Contrarians got one heckuva Christmas present at Soldier Field on Sunday afternoon.
You would have been hard pressed to find anyone who thought Sunday's Jets-Bears tilt would be anything other than a defensive struggle between two strong teams tuning up for a playoff march. Vegas set the over/under at a modest 36 points, a number that seemed a little high to those of us who like to check out such things for the purposes of entertainment or investment. With snow falling at the start of the game and wind blowing in a manner befitting the Windy City, it looked like another victory for the masses.
Better luck next time, groupthink. The teams blew past the over before the half and wound up putting up 72 points in a shootout that absolutely no one saw coming. The Bears won the game 38-34, but the loss doesn't wind up hurting the Jets all that much.
Jaguars quarterback David Garrard, apparently impressed with the Jets, threw an awful interception in overtime to hand the Redskins a victory. The Jags loss means the Jets are in the playoffs regardless of what happens against the Bills next week. Instead of worrying about the postseason while trying to figure out how to get back to our blizzard-ridden environs, they can worry about what's wrong with their defense.
The unit has been troublesome for a good portion of the season and they continued to confound on Sunday. There were moments where they looked great, including Dwight Lowery's second interception return for a touchdown and a key three-and-out late in the fourth quarter, but far more moments where they got pushed around by an average offensive unit. Jay Cutler threw three long touchdowns in the third quarter, Matt Forte rushed for 100 yards and, most damingly, the Jets couldn't generate any consistent pass rush against a mediocre offensive line.
The stats don't look that bad, something Rex Ryan will surely bring up this week, but the visual proof isn't doing them any favors. Neither is Ryan, for that matter.
Up 24-17, Ryan elected to try a pass with Mark Sanchez out of a punt formation on the first possession of the third quarter. The play almost worked, Brad Smith dropped what would have been a first down, but the decision was needlessly risky at that point in the game. So was the choice to stop kicking the ball away from the abundantly talented Devin Hester in the second half. Two big Hester returns set up Bears scores during their comeback.
Ryan's week was full of allusions to his issues controlling his impulses, so perhaps it was fitting that he thought he could get away with whatever he wanted. Like the defensive issues, these coaching vapor locks have been too prevalent this season.
On Sunday, the two things combined to sink the strongest cold weather outing of Sanchez's brief career. He completed 13-of-15 passes in the first half, led the team back from a 10-0 hole and got hurt by a few drops, most notably Dustin Keller's in the end zone just before halftime. He did throw a pick on the final drive of the game, but it came on a nice play by Chris Harris and with the Jets trying to race downfield without any timeouts. It was still the rare loss of the Sanchez era that can't be blamed primarily on the quarterback.
That and the playoff spot are silver linings on a rough day for the Jets, who now get another chance to prove it isn't about how you got there that counts in the postseason.