There always is a season-defining moment for teams. The Jets' came Sunday.
Against the Chargers in the New Meadowlands, the Jets were getting beaten badly. New York trailed 21-10 at halftime and faced the prospect of going into its bye week with a 3-4 record, well behind the 5-1 Patriots. The Chargers had the ball to start the third quarter, and with one additional score, the Jets would have had a hard time making a comeback in this game and perhaps the season.
But the Jets made the second half their defining moment for the 2011 season. They dominated the Chargers, made Philip Rivers look bad and scored the final 17 points of the game to head into their bye with a much-needed win and a ton of confidence for the second half of their season. Two weeks ago, there was bickering in the Jets' locker room. Today, they are a confident team. Clearly, winning cures all.
The key for saving the season was the Jets' ability to cover Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, forcing Rivers to have to hold the ball without many options down the field. Sure-handed receiver Malcom Floyd was not in the game due to injury and the Jets took advantage. Darrelle Revis took Vincent Jackson out of the game, so much so it was stupid for Rivers to even throw the ball to the receiver as it was just a wasted play.
Rarely does a defense cover for an extended period of time during the play, but when the Jets face a team with only one great skill player their secondary can dominate. Teams that can expose safeties Eric Smith and Jim Leonhard will always be a problem for the Jets, but few have that arsenal of skill players.
Even though the Jets still have trouble finding a consistent pass rush, they still cover well in the backend. With Chargers left tackle Marcus McNeill not on the field with an injury, the Jets were still unable to consistently put pressure on Rivers. Even though pressure in the pocket did not slow down Rivers, the coverage sure did.
This game has to scare Chargers fans. The defense was not able to get after Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez or control of the line of scrimmage in the run game. The Chargers also looked slow on defense. Takeo Spikes might help with leadership, but he is slow and struggles to make plays in space. I've always believed that when a team's inside or middle linebacker isn't fast, the entire defense follows suit. The Chargers show those signs. They also struggled to line up onsides, as official Ron Winter and his crew called numerous offside penalties on the Chargers that normally go as illegal procedures. (Seems like we can't get a consistent call on offsides in the NFL anymore. Never thought that would happen.)
The Jets found production in both areas of their offense, run and pass. When Sanchez avoids third and long, he can get on track. The defense, which struggled to stop the run the past six weeks, found its groove, holding the Chargers to 96 yards on 25 carries.
Things I loved
» I loved that the Texans went into Tennessee and dominated the game behind one of the most impressive performances of the season by running back Arian Foster. Titans coach Mike Munchak said all week that whichever team could get the run game established would win this normally intense battle. And from the start, that was all Texans. What has to make the Texans feel extra happy is that they were able to run the ball without Andre Johnson. When Johnson is out, the Texans get more eight-man fronts, but Foster and the Texans still dominated.
» I loved that the Falcons have gone back to their ball-control offense, setting the tempo and controlling the game. Quarterback Matt Ryan did not play well but played tough, competing for the win. He was not going to be denied a win over the Lions. Most importantly, the Falcons must play this style to succeed. They controlled the ball with the run and wore down the Lions. Tight end Tony Gonzalez remains the most consistent playmaker on the Falcons in spite of his age. When the Falcons play ball control, it helps their defense. Holding the Lions to only one third-down conversion was really impressive.
» I loved that Cam Newton keeps getting better, not letting a poor performance last week affect him going forward. The Redskins have a good defense but the Newton-led Panthers were able to control the game, doing whatever they needed. The rookie QB was accurate with the ball and made smart decisions, knowing when to run and when to make a play with his arm. Nothing has fazed him all year -- not unique coverages, fronts or pressures. If he has a bad throw or a poor series, he just goes on to the next play. What the Panthers have done in terms of scheme with Newton also makes it difficult for teams to prepare for the different style of plays. Playing this offense with just one week to get ready is a huge challenge. Teams will have to spend time in the offseason to really understand the best way to handle what the multi-dimensional Newton brings.
