The New York Jets: Lucky or Good?

MLB pitcher Lefty Gomez once said, “I’d rather be lucky than good.”

The Jets, under Rex Ryan, have been the poster children for this “lucky vs. good” thing. After their improbable comeback last Sunday against Dallas, the grumbles from disgruntled non-Jets fans have started again. “Typical lucky Jets win” and “Jets are the luckiest team in football” and “The Cowboys GAVE them this game.”

In the last few years, the Jets have won a number of games in the last few minutes, putting together long drives and a lot of points in a short amount of time. Last season alone, there were dramatic wins against Denver, Buffalo, Detroit, Cleveland, Houston, and Pittsburgh. Then, there was the back and forth last quarter against Indianapolis on Wild Card weekend and the near comeback against Pittsburgh in the AFC championship game.

Jets fans still have the ulcers to prove how what a rollercoaster last season was. And if Sunday was any indication, this is going to be another one of those seasons. But is it getting to the point where the constant whispering about how lucky the Jets are is a little unfair?

Getting things done late might just be part of the team’s identity. Even in the first half of Sunday’s game, the offense didn’t do much until the last minutes of the second quarter. So when do these wins stop being “just lucky” and start being “good in the fourth quarter?”

This past Sunday, the Jets did have a lot of help, particularly from Tony Romo (our hero). A fumble on the Jets one yard line, an interception straight to Darrelle Revis, who is arguably the best Jets defenseman, and screwing up a routine snap in the Cowboys’ Hail Mary moments handed the Jets the game.

But for those with short memories, there was a time, not so long ago, when the same series of events could have unfolded during the game and the Jets still wouldn’t have won. Either they wouldn’t take advantage of these mistakes, or they’d be so far behind that even if they did capitalize on the mistakes, it wouldn’t have mattered.

In the NFL these days, it’s very rare that a team is so good that they dominate all their games from beginning to end and have the whole game wrapped up by the fourth quarter. Most of the time, the biggest difference between good teams and not-so-good teams are mistakes. Good teams win the games that are handed to them by taking advantage of penalties and mental errors. The Jets were handed this game, but they were good enough to still be in the game and close enough to Dallas to step up and take it. It didn’t used to be like that. And that’s a testament for how far Rex Ryan has brought this team.

[caption id="attachment_146" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Cowboys defensive back Barry Church chases Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez. photo from the AP."][/caption]

A number of comments on message boards across the web pointed out that the Jets weren’t called for any penalties and that this was lucky, but nobody pointed out any really egregious fouls the Jets got away with. Usually, commentators will mention when one player gets away with a foul, but NBC didn’t point out any blatant fouls the Jets committed.

People have ripped on Mark Sanchez for fumbling and throwing an interception in the fourth quarter as well, but Sanchez didn’t fumble on the one yard line, miss any snaps, or throw the ball straight to Dallas’s defensive MVP, either. Romo might have more raw talent than Sanchez, but after watching Romo fail in any kind of pressure situation time and time again, and watching Sanchez step up both in the regular season and the playoffs, I’d rather have Sanchez in a big game. Sanchez keeps his team close enough to win games. Romo hands them to guys like Sanchez.

[caption id="attachment_147" align="alignleft" width="296" caption="Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is sacked by the Jets defense. photo from the AP."][/caption]

There’s lots of work the Jets need to do if they want to top the last two seasons. The defense was shaky last Sunday, and so was the offensive line. LaDainian Tomlinson had the most reception yards on a team that includes Santonio Holmes, Plaxico Burress, and Derrick Mason. Shonn Greene only had 26 yards – there was nearly no running game on a team that says it’s built around the “ground and pound” style of play.

Jacksonville at home tomorrow is a great place to start getting into a rhythm and getting to work.

But as for all the “lucky” comeback wins? Sure, the Jets are lucky sometimes, but luck can only take you so far. Pure luck doesn’t take you to the AFC championship game two years in a row. Pure luck doesn’t keep you in games. And the better a team is, the better their luck seems to be. When the Patriots were dominant earlier in this decade, a lot of “breaks” seemed to go their way. The better the Packers were last season, the more luck seemed to be on their side. Good teams create their own luck.

“I’d rather be lucky than good,” said Lefty Gomez. Luck is helpful, but the Jets have proven over and over that they can be good.

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