Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFL [Print without images]

Monday, December 19, 2011
Jets and Eagles now in the same boat

By Ashley Fox
ESPN.com

PHILADELPHIA -- Nnamdi Asomugha had a simple explanation for why the scoreboard at Lincoln Financial Field read "Eagles 45, Jets 19" at the end of Philadelphia's game against New York.

"It's the NFL," Asomugha said of the Eagles' win. "It doesn't matter. You just see every week is up for grabs. It's a really good team that we played today, regardless of what happened. We were just that much better today."

Call it parity. Or mediocrity. On the day, seven teams with a losing record beat teams with a winning record. In Week 14, it was Comeback Sunday. This week, it was Upset Sunday.

But it is also true that the Jets, 8-6 heading into the Battle of New York on Saturday, are just as maddeningly inconsistent and underachieving as the Eagles. They are to the AFC what Philadelphia is to the NFC: a self-described preseason Super Bowl contender, loaded with talent, left fighting for its postseason life because of stupid mistakes, hot-and-cold play, mental fragility and a tendency to disappear when the game gets tough.

Rex Ryan
Rex Ryan can't point the finger in any one direction after his team's complete collapse against the Eagles.

These two teams were supposed to be better. Just ask them. They have been huge disappointments, defined more by their failures than their successes. Rex Ryan promised the Jets would win the Super Bowl before the season ever started. Eagles president Joe Banner insisted the team was "all-in" in its championship run through free agency.

Yet here they are barely alive with two games remaining.

The difference is that the Jets still control their own playoff destiny. That was the gem Ryan pulled out of the rubble. Beat the Giants at home and the Miami Dolphins on the road, and the Jets will be in, able to fight for a new day. They have been quite good in recent years as a wild-card team. They certainly could be good again.

The Eagles, meanwhile, will need substantial help to make the playoffs. It happened in 2008, when they snuck into the playoffs and reached the NFC Championship Game. It could happen again with a Jets win over the Giants plus a Giants win over the Cowboys in Week 17.

Don't hold your breath.

But if the Jets can't play better than they did in a big game that could have eased their trip into the playoffs, they won't be a threat to do any real damage and their season will end, again, well short of Ryan's blustery goal.

The issues of an entire season were on display against the Eagles. Quarterback Mark Sanchez was easily rattled, committed too many turnovers, couldn't throw the ball downfield effectively and could not overcome breakdowns along the offensive line. The line could neither pass block adequately for Sanchez nor run block sufficiently for running back Shonn Greene, who managed just 73 yards on 18 carries.

Wide receiver Santonio Holmes was brutal, with two turnovers on the Jets' first two possessions that led to a quick 14-0 lead for the Eagles, then an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after catching a 25-yard touchdown pass -- one of Sanchez's only successful deep throws -- that pulled the Jets within 28-10 late in the first half.

The defense wasn't much better. Shadowing Philadelphia wide receiver DeSean Jackson with cornerback Darrelle Revis limited Jackson to just two catches for 28 yards, but the Jets again could not contain a tight end. They allowed Brent Celek to have a career day with five catches for 156 yards and one touchdown, and they could not contain running back LeSean McCoy, who had his sixth 100-yard game of the season and scored three touchdowns.

There were too many turnovers -- four in all -- and too many penalties (11 for 93 yards), and when the defense or special teams did create a turnover, the offense simply could not make the Eagles pay. Philadelphia's last three drives of the second quarter ended with a fumble, a fumble and an interception, yet the Eagles still led 28-13, and it didn't even feel that close.

Against one of the best defenses in the league, which entered the game giving up 310.1 total yards per game, the Eagles gained 420 yards, scored on three of four trips into the red zone, converted 50 percent of their third downs and averaged 7.2 yards per play.

"That was about as bad as it gets," Ryan said afterward. "They're decent. They're a good offense and all that, but we made them look … I mean, I don't know what to say."

In the locker room after the game, Ryan stressed the positive to his team: The Jets still will make the playoffs if they win out. Like Cincinnati, the Jets are 8-6, but New York holds the tiebreaker over the Bengals.

"We still control our destiny right now," Revis said. "I don't think guys are losing hope in here. So we still can control it, and we have two more games to prove that."

In 2010, the Jets lost to New England 45-3 in their first game after safety Jim Leonhard broke his right leg. This game against the Eagles was their first after Leonhard suffered another season-ending injury, this time to his right knee.

After that loss to the Patriots, Ryan buried a football from that game, a symbolic message to his players to forget the loss and move on. They made the playoffs, then beat the Patriots en route to a second consecutive trip to the AFC title game.

"Maybe we should bury the football again," Ryan said. "I don't know. We'll come up with something. I mean, it's sitting right in front of us. We got to win two games, regardless of losing to these guys or not."

The Jets players bought the message, but the question was still there: Why is a team that is so talented in this position? Why haven't the Jets closed out more games to make their path easier?

"I don't know. I don't know," guard Matt Slauson said. "We have all sorts of weapons all over the place -- offense, defense, special teams. We just aren't getting it done. We have games like last week where we play amazing and then this week we can't catch a break, so no, we've got to improve because we have to win out to have a shot."

