Quarterback Mark Sanchez #6 of the New York Jets walks off the field after the AFC Divisional Playoff Game against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium on January 17, 2010 in San Diego, California. The Jets defeated the Chargers 17-14.
There's so many things that are unbelievable about this Jets playoff run that it is hard to even try to rank them in order of improbability. The top has to be Mark Sanchez's sudden evolution from shellshocked rookie to playmaking leader, but right behind it is the way that the cosmic scales of football have swung in the Jets' favor.
Young quarterbacks have made quantum leaps before, but you can't say the same about the football gods lining up behind the Jets. This is a team that got punished for every mistake they've made over the last 40 years, perhaps as part of the deal with the devil that got Joe Namath a Super Bowl ring in exchange for destroying his knees and his franchise. Or it may stem from some other place since the Heidi game took place before Namath sealed the deal against the Colts.
The list is long and familiar to fans of every era -- the no-tarp AFC title game in Miami, Mark Gastineau's roughing penalty, the fake spike, Keith Byars's fumble and Doug Brien are just a few lowlights -- but the worm has turned over the last month. Good and reasonable people can disagree about the wisdom of the decision made by the Colts in Week 16, but all must agree that it was strange to see the Jets as beneficiaries of such a gift. You could say the same about Week 17 if you're willing to buy the Bengals' spiel that they weren't trying to win while playing their starters for the first 30 minutes.
That was just the warmup act, though. The Jets have played very, very well in their two playoff wins but it is impossible to ignore how much their two opponents have contributed to the cause. Two Shayne Graham missed field goals in round one were followed by three misses by Nate Kaeding, who must have some kind of psychological lock when it comes to kicking against the Jets. Marvin Lewis blew two challenges in the first quarter of the Bengals game and Norv Turner didn't leave himself time outs when he needed them in the fourth quarter on Sunday. These things happen all the time in the NFL, just not in the Jets' favor.
There's more. The Chargers were called for stupid penalty after stupid penalty on Sunday, consistently helping the Jets down the field even when their offense wasn't getting the job done. Turner lived up to his reputation as one of the league's least trustworthy coaches by ignoring Darren Sproles and calling an onside kick after his team cut the score to 17-14. Turner gave up field position for a low percentage shot to get the ball and there's not much chance Rex Ryan goes on that fourth down if he's buried deep on his side of the field.
The biggest play of all might have been a big one for the Chargers. When Vincent Jackson got stopped at the one-yard line late in the fourth quarter, San Diego wound up losing 20 seconds before Philip Rivers snuck in for their final score of the game. That's a tremendous break for a team trying to run out the clock, but Turner's mangling of his timeouts meant he couldn't challenge the spot.
We're not done yet. The Jets made several plays Sunday that seemed destined to live in infamy. Steve Weatherford shanked a punt and should have had another one blocked, but the team didn't pay the price either time. Sanchez threw what looked like a back-breaking interception and the Jets got the ball right back. The uncharacteristic decision to play zone defense in the first half should have killed them, yet they kept dodging bullets before finally landing the big blows down the stretch.
Again, the Jets played very well in both games and absolutely deserved to win both weeks. It doesn't take anything away from that to point out that it seems someone up there likes this team very much and wants to give them a chance at a rematch at full strength with the Colts.
The same Colts that they beat in Miami on that fateful night in 1969, if you're into the mystical connectivity thing.