It was a tactical decision that will be second-guessed for days, maybe weeks. The New York Jets called an all-out blitz at the worst possible time -- and it cost them the game and, ultimately, perhaps a playoff berth.
The blitz accomplished only two things: It gave the Denver Broncos a 17-13 victory and added to Tim Tebow’s rapidly growing legend
On a third-and-4 from the Jets 20, with the Broncos already safely in range for a potential game-tying field goal, Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine rushed eight players. Tebow eluded the rush, beat safety Eric Smith around the corner and ran 20 yards for a game-winning touchdown with 58 seconds left -- a play that will keep the city of Denver buzzing for days.
It was a curious call. Afterward, a shaken Rex Ryan refused to reveal the exact call, saying, “I’d rather not.” It was a rare no comment by Ryan, who usually is more than happy to share specific game strategy.
Maybe he was too embarrassed.
It was a risk-reward call, but the potential reward didn’t justify it. Even if they had sacked Tebow, the Broncos still would’ve been in field-goal range. Afterward, a few players said they expected Tebow to run. “They basically had the field goal and were going to tie the game, but we called an all-out pressure -- and that’s what happened,” Smith said.
The Jets rushed eight, including Smith and fellow safety Jim Leonhard. Three players were in man-to-man coverage -- Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie and Kyle Wilson, all of whom were downfield because their men ran vertical routes.
It was “Cover Zero.” In other words, there was no deep safety.
“You have to catch him because nobody else is around,” Smith said. “Everybody is running, running up the middle and in coverage with their back to the quarterback.”
Smith allowed Tebow to get to the outside. Smith chased him down and made a diving tackling attempt at the 5, but it was no use. The 6-foot-3, 235-pound Tebow, the size of a fullback, wasn’t going to be stopped.
It was a crushing end to an otherwise brilliant performance by the Jets’ defense, which held the Broncos to 134 total yards for the first 55 minutes. Up stepped Tebow, who delivered The Drive II -- with football czar John Elway in the house, naturally.
It went 12 plays, 95 yards, and all Tebow did was rush for 57 yards and pass for 35. He improved to 4-1 as a starter. If he ran for mayor, he’d win in a landslide.
The frustration among the Jets’ defensive players was palpable. Linebacker Bart Scott refused to speak to reporters. Ditto, linebacker Calvin Pace, who said, “I’ve got nothing to talk about, not one single thing.”
“You know Tebow is going to keep it in that situation, that’s what he does,” Ryan said. “You’re going to keep the ball in your playmaker’s hand. We thought he was going to carry it and he did ... He’s a competitor and he makes big plays with the game on the line. That’s why you’ve got to give him credit.”
If they expected him to run, the Jets could’ve stayed with a more conservative defense. But it was their second all-out blitz of the game, according to Tebow.
“We were kind of expecting it,” Tebow said. “They were going to be aggressive and try to stop us, and could also [have] been expecting a quarterback run or quarterback draw, or something inside. So we had a great play against it ... and I was thankful I was able to get around the end.”
The Jets abandoned their defensive strategy on the final drive, using an extra defensive back on 11 of the 12 plays, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Previously, they used their 3-4 base defense on 32 of 44 plays and limited the Broncos to eight punts, a lost fumble, a turnover on downs and a field goal.
With the game on the line, with everything on the line, the Jets strayed.
“It absolutely hurts,” Ryan said. “You’re thinking they’re going to kick the field goal and maybe go into overtime. You weren’t expecting the guy to pop out there like he did. He made a great run.”
On a questionable call by the Jets.