Otherwise, the Jets are going to be where the Eagles likely will be at the end of the season: wondering where it all went so terribly wrong.

INSTANT REPLAY

Aaron Rodgers
The Chiefs took down Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, but Green Bay's ultimate goal remains intact.

What I learned from Week 15:

Perfection ends, Part I: After 364 days, the Green Bay Packers finally lost a game. A perfect season is no longer attainable. Home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and another Super Bowl run still are.

The Packers lost to the Kansas City Chiefs, 19-14, and although the loss wasn't particularly disturbing, Green Bay's issues along the offensive line are troubling. Starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga left the game with a knee injury, and his backup, Derek Sherrod, suffered a broken leg, which meant right guard T.J. Lang finished the game at right tackle. Evan Dietrich-Smith replaced Lang at guard, which, my colleague Kevin Seifert noted, meant only center Scott Wells and right guard Josh Sitton finished the game at the positions where they started the season.

The Chiefs had Aaron Rodgers under duress for much of the game, sacking him four times and forcing him to misfire on 18 of his 35 pass attempts. Kansas City played at least five defensive backs 86 percent of the game, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and, with Greg Jennings out with an injury, Rodgers had little success going deep. He completed just 2 of 12 passes that traveled at least 15 yards in the air, the worst completion percentage in his career for a game with at least 10 such attempts, according to Stats & Info.

"The Super Bowl is the goal," Rodgers said afterward. "16-0 was just three games away from the ultimate goal. Still trying to win the Super Bowl. Still sucks."

Perfection ends, Part II: The Indianapolis Colts avoided the ignominious distinction of joining the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-14) and 2008 Detroit Lions (0-16) as the only teams to run through a season without a victory. Quarterback Dan Orlovsky completed only 11 passes for 82 yards and a touchdown, but it was enough in a 27-13 win over the Tennessee Titans.

After the game, Indianapolis team vice chairman Bill Polian said injured quarterback Peyton Manning will not play this season. It was a foregone conclusion, though, and the bigger news was that the Colts got their first win of the season and their first with a quarterback other than Manning since Dec. 14, 1997.

Tim Tebow is getting better. Yes, the Denver Broncos lost to the New England Patriots, but it wasn't because Tebow played poorly. He had Denver on top 16-7 before the defense gave up 17 unanswered points in a seven-minute stretch of the second quarter. Tebow finished 11-of-22 for 194 yards and one touchdown.

"This was a setback, no doubt about that," Broncos coach John Fox said. "But sometimes setbacks are setups for bigger things to come."

The Broncos remain atop the AFC West and will play at Buffalo on Saturday.

Pittsburgh is sitting pretty. When Tennessee lost to Indianapolis on Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers clinched a playoff berth while sitting in San Francisco awaiting Monday night's game against the 49ers. With the Baltimore Ravens' loss to the San Diego Chargers, Pittsburgh has a clear path to the AFC's No. 1 seed: Beat San Francisco, St. Louis and Cleveland.

Ben Roethlisberger will be a game-time decision with an ankle sprain, but there is little doubt he will play. Roethlisberger is a gamer. His team is in a great spot, but only with a win. With its quarterback hobbled, expect the Steelers' defense to get after 49ers quarterback Alex Smith and be the difference in the game.

Even though he says it isn't, Drew Brees makes it look easy. The New Orleans Saints quarterback is going to obliterate Dan Marino's long-standing record for most passing yards in a season, and very well could do it next week at home against Atlanta.

With 412 passing yards against Minnesota on Sunday, Brees sits at 4,780 for the season, 304 shy of Marino's record of 5,084 set in 1984.

"It's never easy," Brees said after completing 32 of 40 passes, with five touchdowns. It sure looked easy, though.

Philadelphia has wasted a phenomenal season by LeSean McCoy. The third-year running back out of the University of Pittsburgh is the franchise single-season leader in touchdowns. He broke Steve Van Buren's record of 18 set in the 10-game season in 1945, and now sits at 20 after a three-touchdown performance against the Jets.

McCoy has been steady, elusive, explosive and reliable. Had Andy Reid trusted McCoy to protect leads earlier this season, it is quite possible the Eagles would have more than a sliver of hope of making the playoffs.

As it is, 23-year-old McCoy has shown he is an elite back. He entered Week 15 trailing only the Jacksonville Jaguars' Maurice Jones-Drew in rushing yards, and after gaining 102 yards on 18 carries against the Jets, McCoy has six 100-yard rushing games this season.

"It just tells you that I am a pretty good back who has an outstanding offensive line," McCoy said.

Updated draft order: According to ESPN Stats & Info, if the season ended today, the Colts would have the No. 1 pick in the draft, followed by Minnesota (2-12), St. Louis (2-12), Jacksonville (4-10), Cleveland (4-10), Tampa Bay (4-10), Washington (5-9), Carolina (5-9), Miami (5-9) and Buffalo (5-9).

SLEEPING IN THE OFFICE

Issues that will keep coaches awake this week:

Ryan Mathews
The Chargers were all over the Ravens, putting a serious dent in Baltimore's playoff positioning.

