Whatever happens going forward, we'll remember these Sunday afternoon games. And whatever happens next Sunday, the Jets will remember their two gloriously unsightly wins.
The Cardinals and Packers staged a dynamic shootout: Theirs was a game very much in keeping with the high-flying NFL of today. The Jets and Chargers, by contrast, did their rendition of the close, tense playoff bouts of yesteryear; it had the aesthetic appeal of an arm-wrestling match.
And it was the tougher, more traditional team that endured the strains and bruises to gain passage into the next round, and taught us that a tight game need not require a festival of aerial delights.
It's the conflict in that contrast that defines these playoffs and this moment in the NFL.
This is Mark Sanchez' line from today's game: 12-of-23, 100 yards, one touchdown. He has fewer yards in these playoffs than Philip Rivers had in today's game. He is not the prototypical NFL quarterback of today. But he is not his team's fulcrum.
The Jets defy their name by keeping their game grounded. Shonn Greene and Thomas Jones churn out yards behind a strong offensive line, a fierce pass rush disrupts most passing games, and the sublime Darrelle Revis forces teams to go to their second or third target in the air.
And that concept -- that by limiting the other team, and controlling the clock, and forcing their will, they can win -- is what powers these Jets. Why else would Rex Ryan have been so adamant about his team, and about their chances? His players are most confident when grinding and blitzing and making things ugly, and Ryan gives them every opportunity to do so.
It's in those close games that missed field goals and coaching errors are magnified, and the Jets' luck with both has been good. Count the agonizing misses by opposing kickers: five in two games decided by a total of thirteen points. And consider the men in the headsets: Did Marvin Lewis and Norv Turner even come close to calling good games?
Those bits of good fortune could well not exist next week. Veteran Matt Stover will get the artificial turf at Lucas Oil Field instead of grass for his kicks, and the only question about the Colts' coaching is how much Peyton Manning does.
But the Jets have made it close enough for those things to matter so far, and they do it with much less than the rest of the contenders. The Saints, Colts, and Vikings have potential Hall of Famers at quarterback; the Jets start a rookie. The three high seeds have offensive and defensive players that the average NFL fan knows by name; the Jets have stone-handed Braylon Edwards, Revis, and a bunch of guys whose talent outstrips their star power.
And those new school teams -- the Saints, Colts, and Vikings, yes, but the Chargers, Packers, Eagles and Steelers, too -- want to throw, and throw, and throw. You must pass and protect to win, the new NFL holds, and if you are running for three yards and a cloud of dust, you will be left in it. It's a great game if you like Madden, not John Madden.
These Jets don't buy that. And their old-school style is, weirdly, revolutionary. It's because they're the new Patriots.
Pass them through a time machine and splash them with a paint job. Swap the camaraderie and cunning for cockiness and chaos. And scrap the West Coast passing game for clock control for a ground game with the same objective. As the Patriots' dynasty decays, the Jets have come along with the same style on steroids, the same hunger of the underdog, the same potential to shock the world, and the same penchant to play football that is more effective than elegant.
We'll see if their new old way wins out next week, against the team that's been consistently throwing to win longer than any other left in these playoffs. I have a feeling these Jets won't let the NFL take flight without a fight, much to our chagrin.
(Image via The Big Lead.)â†µ
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