There are some well-known guarantees in life: death, taxes, the sun’s rise in the East. And then there are those less-momentous but nevertheless predictable events. Under this second heading we may well file the annual self-destruction of the New York Jets, who yesterday cast prosperity aside en route to losing a nearly unlosable game to an Oakland Raider franchise so backward and beset by its own mismanagement that it had replaced the Jets, if only for a time, as the resident laughingstock of the AFC.
In a manner eerily reminiscent of similar episodes in the past, the Jets entered the game with high hopes fueled by two consecutive victories and a professed belief in the growing chemistry of the team. They had even received a rare stroke of organizational good luck along the way: After pasting the Arizona Cardinals 56-35 on the strength of Brett Favre’s six touchdown passes, they entered the next week’s game against the winless Cincinnati Bengals as the unintended beneficiaries of Carson Palmer’s pain-wracked elbow, which relegated the Pro Bowler to a T-shirt and shorts while his understudy, former Harvard quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, stood behind center.
It was the kind of break that the Jets just never seemed to get. But they got it, and it was a good thing, too, because a week after the Palmer-led Bengals nearly beat the Dallas Cowboys, Fitzpatrick was reliably bad, totaling just 153 yards on 33 attempts and managing only seven offensive points.
Seven days later, it seemed that the Jets had struck scheduling gold for the second time in as many weeks; they would play the 1-4 Raiders, an aimless team that only last week had fired its head coach, 33-year-old Lane Kiffin, under circumstances so bizarre that only Raiders owner Al Davis could have set them into motion.
There was the obligatory circuslike press conference; an open letter wherein Davis accused Kiffin of immaturity and organizational treachery; and Davis’s stunning admission that he knew next to nothing about the man—someone named Tom Cable—whom he had just hired to replace Kiffin. The stars, it seemed, were aligned for a Jets rout, but if not that, then another humdrum victory of the kind that they had enjoyed a week earlier, when they edged the Bengals. Instead, the game quickly devolved into the same kind of inept, egg-laying performance for which this team has become infamous when faced with the prospect of a walkover victory against a league doormat.
The newfound, much ballyhooed chemistry between Favre and his receivers was absent and replaced by the head-shaking confusion and miscommunication last witnessed against the then-winless San Diego Chargers in week three. Time and again, Favre and his receivers were unable to convert third-down opportunities made manageable by the long-awaited breakout performance of Thomas Jones, who rushed for 159 yards on 23 carries.
In all, the Jets were 5 for 16 on third down against a Raiders defense that entered the game ranked 22nd against the pass. Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery were nowhere to be found, and Favre became the recipient of a disturbing number of hard hits, some of which made him slow to his feet.
Nevertheless, as had been the case a week earlier, the Jets were buoyed by the incompetence of their downtrodden opponents, who matched them misstep for misstep over the better part of 60 minutes before taking a 13-10 lead on Sebastian Janikowski’s 37-yard field goal with three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
The Jets took the ensuing kickoff at their own 21 but were thwarted by a costly interception caused by apparent miscommunication between Favre and Jerricho Cotchery, who broke off his route just as Favre lobbed a deep ball over his head and into the waiting arms of cornerback DeAngelo Hall, who returned the ball to the Jets 40. But even then, it wasn’t over.