Rex Ryan handed out a playoff itinerary that mapped out the Jets' schedule all the way up to the victory parade after winning the Super Bowl. Well, after a 17-14 win over San Diego, the Jets are now halfway home. Two more wins and they achieve the ultimate goal. Indianapolis will be a tall task next week, but the Jets were only down 5 in the 3rd quarter in week 16 before the Colts pulled their starters. There's no reason the Jets can't have a chance in the end.
For them to do that, they just need to stay on the course. Ryan's plan is simple yet difficult. For two games, the Jets were able to win primarily by running the ball, stopping the opposing team, getting a lead in the 4th quarter, and holding on from there. Doing that allows the Jets to play to their strengths of running the ball and stopping the opposition, and it's how they've gotten here so far. This is exactly what Ryan's plan has been. Run the ball, ugly it up with the defense, keep it close, and wear down the opposition late. The past two games are the blueprint.
As for this game, several players stood out as big reasons why the Jets won.
*CB Darrelle Revis was his typical briliant self, shutting down anyone around him and making a spectacular, if not a little lucky interception to swing momentum back in the Jets' favor in the 3rd quarter. Revis faced both Antonio Gates and Vincent Jackson this past game. Next week, he'll be isolated more on Reggie Wayne the whole game.
*RB Shonn Greene showed why the Jets traded up in the 3rd round to draft him. His fresh legs have been a major difference on the ground, as he is able to make big plays by busting through tacklers in ways that Thomas Jones simply cannot. It's reminiscent of the Curtis Martin-LaMont Jordan situation. Martin was the steadier, more trustworthy back, but Jordan was the big play guy. Unlike Herman Edwards, Ryan is willing to make the switch to the more explosive Greene, and the rookie is paying off his coach's trust so far.
*S Jim Leonhard was all over the field. He had a key interception when the Jets desperately needed to take advantage of field position and score some points. The play was more a bad pass by Rivers than a great play by Leonhard, but nevertheless, Leonhard was 2nd on the team with six solo tackles, he defended one pass, and he almost had a fumble recovery in the 2nd quarter that was overturned by a questionable replay decision.
*David Harris led the defense in tackles with nine solo and one assisted. He defended a pass and led a sure tackling Jets' linebacking corps that also featured solid games from Bryan Thomas and Bart Scott.
*Mark Sanchez didn't do much, with just 100 yards passing, but he made a nifty play on 3rd and goal when the Jets ran play action, buying time and making a good throw to Dustin Keller who reacted to the ball and made the touchdown grab. The Jets converted six first downs through the air. Sanchez did throw an interception, but it was soon canceled out by Revis's pick, so it didn't hurt the team.
*Nate Kaeding led a Chargers' unit that was desperate to give the game away. Kaeding missed three field goals, two that were very makeable, bringing back memories of the 2004 playoffs in which Kaeding missed a field goal in overtime before Doug Brien kicked the game winner for the Jets. You can't simply say if you put those points on the board, the Chargers win the game, but it would have been much tougher sledding for Gang Green. San Diego also committed 10 penalties for 87 yards, hurting themselves on a few different drives.
*The Jets' defense was helped out by the Kaeding missed kicks, but they also missed a few opportunities. The Chargers had three fumbles, two caused by the Jets, but San Diego recovered all three. The Jets were a lost scrum or two away from having more chances to score.
In the end the Jets were handed chances to win the game by the Chargers and they ran with it. San Diego's 11-game winning streak is over, their season-long streak of 20 points or more is over, and their season is over. The Jets will try to follow the blueprint again next week.
And that's part of the problem why people like Mike Francesa can't say the Jets had no shot against the Colts. It was a 5-point game. This was a 7-point game. Yet, the Jets came back because their offense and defenses both seem to get better as the game goes on and after the opposition fires the first shot. This team believes it can beat any team in the league, and if they follow the blueprint, they can. It's easier said than done, and the 15-2 Colts will be a great test, but I believe the Jets have had a high profile upset over this franchise once or twice before, have they not?