Well, no, actually life isn't half bad at the moment. Okay, okay, the Jets lost, just as everyone had predicted they would, but they gave it a pretty good try, and they certainly did not get destroyed or humiliated or ground into meatloaf, as so many commentators and Patriots fans were predicting. The Jets defense especially played very well, although one has to allow that they did get some help from the elements. And kudos to Chad Pennington as well. (More on Chadwick later). A hard-fought game, overall. The Jets were in it right up until the moment when Mike Nugent missed that final field goal.
I will even say a few good words for Bill Belichick. Perhaps even more surprising than the final score was the good sportsmanship that BB displayed at the end, when he shook Coach Mangini's hand and said, "Great game," and even congratulated Kerry Rhodes and a few of the other Jets. In honor of this display of class, I've decided to refrain from calling him 'ELB' in this post... and perhaps in future posts as well, if he continues to be a good sport.
Like many NFL contests, this one came down to a few big plays. The Patriots made them, the Jets did not. And that comes down to a few players. The Jets are actually not as bad a team as their record would suggest, but they do have some holes. If they ever hope to return to the playoffs or even (wonder of wonders) challenge BB and the Patriots within the division, there are some positions that they desperately need to upgrade.
Starting with the offensive line. The two young guys on the line, Nick Mangold and D'Brickashaw Ferguson, are solid, but the right side of the line is mediocre at best, and the left guard position is a disaster. Adrien Clark might as well be a turnstile for all the blocking he does. The Jets management made a terrible decision when they let Pete Kendall go without having an adequate replacement. The porous Jets offensive line has been a problem all season. The QB -- be it Chad Pennington, Brad Smith, or Kellen Clemens -- never has any time to pass, and the running game has never really been a factor, despite the acquisition of Thomas Jones in the off-season. Jones is no Curtis Martin, admittedly, but he's a good runner, and along with Leon Washington, he gives the team a decent one-two tandem at RB... but any running back needs holes to run through, and the line is not making any. This also impacts the passing game, especially when Chad is in there. Pennington is at his most effective when he can play action. His fakes are superb, and when the running game is clicking, as it was back when you had Kevin Mawae opening holes for Curtis, Chad can really keep a defense off balance. When the threat of the run is removed, however, the play action becomes a non-factor as well. First priority for the Jets in the off-season needs to be to shore up that offensive line, whether through free agency or the draft.
And if I was Mike Tannenbaum, the Jets GM, I would also do a little addition by subtraction by trading or cutting WR Justin McCareins. Big players come up big in big games, and make big plays when the game is on the line. McCareins can always be counted on to come up small in those situations. Today, with Laveranues Coles unable to play, Jericho Cotchery became the number one receiver and McCareins stepped up to number two. With Jericho double-teamed for most of the game, Chad threw a lot of balls Justin's way. He caught some, sure... but in the two most crucial situations, he came up short again. A third-down ball that Jericho or Laveranues would almost certainly have come down with went right through his hands, killing a drive early in the game... and later, with the game on the line, he juggled a touchdown catch in the end zone as he went out of bounds, where a clean catch would have given the Jets six points and a chance at an onsides kick. McCareins has had plenty of chances. We'd be better off without him. Put him on the bench for the rest of the season, I say, and let's see what Wallace Wright and Brad Smith can do.
Oh, and speaking of Brad Smith... I hope after the game Coach Mangini took offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer back behind the woodshed and smacked him a few times for all those damned trick-play option packages with Smith playing QB. The first one worked, and Leon Washington scampered downfield for forty-four yards. Cool. After that the Pats were wise, yet time and time again we saw Smith back there in crucial situations, with Chad on the bench. What kind of Kool Aid was Schott drinking? None of the other Smith packages did bubkis. The kid was a quarterback in college and set all kinds of passing records, but the Jets don't ever seem to let him pass... which means, the minute he lines up behind center, the defense knows it is going to be some kind of dipsy-doodle option play. I am tried of seeing Brad running around madly in fear of life as people descend on him from all sides. Most of these trick plays get crushed, and that's been true all season.
Finally, let's talk about the quarterback. This game would have been even closer than it was if Kellen Clemens hadn't gift-wrapped a TD for the Patriots on the Jets second play from scrimmage. Lofting the ball off his back foot as he's being sacked while on his own three-yard line... gawds... no. Yes, Clemens has a big arm. Maybe he is the Jets QB of the future, but the future is not now, and it shouldn't be next season either. I have seen enough of Clemens for the moment, and I Want Chad. Pennington's "weak arm" notwithstanding, he is still far and away the best QB on the Jets roster, and if they give him a solid offensive line and a good running game next season, I believe he can and will take them back to the playoffs. Quarterbacking is not all about arm strength. If it were, Jeff George and Richard Todd would be in the Hall of Fame. Chad's a leader, cool under fire, a warrior, and he has smarts. Smarts are worth more than a big arm. CHAD PENNINGTON SHOULD BE THE STARTING QB OF THE NEW YORK JETS, THIS SEASON AND NEXT.
And for the P-men... congratulations on 14-0, but watch out next week. The Fish are on a roll.