What it means: The New York Jets lucked out -- just like last season. They played Arena League defense and fell to the Chicago Bears 38-34, but they backed into the playoffs because the Jacksonville Jaguars lost to the Washington Redskins. It was a hollow way to make it for the second straight year, but Rex Ryan, no doubt, will say defiantly, “We’ll take it. We’re not apologizing to anyone.” Right.
The shoulder: Mark Sanchez, he of the ballyhooed sore throwing shoulder, played remarkably well under the circumstances -- until his final throw. At his own 33 with just under a minute to play, he broke a cardinal rule, trying to throw down the sideline against a Cover 2 defense. It was intercepted by Chris Harris, ending the game. His throws lacked some zip, perhaps because of his shoulder.
Too bad, because Sanchez had played wonderfully until then. He opened by hitting his first nine passes, and he finished 24-for-37 for 269 yards and one touchdown. He should’ve had two touchdown passes, but tight end Dustin Keller dropped a pass in the end zone.
Sanchez showed patience against the Bears’ Cover 2 defense, throwing short passes and finding seams in their zone scheme. The slant routes and in-cuts were there all day, and he consistently found Braylon Edwards (6 catches for 78 yards).
If Sanchez’s shoulder was bothering him -- he has minor cartilage damage -- it didn’t show. His improved play over the past two weeks is a positive for the Jets.
Weird call: The Jets got cute with a seven-point halftime lead, trying a fake punt from their 40 on the opening possession of the third quarter. Sanchez, the up-back in punt formation, rolled right and threw an incompletion to Brad Smith. It was a strange decision, to be sure, but it should’ve worked. Smith was open and had enough for the first down -- three yards -- but he dropped it. It was a huge momentum shift.
Where’s the D? Facing the league’s 30th-rated offense, the Jets’ defense sprung leaks everywhere -- no pass rush, porous coverage in the secondary and shoddy tackling. The Bears opened the second half by scoring on three straight possessions. The Jets made offensive coordinator Mike Martz look like the genius he thinks he is.
In the past two games, the Jets have allowed 700 total yards -- a major concern as they head into a likely postseason appearance. They prepared to stop the Bears’ running game, but the Bears adjusted and put the ball in Jay Cutler’s hands.
Cutler shredded them in the third quarter, throwing three touchdowns and passing for 117 yards. Naturally, he stayed away from cornerback Darrelle Revis and picked on everybody else, burning safety Dwight Lowery, cornerback Antonio Cromartie and nickel back Drew Coleman for touchdowns.
Greene day: Shonn Greene, not LaDainian Tomlinson, was the feature back. Very interesting. Tomlinson didn’t appear on the injury report, so this had to be a coach’s decision. Not only did Greene (12 carries for 70 yards) take a lot of reps for Tomlinson in the base offense, but he also replaced him as the third-down back in many situations.
Pick-six, burn-six: Lowery, starting his second game at safety for Eric Smith (concussion), was involved in three scoring plays -- two negative, one positive. He scored on a 20-yard interception return (his second of the season), but he also got torched by receiver Johnny Knox on a 40-yard touchdown and missed a tackle on a 22-yard scoring run by Matt Forte.
Brick wall: Bears defensive end Julius Peppers had a quiet game, and there was a reason for that -- left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson did a fantastic job in pass protection, locking down Sanchez’s blind side.
What’s ahead: The Jets close the regular season with a home game against the Buffalo Bills (4-11). They crushed the Bills in October 38-14, but Chan Gailey’s team has improved -- Sunday’s blowout loss to the New England Patriots notwithstanding.