at Bart Scott's on-field interview after the game, which left me convinced Scott would have killed a baby at that moment if it was wearing a Patriots jersey.

Of course, while it was clearly the play of the Jets, both on defense and on offense when necessary, that carried the day, I think what we saw was another case of Bill Belichick's arrogance getting the best of him. I do want to make this much clear. I am not going to criticize Belichick as a coach as far as his greatness and legacy are concerned. Winning three Super Bowls ain't easy, let alone winning three in four years. Belichick's place in NFL history as one of the game's great, innovative coaches in clear. But he does, on occasion, have a tendency to let his own high opinion of himself get in the way.

For no better example of why, simply take a look at the early fourth quarter when New England had an opportunity to hit a 52-yard field goal to tie the game, which, while never a given in this weather, is well within the range of most NFL kickers. Instead, the Pats opted to go for it on 4th and 13, and predictably the drive stalled there. Moments like that one have, on more than one occasion, been Belichick's undoing.

The one that comes most notably to mind, at least to me, was in the waning seconds of Super Bowl XLII, when the Patriots, with some 80 yards to go and a three-point deficit, simply threw deep fade routes four straight times, all of them falling incomplete, in hopes of making a quick strike to win the game with a long, low-percentage touchdown pass. What was so bizarre to me about that particular incident was that, with 29 seconds left and a full assortment of time outs, it would have been perfectly feasible for New England to drive for a game-tying field goal and take its chances in overtime. Not that I minded.

Indeed there were many similarities between this game and that one, with one obvious example being the difficulty with which Tom Brady was unable to handle New York's pass rush. Brady was knocked around and sacked five times by a relentless Jets front four. Even on the plays when the Patriots' offensive line was able to hold the fort, New York's secondary -- and Ryan's decision to drop his linebackers into coverage rather than blitz the pocket -- kept New England's receivers covered and left few openings. This defense not only put Brady on the ground, but also led to him throwing an interception on the first drive, his first in an utterly mind-boggling 340 pass attempts.

Of course, some of this also reminded me of my Giants and their frustratingly difficult loss to the Eagles in the 2008 Divisional round. Both the Giants and Patriots were top seeds, both had defeated all four of the teams that reached the conference title games during the season, and both were felled by a division rival with whom they had split the season series. On an afternoon where things just simply didn't click for those Giants or these Patriots, they made the case of a great team that chose a bad day to have a bad day.

But there are only so many explanations you can make in an attempt to soften the blow. In the end, what's happened has happened and if you're  Jets fan little can dull the excitement and if you're a Pats fan, not even today's totally awesome Sharks-Coyotes Preview can help. But that's life. as a relatively removed observer, I just can't help but be excited about what looks like a tremendous Conference Title Weekend. While the Jets and Steelers should be a great matchup, something about the Packers and Bears facing off with everything on the line and those classic uniforms on the field makes me giddy.

This week has barely started, but I'm ready for it to be over. I wish it were Sunday.

No comments:

Post a Comment