By Brad Carroll
The Atlanta Falcons have lost three straight games, with all three coming against AFC East opponents, from the Buffalo Bills, to the Miami Dolphins to the New England Patriots last week. This Sunday it will be the New York Jets turn to complete the division sweep against Atlanta.
The Jets are coming off consecutive losses, one of which was met with outrage in what could have been an upset win over the Patriots, while the other epic disappointment after a fourth-quarter collapse against the Dolphins. Those results put the Jets back into the list of non-contenders in the AFC, a spot they likely always belonged, except for those three straight wins that had the fan base believing anything was possible.
The Jets are 3-4 and a game and a half out of the two wild card spots, currently held by the Bills and Dolphins, if you’re still dreaming about the postseason, which there is really no reason not to at this point. But the loss to the Dolphins last week, where the Jets held a 14-point fourth quarter lead, had to bring whatever happiness and hope there was for this season to a screeching halt.
It might get even worse if the Falcons play up to their ability Sunday instead of the team this season that looks nothing like the one that should have won the Super Bowl last year, if not for an epic collapse against the Patriots, blowing a 28-3 lead. The Falcons average just 21.3 points per game this season, which is astonishing considering they have Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman leading the offense.
The Jets are hoping the Falcons continue their struggles for at least one more week, as a home victory over Atlanta would put them right back in the playoff hunt. A loss could end the Jets season at the midway point.
Let’s take a look at three keys to a Jets victory at home against the Falcons Sunday.
Cut Out The Penalties
The Jets are the most penalized team in the NFL yards-wise this season, with 546 penalty yards in seven games, an outrageous average of 78 yards per. They had 12 penalties for 124 yards against the Dolphins last week and were hit with six for 69 yards against the Patriots, which included some huge pass interference calls that killed the Jets defensive momentum. The penalties was brought up after the game last week as a major reason for the loss in Miami, and if the Jets go wild drawing yellow flags again Sunday, they will have no shot at beating the Falcons.
Keep Devonta Freeman In Check
Matt Ryan and Julio Jones make up one of the NFL’s best quarterback-receiver combinations, but the Jets must focus on and limit the impact made by Falcons running back Devonta Freeman. The fourth-year runner has 425 yards and five touchdowns on the ground this season with another 99 yards on 14 receptions. When Freeman has a big game, the Falcons win. In the first two games of the season, Freeman combined for 190 yards and three touchdowns in victories over the Packers and Lions. In the three losses that followed, Freeman averaged just 66 yards rushing and had one touchdown. The Jets defense has had a great stretch of keeping the opponent’s top rusher in check, starting in Week 3, and need to continue that trend against Freeman Sunday.
Jets Need Good McCown, Not Terrible McCown
The good and bad of having Josh McCown as your quarterback was on display against the Dolphins last week. McCown passed for 209 yards with three touchdowns, plus a fourth score rushing, in building a 28-14 lead heading to the fourth quarter. It doesn’t get any better than that. But then came that final quarter, where McCown and the offense could barely gain a yard, and then turned the ball over in the worst way at the worst time possible. From their own 15, McCown came out throwing on the first play with the game tied in the final minute, and tossed one of the worst passes and decisions you’ll ever see, which the Dolphins easily turned into an interception at the sideline. The game was lost right there, as the Dolphins kicked a game-winning field goal soon after. The Jets need McCown to play his best for four quarters and not make the stupid mistakes he’s currently making. The Jets should continue to open up the offense, throwing the ball often, as it’s worked well, but McCown and company can’t disappear when it matters most and turn the ball over to boot.