Work in Sports
What We Learned
Three things we know after the Broncos-Jets game
Updated: Monday November 06, 2000 3:01 PM
By Don Banks, Sports IllustratedEAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Jets are running low on comebacks these days. They came close Sunday at home against the still-breathing Denver Broncos, but found a way to drop a key game in the AFC playoff-contending field. Here are three observations from Denver's 30-23 victory at Giants Stadium.
1. Life on the edge is starting to cut both ways for the Jets.
And it's painful.
The Jets were the comeback kids of the NFL in their season's first seven games, posting four victories in which they rallied in the fourth quarter. No hole was too deep, no deficit too steep for head coach Al Groh's guys to overcome. But the past two Sundays, the Jets have come up one play short, and now find themselves tied for second in the AFC East, staring down their first two-game losing streak of the season.
Against the Broncos, the Jets darn near pulled another one out of thin air. Down 17-0 late in the first half, they tied the game at 20-20 on a John Hall 26-yard field goal with 5:24 left in the third. Given a golden opportunity to force overtime on a questionable pass interference call with 49 seconds remaining, New York squandered a first-and-goal at the Broncos' 2. Quarterback Vinny Testaverde threw four consecutive incompletions, the last of which bounced agonizingly just before it reached a wide-open Richie Anderson.
"We couldn't get the miracle once again," Jets safety Victor Green said.
"We're not really counting on miracles," added New York linebacker James Farrior. "We just keep fighting, no matter what happens. We just didn't come up with the big play at the end."
Earlier this season, when the Jets were routinely erasing three shaky quarters of football with a fantastic finish, you could look past a lot of the mistakes to the bottom line. But those days seem long gone.
The Jets turned the ball over three times in the first half -- on two Testaverde interceptions and a Curtis Martin fumble -- and Denver capitalized, turning those miscues into 13 points.
Testaverde's second interception was a real killer, coming one play after Farrior had intercepted Denver quarterback Brian Griese, creating the only Broncos' turnover of the game. Last week at Buffalo? Two Testaverde interceptions and a Martin fumble.
Testaverde continues to puzzle. It was his 13th interception, seventh in the last three games, and he continues to be capable of going from atrocious to outstanding, and back, all within the same game. But then, the same could be said of the entire Jets team. A 17-0 deficit is nothing for New York these days, but their comebacks no longer all have happy endings.
At 6-3, the Jets are still playoff material for now, but Sunday's loss to previously .500 Denver might be the defeat that winds up killing the dream season. New York travels to Indianapolis (6-3) and Miami (7-2) the next two weeks, the two AFC East teams they either trail or are tied with. Lose next week and the Jets will have trouble staying in wild-card contention. Lose them both and they're as good as dead.
"We face some pretty significant challenges coming up," Groh said. "It'll be a challenge to our resiliency."
2. Griese closes out tough week on up note.
For Griese, it was the week he wishes wasn't. But the Denver quarterback showed no ill effects Sunday from dealing with the aftermath of his arrest on suspicion of drunk driving last weekend.
"It was a tough week for me," Griese said. "I was happy to get back on the field and go back to work, and put all that stuff behind me. It felt good. I put it behind me a long time ago. Hopefully, [the media] will too."
Griese's postgame comments to the media were clipped and at times pointed. But if he was venting frustration, he took most of it out on the Jets' defense, finishing 22-of-35 for 327 yards, two touchdowns and one interception that did not prove costly. He connected with eight different Broncos receivers, and kept Denver's offense poised after the Jets rallied from a 17-0 deficit to tie the game at 20-20 in the third quarter.
Griese, the AFC's top-rated passer, has thrown just three interceptions this season, to go with his 18 touchdowns. He tossed both of his scoring passes against the Jets to receiver Ed McCaffrey (from 1 and 47 yards), to open and close Denver's scoring, and also fed receiver Rod Smith five times for a game-best 134 yards (26.8 average). The Broncos were a sizzling 12-of-18 on third downs, including a 5-of-6 performance down the game's backstretch.
Do the Broncos have themselves another Elway? It's no longer a stretch to pose the question.
On Sunday, McCaffrey was asked if Griese's rapid development this year reminded him of a young Joe Montana, McCaffrey laughed and said: "I think I was probably too young to watch the young Joe Montana. I don't remember that far back. But I think Brian is definitely getting better each week.
"He's got a lot of confidence, our offensive line does a great job for him, and the receivers really want to make plays for him. He can hit the short pass or the long pass. He has a lot of patience and ability. He's still a young quarterback in this league and he's playing great."
Broncos offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak on Saturday predicted that the even-tempered Griese would handle the turbulence this week brought without allowing it to distract from his game. On Sunday, Griese passed that test.
"He's a tough kid," Kubiak said. "Under the circumstances, he has kept his focus and had a good week of practice. I don't know what it's like to go through what he went through, but all I saw was his normal preparation and work. He stood up, said what he did was wrong, and moved on. That's all you can hope for."
3. Denver's playoff hopes aren't robust, but they're alive.
The Broncos, who are 5-4 and tied with Kansas City for second in the AFC West, three games behind pace-setting Oakland, took the risky tact of billing the Jets game as a must-win. But in reality, they had no other choice. Either way, the strategy paid off, and now the Broncos get a shot to close the gap next week Monday night at home against the Raiders.
"We knew our backs were against the wall," said Denver head coach Mike Shanahan, whose intensity level has been so high since the Broncos' Oct. 22 loss at Cincinnati that he even had his team hitting in full pads during their bye two weeks ago.
"The second half of the season dictates whether you have a chance to get in the playoffs, so this was a must game for us. If we go in here and don't win, we really don't have a realistic chance of even thinking about the playoffs."
If Denver can beat their arch rivals next week -- and they've already handed the Raiders their only loss this season, at Oakland in Week 3 -- the Broncos' schedule turns manageable in the weeks ahead.
After the Oakland game, Denver plays San Diego at Mile High, then faces struggling Seattle twice in three weeks. Tough trips to New Orleans and Kansas City remain, but Denver closes out the season with a home game against outmanned San Francisco. If the Broncos can beat the Raiders and win the other games they will be favored in, they'll finish 10-6 and be in prime wild-card position.
But it all started with Sunday's conquest of New York, in a rematch of the 1998 AFC title game.
Asked if one victory can propel a team's whole season, Shanahan, for a change, grew cautious.
"Obviously, it's better than losing," he said. "We'll wait and see. At 4-4 we dug ourselves a little hole. It wasn't realistic to think we were going to do anything if we didn't come in here and get a win."