Posted by: Mike Cornelius | December 25, 2011

Giants Silence Ryan And The Jets

So Christmas comes with nothing but coal in Rex Ryan’s stocking. All week long the New York Jets head coach, the NFL’s leading blowhard, was at his bloviating best. For the first time in Ryan’s three year tenure the Jets were meeting the New York Giants during the regular season. Under any circumstances Ryan would have been certain to cast a battle for bragging rights in greater Gotham as an apocalyptic showdown. But since the reality of the often underwhelming play by both teams at critical times during the season meant that each franchise stood on a late season knife-edge of either making the playoffs or going home disappointingly early, the voluble Ryan knew no bounds.

Back during the NFL’s lockout-shortened pre-season, Ryan assured anyone who would listen that the Jets were headed to the Super Bowl; and that along the way this would be the year when New York dethroned the New England Patriots as champions of the AFC East. But the Jets were soundly beaten in Foxborough in October, and then embarrassed at home by the Patriots last month. After being pushed around by the resurgent Philadelphia Eagles last week, New York came into the Christmas Eve contest against the Giants with an 8-6 record, clinging to the 6th and final AFC playoff spot.

That didn’t stop him from declaring that the battle for New York supremacy would be “a war.” “There’s no way I’m going to be second fiddle,” he said; adding “I want to be the best team in football, not just the best team in the city. But we’ll start by being the best team in the city. Clearly, we were the better team my first two years here. And we get to prove it on Saturday who the best team is this year.”

For his part Giants head coach Tom Coughlin refused to take the bait. Decidedly old-school, Coughlin responded to a question by saying he could not remember ever trash-talking about an opponent, as either a player or a coach. With his team at 7-7 and needing to win out to make the playoffs, Coughlin certainly knew that his employment status for next season was very much in doubt. But as a rejoinder to Ryan’s bluster he was content to state the obvious, namely that the only statement that mattered would be the one made on the field.

So it was that for three hours Saturday afternoon on that field at MetLife Stadium, after all the talk from the gasbag coach, after all the braggadocio and guarantees, after covering up with black curtains the four Super Bowl logos outside the Giants dressing room in what Giants players took as one last taunt, the Jets were left speechless. They scored on their opening drive; but not again until barely more than seven minutes remained to be played. In between the Giants put up 20 points on the way to a 29-14 final.

It was not a particularly pretty game for the Giants, with Eli Manning completing just 9 passes, but in the end it didn’t have to be. The Jets, as has too-often been the case under Ryan, proved quite capable of beating themselves. They committed ten penalties, turned the ball over three times, and allowed five sacks. Quarterback Mark Sanchez, who seems to be at his best when handing the ball off, threw a career high 59 passes. His 29 incompletions were more than Manning’s 27 total passes. The Jets were also able to convert just 4 of 21 third-down chances.

The game turned late in the first half when the Giants faced a third-and 10 on their own one yard line. Manning found Victor Cruz with a short toss from his own end zone. The wide receiver caught the ball at the 11, broke two tackles and didn’t stop running until he was in the Jets end zone. The 99-yard play was the longest in Giants history, and the longest play allowed by their defense in the Jets history. It gave the Giants their first lead just before halftime, and left the Jets stunned and ultimately unable to recover.

The win moves the Giants back atop the NFC East. The face the Cowboys at home next week in what amounts to a playoff game. The winner takes the division and plays on while the loser goes home in a game that the NFL has already moved to prime time Sunday night. The supposedly Super Bowl bound Jets meanwhile are on the outside looking in, needing multiple games to go their way in order to squeeze into the playoffs. They of course must beat Miami on the road. That alone though is nowhere near enough. The Jets also need the Bengals to lose to the Ravens, the Titans to lose to the Texans, and either the Raiders or the Broncos to lose their final game as well. Jets linebacker Calvin Pace probably put it best when he said, “We’re pretty much dead.”

After the game Coughlin reiterated his words from earlier in the week. “We won the game,” he said. “That’s the statement.” As for Ryan, well the problem with being a braggart is that sooner or later if one can’t deliver, the words just become so much noxious hot air, and the act gets tiresome. It may not be in keeping with the spirit of the season, but sometimes coal in one stocking can seem like such a gift to everyone else.

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