Baltimore's postseason path might have gotten a lot harder. How costly was the Ravens' 34-14 road loss to the Chargers? If the playoffs started today, Baltimore would be the AFC's No. 5 seed after previously being as high as No. 1.

Baltimore is 7-0 at home but 3-4 on the road. Unless the Ravens get some help from Pittsburgh, they will have to win on the road in the postseason, something they have struggled to do in the regular season.

Matt Forte has no reason to rush back. The Chicago Bears have fallen apart with quarterback Jay Cutler out with a broken thumb, losing four straight games to fall two games back in the wild-card race.

In the five games before Cutler got hurt, the Bears averaged 32.2 points and 347.6 yards per game, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Chicago won all five games. In the four games since -- all losses -- the Bears have averaged just 11.8 points and 262 yards per game while allowing 19 sacks and committing 12 turnovers.

On Saturday, Forte told ESPNChicago.com that he would not come back unless he was 100 percent. It's hard to blame him. He has wanted a new contract all season. He didn't get it, but he did get hurt. The Bears are likely out of the playoff hunt, but Forte proved his worth and there is no reason to risk another injury.

Money, money, money. It is probably unfair to say it was all about the money, but the way quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has played since the Buffalo Bills gave him a new contract Oct. 28, it sure looks as if it was all about the money.

Before signing a six-year, $59 million deal with $24 million guaranteed, Fitzpatrick had completed 66.3 percent of his passes with 12 touchdowns and six interceptions and had the Bills at 4-2. In the eight games since, the Bills are 1-7 and Fitzpatrick has completed 59.5 percent of his passes with 10 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

Carolina got a springboard win against the Texans. How important was the Panthers' 28-13 win over Houston and the momentum it could create? Ask the Lions, who won their last four games last season to finish 6-10 and now sit at 9-5 and would be the No. 6 seed in the NFC if the playoffs started today.

Carolina has struggled to close teams out this season, but it went on the road and held a good Houston team -- albeit one without its top two quarterbacks -- to 13 points and forced three turnovers. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton threw two touchdown passes and threw for 149 yards. He needs just 19 passing yards to break Peyton Manning's record for passing yards by a rookie.

With Newton at the helm, the Panthers are going to be a factor in the seasons to come.

RANT AND RAVE

A coach who will be under review today:

Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin
Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin were once again searching for answers in a big late-season game.

This season has been so typical New York that it very well could get Tom Coughlin fired. The Giants start the season strong, then go out with a whimper, highlighted by a horrible loss in a game they needed to win to keep their playoff hopes alive.

Even though the Giants had lost four of their previous five games, New York was poised to win the NFC East if it could win its last three games. But then the Giants lost 23-10 to the lowly Washington Redskins.

No offensive series better encapsulated New York's problems than one midway through the fourth quarter. Trailing Washington 23-3, the Giants got a huge pass interference call that moved the ball 43 yards to the Redskins' 3-yard line.

On first-and-goal, Brandon Jacobs took a 1-yard loss. On second-and-goal, Eli Manning threw incomplete. On third-and-goal, Manning found running back D.J. Ware, who dove for a touchdown.

Upon review, officials determined Ware did not break the plane of the goal line. On fourth-and-goal, Manning found Hakeem Nicks for a touchdown that was nullified by an offensive holding penalty. On the next play, fourth-and-12, Manning took a sack.

The Giants had three touchdowns nullified by penalty or review. Manning had three passes intercepted, and New York was 3-of-9 on third down and 1-of-4 in the red zone.

"I told the players that I just expected to see more," Coughlin said afterward. "I expected to see quality execution, and really, quite frankly, we didn't get much of that. We didn't look like the team that played Sunday night [in 37-34 Week 14 win over Dallas] in terms of the big-play opportunities."

The Giants can still win the division by winning their final two games against the Jets and Cowboys, both at MetLife Stadium. If they don't and miss the playoffs for the third consecutive season, Coughlin might look back at a trio of games -- Carolina in 2009, Philadelphia in 2010, Washington in 2011 -- and hope team president John Mara can look the other way.

TWEET THIS

Notable tweets from around the league:

"How is ur morning? Place ur hand over your heart. Feel that? That's called purpose. You're alive for a reason. Stay the course grasshoppers" -- @ochocinco, New England wide receiver Chad Ochocinco about seven hours before catching his first touchdown pass of the season in the first quarter against Denver.

"I'm so disappointed, but hey you win some and u loose some we have to go out there and WIN are last game that's all I can say sorry fans." -- @DatBoyJPP, Giants second-year defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul after New York lost to Washington.

"Kill it! That's a part of the helmet in the chest, the same thing I got fined for against buffalo last year!" -- @jharrison9292, suspended Steelers linebacker James Harrison, after Denver's Elvis Dumervil leveled Tom Brady with a sack on which Dumervil led with his face. The NFL fined Harrison $25,000 for a similar hit on Ryan Fitzpatrick in 2010.

Ashley Fox covers the NFL for ESPN.com.