We began in the usual sharp and sardonic silence with which football gets watched around here, weighed down a bit by memories of previous losses—this reporter’s son (to sound again like the great Cosell himself) when he was twelve or so, retired to his room after a particularly brutal Pennington era loss. (Not that there was anything wrong with Chad, who will retire with the game’s best completion percentage, and will return someday, you heard it here, as the Jets’ offensive coordinator.) Though older and cooler now, the tension of grim possibility was too great for chatter; the thing, as Lewis Carroll wrote, was too grave for a joke.
Meanwhile, this reporter (now reduced to mere blogger) was struggling to make sense of the maddening pre-game notion, oft repeated by Phil S. and the rest of the gang, that if the Jets could “keep the Chargers offense off the field” they could increase their odds of winning—when it seems obvious that, even if we marched up and down the field for hours at a time, like the Crusaders outside the walls of Jerusalem, we would still have to give the ball back when we were done. We have a series; they have a series—it’s written in the rules. If we score quickly, we bring their offense on the field. If we score slowly, we still bring their offense on the field. If we don’t score at all, we bring their offense on the field. They get the same number of possessions as we do. What this concept really means, it seems on analysis, is that when they do get the ball, which in the end they will, and our defense stops them consistently, they will have fewer plays than they would like. If the defense can’t do that, all the ” time of possession” in the world won’t make a bit of difference; it is bit like arguing that the longer the pitcher dawdles on the mound, the less likely he is to have to throw it in to A Rod. Eventually, he has to. You can run out the clock at the end of the half, but for almost all of the game, your possession ends with theirs beginning.
That conceptual point pressed past the point of patience (“Okay, Dad. We get it. They have to give it back,”) the blogger, exhausted by the demands of the Higher Analysis, turned to the welcome green fields of pure superstition—and the early missed chip-shot field goal struck him as a sound, even a certain omen: every upset needs something odd and out of the ordinary to happen to happen at all. (Randy Beverly in Super Bowl III—which by the way one can now watch in its entirety on YouTube - and that long, long popup interception come to mind.) By the end of the first half, as even the Boomer saw, they had them where they wanted them, with the Chargers frustrated and not playing particularly well. “Unleash the Sanchise!” became the cry in our living room, driving—chance to use the phrase “distaff side ” here!—driving the distaff side of the family, Mom and daughter, out to the movies to see Brit chick-flick “The Young Victoria.” Then the Sanchise really did it; the tabloids this morning are treating him like a bit of a gifted idiot, allowed out for an airing now and then on a long leash held by Brian Schottenheimer—but the touchdown was not some Joe Kapp eyes-shut heave to a wide open receiver. It was a terrific throw, needled out on the run, to the one man and one place it could be thrown. Good for Mark.
A scour of the usual analytic places the morning after reveals everything from the sense that the fade (and lack of discipline) of a Norv Turner team was all too typical, to some justified indignation at that Roughing The Challenge Flag Call. He got fifteen yards for gently booting the flag? It certainly seemed unsportsmanlike, but also suggested the bizarre oscillation, peculiar to the N.F.L., from mayhem to daintiness: murdering your fellow man in the as he leaps helplessly in the air is fine; treating an inanimate object lightly is a crime. Game decorum runs a little jaggedly from the battlefield to a cricket game on the twilight of the village green.
Two insights do seem worth skimming off the top of the boiling Internet. The Jets triumph is being portrayed as one of tough guys and plumbers, but this reflects our TV-bound prejudice of seeing stars only at the soi-disant “skill” positions, underrating the skill required to play the rest. If they don’t carry the ball, they’re grunting and groaning out there like Primeval Man. Forget the defense for a moment; the Jets’ offensive line, after all, is made up of at least one sure (Faneca) and two quite possible (Ferguson, Mangold) future Hall of Famers, with, in Woody, an all-pro and previous Super Bowl winner thrown in for good measure. That what they do is unshowy does not make it unspectacular. They wore down—plain beat up—the San Diego line, taking a running game that was just all right running wide in the first half to casual certainty running up the middle in the second. (Nothing was nicer than seeing Rex on that last fourth down, mouthing “We’ll go for it!”) The Wise Walsh, again, said that what mattered most in the playoffs was a fourth quarter pass rush—and also that the fourth quarter pass rush began, so to speak, in the first quarter. That is what a dominating offensive line buys you. Certainly, Sanchez looked far more comfortable, behind his line, in the end than the beginning, while for Rivers it was just the reverse.
What we forgot is how good this stuff feels—unearned by our efforts and unwon by our cares, but beautiful all the same. We are, yes, rooting for laundry, as Jerry Seinfeld said, a motley collection of mercenaries, but still: the sweet familiar arc of actually trying and actually accomplishing something is as satisfying as it has ever been. Accomplishment—doing something well—is a big deal, particularly in a world (and town) driven by a false idea of achievement, grabbing the brass ring with nothing to show for it but brassiness. (The bankers achieved a lot, accomplished nothing.) A win is an accomplishment; you did something specific that will always be golden. And then so many fine players! Watching Revis cover guys, mimicking their downfield passage, is genuinely a delight, like watching Groucho and Harpo in the famous mirror routine.
Of course, there’s a reasonable chance that this will be our high water mark, or Pickett’s Charge. (No matter how good you think Peyton Manning is, he’s even better.) Yet even the babes, or better half, coming home from the movies, announced that 86th Street was alive, if not awash, with joy. A great night. Go Green!