For a week (and really two weeks) the Jets pummeled New England with exclamatory statements, bold predictions, tongue in cheek comments, and so much “Bulletin board material” that Belichick probably ordered the construction of 5 new ones for the facility. A loss would have been Armageddon for everyone associated in any way, shape, or form with the franchise. It wasn’t so much that they won that surprised me, but rather, how they won.
Questionable Coaching Decision 1: The Benching of Wes Welker
Let’s go back to the early parts of the season. Braylon Edwards was pulled over for a DUI but, to the displeasure of many, received no team-sanctioned punishment for his off field behavior. I argued then that the Jets had the right to do whatever they pleased with him. Few, if any, teams would have given Edwards a suspension for his behavior. Instead, I believed that other organizations would adopt the famous “bench-him-for-a-series-to-prove-a-point-to-the-media” strategy.
Granted, Welker’s off field incident (making suggestive comments against Rex Ryan) were not as severe as Edwards’, but Belichick handed down a confusing punishment. He benched Welker for the first offensive series, although he did allow his player to return to first punt of the game. Excuse me? Did anyone watching the game last night believe for even an instant that Welker would be benched for a significant amount of time? No, of course not. He was making a statement: The Jets are brash and disrespectful and the Patriots are not. We will bench our star wide out for a minor incident and you know what? We’ll still beat you and we’ll do it with class.
Or so he thought. The Welker-less drive ended with a Brady pick. I’m sure if he had the chance to do it again Belichick would have left the usually well-behaved Welker on the field. I guess some of that New York talking rattled the Pats after all.
Questionable Coaching Decision 2: Fake Punt?
When I watched this live my first thought was that there was simply a poor snap. Pat Chung, the up-man and recipient of the snap, bobbled the ball when it hit him. I mean, why in the world would a team call a fake punt in their own territory, down by 4, with a minute and change left in a half? Upon review, however, it became obvious; this was a designed play. So why did Belichick call this one?
Following the game various players, namely the punter, suggested that it was actually Chung who made the decision and furthermore, that he had the go ahead to do so. Do you mean to tell me that a 23 year old, second-year SAFETY has the ability to singlehandedly decide to audible on an offensive play in a critical end-of-half playoff game? On second thought, I think I could better understand the decision if Belichick made it himself rather than leave it up to a guy participating in his second ever playoff game. Could it be that Chung wanted to psych out those cocky a-holes from New Jersey? Just saying. He must be one of those guys who go for it on 4th and 27 in Madden.
(Un)Disputed Realization: Rex Ryan is the PERFECT Jets head coach
How do you handle a team littered with a who’s who list of ex-superstars, hot-headed receivers, cocky defensive backs, angry linebackers, and criticized young players? Easy. Be the biggest force in the room and allow them to be all of those things they truly are. While some coaches limit their players’ media interactions and tenacity, Ryan encourages it, putting no shackles on potentially outrageous claims. He is perhaps the supreme example of a “player’s coach” as his name simultaneously continues to be included among the NFL’s greatest strategic minds. The 28-14(+7 prevent points) dominating victory was a culmination of these things. Ryan outcoached Belichick, using defensive backs as pass rushers and linemen as coverage personnel. Brady was sacked 5 times despite facing more than 4 pass-rushers on few occasions. The secondary utilized a balanced dose of man and zone coverage, often with one safety in the box and another deep. It takes a confident coach to abandon his first instinct (send the house) and go with a new, judicious decision (8 in coverage). While his past teams have won games sending 7 pass rushers from 7 different directions, this current one is hoping to win a Super Bowl utilizing a more conservative approach. Ryan has his entire team believing it will.
What Does this Win Mean for the AFC East Balance of Power?
At the moment, both teams would have legitimate arguments to this question. The Jets would argue that they are now 4-2 against the Patriots over the last 6 games and Sunday’s victory obviously trumps them all. This is now the second year in a row that the Jets have advanced further through the post season than their Boston rivals. However, the Patriots won the division and continue to exhibit regular season dominance. But I think the real reason Pats fans should feel confident about their chances next season is that they will have 2 first and second round picks in the upcoming draft. For years the team has been stockpiling picks and its seems this upcoming draft day will be the culmination of all that wheeling and dealing. I think the answer to this question truly comes down to whether or not the Jets can advance to the Super Bowl. If they win it all the argument is over. They are the team to beat in the NFL, the AFC, and the AFC East.
What Would a Win in Pittsburgh Mean?
When their Sunday evening game with the Pittsburg Steelers concludes, the New York Jets will have played against the 3 teams that have represented the AFC in the Super Bowl a combined 9 times since 2001 (the Raiders were the only other AFC team to make the big game). Rex Ryan has proclaimed since the preseason that the Jets are going to win the Super Bowl. It is fitting that in order to do that his team must defeat the 3 best teams of the last decade. There can be no argument against the Jets as a truly deserving championship team if they can advance through this murder’s row that has been created for them.
The Jets are now 13-1 this season in games in which they have scored a touchdown.
Championship Game Predictions:
In my preseason playoff article (http://adamweinberger.blogspot.com/2010/09/playoff-predictions.html), I predicted the final 4 teams would be the Jets, Colts, Saints, and Packers, with the Colts and Pack advancing to the Super Bowl.
I always try to separate my bias from reality and I think I do it pretty well. From my perspective, the Patriots were the biggest threat the Jets would face in their pursuit of a title. In fact, after they defeated the Colts a week ago I proclaimed: “If the Jets beat New England, they will win the Super Bowl.” Well, they beat New England. I hope the Jets will enter their game against Pittsburg knowing that the regular season game is meaningless, which they essentially proved Sunday night against the Pats. If they want to win again they cannot feel overly confident and take this team lightly. New York has been to the championship game 2 years in a row now. They will learn from their mistakes and I truly believe they want it more than anyone else left in the tournament. The Jets will win it 20-17.
Over now to the NFC, the game features another 2 vs. 6 matchup. I have believed that the Packers are the NFC’s best for most of the season and there is no reason for me to think otherwise now. The Bears are yet to have a real playoff game and despite their recent victories, I still refuse to accept them as a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Aaron Rodgers has thrown for 10 touchdowns and nearly 1,000 yards in 3 playoff games and he leads a Green Bay attack that should be able to make relatively easy work of Chicago. I like the Packers to advance to the Super Bowl winning 35-24, setting up a never before 6 seed vs. 6 seed Super Bowl in Dallas.
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