I have lots more to say about the Mitchell Report, but I guess I'll save that for the rest of the week. For now, I'll focus on how the Jets came oh-so-close to making history. What's the biggest difference between a 13-0 team and a 3-10 team (or 14-0 and 3-11 now)? If you watched the Jets-Patriots game on Sunday, you saw a number of examples.
First of all, Kellen Clemens made the biggest mistake of the game for the Jets, and he only threw one pass. It was a good rush by Richard Seymour, but you can't throw that ball - and if you are going to throw it, you had better make sure that ball goes out of bounds. Throwing an interception right there (on the five-yard line, returned for a touchdown) is a killer.
But then it dawns on Jets fans (or, at the very least, me). I never envisioned, even when I blocked out my common sense, that Kellen Clemens could figure out a way to beat the Patriots. I rationalized that maybe the Jets could get a defensive touchdown and a couple of field goals. But Clemens is really hurt. And the backup.....could it be.....[cue the dramatic music].....what? Brad Smith? Seriously, Eric Mangini?
The Jets went with about the most predictable offense in the world by bringing in Smith to run the ball, and Pennington to pass it. (Predictability - not a formula for success against New England.) There was absolutely no threat of Brad Smith throwing the ball when he was in the game. One play worked - a 49-yard run by Leon Washington on an option. But everything else, the Patriots read perfectly. The Jets finally found some rhythm when Pennington got to run the show a bit. And I was loving it.
But Pennington was plagued by the exact same problems he had when he was the starting quarterback - mistakes by everyone else. Pennington did a great job - 25-38, 186 yards. (For the record, Tom Brady was 14-27 for 140, with an interception.) And in the second quarter, when the Jets blocked a field goal, and ran it in for the touchdown, it was suddenly a 10-7 game, in favor of the Patriots, and the Jets had life.
Unfortunately, the Patriots got (of all things) a blocked punt on the next possession, scored a touchdown a couple of plays later, and the Patriots took a 17-7 lead into halftime.
It was in the second half that Pennington's efforts were wasted. First, in the third quarter, trailing 17-7, the Jets should have had a field goal. The wind was at their backs, and Pennington completed to Chris Baker, and he was short of the first down yardage, but fumbled. 13-0 teams don't fumble in situations like that. 3-10 teams do. No points for the Jets. Patriots ball.
The Jets ended up getting a field goal to make it 17-10 (could have been 17-13), then the Patriots kicked one to make it 20-10 (could have been 20-13). The Jets drove down the field in the fourth quarter, and Pennington hit Justin McCareins with a perfect throw from 7 yards out in the back of the end zone for a touchdown. But McCareins bobbled the throw. Pennington does not have a strong arm. There's no excuse for bobbling that pass. So the Jets have to settle for a field goal, and Mike Nugent misses it. But that's all on McCareins. So instead of a situation that could have possibly tied the game at 20, the Jets turned the ball over and lost the game.
This was frustrating, because the Jets could have won the game. They put enough pressure on Tom Brady to force him to make mistakes, they had their opportunities, they just didn't take advantage of them. But that's why they're 3-11. And that's why the Patriots are 14-0.
PREDICTION: I still stand by my thought that the Patriots will finish the regular season 16-0. But I believe they will not go 19-0 - I think they'll lose in the post-season.
AT LEAST I HAVE THIS: When the 49ers upset the Bengals Saturday night, my thoughts turned to the NFL standings, and the fact that the Patriots own the 49ers' first-round pick. At that point, the Niners were a top five pick. But with the 49ers win, coupled with the Jets' loss, and the Ravens' loss to the Dolphins (among other games) there are now 8 teams with the 49ers at 4-10 or worse. The 49ers still have Tampa Bay and Cleveland on their schedule - so it looks like 4-12 for them - hopefully those other teams do just as poorly and that pick at least stays around 8 or higher.