For the New York Jets, especially coach Rex Ryan, Sunday's 20-13 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers represented a giant sense of euphoria. Ryan was beaming during his postgame media session, obviously happy and relieved his team finally got back in the win column, breaking an embarrassing eight-game losing streak that likely will cost him his job at the end of the season.
But for this one day, Ryan and the Jets were on top of the world.
Ryan proved once again just how good a defensive coach he is, completely shutting down Steelers quarterback Ben Roesthlisberger until he threw an 80-yard touchdown pass with 1:16 to go. Before that, Ryan and his band of misfit defensive backs held Big Ben, who had 12 touchdown passes the last two weeks, to just 263 passing yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. The Jets started Marcus Williams and Philip Adams at cornerback, for the record.
And then there was the takeaways. The Jets defense forced four turnovers in the game, getting two interceptions and two fumble recoveries. Safety Jaiquawn Jarrett had two interceptions and a fumble recovery on his own, putting together one of the most impressive games by a defensive back all season, not only on the Jets, but in the NFL.
The Jets came into the game with three takeaways all season.
The Jets defensive line reestablished themselves as a group that can't be run on, coming up with two goal line stands at the end of the third quarter and the first Pittsburgh drive of the fourth quarter, allowing just a field goal. The Steelers were held to 32 rushing yards on 17 carries.
The Jets offense was more than good enough to win this game as well, with Michael Vick showing everyone what this team would look like with a real quarterback under center. Vick hit T.J. Graham for a 67-yard touchdown bomb on a pass that traveled 50 yards in the air, and later hit Jace Amaro for a five-yard scoring pass with 19 seconds to go in the first quarter to go up 17-0. The Jets added just a field goal after that scoring outburst, but that's all that was needed this week.
It was a great day for the Jets, who avoided the first nine-game losing streak in franchise history.
But of course, there are the "what-ifs" that must be brought up. What if the Jets played defense like this all season long. What if the Jets had an offense that relied on the running game each and every week. What if the Jets took shots down field like Vick did against Pittsburgh, as the scoring bomb to Graham made a huge statement to the Steelers this wasn't going to be a walk-over. And the biggest what if ... what if the Jets actually chose to bench Geno Smith much earlier (we called for the switch to Vick to be made before the Lions game) and handed the team over the Vick.
This dominating performance against the hottest team and quarterback in football proved exactly what kind of potential the Jets have. But they were doomed in the first half of the season by a quarterback (Smith) who had no ability to win games consistently.
Ryan will pay for that decision by losing his job after the season, unless a miracle happens and owner Woody Johnson brings him back yet again. General manager John Idzik is most to blame for the Jets having no shot at the playoffs this season, at 2-8 after the win, but if it truly was Ryan's decision alone to keep playing Smith, then he shoulders a ton of the blame as well.
If there was a choice, however, Ryan should stay and Idzik should go. It's pretty simple, if both were fired, Idzik wouldn't sniff another general manager job. Ryan, however, would be scooped up in a second, most likely taking over the Atlanta Falcons next year. He'd finally be able to pair a championship-coached defense with a franchise quarterback. That would be a scary combination to the rest of the NFL.
But for this Sunday, there is nothing to complain about if you're a Jets fan, who had to forget what winning felt like. The last Jets win was opening day against the Raiders. The winning feeling is guaranteed to last a little bit longer, too, as the Jets head now into their bye week.
Even those fans who are hoping the Jets tank the rest of the season so they can draft either Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston to take over the franchise at quarterback next year had to smile with this dominating performance, not to mention knowing the thousands of Pittsburgh fans who made the long trip to New Jersey had to head home in disappointment.
Yes, this victory brought up a ton of "what-ifs" that could drive a fan crazy. But there's nothing better than winning. The Jets and their fans got to remember what that felt like Sunday.