This article originally appeared at The Vertex. It has been reprinted here with the permission of the author.
The New York Jets are in the playoffs. The team that had been left for dead and considered done by their fans, the media, and even their own coach, will play in the postseason this year. I was there tonight in the freezing cold (and sans-beer) to watch them maul the Cincinnati Bengals 37-0 and earn a spot in next week's rematch. And still, there will always be cynics and Shmucks refusing to give them credit, pointing to the fact that they beat the Colts, who rested their starters, and the Bengals, who had little to play for, en route to clinching a playoff spot. But if anyone is waiting for an apology from the Jets or from their fans for their good fortune, they won't be getting one any time soon.
For starters, there was nothing unfair about tonight's game. This wasn't the Jets taking advantage of a team with nothing to play for. It was the Jets outperforming and outplaying a team that they were better than tonight. The Bengals played their starters: Carson Palmer and Chad Ochocinco played well into the 2nd half, although from their final stats you might not have known it. Ocho Cinco, in particular, spent all week talking about how he was going to break through against Darrelle Revis, but when it came time to back it up, he ended up with a big nada: 0 catches. I hope he talks just as much this week. They couldn't move the ball at all and their defense couldn't stop the Jets ground game. At halftime, the Jets led 27-0. And yes, the Colts didn't put their best foot forward in the second half of the game last week, resting Peyton Manning and a bunch of other starters on offense, but the Jets were still very much in the game (down 15-10) at that point and still had to execute and succeed against inferior competition, something that should by no means be taken for granted in the NFL. Also, for the record, any team that played the Jets in any game this season since week 6 did so with the benefit of not having to worry about nose tackle Kris Jenkins (either the best or second best player on the team) blowing up their running game, as he was on the sidelines with a knee injury. I didn't hear any commentators diminish the victories of anyone the Jets lost to this year with "well they beat the Jets without Jenkins, so that doesn't count." All you can do is play against the team that shows up.
More importantly, of the teams in contention, who would even have a valid claim against the Jets' playoff spot? The Texans, who the Jets beat in week 1? The Dolphins, who lost 4 of their last 6 games, including their final 3 contests? The Jaguars, who lost 5 of their last 6, including their last 4 games, capped off by a week 17 defeat at the hands of the Browns? The Broncos, who lost 8 of their last 10 and their last 4, including embarrassing losses down the stretch to the Chiefs and Raiders, a team the Jets beat 38-0? The Titans, who didn't win a game this season until November? Lamarr Woodley and the Steelers, who lost games to the combined 12-33 Chiefs, Browns, and Raiders - a team that, again, the Jets beat 38-0? Which of these teams was wronged by the Jets' presence in the postseason instead of them? Each of them had plenty of chances to find their way in, but failed to take advantage. The Jets, on the other hand, did take advantage of their chance. Sure, you can argue that the Jets have not exactly been great team, but it's not like any of these other teams have either. Any player or fan of these teams who feels cheated can feel free to tune in this Saturday at 4:30 to watch the Jets play in the playoffs.
As for the Jets, the second season starts the same way the first one ended: with a game against Cincinnati. The Jets said all week that they were approaching this week's game like it was their Super Bowl, but let's hope they don't think their work this season is done. If the Jets play like a team that is just happy to be in the playoffs, they will lose. If they play like the team we saw tonight, however - a team that had the top ranked defense in the NFL (both in terms of yards and points allowed) and the best rushing offense in the league (172 yards per game) - they can play with anyone. Will they go deep into the playoffs? It's hard to believe they will. But if you told me at several different points this season that the Jets would be playing in the playoffs, I wouldn't have believed that either.
As I walked back to the car after the game, I received an email from my dad. "Cold day in hell arrives," he wrote, ending off a regular season that I had insisted early on would be defined as distinct from those my father had endured. This team with a bold new head coach, a dazzling rookie quarterback, and a tenacious defense, were not my father's Jets. And although they spent much of the season trying to prove me wrong, in the end, they vindicated me. My father's Jets would have been a team that despite leading the league in defense and rushing, would have missed the playoffs. But these Jets made the playoffs despite having a rookie coach and a mistake-prone rookie quarterback and despite having an 0-5 record in games decided by fewer than five points. My father's Jets would have been a team that missed the playoffs despite starting out 3-0; these Jets made the playoffs despite a mediocre 4-6 record heading into the home stretch. My father's Jets would have apologized for a lucky break; these Jets realize they have nothing to be sorry for.