The St. Louis Rams dumped Gang Green, 32-29, Sunday in the regular
season finale at the Edward Jones Dome on Jeff Wilkins’ 31-yard field
goal with 3:02 remaining in overtime. But by virtue of the Steelers’
victory over the Buffalo Bills, the Jets advance to a Wild Card playoff
game next Saturday night at San Diego. The Rams also earned post-season
life with their win.
“I hate to lose getting in [the playoffs],” said Jets head coach Herman
Edwards, who has led his team to the playoffs in three of his four
seasons at the helm. “But we’ll take it. Now, all we have to do is get
in the playoffs and win.”
This was certainly not the kind of game the Jets wanted as a
springboard to the postseason. Gang Green, 10-6, began the 2004
football campaign at 5-0 but lost six of their final 11 games. They
enter the playoffs with a number of concerns – including a secondary
that was burned by St. Louis quarterback Marc Bulger for 450 passing
yards and three touchdowns; confusion on the sidelines and in the
huddle that resulted in their burning two timeouts early in the second
half; and a sub-par pass-blocking performance by a usually reliable
offensive line, which relinquished six sacks of quarterback Chad Pennington.
And yes, the Pennington-led offense continued to struggle. One week
after scoring only seven points in their loss to the New England Patriots at the Meadowlands, the Jets’ offense crossed the goal line
just once on Pennington’s 8-yard touchdown pass to tight end Chris Baker in the second quarter that gave Gang Green a 10-7 lead. The Jets’
other scores came on three Doug Brien field goals, a 38-yard
interception return by linebacker Jonathan Vilma and Jerricho Cotchery’s 94-yard kickoff return.
Pennington (21 of 36 for 181 yards and one touchdown) was erratic, and
his performance on Sunday will, undoubtedly, add fuel to the critics’
concerns about his ability to come up big in crucial situations. The
Jets’ quarterback failed to drive his team to a game-winning touchdown
in the waning seconds of the fourth quarter despite having a
first-and-goal at the St. Louis 9-yard line with the Rams leading
29-26. Pennington misfired on three consecutive passes, including one
that was deflected at the line of scrimmage and another that almost
became a game-clinching interception but was dropped at the goal line
by Rams safety Adam Archuleta.
“We have to score more points, obviously,” said Pennington, who spread
the ball around to nine different receivers. “If you’re going to be a
championship team, you have to put the ball in the end zone as an
offense. Right now, we’re great between the 20s and the last two games
we haven’t done a very good job inside the red zone, kicking field
goals and not scoring enough touchdowns. It’s not the talent level,
it’s not the play calling – it’s the execution.”
Rescued by what appeared to be divine providence via Archuleta’s drop,
the Jets settled for Brien’s 27-yard field goal with three seconds left
in regulation to tie the game at 29-29 and set up the overtime period.
Brien gave the Jets a chance to win in OT, but his 53-yard attempt was
After stopping the Rams on their second possession in OT, the Jets
advanced to the St. Louis 40-yard line on Curtis Martin’s 19-yard run.
But after a 5-yard pass from Pennington to Santana Moss, the drive
stalled. On third down and four at the Rams’ 34 Pennington overthrew
Cotchery near the right sideline, setting up Brien’s missed field goal
The Rams’ winning drive was keyed by Bulger’s 22-yard completion to
running back Steven Jackson in the flat to the Jets’ 14-yard line. One
play later, Wilkins kicked the decisive field goal.
After falling behind 21-10 in the third quarter following Bulger’s
44-yard touchdown strike to Torry Holt on the Rams’ first play of their
drive, Gang Green scored 16 unanswered points to take a 26-21 lead.
Cotchery got things rolling with his 94-yard TD return of the kickoff
following Holt’s score and Brien followed with a 33-yard field goal to
bring the Jets within one point.
Cotchery benefited from a crunching block delivered by B.J. Askew on
kicker Wilkins to spring him for the touchdown.
“The first return I had [before the touchdown] the kicker tackled me,”
Cotchery, a rookie from North Carolina State, explained. “You never
want the kicker to tackle you.”
Defensive end Shaun Ellis – who recorded the Jets’ three sacks of
Bulger -- then deflected the pass that Vilma intercepted and returned
38 yards for a touchdown and a 26-21 Gang Green lead. The Jets opted
for a two-point conversion try, but Pennington’s pass to tight end
Anthony Becht was incomplete.
The Rams regained the lead, 29-26, on a 19-yard TD strike to Holt and
Jackson’s conversion run. Throughout the afternoon, the Jets secondary
had difficulty dealing with the assortment of crossing routes, slants
and drags that the Rams’ offense favors.
Martin, meanwhile, rushed for 153 yards on 28 carries and moved into
fourth place on the NFL’s career rushing yardage list, surpassing Eric
Dickerson and Jerome Bettis. Martin has run for 13,366 career yards.
“I don’t think we’re going to have a problem with confidence,” Martin
said of Gang Green’s mindset entering next week’s game at San Diego. “I
think our problem is in just playing the way we’re capable. These last
few games I don’t think we’ve stepped up and played the way we’re
capable of playing. We’re showing glimpses of it, but a glimpse isn’t
good enough in the playoffs.”
“The feeling would have been a lot better had we won,” Ellis added.
“Obviously, now our mood is kind of in the middle so we just have to
put this game behind us and get ready for next week.”
The Jets opened the scoring on Brien’s 47-yard field goal in the first
quarter, but the Rams jumped to a 7-3 lead in the second quarter in
blitzkrieg fashion. On first down, Bulger connected for 34 yards with
Kevin Curtis, found Jackson for 20 more yards and then hit Isaac Bruce
with a 26-yard TD pass – an 80-yard drive in just three plays.
Gang Green roared back on the ensuing drive, with Pennington completing
passes of 17 and 11 yards to WR Justin McCareins and 10 yards to
Cotchery to set up Baker’s touchdown. McCareins led Gang Green’s
receivers with six catches for 62 yards.
After taking the kickoff following Baker’s TD, the Rams again found
plenty of wide open spaces in the Jets secondary – particularly on
Bulger’s 33-yard pass to Shaun McDonald, who displayed brilliant
open-field running on the play – and marched to the 10-yard line. But
rookie safety Erik Coleman ended the threat, intercepting a pass
intended for McDonald at the Jets’ 1-yard line with 1:39 remaining in
the first half.
Leading 14-10 at halftime, St. Louis threatened to turn the game into a
rout by scoring on their first possession of the third quarter on
Jackson’s 20-yard touchdown run. The score was set up by a costly
35-yard pass interference call on cornerback David Barrett who was
covering the speedy and dangerous Holt.
Vilma doesn’t think the down note to the regular season will affect the
Jets’ performance in the playoffs.
“It’s a different mindset now that we’re in the playoffs,” Vilma said.
“We’re not even thinking about the [regular] season anymore. The
accomplishment was to get to the playoffs or the goal was to get to the
playoffs and now we have to win. We have four games to win to get to
the Super Bowl.”