On Thursday evening, the Jets turned a 13-10 lead at Denver with less than 6 minutes to play into the latest comeback by QB Tim Tebow as the Broncos’ quarterback marched his team (almost literally) 95 yards for the game-winning touchdown. Four nights earlier, Rex Ryan’s team watched another 3-point lead, this one 9-6 in the second quarter, become a tough 37-16 loss, the second setback to New England this season and the first at home for Rex Ryan’s team in 2011. All told, New York’s record now stands at 5-5, 1 1/2 games behind Bill Belichick and company and 1/2 game behind the upstart Bills in the always-entertaining AFC East.
Ah, the AFC East. A division owned by the Patriots for the most part for the last 10-plus years and not won by the Jets since 2002. Still, Ryan has guided his team to the playoffs in each of his 2 seasons at the helm and gone deep into the postseason, losing the 2009 and ’10 AFC Championship Games at Indianapolis and at Pittsburgh, respectively.
Still, these Jets continue to do things the hard way and if QB Mark Sanchez and company can’t make up ground on the Patriots in the next few weeks, their path to and through the playoffs (if they indeed reach them) will be via the road once again. True, Ryan’s club has obviously had success on the road in the second season, beating the likes of the Bengals, Chargers, Colts and Patriots in their own backyards in January. And while it’s also become commonplace to win a Super Bowl via the wild card route as of late (just ask the ’05 Steelers, ’07 Giants and last year’s Packers), it’s still a daunting task.
While the Jets’ defense has certainly not been up to snuff, it’s the offense that has recently its share of criticism, in particular QB Mark Sanchez. This season, the third-year signal-caller has been responsible for 15 of the team’s 20 turnovers in 2011, with 5 of Sanchez’s miscues returned for touchdowns, including last night’s interception return for a score. Still, you can’t argue with the success he’s had in the postseason when he seems to play so much differently. Case in point is that the Jets’ quarterback has coughed up the ball 52 times in 41 regular-season games, but has committed just 4 turnovers in 6 playoff contests.
So despite last night’s setback, Sanchez, Ryan and the Green and White still hope to keep pace of sorts with New England and reeling Buffalo, losers of 2 in a row. In any case, at least at this stage of the season, they seem to resemble the same team that failed to capture the AFC East the last 2 years, yet managed to get within a game of the Super Bowl in each instance. The loss to Denver makes a return to the playoffs a little tougher in a crowded conference, but certainly not impossible.
So what is the state of the J-E-T-S as we speak? Are they AFC East-title worthy, or destined to make another playoff run the hard way? Stay tuned…