Pair of punt calls cost Jets

Posted Dec. 27, 2010 @ 6:15 p.m.
Posted By Eli Kaberon

The Jets clinched a playoff spot on Sunday afternoon in Chicago, but not in the manner in which they were hoping. About 30 minutes after the final seconds elapsed in the Bears' 38-34 victory, Redskins PK Graham Gano drilled a 31-yard field goal, lifting Washington over the Jaguars, locking up a second consecutive postseason appearance for New York. Jets players and coaches called the day "bittersweet," as the disappointment of losing was overshadowed by accomplishing a major team goal for the season.

The playoff berth could have been taken care of in a more straightforward fashion had it not been for some questionable play-calls and costly mistakes by the Jets. For the past month, the team has struggled to string together consecutive productive quarters and that was never more evident than in the loss to the Bears. The Jets followed a nearly perfect second quarter, where they outscored Chicago 24-7, with an equally horrible third period, which cost them the lead and game. A team can get lucky in the way they enter the playoffs, but once the second season begins, better execution and talent tends to win out.

The PFW Spin

Coming out of the locker room at halftime, the Jets led 24-17 and seemed to have momentum on their side. QB Mark Sanchez had played a nearly flawless first half despite an injured shoulder and RB Shonn Greene was wearing down the physical Bears defense. With dangerous returner Brad Smith back to receive the second-half kickoff, New York looked to extend its lead and force Chicago to play from behind, a role the Bears have not thrived in very much this season. But a pair of poor coaching calls halted the Jets in their tracks.

The first came at the end of the Jets' first drive of the third quarter, when facing a 4th-and-3 from their own 40, head coach Rex Ryan sent out P Steve Weatherford. There was a bit of a twist, however, as the Jets kept Sanchez on the field in the role of punt protector.

Of course the snap never reached Weatherford, as the play was for Sanchez to throw to gunner Brad Smith. Bears special-teams ace Rashied Davis recognized the starting QB on the field, sniffed out the play and broke up the pass, giving Chicago the ball back in Jets territory. On the very next play, Bears QB Jay Cutler hit WR Johnny Knox for a 40-yard bomb, tying the game at 24.

From then on, the Jets decided to just punt the ball on fourth down, which was the second poor coaching choice. All week leading up to the game, Ryan and special-teams coach Mike Westhoff claimed they were not going to kick to the most dangerous man in football, Bears PR Devin Hester. But after the botched fake, everything seemed to change. It cost the Jets dearly, when the drive following Knox's TD again forced New York to punt. Weatherford booted it deep, but right into the waiting arms of Hester. The returner brought it back 38 yards to the Jets' 32; three plays later Cutler found Hester in the endzone for a 25-yard TD pass.

Both poor coaching calls were results of either cockiness or clouded thinking. There is a time and a place for a fake punt, and at the start of the half with the ball at the 40 is neither a bad time nor place. But if the Jets wanted Sanchez on the field, they should have just run a standard offensive play. No opponent is actually going to think that the starting QB is lined up to block for the punter, and Davis said after the game he knew the Jets would throw there when he saw Sanchez in the backfield. New York would have been better served pinning the Bears deep in that situation and letting their defense hold the lead.

Punting to Hester was a mistake on multiple levels, as the record-setting return ace was just waiting to break a big play after he'd been avoided all afternoon. As soon as he hit the seam, the Jets were regretting their decision, and their anger was only compounded when Hester beat Drew Coleman for a touchdown catch a minute later. Ryan told reporters afterward it was a breakdown in communication that led to Weatherford punting in the direction of Hester.

Breakdowns on two third-quarter punt calls can cost a team a game, as the Jets proved on Sunday. Now that they are officially in the playoffs, they can't afford to have that happen again.