Kerry Rhodes — playing his first game back in the New York area since the Jets traded him and coach Rex Ryan infamously insulted him — had two interceptions, a forced fumble and a big pass breakup on third down in a superlative Cardinals defensive effort.
While Jets kicker and former University of Arizona kicker Nick Folk struck the uprights with two of his field-goal attempts, making ASU fans smile, former Jet Jay Feely was true on both of his attempts for the Cardinals.
And the Cards’ defense, their backbone all season, held the Jets to seven points and 289 yards while forcing four turnovers.
All the ingredients were there for a long-awaited win. Almost all.
During a conference call earlier in the week, Ryan told Arizona media members that his team never had a chance of beating the Patriots – or anybody else — on Thanksgiving Day because the Jets turned the ball over five times in that 49-19 beatdown.
Of course, Ryan had no idea what he was up against this week: the Cardinals offense.
In his second consecutive start, Cards rookie QB Ryan Lindley was embarrassingly bad, completing just 10 of 31 passes for 72 yards with no TDs, an interception and a rock-bottom 0-for-15 third-down conversion rate in the Jets’ 7-6 win. The Cards’ five first downs tied the franchise record low that was set in 1961.
Perhaps the only thing more maddening than Lindley’s glaring and consistent ineffectiveness was coach Ken Whisenhunt’s steadfast refusal to pull him in favor of John Skelton.
Had Skelton done anything in his six previous appearances to prove he deserved a shot? No, he had not. But this wasn’t about Skelton being a long-term solution. This wasn’t about Skelton at all. This was about recognizing that a rookie quarterback on the road just didn’t have it. It was about making a change to give your defense some kind of hope after it played its collective ass off for you on the field.
“If it takes the defense to score points, that’s what we have to do,” said downcast cornerback Patrick Peterson, who had a ridiculously athletic interception that featured him leaping over the back of Jets receiver Chaz Schilens and pulling the ball in one-handed. “We have to do whatever it takes to tally up wins.”
It was fair to let Lindley play well into the second half to see if he could find his groove — a luxury not afforded Skelton in that infamous loss in Atlanta two weeks ago. But when the Jets scored their first touchdown early in the fourth quarter to take a 7-3 lead and Lindley followed with another three-and-out, it was obvious this just wasn’t his day.
Following last week’s loss to the Rams, Whisenhunt insisted he would not opt for the evaluation of young players with the season out of reach.
“We are going to put the best guys in there that are going to give us the chance to win,” Whisenhunt said. “We aren’t going to evaluate personnel over trying to win games.”
OK, then explain leaving Lindley in when it was so clear he wasn’t giving your team a chance to win. Explain sitting tight end Todd Heap when the supposed future of the club, Rob Housler, still hasn’t demonstrated a consistent ability to block or make an impact in the passing game (four catches for 15 yards).
And above all, explain how, with your own job potentially on the line, you allow a notorious stubborn streak to prevent you from reverting to Skelton or Heap when your club so desperately needs a reason to smile.
While Whisenhunt allowed Lindley to finish the game, Ryan opted to pull starting quarterback Mark Sanchez in favor of Greg McElroy, who led the Jets on their only TD drive.
“You know what? He won the game,” Whisenhunt said. “They can say whatever they want to say about it. We didn’t get the job done.”
Two winnable games just passed the Cardinals by, and a brutal road date at Seattle looms next Sunday. The Cardinals just tied the franchise’s Super Bowl-era record with their eighth straight loss and will probably set the new mark next week at noisy CenturyLink Field, where the Seahawks are 5-0 this year.
Until now, we have held steady in our belief that Whisenhunt deserves to serve out the final year of his contract next season, that he deserves a chance to turn this thing around. But if the Cards free fall to 5-11 or 4-12, which appears likely, we’d set those odds at about 50-50 — especially when the coach’s own gambles are hurting his chances.