NFL delivers fitting finale on 9/11

BY foxsports • September 11, 2011

The assortment of memorials and ceremonies was mercifully subdued and entirely appropriate: a 100-yard flag unfurled, uniformed personnel and bleating bagpipe chorus. Robert De Niro spoke briefly, then the ex-President, George W. Bush, flipped the coin. Halftime passed quickly, with a light formation to represent the fallen towers, and a mournful melody.

It wasn’t what you might have expected. But it was altogether welcome; an acknowledgment that 10 years later, the game was the thing. What better way to celebrate all that is unconquerable about this country than an NFL game, with recreational vehicles, beer and smoking meat in the parking lots, a festival of corporate sponsorship and high-def hitting. This is the American Way, all of it a mighty, immodest rebuke to the terrorists.

“For us to be scheduled for this game on 9/11. . . it means a lot to people,” said Darrelle Revis, whose fourth-quarter interception of Tony Romo basically provided the margin of victory.

“This week, we all just felt it,” Jets coach Rex Ryan said. “You can see where the towers were from our stadium.”

If the Jets want to believe that the anniversary gave them extra pressure and additional motivation, then fine. If you want to believe that New York became America’s team for a night, then OK. But neither Ryan nor Revis would argue cause and effect. Neither the Jets win nor the Cowboys loss had anything to do with the attack of a decade ago. The night was great way to celebrate our star-spangled virtues and excesses. Only a country as great as this would offer a recently released felon like Plaxico Burress a chance to catch a touchdown and take a bow in front of a crowd of 78,702.

But, again, the game was the thing: Jets 27, Cowboys 24. For only the third time in franchise history, the Jets came back from a deficit of 14 or more points in the fourth quarter. Now, after two consecutive appearances in the conference championship game, it is enough to think that the Jets have finally vanquished their former choking selves, the Same Old Jets.

“You saw the resolve this football team has,” said Ryan, who wasn’t blathering. “. . . We have a lot of work to do, but we’ll take this kind of victory any day of the week.”

They were out-passed, and lacked any semblance of a running game. Despite throwing for 335 yards, Mark Sanchez also had 18 incompletions, a lost fumble and an interception that led to a 1-yard scoring drive for Dallas. “It was such a bonehead play,” said Sanchez. “It’s my third year as the quarterback. I’m a captain. You can’t do that.”

If the acknowledgment was refreshingly honest, it was also made easier by the Jets’ victory. It’s getting to be a habit for them, winning imperfectly.

The Cowboys, on the other hand, seem to have initiated a new tradition, that of falling apart under Tony Romo. No, he’s not to blame for the blocked punt the Jets turned into a touchdown. But in that fourth quarter alone, he fumbled 2 yards short of the goal line and threw that interception to Revis.

“We know that Tony struggles with pressure,” Revis said.

With the score tied and 59 seconds left, Romo had intended the pass for Dez Bryant. Problem was — at least for Romo — the coverage had been disguised. What looked like man-to-man was actually a zone. It almost looked too easy for Revis, who returned the ball 20 yards.

“A dumb decision . . . my fault,” Romo said. “It’s just disappointing and frustrating right now because we win that football game tonight if I don’t do what I did.”

Four plays later, Nick Folk nailed a 50-yard field goal.

“We haven’t played our best ball,” Revis said, “. . . but we did show heart at the end. We showed heart and toughness and we fought back. Nobody held their heads down.”

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, on the other hand, summarized the game thusly: “We turned the ball over, had a punt blocked, and then turned it over again.” In a matter of moments, he’d have an audience with his boss. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones had left the press room looking pale and crestfallen.

A great night for America, but not for America’s team.