Jets back up their talk, shock Patriots in Foxboro

New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan (R) talks to New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick after the Jets beat the Partriots during their AFC Divisional NFL playoff football game in Foxborough, January 16, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Segar (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Here are five quick-hit thoughts about the Jets’ shocking 28-21 victory over the Patriots in the Divisional Round on Sunday.

1. Jets back up their talk.
If a head coach and his players are going to talk as much as Rex Ryan and the Jets do, they better back it up. Towards the end of this week, even Reggie Jackson was telling the Jets to shut up and just play football. Everyone was tired of them, but as I wrote throughout the week, all that bravado is what riles this team up. That’s who they are and if they continue to back it up, then they might as well keep talking (even at the risk of becoming public enemies No. 1 in the eyes of fans outside of New York). The Jets brought the fight right to the Patriots’ doorstep and then followed through with a knockout punch. For the second straight year, the Jets won two road games to advance to the AFC Championship Game. This may be a strange comment, but I think had the Jets played at home the past two postseasons, they wouldn’t have reached both title games. This team absorbs that “us versus the world” mentality and would follow Ryan off a cliff if he asked them, too. What an upset.

2. Pressure is the great equalizer.
The 2007 New York Giants showed everyone that if a team can pressure a quarterback, it can disrupt the flow of even the most potent offenses. Defensive end Shaun Ellis had a great game as both a pass-rusher and as a run-stuffer. His two sacks of Tom Brady on the Patriots’ second possession set the tone for the rest of the game. From that point on, you got the sense that the Jets would continue to bring the heat until the Patriots stopped them. What’s interesting is that the Jets didn’t blitz Peyton Manning last week. That speaks to Ryan’s ability as a game planner that he can beat two of the best quarterbacks in NFL history in back-to-back weeks with two different schemes. In total, Ryan’s defense sacked Brady five times and finished with seven QB hits. It wasn’t until about the five-minute mark in the third quarter that New England’s offense finally got its passing game going and by that time, the Pats were already trailing, 14-3.

3. That said, it was a complete effort by the entire Jets’ team.
The Jets’ ability to pressure Brady played a huge role but New York was just better in all phases of the game. There were times when the Jets only rushed three down linemen and Brady still had nowhere to throw because New York’s back eight blanketed his receivers. Even when New England receivers broke off their routes and tried to shake free in the Jets’ secondary, they couldn’t. Offensively, Mark Sanchez was brilliant. (Or as brilliant as Sanchez can be at this stage in his career.) He only threw for 194 yards but he completed 16 of his 25 pass attempts for three touchdowns and finished with a QB rating of 127.3. His touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes early in the fourth quarter was thrown to a spot where only his receiver could catch it and Holmes made an incredible play to secure the catch and get two feet inbounds. Most importantly, Sanchez also didn’t turn the ball over. In fact, the Jets didn’t turn the ball over once and were only penalized three times. That’s huge when you’re playing on the road against a team as good as the Patriots. From the coaching staff (what a job Brian Schottenheimer did calling plays) down to the players, the Jets were about perfect execution on Sunday evening and that’s why they have a shot to play in the Super Bowl.

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Five Questions: Packers vs. Falcons

Matchup: Packers (11-6) @ Falcons (13-3)
Kickoff: 8:00PM ET, Saturday

1. Can the Falcons deal with the Packers’ newfound offensive balance?
In the first game between these two teams, the Falcons did a nice job of forcing Aaron Rodgers to throw underneath. On the three plays that went for 30 yards or more, two of them happened because Atlanta defensive backs failed to wrap up Green Bay receivers. (The other play was a great flea-flicker play call by Mike McCarthy on a 3rd and 1.) But in that first meeting, the Falcons also didn’t have to game plan for running back James Starks, who shredded Philadelphia for 123 yards on 23 carries. Atlanta knew it didn’t have to worry about stopping the run and therefore could commit extra defenders into coverage. The Falcons won’t be able to do that again this time if Starks gets going, so they’ll have to deal with both him and Rodgers (one of the most effective quarterbacks in the league). The Packers definitely have the upper hand when it comes to showing the Falcons different looks because Starks didn’t play in the first game.