Things I hated
» I hated watching the Seattle-Cleveland game as it was poorly played by both offenses. Tell me again, how did Seattle beat the Giants two weeks ago? That loss has to kill Giants fans after Seattle only scored three points on Cleveland. And each time Colt McCoy went back to pass, I kept wondering when the Browns will realize he is a good No. 2 QB, not a full-time starter capable of carrying the team. His inability to make plays down the field is more about him than a lack of playmakers. This was not a well-played game, and it was not much fun to watch.
» I hated watching Dolphins coach Tony Sparano call for the two-point conversion to start the fourth quarter. Passing on that one little point came back to haunt him later. The Dolphins had control of the game, going up 12-0 on a touchdown. But Sparano went for two -- which is what the chart said to do, but his chart did not have the time element attached. As I've written, this drives me crazy. By going for two and casting aside the one point, the Dolphins gave away the chance to win the game because Tim Tebow and the Broncos came back to score twice, converting a two-point play to send the game into overtime at 15-15. Another home loss for Miami, but this one could have been avoided had the Dolphins not relied on the chart.
» I hated watching the Colts play. They were never in the game. Now, I know the Saints are good, but this was really a bad beating. If Peyton Manning comes back this year, he is nuts. Why risk it? What does he have to prove? The Colts are bad and it keeps getting worse, especially away from home. They are the clear favorites to win the Andrew Luck derby right now. How can they possibly win a game or two with the way they played on both sides of the ball Sunday night?
Things on my mind
» Teams coming off a bye have been horrible this season. Three wins and nines losses to this point. All the time off actually hurts the players, especially since training camps were so condensed. Right now, players don't need more rest; they need to keep improving on their fundamentals. The lack of practice time makes it hard to get players in game shape with great pad level and explosion. Four days off makes it even harder to regenerate what was gained from the start of the season. I'd be worried if my team was now entering a bye week.
» The NFL will have Tebowmania all week based on his incredible overtime win. Tebow was inconsistent throwing, but he made plays when it mattered most. He will be a work in progress all season. Don't get over excited.
» The Titans must solve their problems in the run game as Chris Johnson, their highest-paid and best player, looks tentative and hesitant. The Titans are built to run first and then make plays in the passing game. They need Johnson to find his game.
» If you rank the top five players on the Bears, Matt Forte is going to be in the top three. He does everything well and looks so much faster this year than before. The Bears need to spend the time over their bye and get Forte's contract handled.
» To borrow a line from former Vikings coach Denny Green, John Beck is exactly who we thought he was. Beck showed Sunday he is more backup than starter. Remember, the Panthers' defense is not top notch. The 'Skins have a good team, but injuries and a lack of depth, particularly at receiver, are going to hurt them.
» If I am Kyle Boller, I might not answer my phone, as it might be the Turk calling for his job. Boller was horrible, highlighting the reason for the Carson Palmer trade. But Palmer looked rusty, which was expected. The scary part for Raider fans is that Palmer did not look like he had great velocity on the ball. His arm looked like it did in Cincinnati. I realize it is early, but I would be concerned.
» Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray was impressive from start to finish, running all over the Rams. When your first run goes for 91 and a touchdown, you know it is going to be a good day. Nice way to start for Murray.
» The 49ers are closing out the NFC West in record fashion. Without even playing, they gained ground as all their division foes lost.
» Christian Ponder did some nice things in his first start for the Vikings. He was able to convert some third downs, something Donovan McNabb had a hard time doing. Ponder has a long way to go, but he looked poised and comfortable.
» I give up trying to figure out the Bucs. They are so inconsistent, especially with their passing game. Quarterback Josh Freeman is the most inconsistent of all. The Bucs must work on improving their passing game during their bye week.
» The speed of Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace allows the Steelers to consistently take shots downfield. The deep ball is a huge part of the Steelers' offense. Brown and Wallace make that happen and are becoming really good receivers.
Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi