After a Hellish Halloween, Revisiting the Jets Nightmare
"I don't ever want to play on Halloween again," the Jets Jerricho Cotchery said after their humiliating 9-0 loss to the Green Bay Packers Sunday afternoon. I don't blame him. The way Cotchery played, if someone had tossed him a Hershey bar he would have dropped it. Or perhaps a Butterfingers would have been more appropriate.
First of all, was it a damning loss? Yes, I think it was. Counting opening day, it's the second time the Jets went into a big game -- at home -- and failed to score a touchdown. When you're the leading contender for your conference's championship and you play a game like this as late as the seventh game of the season you must seriously reexamine your prospects.
And I mean seriously. Have a bye last week is no excuse; many teams come back stronger after the extra rest, and so should have the Jets, with several key players back from injuries.
Where to place the blame? Let's be clear: not on the defense, which played a terrific game, holding the Packers to no touchdowns, allowing 237 total yards, and holding Green Bay's great quarterback Aaron Rodgers to a mere 170 yards passing (just 156 if you subtract 14 yards on two sacks). The Packers were just two of 14 on third downs.
There's no question which was the better team, and no question that the Jets' offense should have scored enough points to put this one away long before the Packers kicked their third icing-on-the-cake field goal late in the game.
The big culprit in the game were the Jets' receivers, who dropped at least five passes that they should have caught, all in key situations, and at least three others that they could have caught. And that doesn't count two balls that were "intercepted" after Jets receivers pulled them in.
First, for all the criticism of Mark Sanchez's inaccuracy, as Fox color man Daryl Johnston put it late in the fourth quarter, "Sanchez's statistics would look a whole lot better if his receivers had held on to some of these balls." He got that right. Sanchez was 16 of 38 for 256 yards and two interceptions.
Let's review: With the Jets down six points in the fourth quarter, Cotchery dropped a second down pass that would have given the Jets a ten-yard gain and a first down at the Green Bay 45. Happy Halloween.
The real killer, though, was a drop by Santonio Holmes. Three plays into the third quarter, Sanchez, on third-and-seven from the Packer 45, fired a perfect spiral to Holmes, who was running a crossing pattern left to right. The ball hit him in the hands at the Green Bay 35. If he had pulled it in and kept from going out of bounds, on TV it looked as if he could have gone a lot further. Even in replays I couldn't get a bead on how close a Green Bay defensive back was to Holmes, but former Jets Marty Lyons, doing color commentary on radio, said, "That play is a touchdown. That drop cost them six points."
More than likely that one drop cost Gang Green the game. If they'd been up 7-6 in the fourth quarter they wouldn't have gone for the fourth down play which gave the Packers field position for their final three points.
Sanchez took the blame, which is what the quarterback is supposed to do. "I just have to get the ball up," he told reporters after the game, "A foot, a foot and a half, and it's an easy catch for him and he's gone. It's a bad job by me."
Wrong, Sanchez just hit Holmes in the wrong place -- his hands.
Give Sanchez just half the passes back the Jets could have caught -- Ctochery and Holmes dropped two each, Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson (of all people!) each dropped critical third down throws, and tight end Dustin Keller dropped two, including letting one slip right through his hands at the sideline on the Jets' crucial final possession -- and let's see what Sanchez's numbers look like.
I replayed each flubbed catch, and Sanchez goes to 20 completions in 38 tries for 334 yards -- and, more than likely, a victory. I'm not playing "What if" here, I'm pointing out that in nearly all these situations the Jets committed unforced errors. In the fourth quarter, Cotchery was whacked and couldn't come down with a pass that would have been a 13-yard gain, but all the other drops were just -- well -- drops.
Then, of course, there were the two interceptions. In the second quarter Jerricho "Trick or Treat" Cotchery and Packer cornerback Tremon Williams both went to the turf clutching the ball. They rolled over and officials, even after replay, gave Williams the catch. I've now rerun the play five times and I don't get it. Each time I see Cotchery catching the ball he still has his hands on it after rolling over.
Rex Ryan has been soundly trounced in the papers today for using his last review challenge on the play, but it's hard to blame him. It looked as if he was clearly in the right. There's a lot of talk this morning on WFAN and elsewhere that Ryan could have used that last challenge in the fourth quarter when an almost identical play occurred with Green Bay's Charles Woodson pulling the ball from the Jets tight end Dustin Keller -- who, BTW, outweighs Woodson by about forty pounds. Again, I'm baffled by the referees' ruling that the play was an interception. But I don't see how a challenge on the play would have made a difference -- if the refs ruled interception the first time, they almost certainly would have called it a second time as well. I think both plays should have been ruled as valid receptions -- in which Sanchez would have had another two completions and another 30 yards tacked onto his numbers for the day.
Anyway, regardless of the calls, the Jets were guilty of more bonehead plays -- seven penalties to Green Bay's three, the kind of ratio that's not supposed to happen on your home field -- a missed 37-yard field goal, and three fumbles to the Packers' none.
Yes, the receivers should have held on to most of those balls. But the problem, from top to bottom, was a team that wasn't prepared to play. And that blame must be dropped squarely on the 10½s of their coach.