Both Photos by Mike Hendriguez
As the clock wound down on Sunday night, yes I was disappointed. But, at the same time, I was kind of proud of my beloved Gang Green. I know folks have the right to be upset that the Jets lost to Pittsburgh, 24-19, in the AFC Championship game but I hope that the fans look at what this team has accomplished in a short period of time. I know that most Jets fans don’t want to hear this now but this franchise is on the cusp of great things.
Let’s get one thing straight. The Steelers came out and slapped the Jets around in the opening minutes of the game. Rashard Mendenhall ran through the Jets defense as if they were the Path of Least Resistance. On many occasions, the Jets were in a position to make a tackle on the bruising back but he just powered his way through Gang Green’s tackles. He turned two and three yard losses into seven and eight yard gains. The Steelers just pounced on the Jets from jump street. One would have thought Rex’s squad did not get the memo that it was a 6:30 pm start because the they did not really start playing until 8:00. That is why Gang Green found themselves, 24-3. going into halftime. When you gain one total yard on the ground and only have four series in the first half, would you expect anything else?
Now do not put too much solace in the comeback solely because when a team has 21 point lead in the second half, they tend to go Tea Party Conservative and that is what the Steelers did after intermission. Gang Green stormed back but there is not a man in their locker room who will not confess that they blew plenty of opportunities to win that game. Just imagine if CB Kyle Wilson came up with Ben Roethlisberger’s third quarter pass or, on the next play, Jamaal Westermann blocked the ensuing punt and did not make illegal contact with the punter. We might be looking at a different outcome.
Up until that sequence, Mark Sanchez led the Jets on two impressive drives. The first one led to a 45-yard Santonio Holmes TD strike and the second brought Gang Green to the Steelers one yard line where they were stopped. But, on the ensuing Steelers’ procession, the Jets came up with a safety to bring them within 12 with a little over a quarter and half to go.
The Jets would get within five with less than five minutes to go but that would be as close as they would get. Gang Green failed twice on the Steelers last drive to stop Pittsburgh on third down. Rex’s crew’s valiant effort fell short. They just dug themselves in too deep of a hole to climb out, especially, against a quality team like the Steelers. They were not coming back against Cleveland, Houston or Detroit. We are talking about the Steelers here.
The Steelers have won two of the last five Super Bowls. They have one of the best coaches and QBs in Mike Tomlin and Big Ben. This combination will most likely win a couple of more titles before they are done. They have one of the best defenses loaded with playmakers and led by one of the top defensive minds in Dick LeBeau. There is no shame in losing to this squad.
Roethlisberger statistically had a pedestrian game but stats did not tell the tale of Sunday night. He made the plays when it counted. He prolonged drives with his legs, scoring on one of the scrambles and, more importantly, rolling out to hit receivers making third down conversions look easy.
I would be remiss if I did not mention Heath Miller who played as well of an all around game as a tight end could play.
Jets have to look to next year to fulfill their Super Bowl dreams. They have some questions regarding some of their veterans but they have a solid foundation on which build upon. Mark Sanchez grew up right in front of eyes. Yes he needs to be a little more consistent. But he was more than solid in these playoffs and he is only going to get better. And he has plenty of young teammates, including Nick Mangold, D’Brickashaw Fergusson, Derrell Revis, David Harris, and Calvin Pace, that are part of a great nucleus of players that General Manager has assembled. If they can add a legit pass rusher, safety and Kris Jenkins and Jim Leonhard can come back from their injuries, they will be a force to be reckoned with next season.
Some may look at this finish as a disappointment after the expectations. I heard someone even to refer to Gang Green as the old Brooklyn Dodgers and next years champs. Yes, there were some missed opportunities. But there are more reasons for optimism. Next year’s champ may be a good tag to put on them now. We just have to defer the dream one more year.