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 as Rex Ryan said defiantly, “We’ll take it.”
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. The throws lacked some zip, perhaps because of his shoulder.
Too bad, because Sanchez 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 TE Dustin Keller dropped a pass in the end zone.
Sanchez showed patience against the Bears’ Cover-2 defense, throwing to his check downs 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 last two weeks is a positive for the Jets, going forward.
Weird Call: The Jets got cute with a seven-point halftime lead, trying a fake punt from their own 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 Chicago offensive coordinator Mike Martz look like the genius he thinks he is.
In the last two games, the Jets have allowed 771 total yards -- a major concern as they head into the postseason. They game-planned to stop the Bears’ running game, but the Bears adjusted and put the ball in Jay Cutler’s hands.
Cutler shredded the Jets in the third quarter, throwing three touchdowns and passing for 117 yards. Naturally, he stayed away from CB Darrelle Revis and picked on everybody else, burning S Dwight Lowery, CB 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 6, Burn 6: 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 WR Johnny Knox on a 40-yard touchdown and missed a tackle on a 22-yard scoring run by Matt Forte.
Brick Wall: Bears DE Julius Peppers had a quiet game, and there was a reason for that -- LT D’Brickashaw Ferguson did a fantastic job in pass protection, locking down Sanchez’s blind side.
What’s Next?: 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.