Jets slip by Bills, 28-24: Post-game Breakdown

It wasn’t pretty, but the Jets pulled out a 28-24 comeback win against the Buffalo Bills to keep their playoff hopes alive.

Not that they didn’t try as hard as they possibly could to lose. Quarterback Mark Sanchez threw yet another interception deep in Jets territory. The Bills didn’t return it, but it still led to a touchdown. Cornerback Antonio Cromartie cost the Jets a 7 point lead in the span of about 30 seconds, first with a fumbled punt deep in Jets territory (he was returning his first – and now possibly last – punt for Jim Leonhard, who had the wind knocked out of him) and then, defending against former Jet Brad Smith, who caught the pass Cromartie tipped and ran it in for a touchdown.

Those two turnovers were the only real reason the Bills were in the game at the end. They nearly took it back, but wide receiver Stevie Johnson dropped a sure catch that would have been a big gain, and Fitzpatrick missed him twice more in the final minute.  Johnson had been abusing cornerback Darrelle Revis all afternoon, in a rare bad day for Revis. There’s no reason to panic about that. It rains everywhere else at least once in awhile, why not on Revis Island?

Johnson’s biggest impact was actually in favor of the Jets. After the Bills went ahead 14-7 on 5 yard TD catch by Johnson, he did some kind of stupid celebration dance that included imitating Plaxico Burress shooting himself in the thigh and a crashing plane (mocking the flying high thing the Jets do after touchdowns). Apparently falling to the ground in a plane crashing action counts as using the ground in your celebration and Johnson was penalized for it.

A 15 yard excessive celebration penalty probably doesn’t kill the Bills there…as long as kicker Dave Rayner kicks the ball off properly. Oops. Somebody forgot to tell that to Rayner, who botched the kick and sent the ball 10 yards down the field to the Jets, who recovered on the Bills 36. Needless to say, the Jets had excellent field position for a final drive at the end of the first half, and Sanchez later found (fittingly) wide receiver Burress in the end zone to tie the game.

The Jets wouldn’t have won this game without Plaxico Burress. Late in the game, with the Bills leading 24-21, facing 3rd and 11 and a blitz, Sanchez threw to Burress on the sideline. The throw was high, but Burress jumped and brought down the ball with one hand. It was a gain of 18 and kept the drive going. Sanchez eventually found Holmes in the end zone for a 16 yard TD, which put the Jets ahead for good.

And finally, there was Mark Sanchez.

It’s probably been a really long ten days for Sanchez, between missing reps in practice as part of Rex Ryan’s “motivational ploy” and listening to everyone declare him a bust. He’s still not as bad as Jets haters like to say, but he hasn’t been great this year.

He wasn’t great this past week. He posted a 90.2 rating, completing 17 of 35 passes for 180 yards and had a costly interception. To be fair to Sanchez, he should have had more completions; at least three of his passes were catchable and dropped by the receiver. He also made some ill-advised throws that the Bills didn’t catch. But he did convert when given the opportunity in the red zone, throwing a career best four touchdown passes – one to Holmes, one to Burress, and two to tight end Dustin Keller. Keller reemerged after a few quiet weeks, making his own acrobatic catches and scoring for the first time in 9 games.

[caption id="attachment_349" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Santonio Holmes (10) catches the game winning 16-yard touchdown pass from Mark Sanchez (6, in background). Photo by William Perlman // The Star-Ledger."][/caption]

But Sanchez was calm under pressure on that last drive, fairly accurate and kept things going for the team – with no help from pass interference calls – though with some help from Burress. It was a glimpse of what we know Sanchez is capable of. It was nice to see that guy again, and it would be nice to see him all the time.

It should be noted that wide receiver Patrick Turner only had one catch today, but it was a fairly difficult, important catch for 12 yards on third down during the Jets’ final scoring drive. The offensive line, much criticized in the last few weeks, also answered their own self issued challenge, doing a much better job of protecting Mark Sanchez and giving him more of time to throw.

The game came down to the Jets defense. There were a couple of spots where they looked pretty bad, and at the end they nearly fell apart again, fortunate that Stevie Johnson had butterfingers. They held on, though. They did hold on. The line lost defensive tackle Mike DeVito to a knee injury in the third quarter, and still managed to hold it together. Not by much. They’ve been inconsistent, and lately, they’ve been coming apart towards the end of games.

The Jets defense, the team’s biggest strength in the last two years, feels like it’s slowly coming apart. There is no pass rush on this team, save Aaron Maybin, who is a specialist and only used on certain downs. Even though they only allow 204.6 pass yards per game (7th best in the league), quarterbacks have all day to throw.

In fact, according to the numbers, the defense is just slipping. The run defense is allowing 114.1 yards per game, 16th in the league. And they’re allowing 21.9 points per game, which is only 17th in the league.

Compare this to 2009 and 2010. In 2010, the defense was allowing only 200.6 pass yards per game (6th best in the league), 90.9 rush yards per game (3rd in the league) and 19 points per game (6th best in the league). In 2009, the defense allowed 153.7 pass yards per game (1st in the league), 98.6 rush yards per game (8th in the league), and 14.8 points per game (1st in the league).

While Sanchez and the offense have been taking a lot of heat, the defense should be taking more, considering they’re going backwards in terms of where they were when Rex Ryan first took over two years ago.

But they did win this game, the first of their final six, in what needs to be a 5-1 or 6-0 finish to have a chance for the playoffs (as Calvin Pace told the media last week). So yes, the Jets playoff picture is still bleak. They won’t win more games playing like this, with muffed punts and defensive breakdowns. Sanchez and the offense still need to improve.

But a win is a win, and hey, the Jets and their fans will still take it.

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