By Brad Carroll
The last time the New York Jets played on Monday Night Football, Geno Smith had the best game of his young career, throwing for three touchdowns and leading a game-winning drive as Nick Folk hit a field goal to give the Jets a 30-28 win against the Falcons in Atlanta. It was a signature victory at the time and had everyone believing Smith was indeed a future franchise quarterback.
Of course, things did go exactly as planned following that win, with the Jets missing the playoffs and Smith leaving plenty of doubt he could even be a starting quarterback in this league.
One year later the Jets are in the same position as they were back then, playing an NFC team looking for that signature win that could propel them toward a postseason run. The Jets get that opportunity against the Chicago Bears at home Monday night, with Smith still trying to erase any doubt he is the quarterback of the now and future for the Jets.
The Jets come into this game reeling after a tough loss to the Packers last week, blowing an 18-point lead and falling 31-24. There was also the timeout fiasco, when a game-tying touchdown pass late in the game was wiped out when defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson called time from the sideline. With games against Detroit, San Diego, Denver and New England up next, this could be a make-or-break game for the team's playoff chances.
The Bears lost their season opener in overtime at home to the Bills, then came from behind to beat the 49ers 28-20 last week. So, the Bears have all the momentum they could want heading into this road game against the Jets.
Here are three keys to victory for the Jets as they get their chance to prove themselves on the big stage of Monday Night Football.
Contain Marshall and Jeffery
The Chicago Bears have some big playmakers on offense, with quarterback Jay Cutler, running back Matt Forte and wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. While the Jets should be able to keep Forte in check on the ground, as nobody has been able to run against them so far, the two wide receivers will pose a huge challenge to the suspect Jets secondary. Dee Milliner is doubtful for Monday night and likely won't play, leaving Darrin Walls, Antonio Allen and Kyle Wilson to cover the Bears' star receivers. Last week against the Packers, Aaron Rodgers threw for 346 yards and Jordy Nelson alone had 209 receiving yards. If the Jets can't slow down Marshall or Jeffery, they will have little chance to win this game. Both of the Bears wide-outs are hampered by injuries, but it didn't slow them down that much against San Francisco last week, as they combined for eight catches for 95 yards and three touchdowns. If Walls, Allen and Wilson play like they did last week, the Jets won't stand a chance. For Jets fans, watching Jeffery will also cause some pain, as the Jets traded up in the 2012 draft to select Stephen Hill, passing on the Bears wide receiver in the process. Obviously, that was a huge mistake. The Bears also have Santonio Holmes, the former Jet who caused more drama that he caught passes in New York.
Geno Be Good
Geno Smith was well on his way to playing the best game of his career last week against Green Bay, and likely getting his biggest victory, but that all changed when he threw an interception with under two minutes to play in the first half. On first and 10 from the Green Bay 27, and with the Jets ahead 21-9, Smith was intercepted on a pass down the sideline and the Packers took over at their own 3. Green Bay went on to score a touchdown and ended up winning the game. Smith started the game 8-for-10 for 89 yards and two touchdowns. He finished 8-for-22 for 87 and an interception. Which Geno will show up on Monday night? It's really anyone's guess, which is a horrible state for the Jets to be in at the quarterback position. At one moment, Smith looks like the team's franchise quarterback, while one play later everyone is left wondering if he should even be a starter in this league. Even more pressure might be on Smith if wide receiver Eric Decker doesn't play Monday. He's questionable with a hamstring injury. If Smith plays well, both with his arm and legs, the Jets will have a great shot to win this game.
Cause Some Turnovers
The Jets are one of the worst teams at creating turnovers, going back to last year and really ever since Rex Ryan became the head coach. Despite having one of the best defenses in the league under Ryan, creating turnovers is something the team just doesn't do. So far this year the Jets have one takeaway, and that was on a fumbled snap by the Packers last week. Even worse, according to a stat on ESPN, the Jets have forced 22 fumbles over their last 18 games and have recovered just three of them. That is just unbelievable. Over the last three years, all non-playoff seasons, the Jets were a combined -31 in turnover ratio. They were -14 in each of the last two seasons. What it all means is the Jets need to reverse that trend and it's imperative they start against the Bears. Cutler should be forced to throw the ball against the Jets defense, as the front seven is sure to bottle up the ground attack, so it's beyond important that the secondary makes a big play. If the Jets can win the turnover battle, they will be in great shape to improve to 2-1 this season.
Check out our game predictions right here.