Who had the worst day on Sunday? The Giants or the Jets? Let’s review:
— The Giants played perhaps the best team in the conference, the surprising New Orleans Saints, gave up 48 points and lost by three touchdowns on the Saints’ home field.
— The Jets, playing at home against a terrible Buffalo Bills team, lost by three points in overtime.
— Eli Manning, completing just 14 of 31 passes for 178 yards, was bad. Mark Sanchez, completing just 10 of 29 passes for 199 yards and five interceptions, was horrendous. Without putting too fine a point on it, it was the worst performance by a New Jersey quarterback we’ve seen this decade.
We supposed the nod goes to the Jets because they lost to a vastly inferior team, but the Giants’ loss, and the severity of it, must be hugely disheartening to them and their fans. The Giants and Saints were both unbeaten going into the game and figured to be just about even. As it turned out, the Giants were never in the game on either side of the ball, finding themselves down 20-3 in the second quarter and 34-17 at the half. Big Blue’s defense, thought to be one of the league’s best units, was shredded for 493 yards, 369 of them from Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees (who, in fairness, might be the best in the league).
The Giants couldn’t run or pass and were dominated on the line of scrimmage. Worse, they committed 19 penalties for 119 in losses and saw 76 yards in gains wiped out. Manning never solved the scaffoldings of the Saints’ pass defense and repeatedly threw to the wrong receivers; he was lucky to finish the day with just one interception as Saints D-backs had their hands on five of his throws.
Yes, the Giants lost to a great team, and yes, the game was played in the Dome, but a loss this resounding has to be enormously discouraging for the Giants if it all comes down to meeting New Orleans in the playoffs after the regular season. The Giants are a better team than the Arizona Cardinals, who they play next week, but the Cards’ quarterback Kurt Warner may be even better than Brees. If the Giants’ pass defense takes a riddling two games in a row, it’s crisis time.
As for the Jets, it’s fair to say that the manner in which they lost to the division rival Buffalo Bills has dissipated the good feelings from their early season success. Among the questions Rex Ryan, Mark Sanchez and the rest of the Green are going to have to ask themselves are:
— How do you blow a 13-3 first half lead to a bad offensive team — especially one forced to use a second string quarterback — while playing at home?
— How do you get a spectacular 210-yard rushing performance by Thomas Jones — on just 22 carries — and not score more than 13 points? Let’s pile a question onto that question: How do you get 309 yards from your two running backs — Leon Washington added 99 more — and score just 13 points?
The rushing game sets up the passing game, right? Isn’t that what they always tell us? Then how could Sanchez average an incredible eight yards per rush and complete just 10 of 29 passes? Why couldn’t the Jets, playing on a field where they’re supposed to know something about the wind current, understand what Buffalo seemed to know — namely that in such hard swirling winds you don’t throw high passes that keep hitting invisible walls. Not to make excuses, but Sanchez was playing without his most consistent receiver, Jerricho Cotchery, and has never played in bad weather before. Couldn’t someone on the coaching staff have suggested that he throw lower, flatter passes, especially on the plays that developed quickly instead of deep in the pocket?
Most of all, Ryan is going to have to ask himself how he let his team fall apart in overtime. Take all the poor throws and poor play calling back and bring it down to this: in overtime the Jets had five penalties for 48 yards to zero flags for the Bills. If safety James Ihedigo, playing on special teams, doesn’t throw a punch at Buffalo’s Derek Fine on the opening kickoff of overtime, the Jets start on their own 32 instead of the 15 and probably win the game. (Jay Feely missed a 50-yard field goal from the 33-yard line that probably would have been attempted from around the Buffalo 18 if not for Ihedigo’s stupid temper flare.)
The Jets have some real soul searching to do, and it can probably be said with some certainty that a loss to the Raiders next week in Oakland would be season-ending as far as any playoff hopes are concerned.