Monday, December 28, 2015

Jets Storm Past Pats in OT, Control Playoff Destiny


A week ago it appeared that the Jets would be on the outside looking in at the playoffs come mid-January. With the Jets playing the Patriots this week, and needing wins by the 4-10 Ravens, or 3-11 Browns, or the Andy Dalton-less Bengals, it looked highly unlikely the Jets would find a nice gift under their tree for Christmas.

That ... is why they play the game!

The New York Jets who have crafted one of the best stories in the NFL this year, a story has gone somewhat unnoticed at times around the League, had perhaps their best win of the season by stealing victory from the jaws of defeat in a thrilling overtime battle against the hated Patriots, while getting their wish with a Pittsburgh Steelers loss to the Baltimore Ravens. The Jets now control their own fate as they head into Buffalo for Week 17. A win next week and the Jets are in the postseason.

The Jets thoroughly dominated this game, even though the Patriots came from behind the tie the game and send it into overtime. They harassed Tom Brady for much of the afternoon, keeping the MVP quarterback on his back foot constantly with uneasy incompletions, two sacks and an interception. They neutralized the game-changer known as Rob Gronkowski, holding him to just four catches for 86 yards. In fact Gronk went three quarters of this game with only one catch.

On the flip side, the Jets offense continued to sprout its wings with a nice balance of running and passing, with Brandon Marshall, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Quincy Enura playing the lead roles. Marshall had his ninth 100 yard receiving game of the season, hauling in nine passes for 115 yards and two touchdowns. Fitzpatrick, while a little wild early, settled in for another terrific performance, throwing for 296 yards and three scores. The three touchdown passes by Fitzpatrick tied him with Vinny Testaverde (1998) for the most touchdowns in a single season with 29.

Had the Jets not missed out on a couple of deep passes by Ryan Fitzpatrick, and had they not fumbled the football away in a critical third quarter score for the Pats that cut the Jets lead from 17-6 to 17-13, the Jets would have blown the Patriots out of the building.

Yet, here we were heading for overtime after the Patriots figured out the Jets defense with Brady connecting with Gronkowski twice on two huge fourth down plays to get the football to the Jets nine yard line at the two minute warning. After the timeout, Brady found a wide open James White for the score, tying the game at 20.

Then it got interesting. During the coin toss Patriots captain Matthew Slater told the official that the Patriots wanted to kick, then after a few seconds tried to take it back. The official took his first command to have New England kick to the Jets to start overtime. There was no real argument by Bill Belichick, and after the game the Patriots said their intention was to kick-off in overtime and put their defense on the field first.

It was up to the Patriots to stop the Jets and they didn't do it. There is no controversy in that. New York had to go the length of the field to win the game and they grabbed the bull by the horns and won it! On second and eight, Fitzpatrick rolled to his left and found Enuwa on a quick out toward the sideline. Enuwa escaped the tackler and took off down the sideline for a 48-yard gain to the Patriots 30 yard line. Too bad Bill Belichick didn't have a crystal ball after all.

Fitzpatrick then connected with Marshall for 20 more yards, before capping it off with a six-yard strike to Eric Decker for the touchdown. In celebration, Decker did a New Jersey version of the Lambeau Leap into the crowd. The Jets, after blowing a 20-13 lead, found a way to avoid the taste of a major disappointment and won the football game against their hated rival.

The Jets (10-5) now find themselves in full control of their playoff fates. A win in Buffalo next week against former coach Rex Ryan and the Jets will be in the playoffs for the first time since 2010. A loss combined with a Steelers win could mean New York is out of it.

NOTES: Speaking of Brandon Marshall, he became the first player in the NFL to have six straight seasons of 100 catches. Marshall had the Jets first two touchdowns of the day, including an incredible 33-yard grab underneath tight single coverage. He was a man-beast.

The NFL decided NOT to put the tasty Bills-Jets matchup in primetime next Sunday. Instead they elected to fill the Sunday Night Football game with Vikings-Packers. The winner wins the NFC North and hosts Seattle in the Wild Card game. The loser gets to go to Washington in the other Wild Card game. Yet, I feel the NFL dropped the ball on a great chance to feature an incredibly dramatic matchup between the Jets and the Bills. Rex Ryan trying to keep his old team out of the playoffs, and Ryan Fitzpatrick trying to show his old team, the Bills, that he can get to the postseason. Kick-off is at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday, January 3.

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