'Tis the season for giving, and the New York Jets have given away plenty in the month of December -- a chance for the No. 1 seed in the AFC, a shot at the division title, a first-round bye, etc.
You get the picture, but the purpose here isn't to bash the Jets. After all, they're in the playoffs and, as they proved last season, all it takes is an invitation to become the life of the party.
"It's going to be hard to come back and duplicate what they did last year, but they're still a very good team and I wouldn't be surprised if that offense gets rolling," said an opposing GM, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "They're going to be a tough team to beat. You've got New England and, after that, who can't they beat?"
As they prepare for the relatively meaningless regular-season finale, with an eye on wild-card week, this is what the Jets should be focused on:
• Getting Mark Sanchez right: This means mentally and physically. The latter, of course, refers to his ailing right shoulder. Rex Ryan faces a difficult decision. He doesn't want to disrupt Sanchez's mojo -- two straight solid games against upper-echelon defenses -- but he also wants to make sure the shoulder is as close to 100 percent as possible for the playoffs.
Only Sanchez knows the true extent of the discomfort. His performance in Chicago, where the weather was cold and damp enough to stiffen the aching joint, didn't raise any red flags. As one longtime scout observed, "I saw nothing, live or on tape, that would indicate an arm issue."
Ryan should play Sanchez a few series against the Buffalo Bills. There's risk, but Sanchez's track record suggests he needs practice reps and game action to remain effective. He struggles after long layoffs. He's the Jets' meal ticket in the postseason. Funny how things change. A year ago, Sanchez was along for the ride; now he's driving the bus.
• Go Greene: Over the last two games, Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson have the same number of carries. Enough of the 50-50 stuff. It's time for the Jets to make Greene the featured back, as they did last season during the playoff run.
Tomlinson still is valuable as a receiver, but his impact in the running game has diminished -- no runs longer than 14 yards over the last nine games. Greene is younger and has fresher legs, and his bruising, north-south running style is conducive to cold-weather football. Inexplicably, the coaches forgot about him in the fourth quarter of Sunday's loss. That should serve as a lesson for upcoming games.
• Copy the Pats: Veteran observers noticed Sunday that the Jets tried to use the same game plan that worked so well for the New England Patriots in their recent rout of the Chicago Bears. In short: a quick-passing game. A lot of slant routes. At least a dozen plays out of the shotgun, including a couple of draw plays. Throwing out of two-tight end packages. Stuff like that.
It worked. It was the Jets' best offensive game in a month, and perhaps their most complete game -- start to finish -- since the win at Buffalo in October. Coordinator Brian Schottenheimer may have found something, and he should stick with it. He doesn't have Tom Brady (or Danny Woodhead, for that matter), but he can copy the Pats' plan.
"I think we're going to be a tough offense to handle," said Ryan, looking ahead to the postseason.
• More Rex on D: It's impossible to tell how much of the play calling on defense is Ryan and how much is coordinator Mike Pettine, who has assumed a larger role in that area. They would have us believe it's one brain and two mouths. Whatever it is, it's not working on a consistent basis. They need to go back to the way it was last season, which means Ryan calling all the plays.
No, the defense isn't in shambles, as some suggested in the aftermath of Sunday's 38-34 loss, but there's no doubt this unit is underachieving. Talent-wise, man for man, it's better on paper than last season's league-leading defense. But the results aren't there. The Jets are ranked 11th in scoring defense and, unlike last season, they can't attribute some of it to Sanchez's pick sixes. In fact, he has none.
There have been too many communication breakdowns (i.e. 10 men on the field), too many bad matchups (Jason Taylor in pass coverage) and too many predictable calls. The Bears said they tried more vertical passes in the second half because they knew the Jets would be in straight man-to-man.
"We got put into situations that weren't the best," linebacker Calvin Pace said after the game, making comments that could be interpreted as veiled criticism of the coaches. "It's frustrating because I know the type of players we have. We're in the playoffs and that's all I have to say about that."
• Forget the gadgets: The fake punt, with Sanchez as the "up" back, was a terrible call on every level. If you put a quarterback in punt formation, you might as well hold up a sign that says, "Here comes the fake." Another head-scratcher was having Brad Smith throw long in the fourth quarter of a four-point game.
The Jets don't need gimmicks. They're a meat-and-potatoes team. And they're a good team. They didn't win 10 games by accident. If the quarterback's shoulder is OK, and if Ryan can fix the defense overnight, the Jets can be more than one-and-done in the playoffs. It'll take a good wing and a prayer.