At halftime of the Jets game, I rationalized to Squawker Lisa that at least a blowout loss is less painful than a close one. But I'm glad the Jets made it close, even if it's that much more frustrating that this was a game they could have won. However, by barely showing up in the first half, it was not a game the Jets should have won.
When the Jets rallied for last-minute wins against Detroit, Cleveland and Houston in the middle of the season, Lisa compared them to the team-of-destiny 2009 Yankees and all their walkoff wins, while I complained that mediocre teams were giving the Jets way too much trouble. As it turns out, both of us had a point. The 2010 Jets do have a lot of heart, especially their quarterback. But rallying against the Browns, Lions and Texans is not the same as rallying against the Steelers.
The season was still a big success. In the first 39 seasons of the AFC, the Jets reached the championship game twice. Under Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez, they've gotten there twice in two years. Unlike last year, when the Colts were clearly the better team, the Jets showed they could play with the Steelers. After losing three AFC title games by at least 13 points, this game was a lot closer. But in the end, the Jets were not good enough to get to the Super Bowl.
I don't buy the notion that the Jets "ran out of time" in the AFC championship game. Just because the Jets outscored Pittsburgh 16-0 in the second half doesn't mean they dominated the Steelers the way the Steelers dominated the Jets in the first half. After the Jets cut the lead to 24-19, they allowed Pittsburgh to run the kickoff back to their 41, complete a pass into Jets territory for a first down, then complete another pass on third down for a first down that sealed the game. Even if the clock did not run out, the Steelers had advanced to the Jets' 26, Ben Roethlisberger was making plays, and the Jets' defense and special teams were not making the big play.
And I don't want to hear any excuses about how hard it is to play all your playoff games on the road and not to have a bye. You want home field? Earn it. You've shown you can beat New England in the playoffs, now let's see you beat them for the division. Also, Green Bay got to the Super Bowl this year as the sixth seed, though they did seem to have an easier path.
Going forward, the Jets look like they have a bright future and are going in the right direction. I haven't felt this confident about any of my teams since the conclusion of the Mets' 2006 season. Which is not quite the slam it sounds like. That Met team was very good for two more seasons. They just didn't have the heart to avoid collapsing in both years. And then the injuries started.
If there's anything to worry about on the Jets' horizon, it's that they've been really fortunate with injuries the last couple of years. I also felt great about the Jets following the 1998 trip to the AFC title game, and that enthusiasm didn't make it out of the first half of the first game the following season when Vinny Testaverde went down.
Overall, still a good year, but another missed opportunity to get to the Super Bowl. Can't wait - till next year.