Monday, January 24, 2011

Rex Ryan's Jets

A game of two halves: Same Old Jets, Rex Ryan's Jets.

First the disheartening, all-too-familiar tales of woe. An apparent three-and-out for the Jets defense negated by a penalty on Antonio Cromartie, a player purposely brought in during the offseason to defend the pass. Then Mendenhall, a rumbling block of granite, for eight. Then six. Then nine. The Jets defense, usually stout against the run, couldn't bring him down. Nor could they ground Roethlisberger, who scrambled for nine easy yards on a critical third and long. A few plays later, touchdown Steelers, a drive of 76 that chewed up eight minutes of game time, close to 40 minutes in real time. Total domination.

The second quarter, I admit, is just a blur of Black and Yellow. Steelers fans, emergent from the dark corners of my Brooklyn neighborhood, threatened to engulf me. They cheered like rowdy Appalachians. One wore hipster frames. I thought, surely, I'd meet my demise, just as surely as the Jets would soon meet theirs. A late, merciful field goal cut the Steelers lead to three touchdowns. 24-3 at the half. This was troubling. This was bad. This was the Mud Bowl. This was the Spike Game. This was 45-3. Same Old Jets.

But Rex Ryan's Jets battled back. Five plays into the second half, a lightening quick touchdown, Sanchez to Holmes, 45 yards. Then, a Jets interception. Game decidedly back on. The bar, still more Black and Yellow than Green and White, hummed with an uneasy quiet. Here, at last, was the team I'd devoted the past 19 weeks, if you can believe it, as a seat-cushion supplicant to the Gang Green.

A muscular drive stalled, though, at the goal line after a series of curious, amateurish play calls and even worse execution. The Same Old Jets reappeared, but only for a moment. A Steelers fumble on the goal line, swallowed up by Roethlisberger in the end zone. Safety. 24-12 Steelers with 7 minutes to go. Down, but not out. Four minutes later, touchdown, Sanchez to Cotchery. Jets within five.

It was then I found peace. I knew the Jets would run out of time; the game was out of reach. Sure, I was disappointed, wrought with emotion, but I was proud of their effort. The Same Old Jets would have rolled over. Rex Ryan's Jets, as if their devotees needed further proof, simply would not. Their fight is something to behold. It's become, in two short years, their new identity.

Though not enough to overcome the Steelers in frozen, unfriendly Pittsburgh, the Jets' characteristic fight shook loose the threadbare label of Same Old Jets. In its place, Ryan's early, risible, call to arms, "Play like a Jet," which now means something, if not yet a Super Bowl trip and streams of Green and White confetti.

Twenty-four hours later, I remain at peace, firm in my belief in Rex Ryan and his Jets.

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