10 plays that shaped the season
Of the 2,068 plays in the New York Jets' season (not including special teams), we've selected 10 that shaped 2013. Numbers six through 10:
10. The push heard 'round the world: The Jets' 30-27 overtime win against the New England Patriots in Week 7 ended with a controversy, sparking a back-and-forth between Rex Ryan and Bill Belichick. The Patriots' Chris Jones was called for an unprecedented pushing penalty while attempting to block a 56-yard field goal, setting up Nick Folk's eventual game winner from 42 yards. Jones pushed a teammate into the line of scrimmage -- a no-no. Belichick questioned the call and, after reviewing the film, accused the Jets of using the same illegal technique on an earlier field goal. Ryan fired back, insisting his team did nothing wrong. In fact, it did. The league eventually said a penalty should have been called on the Jets, but it was too late. They had their stunning upset.
9. The Behind-the-Butt Fumble: Geno Smith committed 25 turnovers, none more ... uh, creative than his embarrassing fumble at the Tennessee Titans in Week 4. With a pass-rusher crashing into his right side, Smith tried to switch the ball to his left hand, going around his back. That type of ballhandling might work on a basketball court, but not the football field. Predictably, he lost the ball and it was recovered by the Titans in the end zone for a touchdown. It was one of four turnovers by Smith in a humbling 38-13 loss. In terms of slapstick, it wasn't as extraordinary as Mark Sanchez's Butt Fumble in 2012, but it was unusual on its own merit.
8. The Wildcat strikes: One year after the Tim Tebow debacle, the Jets finally figured out how to run the Wildcat -- and throw a pass out of the formation. Bilal Powell's 30-yard completion to Jeff Cumberland was one of the key plays in the season-ending win against the Miami Dolphins. Even though it was a meaningless game for the Jets, they were loose, but confident, wrecking the Dolphins' playoff hopes with an attitude best exemplied by Powell's pass. The day was capped by the postgame announcement that Ryan would return as coach.
7. Holmes, sweet Holmes: Smith hooked up with Santonio Holmes for the longest scoring play of the season, a 69-yard touchdown that proved to be the game winner in the 27-20 win against the Buffalo Bills in Week 3. In a case of poetic symmetry, Holmes caught the ball in the same spot on the field in which he suffered his devastating foot injury one year earlier. It capped a brilliant, 154-yard game, but it was his last feel-good moment. He tore a hamstring the following week, missed five games and never scored again, finishing with only 23 catches in what probably was his final year with the Jets.
6. Geno's 19th interception and a seat on the bench: The low point of Smith's up and down season came in Week 13, when he was intercepted by Dolphins linebacker Dannell Ellerbe late in the second quarter. Ryan had seen enough of his rookie and pulled him at halftime, losing patience after five bad games in a row. The media and fans were screaming for Matt Simms, but Ryan stuck with Smith the following week and he was rewarded. Smith rallied in the final four games, providing optimism for 2014. His QBR over that stretch (78.9) was second to Peyton Manning.
Play No. 5: Nick Folk delivers in Atlanta.
A heavy underdog in their only appearance on "Monday Night Football," the Jets staged a frantic rally in the final two minutes, beating the Falcons, 30-28, on Folk's 43-yard field goal as time expired in Week 3.
Rookie quarterback Geno Smith was masterful on the last drive, completing 5 of 5 passes for 45 yards. On the seventh play of the drive, which covered 55 yards, Bilal Powell made one of the unsung plays of the season, a 6-yard run after slipping a would-be tackle in the backfield. That set up Folk, who made the second of three game-winning field goals for the season.
The win added a sense of legitimacy to the Jets' surprising start. At the time, the Falcons were considered a top team. Who knew they'd bottom out? I remember talking to ESPN analyst Jon Gruden on the morning of the game, and he absolutely felt the Jets had a chance to pull off the upset. "Chucky" turned out to be right.
No. 4: Antonio Allen's pick six against Tom Brady
The second-year safety made the biggest defensive play of the season, a momentum-swinging interception that fueled the Jets' come-from-behind win against the New England Patriots in Week 7. Down 21-10 at halftime, seemingly headed toward another blowout loss to their No. 1 nemesis, Allen undercut a pass to Rob Gronkowski and returned the interception 23 yards for a touchdown.
"I don't think I had time to look at the quarterback," Allen said afterward. "I think the ball was already there. As soon as I turned, it was already in my hand. [I'm like], "Appreciate it." It was a good spark for the team, and we came out victorious."
