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The New York Jets: Week Nine

12/11/2010

The whole thing was improbable from the start. Maybe it was fated to be that way. The game happened in Motor City, after all. Good things aren’t meant to happen in Detroit anymore. The place used up its cosmic chits during the fat days, the salad days, the days when money rained down from the skies. Marvin Gaye put it like this, “Detroit turned out to be heaven, but it also turned out to be hell.” The Jets were beaten, and yet they won. The Detroit Lions collapsed in the final minutes. Unsure about exactly what it means to win, they stumbled over themselves in the ever-deepening knowledge of what is defeat.

When the New York Jets came into Detroit, they were reeling from a loss to the Green Bay Packers the previous week in which they scored zero points. That bothered me, the scoring of no points, none, zilch. It is difficult to make the argument that you are a great team when you have a game in which a decent, though by no means extraordinary defense shuts you out completely. A certain dream collapsed and died that day at the Meadowlands. The final rites were administered as the last drive by the Jets fizzled into naught and the final seconds on the terrible game clock ticked away into oblivion.

The dream was a dream of ease, of Halcyon days in which a dominant team would rip its way through one opponent after another. Rarely does such a dream come to pass. That’s the thing about Halcyon days, they are always something remembered, they are never something happening right now. They are days of retrospect, and even in retrospect we recognize the degree to which we pretty up the past, glossing over its painful bits.

We can now accept the idea that there will be no Halcyon days. This Jets season will be endured in the same way in which most seasons are endured. It will be experienced in pain and frustration, in fear punctuated by moments of profound relief, like when Nick Folk kicked it through the uprights to win the Detroit game in overtime. A moment of heavenly, seemingly bottomless relief.

Kickers, for all the abuse they endure in not being “real” football players, are the administrators of great moments of relief and agony. A field goal is, after all, the very epitome of relief. Your offense has failed in some fundamental way when the kicking team comes out. The great goal of football, the touchdown, has eluded your grasp. So, we settle for a field goal. And that is where the relief comes. At least we were able to salvage those three points. An honest man would, in all likelihood, take his field goals with more gratitude. The provisional victory of the field goal is like most of life’s triumphs, it is bittersweet and inextricable from a host of simmering regrets.

I’ve seen Rex Ryan on the sidelines cheering for a field goal like he was watching his own son at a track meet. I like Rex when he does those kinds of things, bringing joy to the mundane. Rex Ryan’s motto, in this as in many things, is cribbed from the playbook of Saint Teresa of Avila. “Accustom yourself continually to make many acts of love, for they enkindle and melt the soul.” For hidden in the pedestrian relief of the field goal is the possibility of true ecstasy, utter agony. The field goal that ends the game, the field goal as the final seconds tick off the clock, is a brutal exclamation mark on a kind of finality normal life rarely provides. Just ask Scott Norwood and the Buffalo Bills about that.

Do we really know anything about football? Seeking patterns, tendencies, and rules, the human brain is hard-wired to understand. But what if it is all a lie? What if we constantly misapply this talent for patterns, what if we throw regularity and predictability over all the events of our lives even when, as in most cases, the application is less than warranted? I’m reminded of David Hume and his depressing musings over billiard balls. We never actually get to see the causality within the attendant motions following the impact of billiard balls. We know what will happen only because of past experience and the assumption that past experience governs future events. We formulate laws. We settle into a predictable world. But we can never get to the causality as such. We can never really know.

There was one play at the end of the Detroit game that may have been decisive. Jets running back LaDainian Tomlinson ran for a first down and then went out of bounds to stop the clock. Lions linebacker Julian Peterson hit him after the fact. It’s a fifteen yard penalty. That put the Jets within field goal range. The play had nothing to do with anything else that happened in the game. It was simply a mistake by one man during one particular play. Because of it, though, the Jets won and the Lions lost.

This utterly changed the narrative of the game and the Jets’ season so far. The Jets are 6-2 now. They are a team that knows how to win tough games, to pull out the win no matter what. But the decisive moment in that win may have been a play that had nothing to do with the Jets, with anything that a player or a coach did or didn’t do. An episode of complete randomness has crept in to play a decisive role. It is terrifying, mystifying. It shakes me to the core.

Still, I’m feeling better about next week’s game against the Cleveland Browns. Technically speaking, we’re at the top of the AFC East again, and this team really knows how to win now…

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Morgan Meis is following the Jets’ season. Read his previous posts here >>

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