Bear Stearns. AIG. Citigroup. Ford. Chrysler. General Motors. The New York Jets.
Yesterday afternoon, and with time running out in yet another near-certain fiasco, Abram Elam and Shaun Ellis secured a bailout: a shocking 31-27 win over the Buffalo Bills at the Meadowlands.
With just minutes left, yesterday’s game appeared a lost cause for the Jets. For the third straight game, the Jets’ glaring inability to slow opposing offenses had pushed them to the precipice of disaster. They had allowed 27 points to a Bills team that had managed a grand total of two field goals in its previous two games. They had allowed Bills running back Marshawn Lynch to embarrass them by bursting through half-hearted arm tackles and carrying Jets defenders for yards at a time. They had allowed backup quarterback J.P. Losman to net two touchdowns, one on a 9-yard scramble up the middle in the first quarter, the other on a well-thrown pass to receiver Steve Johnson late in the second. They had allowed rookie cornerback Leodis McKelvin to run untouched for a 100-yard kickoff return touchdown that was nullified only by a suspicious holding call on Bills reserve linebacker Jon Corto.
With 5:39 remaining in the fourth quarter, and the Jets clinging to a 24-21 lead, Bills running back Fred Jackson carried a horde of Jets defenders over the goal line for an 11-yard touchdown run and an eventual 27-24 lead. Leon Washington would return the ensuing kickoff 43 yards, placing the Jets in prime field position at the 50-yard line with 5:22 remaining. But the offense failed to gain a first down for the third consecutive drive, and the Jets were forced to punt with just 4:29 left.
After a holding penalty backed Buffalo up to its own 10 yard line, the Bills used consecutive runs by Marshawn Lynch to set up a critical 3rd and 1 at their own 19-yard line with just 2:53 left. And as has so often been the case over the past three weeks, the Jets’ run defense proved unequal to the task, allowing Lynch to knife through the left side for three yards and a first down. The clock ticked down to 2:11 before the Bills ran their next play: another five-yard gain for Lynch on first down. Timeout, Jets. With 2:06 left in regulation, it was 2nd and 5 for the Bills at their own 27. Another Bills first down would decide the game and, perhaps, the Jets’ season.
Enter Bills coach Dick Jauron. After a game in which the Jets had allowed a season high 187 rushing yards to Buffalo running backs, the Bills would run a pass play on second down. Rolling to his right after the snap, Losman never saw a streaking Abram Elam, who came off the left side on a safety blitz. Elam’s right arm wrapped around Losman’s outside shoulder, twisting him around and jarring the ball lose before Losman hit the ground. Linebacker Bryan Thomas dove for the ball but was unable to corral it, as defensive end Shaun Ellis also reached down, attempting to scoop it up. Ellis’s first attempt pitched the ball upward and back to the Bills’ 11-yard line, where it would take yet another bounce, two feet off the ground and softly into the hands of a speeding Ellis, who would rumble 10 yards along the sideline for the unlikeliest of touchdowns and a 34-27 lead with 1:54 left. The Jets would go on to intercept Losman on each of the Bills remaining drives and emerge with a critical win to advance to 9-5 and keep pace with Dolphins and Patriots, both of whom secured wins of their own en route to maintaining the three-way tie atop the AFC East.
But even now, questions linger. This bailout washed away a multitude of sins. We will forget that the Jets’ run defense appears broken, that the pass rush was virtually nonexistent, that they allowed 27 points to a team that had managed six points in its last two games combined, that they couldn’t tackle, and that the offensive play-calling was once again bad.
And if there is a downside to such a seemingly uplifting victory, this is it. Had the Jets lost this game, as they certainly would have had it not been for an almost inconceivable Bills meltdown, the team would have been rocked to its core, and there would likely have been significant changes made.
But notwithstanding the narrow win, those changes still need to be made. Not three weeks ago, the Jets were the talk of the league. But in three consecutive weeks, the run defense has been shoddy, the pass rush has taken a vacation and the pass defense has been abominable. Even the special teams, once a clear-cut strength, have failed them.
This game should produce less celebration of the near-miss and more contemplation of why the fluke finish was necessary in the first place. The Jets are still very much a team in disarray, and they have just two weeks—perhaps less–in which to solve the problem.
They can do it, of course. That’s the way this league works in 2008. Now more than ever, it’s not over until it’s over. Just as they improved from 3-3 also-rans to the toast of the league at 8-3, so can they put these past three weeks safely in the rear-view mirror with quality efforts against the Seahawks and Dolphins.
If the Jets show up in Florham Park this week determined to make whatever changes are necessary after their mostly disastrous performance before a home crowd yesterday afternoon, they will stand a credible chance of recapturing the form that saw them demolish the undefeated Titans in Tennessee. But they shouldn’t believe for a moment that they can continue to do what they’re doing. Next time, there will be no bailout.