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Mission accomplished ... sort of

The Jets let out plenty of frustration on Sunday afternoon at New Meadowlands Stadium in their regular season finale against the Bills.

Jets 38, Bills 7

The Jets let out plenty of frustration on Sunday afternoon at New Meadowlands Stadium in their regular season finale against the Bills. The game meant little in the standings and only the slimmest of chances would have allowed New York out of being the sixth seed in the playoffs. It should have been a ho-hum affair with the Jets playing the second string for much of the game, resting key starters at nearly every position ahead of next week’s wild card round.

And while there's still plenty of work ahead of them, coach Rex Ryan can declare "Mission Accomplished" int he regular season after a 38-7 rout of the Bills.

The mission was far from easy.


After a season that got held up early by star cornerback Darrelle Revis’ holdout, veered slightly off course with Braylon Edwards’ Week 2 DWI, whistled to a halt with the Inez Sainz locker room harassment claims, was far from picture perfect after inappropriate texts from former quarterback Brett Favre were made public, overcame a wall following “Trip Gate” and finished on the wrong foot with Ryan starring in his homemade version of "Sex, Lies and Gametape" – through it all, the Jets kept grinding. Seemingly, in spite of themselves at times, they managed to win.

For all the bluster and talk from their head coach, the Jets should have done better than their 11-5 finish and a roster built to win now must surely view this as coming up short. But a franchise that is making consecutive playoff appearances for the first time in nine years must be a bit happy at what they’ve done, even if they could have done much better.

“I think this was good, I think this was important for us this win,” said cornerback Drew Coleman, who forced a fumble on a fourth quarter sack, one of six Jets turnovers on the afternoon. “Heading now into the playoffs, we’re back on that winning track.”

It would be easy for a team that tasted its last bit of real success 42 years ago when they won Super Bowl III to get a little hungover on this year. With the blowout over Buffalo, the Jets now have an 11-win season for just the fourth time in franchise history. But in a locker room full of confetti tracked in from the postgame celebration, the Jets aren’t ready to rest on any laurels.

Suddenly, “Same Old Jets” is now becoming synonymous with a playoff-bound team.

“We’re in a good position – it’s the most wins of my career,” said center Nick Mangold. “And we’re in the tournament. In order to win the Super Bowl, you have to start there.”

And with the win, this Jets season mirrors the momentum of the way last year played out when New York won five of their last six games to squeak into the playoffs. With wins over Pittsburgh and now Buffalo, the Jets have won two of their final three regular season games heading into next weekend’s Wild Card round. The Jets will face Indianapolis next week, the team that beat them in last year’s AFC Championship Game to deny the franchise just their second ever Super Bowl appearance.

The irony of the playoff pairing is that the Jets built their defense heavily around cornerbacks this offseason, drafting first round pick Kyle Wilson and trading for Antonio Cromartie in an effort to combat the precise Colts passing attack that carved up their secondary last year.

“It doesn’t matter who we play, it doesn’t matter where we play,” said cornerback Dwight Lowery. “What matters is that we play Jets football and we play the way we can play and I think today was evidence of that.”

And while the Jets 11-5 mark matters little in the end, the way they ended the season gives hope for next weekend and beyond. An emphatic win on Sunday could potentially carry over into the playoffs for New York, who, for a second straight season, is hoping to make a playoff run as the sixth seed. Last year, as the Jets circled the field following their end of the season win over Cincinnati to clinch a playoff berth, there was a look of relief mingled with joy at simply getting into the postseason. Most preseason predictions had the Jets on the outside looking in with a first year head coach and a rookie quarterback.

On Sunday afternoon as the players high-fived fans leaning over the railing and watched cannons shoot green and white confetti into the air, there was a businesslike manner to the celebration.

“We weren’t satisfied to simply get there last year and we’re not happy just to get there this year,” said D’Brickashaw Ferguson. “Getting to the AFC Championship Game, we were happy with that but not satisfied. The same is true this year for us. We need to step up now that we’re here.”

So ends one of the best, if not certainly the most tumultuous, regular season in franchise history. But 11 wins and yet another playoff appearance means nothing for a team built to win now, a team built supposedly to win the Super Bowl.

“I’m excited to see this team in the playoffs. We have no excuses – not one excuse,” said Ryan. “We are ready to go do what we set out to do. If somebody is going to beat us then they must be really good.”


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What went right in the win:


1. Resting the stars – With the odds of moving beyond the sixth seed in the playoffs slim to none, Jets head coach Rex Ryan decided to rest several of his starters and limit the snaps for a number of his other regulars. Cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie along with running backs LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene didn’t suit up, while quarterback Mark Sanchez didn’t throw more than a pitch to running back Joe McKnight in his one series of play. “We really got exactly what we were looking for heading into the playoffs,” Ryan said. Some of the depth took advantage of the field time, including Emmanuel Cook forcing a first quarter fumble and Marquice Cole’s pick six in the second quarter.

2. McKnight in shining armor – It wasn’t bad enough that the Jets traded fan favorite Leon Washington for the fourth-round pick that they used to select Joe McKnight, but the rookie out of USC showed up to camp so out of shape that he ended up blowing chunks and taking a knee in his first practice. McKnight has done precious little this year but with Tomlinson and Greene standing in tracks on the sideline, the rookie improved dramatically on his seven carries for 31 yards rushing this season. In his first NFL start, McKnight had 158 yards on 32 carries. “Now you see why we were excited to draft him," Ryan said after the game.

3. Under the Weatherford – His punts numbers are so-so in the NFL in terms of average kick, but Steve Weatherford is becoming one of the best in the league at changing field position through smart kicking. On Sunday, Weatherford’s first four punts all landed inside the 20-yard line, with two of those efforts inside the 10. Weatherford entered the game leading the league in getting the ball inside the opposition’s 20-yard line, and continues to be a quiet difference maker for the Jets.

What went wrong:

1. Not the way they Drew it up – The first three passes the Bills completed were in the direction of Drew Coleman as opponents continue to pick on the Jets lack of size in the secondary. The Jets cornerback has struggled against big, physical receivers and has consistently been targeted -- err exploited -- by other teams throughout this year. Coleman gave up passes of nine yards, 33 yards and 15 yards to start the game. While he had a strip fumble sack in the fourth quarter, Coleman struggled with his pass protection but was helped with the ineptness of Buffalo’s passing game.

2. Ho-Hum – With the Jets having clinched the playoffs last week and with nothing to gain from this week, the regular season finale was merely playing out the string for New York. Sanchez, tight end Dustin Keller and center Nick Mangold were out after the first series. New York raced out to a 17-0 halftime lead, meaning that the stadium began to empty out as they players headed for the locker rooms.

3. It means nothing - Sure it was a feel good game and a chance to finish with 11 wins for just the fourth time in franchise history, but it still seemed tainted by the “Same Old Jets” syndrome. From the late arriving crowd to the fact that the game meant nothing in the standings, the Jets should have done much better. “The season had ups and downs but we were happy to end with a win heading into the playoffs,” Coleman said. After a 9-2 start, this should not have been a wild card team.

Big Number

6 – The number of turnovers the Jets forced with two fumbles and two interceptions.

 
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