Jets Have Bright Future Under Ryan

January 27, 2011 Updated: January 27, 2011

Mark Sanchez and Tony Richardson walk off the field after their loss to Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship game last Sunday. (Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Mark Sanchez and Tony Richardson walk off the field after their loss to Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship game last Sunday. (Nick Laham/Getty Images)
The New York Jets season ended abruptly last Sunday night, just one win and a decent first half short of reaching the Super Bowl. But, all was certainly not lost as they still had one of their best seasons in franchise history and are well positioned for the future with some good young players and a head coach who knows how to get the most out of them.

The offseason was a success as the Jets acquired talented veterans Jason Taylor and LaDainian Tomlinson through free agency and traded for Santonio Holmes and Antonio Cromartie to bolster their young talent.

If that didn’t get people talking about them, though, their run on HBO’s Hard Knocks certainly did. By the time preseason rolled around the Jets were all over the news—and at or near the top of most people’s playoff predictions.

The biggest story through the preseason was the status of lockdown cornerback Darrelle Revis. Revis, who was the runner-up in the 2009 Defensive Player of the Year voting, sat out almost all of the preseason in an attempt to rectify his salary. Both sides eventually agreed to a deal just in time for their long-awaited season opener against Baltimore.

Game On

The opener would be unforgettable for the wrong reasons as the Jets not only lost the game 10–9, but also four-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kris Jenkins.

Jenkins was hurt in the first quarter would not return the rest of the year. But the Jets would prove to be resilient.

The Jets finally found their offense in the second game against, of all teams, the New England Patriots. Sanchez was particularly impressive completing 21-of-30 passes for 220 yards—seven passes were to tight end Dustin Keller—and three touchdowns.

Their success spilled over into the next couple of weeks as the Jets got a tough win in Miami 31–23, and a dominating 38–14 win in Buffalo. By this time, Tomlinson and the Jets offensive line were the toast of the town.

The whispers about LaDainian possibly being washed up were gone and with the addition of suspended receiver Santonio Holmes, the Jets seemed poised to take off.

But instead, they seemed to regress. Their Week 5 win over the Vikings was in spite of Sanchez’s 21-for-44, 191-yard passing day. Their defense was able to save the day with three forced turnovers including Dwight Lowery’s game-sealing 26-yard interception return.

The next week the Jets were anemic on offense again, waking up in time to beat the Broncos in Denver by scoring a touchdown with just over a minute to play. The game hinged on a fourth-and-six 46-yard defensive pass interference call on Denver with under two minutes to play that gave the Jets the ball on the 2-yard line.

At 5–1 Jets would finally be exposed the following week as the Green Bay Packers came to town and shut out the Jets then-teetering offense 9–0. Sanchez completed just 16-of-38 passes and the Jets running back duo averaged a pedestrian 3.45 yards per carry for the game.

New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan deserves a lot of credit for taking his team to the AFC Championship game two straight years. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan deserves a lot of credit for taking his team to the AFC Championship game two straight years. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

During a supposedly easy part of their schedule, the Jets instead escaped with overtime wins in back-to-back games at Detroit and Cleveland. They then came home and blew all of a 20-point fourth quarter lead before leaving with a 30–27 win over the Texans by way of a last second Sanchez-to-Holmes touchdown pass.

And after a modest 26–10 win over the Bengals on Thanksgiving, the Jets found themselves tied atop the AFC East with the 9–2 Patriots as they headed to New England.

Leonhard Gone

Just before heading out though, they lost starting safety and quarterback-of -the defense Jim Leonhard for the season with a leg injury. It may not have mattered against New England though, as the Patriots exposed everything that was wrong with the Jets in a convincing 45–3 win on Monday Night Football.

After burying the game ball the next week, the Jets still couldn’t find their way as the mediocre Dolphins came into town and left with a 10–6 win. It was the fourth game the Jets hadn’t found the end zone as their season was suddenly spiraling out of control.

A game at mighty Pittsburgh loomed on the horizon, which is probably not what the proverbial doctor would order.

Seeking to turn around their season, the Jets started the game off with a bang as Brad Smith returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown and the suddenly-poised Jets surprised everyone with a 22–17 over the Steelers.

After the game, a confident Ryan had a memorable press conference as he changed the meaning of “same old Jets” and revealed that he had just told his team they may be back there (in Pittsburgh).

After a tough 38–34 loss in which the offense actually carried the defense for a while in Chicago, the Jets came home and corrected things before blowing out the Bills 38–7 to seal their wildcard berth.

Playoffs

Unfortunately, their better regular season record didn’t give them a home playoff game against the always scary Colts. The “personal” (between Ryan and Peyton Manning) game came down to a last second 32-yard Nick Fold field goal that gave the Jets a 17–16 win.

The win earned them a chance at redemption in another “personal” game against their nemesis the 14–2 Patriots. The Jets capitalized with a shocking 28–21 win that catapulted them into the AFC Championship game at Pittsburgh, as Rex promised.

After a disastrous first half against the Steelers in which Rashard Mendenhall ran right through would-be tacklers one right after another and the Jets offense barely stepped on the field they, New York found themselves down 24–3 and facing certain elimination.

But the Jets didn’t give up. And after two touchdowns and a safety the Jets were one third down stop away from getting the ball back with plenty of time to win.

But the elite quarterback Ben Roethlisburger found Antonio Brown for a first down and the Jets season was suddenly over.

Afterward a stunned Ryan blamed himself, “It’s my job to get the team ready to go. We thought we had a good plan in place.”

They do actually. The future looks bright as the Jets have the luxury of a great head coach who can really coach defense, knows how to win the playoffs, and attracts veteran free agents who want to win as well. The “same old Jets” are set for next year.