The Jets got in yesterday, when they defeated the woeful Raiders in the Meadowlands. (Sorry about that, Lodey). Oakland was 2-13 coming in, so Gang Green was heavily favored... but I have been a Jets fan for a long, line time, and when you're a Jets fan you learn never to take anything for granted. The Same Old Jets of years past would have found a way to blow this game, and the playoffs with it. They do seem to have turned a corner under the kid coach Eric Mangini, however. For once, they are beating teams they ought to beat. To their credit, the Raiders did not roll over, although their own season ended months ago. They played hard, especially their tough young defense, and made a tight game of it until the fourth quarter. The Jets wanted it more, however. Chad Pennington played a smart, careful, efficient game, and finished the first full sixteen-game season of his career with a convincing win. And Leon Washington, the rookie the Jets picked with the draft choice they got for former coach Herman Edwards, sealed the win with another nifty, darting run.
On paper, the Jets are probably the least talented of the twelve teams to make the playoffs. In fact, they have less talent than several teams that will be staying home in January (the Panthers, Bengals, and Broncos all come to mind). They play tough and smart, however, and unlike the Same Old Jets of yore, they seldom shoot themselves in the foot. That's what I like so much about them. I have a soft spot for underdogs and overachievers.
As for the Giants, their playoff berth was not certain until a few of Sunday's games fell out in certain ways, but they had largely assured themselves of a berth the night before when they defeated the Washington Redskins to finish the season at 8-8. That's after starting the season at 6-2, mind you. The victory over the Redskins was anything but convincing. It wasn't the Giants that beat the 'Skins as much as it was Tiki Barber. Last season, Tiki set a franchise rushing record in a game against the Kansas City Chiefs (I blogged about it at the time). On Saturday he broke his own record, rushing for 234 yards and 3 touchdowns. It was another amazing performance from a great player, and had me high-fiving Parris and shouting TIKI! TIKI! TIKI! at the television set. Even so, the Giants barely held on to win. Some "experts" claim that Eli Manning played much better, but I don't know what game they were watching. In the game I watched, Eli completed less than half his throws and passed for only a hundred yards and change. And some of his misses were just as errant as in past weeks. (One of them actually hit a Redskins DB in the ass).
Tom Coughlin did actually take my advice (posted here last week) and insert Jared Lorenzon in the game... but only for a quarterback sneak, alas. The Hefty Lefty got the first down, but then left the game again. Ah, well. At least he took a snap.
The Giants defense looked as bad as Eli. Time and time again, Tiki would deliver what should have been the crushing blow, only to have the defense let Washington answer with a score of their own, and put the issue in doubt again. The young Redskins QB Jason Campbell looked like the second coming of Vince Young at times. Yes, the defense has suffered on a lot of injuries, but still... they should be much better than this. New York Giants football has always meant DEFENSIVE football. Even in their worst years, the Giants have always fielded a tough defense. It makes me sick to see them getting pushed around this way.
The Giants are the mirror image of the Jets. On paper, they have as much talent as any team in the NFL, and should be able to beat anyone. On paper, there's no reason why they should not be able to go all the way to the SuperBowl. Alas, the games are not played on paper. It all comes down to coaching, which is why I still want Tom Coughlin fired, playoffs or no playoffs. Eric Mangini has the Jets giving 200 per cent of themselves, while Coughlin is getting maybe 50 per cent out of the Giants (except for Tiki, of course. I am going to miss him so much next season).
So now I have one week to savor the playoffs before Wild Card Weekend will be upon us. Both of my teams play on Sunday. The Jets will be going up to Boston to play the Patriots, the Giants down to Philadelphia to play the Eagles. Bitter archrivals and division foes, in both cases, and in both cases this will be the third meeting of the season -- a rubber game, since both regular season series were split 1-1. The home teams will be favored in both games, and rightfully so. Next weekend could see both my teams eliminated. Until and unless that happens, however, I will go on clinging to my hopes. Maybe the Jets will continue to surprise the pundits... maybe the G-Men will finally wake up and play at their talent level... maybe this will be the year we get that Subway Superbowl.
(So says my heart. My head keep telling me it will be the Chargers and the Saints in the Superbowl this year).