Allen's big play occurred on the second play of the third quarter. After that, the Jets played arguably their best defense of the season, limiting Brady & Co. to two field goals over the next two-plus quarters. The Jets won in overtime, 30-27, one of their signature victories in 2013.
No. 3: The blocked-punt fiasco in Carolina
The Jets picked a bad time to have a major breakdown on special teams. In a must-win game against the Panthers in Week 15, the Jets suffered a fourth-quarter collapse and lost, 30-20. It all started when Jason Williams blocked a punt by Ryan Quigley.
For 47 minutes, the Jets went toe-to-toe with the heavily-favored Panthers, trailing only 16-13 at the start of the fourth quarter. Punting from his own 30, special teams coach Ben Kotwica employed a tactic he used twice earlier in the game. Concerned about speedy punt returner Ted Ginn, Jr., Kotwica used three gunners instead of two. It was a calculated gamble. Not only did it leave one less player in protection, but it allowed the Panthers to line up over the center -- by rule, a no-no when there are only two gunners.
Exploiting the alignment on the third try, Williams rushed the center/left-guard gap. Zach Sudfeld, the left guard, failed to slide and block Williams, who had a free path to the punter. The Panthers recovered the block at the Jets' 14, marched in for a touchdown a few plays later and scored again a few minutes later on a Geno Smith interception that was returned for a touchdown. In less than five minutes, a close game turned into a blowout.
The loss left the Jets on the verge of mathematical elimination. On Wednesday, Kotwica left the Jets to become the Washington Redskins' special teams coach.
No. 2: Lavonte David's greatest shove of all
It happened a long time ago -- opening day -- but that doesn't diminish its significance. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' linebacker committed one of the dumbest penalties you'll ever see, allowing the Jets to go from losers to winners in a matter of seconds.
Down by two points with 34 seconds left in the fourth quarter, and no timeouts remaining, the Jets got the ball at their 20. It looked bleak, especially with a rookie quarterback, Geno Smith. He found Kellen Winslow for 25 yards and, after spiking the ball to stop the clock, Smith scrambled 10 yards, running out of bounds by the Jets' sideline. For some reason, David pushed Smith after he had crossed the boundary, resulting in a 15-yard penalty.
That changed everything. Instead of a 63-yard field-goal attempt, Nick Folk got his shot from 48 yards -- and he drilled it with two seconds left, lifting the Jets to an improbable 18-17 victory.
It was an emotional boost for the Jets, who began the season with so many questions and low expectations from the outside. If it weren't for David's penalty, the Jets would've been 0-2 (they lost a few days later at the New England Patriots) and there's no telling how things would've turned out.
David rebounded nicely, as he went on to an All-Pro season. The Bucs, not so much. They started 0-8, finished 4-12 and got Greg Schiano fired.
No. 1: Mark Sanchez's shoulder injury
It happened in the preseason, but it may have changed the complexion of the entire season. In the fourth quarter of the third preseason game, against the New York Giants, Rex Ryan decided to insert Sanchez. It was a questionable call on face value alone, but two other factors made it a downright terrible decision: At that point, Sanchez was the presumptive, opening-day starter, as Geno Smith bombed that night in his audition for the job. Secondly, Ryan put Sanchez in harm's way by playing him behind the second-team offensive line, not the starters.
It was an unmitigated disaster. Matt Simms was warming up, seemingly preparing to replace Smith, but the call went to Sanchez, who was caught off guard and warmed up quickly. He was under siege from the first play. On his third series, rolling to his left on a scramble, he was blasted at full speed by defensive tackle Marvin Austin. He hit Sanchez so hard that it tore the labrum in his throwing shoulder -- although it took a few weeks before the Jets finally came clean, admitting he needed surgery. It probably will end up being his last play as a Jet.
Things got weird after the game, when Ryan, in a combative news conference, insisted his reasoning for playing Sanchez was because he wanted to win the game and the Snoopy MetLife Trophy. Ryan was so annoyed by reporters questioning his decision that he actually turned sideways at one point.
The Jets had no choice but to start the season with Smith, who wound up starting every game. Sanchez's injury created so many what-if questions: What if Sanchez had started the season? Would he have thrived in Marty Mornhinweg's system? If not, how long before he was replaced by Smith? There probably would've been a full-blown quarterback controversy at some point. We'll never know.