Corey Griffin, TheJetsBlog.comThe Jets’ victory over the hapless Raiders Sunday was more about postponing the ending than defining the tale.
Rex Ryan was neither fired nor extended due to the result and Geno Smith did not suddenly turn the corner because of a better-than-expected performance.
The Jets took advantage of a team worse off than them, dealing with a historically troublesome trip East. In a must-win game, the offense and special teams put forth commendable efforts, while the defense continued to crack and fray, particularly in the secondary.
None of this was all that surprising, although it felt like we were watching a different offense entirely given the ineptitude of the past month.
The best lesson to take from Sunday was the return of Geno’s confidence, a trait that had ended up on milk cartons instead of on the field recently. While the previous Jets quarterback to be benched responded with one of his worst games ever, Smith took advantage of a porous Oakland defense and a mostly-healthy group of receivers to fashion his best game in two months.
Perhaps the most encouraging part of Smith’s game Sunday was not through the air, but on the ground. On multiple occasions, including one near the end zone, Smith sensed the pocket breaking down or saw an opportunity to run and took off. He was decisive with the ball in his hands, which usually means good things.
Take this stat into account: When Smith has four or more rushing attempts, as he did Sunday, the Jets are a combined 5-0.
While Smith isn’t quite Russell Wilson or RG3, the correlation between his running prowess and the Jets’ victories is telling. The question now revolves around Smith’s ability to carry that performance forward into, gasp, a two-game winning streak. The Jets road trip next weekend offers no favors – a talented and dangerous Panthers squad coming of a bad defeat and needing a win to maintain their spot in the NFC wild card race.
Smith’s chances are boosted by the Jets’ injury report, which no longer includes Jeremy Kerley and Santonio Holmes. It’s no coincidence that the worst stretch of Geno’s season came with both players on the sideline. On Sunday, Holmes turned a first-quarter throw that was nearly a foot above his head into a 32-yard gain, while Kerley caught his first touchdown in six weeks by out-jumping a defender for a ball thrown a second too late.
On the surface, they were huge plays in their own right, but take into account that they bookended a poor throw to Kellen Winslow for what should’ve been a wide-open touchdown and Smith’s 20th interception of the season and it’s easy to see how the game could’ve trailed off just as quickly as it picked up.
In the next three weeks, the Jets will be facing much tougher teams than the lost-in-the-woods bunch that lined up across for them Sunday. The Panthers, the better-than-their-record Browns and the rival Dolphins could very easily represent a second three-game losing streak – a skid that would likely send Ryan out the door on Black Monday.
While Sunday’s win was important and contained uplifting moments, the Jets will need to be much better if they plan to win two out of the next three and keep hope alive that Ryan will be back in 2014. That means no collisions between Ed Reed and Antonio Cromartie, some semblance of the pass rush that dominated games earlier this year and enough plays from the receivers early in games to allow Smith to settle down and not feel pressured to do it all by himself.
It might be too much to ask. Hell, entering Sunday asking for an offensive touchdown felt like too much.
The Jets won the game they were supposed to win. Now, they have to win the ones their coach needs to save his job.
Corey works for NBCSports.com as an editor and can be reached at @cgriffin415 on Twitter.