2. Can the Packers slow the Falcons’ running game?
Green Bay’s front seven needs to attack Atlanta’s running game like New Orleans did in Week 16. The Saints didn’t do anything special in that game to slow Michael Turner. They simply attacked the line of scrimmage and forcefully filled Turner’s running lanes. One thing the Falcons had success with in the first meeting with the Packers was running the ball downhill. They didn’t try to go north south with Green Bay; they attacked the outside linebacker position opposite Clay Matthews by moving their lineman downhill. Then fullback Ovie Mughelli did a great job of blocking the first defender in the hole and Turner was patient before heading up field. The Packers can’t allow the Falcons front five and Mughelli to dictate where they the play to go. They must attack and play on the other side of the line of scrimmage.

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2011 NFL Divisional Round Odds

coln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, 09 January 2011. EPA/JUSTIN LANE fotoglif882603

Ravens @ Steelers, 4:30PM ET, Saturday
This will be the third meeting between these two teams this season. In Week 4, the Ravens beat a Ben Roethlisberger-less Steelers in Pittsburgh, 17-14. But the Steelers got their revenge in Week 13 by beating the Ravens 13-10 in Baltimore behind Troy Polamalu’s strip of Joe Flacco late in the fourth quarter. It’s a little surprising to see oddsmakers open this game at 3.5 with the way the Ravens played last Sunday in Kansas City. One would think that they would have set the point spread at 3 and let the public play with it from there. I can’t see this line going up throughout the week. The public remembers that the Ravens should have beaten the Steelers twice this year and they tend to latch onto Wildcard teams because those teams’ performances are fresh in their memory. I bet this line closes at Steelers –3, or even –2.5.
THE ODDS: STEELERS –3.5 (36.5)

Packers @ Falcons, 8:00PM ET, Sunday
Home field advantage is usually worth three points, or so the logic goes. To see the Falcons opened at only –1.5 means one of two things: either oddsmakers believe that the Packers are the team to beat in this game or they believe that the public believes they’re the team to beat. (Or it could mean both, I guess.) Aaron Rodgers and the Pack are red-hot and the public views them as a legit Super Bowl contender. With the way James Starks ran last week, people are starting to buy into a Green Bay championship run, which means an upset this Sunday in Hotlanta. That said, the line has moved all the way up to 2.5 in the matter of 24 hours, so is Vegas getting heavy sharp action on the Falcons? It’s good to see that this matchup received the primetime spot on Saturday night because it should be the best game of the weekend.

Seahawks @ Bears, 1:00PM ET, Sunday
It’s not surprising that the Seahawks are underdogs again but didn’t their upset of the defending champs last Sunday by them a little bit of respect? They already beat the Bears once in Chicago this year and yet they’re double-digit dogs. Neither oddsmakers nor the public (at least the majority of the public) believes that the Seahawks have two upsets in them, especially since they have to go on the road this week. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the line drops from 10 to 9.5 or even 9 by kickoff. I don’t get the sense that everyone is on the Bears’ bandwagon this year, so the public may take the points with the road dog. But if you like the Bears, it may be best to wait and see if the number comes off the all-important “10.”
THE ODDS: BEARS –10 (41)

Jets @ Patriots, 4:30PM ET, Sunday
The line opened at Patriots –9 and it almost immediately jumped to –9.5. But the spread has now dropped back to 9 so maybe Vegas is getting action coming in on both sides. It’s hard to imagine that the line wouldn’t move back up to 9.5 or even 10 by kickoff after the way the Patriots spanked the Jets 45-3 in their last meeting. But maybe Rex Ryan made believers out of people by the way he held Peyton Manning in check. In the end, I can’t see the public not backing New England and if the line stays below 10 then it would be a gift to Patriot backers.

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