EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- We're halfway through the year, and already the Green Bay Packers have 10 players scratched from their roster because of season-ending injuries. So naturally, expectations for a team that had Super Bowl aspirations two months ago have been lowered.
Not by the Packers, of course, but by virtually everyone else who likes to talk on that subject. But I would be careful before eliminating these guys from anything. With four starters and five key performers missing from their defense, they just pulled off their biggest win of the year and their first shutout on the road since 1991.
|The Packers keep the heat on Mark Sanchez, who proves incapable of carrying the Jets' offense. (AP)|
Yes, the team that proclaimed itself the best in the game ... the team that a gaggle of writers and reporters proclaimed the best in the game ... the team that running back LaDainian Tomlinson proclaimed the best he had ever played on -- forgetting that he played on a 14-2 Chargers club in 2006 ... just got smoked at home by a defense so badly depleted it suited up and played one guy who practiced a day with the team.
"That says we can play with anybody," safety Nick Collins said after the 9-0 victory. "We don't have to be the top dog. We just have to go out there and play every Sunday. Talk is cheap. You gotta go out there and show it on the field."
Well, the Packers did. And the Jets did not. And, sorry, Jets fans, but what happened Sunday is why New England, not New York, still is considered the team to beat in the AFC East.
Forget about the league or the conference. I'm talking about a division many observers assume belongs to New York, largely because the Jets imported so many high-profile players, went to last season's conference championship game and, before Sunday, were in the midst of a five-game winning streak that included a defeat of defending champion New England.
But this just in: The Packers just beat New York without their best players and with the Jets coming off a bye. Furthermore, they exploited the Jets' weakness, which is still quarterback Mark Sanchez. While he played well early this season, his past three starts have been little more than ordinary -- and I know, there were critical drops Sunday, including one by Santonio Holmes that could've gone the distance, but Sanchez couldn't carry the team when that's what it needed.
He threw two interceptions. He couldn't convert two key fourth downs in the last period. And he couldn't produce a point in any period. In short, he failed. OK, so it happens. But it's not supposed to happen to a team that has anointed itself the team that will displace Tom Brady and the Patriots in the AFC East.
"They feel like they're a high-powered offense," Collins said, "but I think they're afraid to put the ball in Sanchez's hands sometimes."
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Uh-oh, that's not what you want to hear, Jets fans. The Jets are still about "Ground and Pound," with the league's second-ranked rushing offense, but sometimes you must do what you must do, and with Green Bay checking their opponents to 119 yards rushing and virtually nothing working, the Jets turned to Sanchez. And he failed to respond.
"We wanted Sanchez to [try to] beat us," Collins said.
They succeeded, and look what's going on now. I'm not talking about the Jets or the AFC East. I mean the NFC North, where the Packers were supposed to rule until turning into a casting call for Grey's Anatomy. They not only stay on top with their second straight win; they steadied themselves for floundering Dallas next weekend with a performance where they were penalized only three times, committed no turnovers and forced three takeaways.
The knock on the Pack was that it couldn't run and didn't have enough on defense to play with the big boys. But it just played with one of them. No, it just dominated one of them, and I don't know if that says more about the Jets or the Packers, but I do know it means Green Bay remains front and center in the playoff picture -- especially with defensive backs Atari Bigby and Al Harris close to returning to the lineup.
"It just says we're not out of this thing yet," cornerback Charles Woodson said. "A lot of people had written us off before the Vikings game [last weekend], and we've been able to put together a couple wins. Coming in here and playing on the road against the Jets, which is a good team, and winning another close game. ..."
He didn't need to finish the sentence. The Packers provided the exclamation point by winning the old fashioned way -- the first time since 2006 it won by scoring nine or fewer points. Normally, it's Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense that dominates the postgame conversation, but not now -- not with Green Bay shutting down the Jets with an undermanned defense.
"We just wanted to come in and prove to everybody what we're all about," linebacker Clay Matthews said.
Mission accomplished. But in getting there they might have proved what the Jets are all about, too. I know it's early, and it's only one loss, but caution flags will be raised after their latest performance. Sanchez later characterized it as "only a bump in the road," and maybe he's right. But listen to what the Packers said afterward, and maybe Jets fans should at least be wary.
"Obviously, defensively they're good," Tramon Williams said, "and it's always going to keep them in a game. For me to say they're a good team ... yeah, they're a good team. [But] I can't say that they're a Super Bowl contender. They'll probably be in the playoffs, but who knows who comes hot then?"
Notice he mentioned the defense and not Sanchez or the offense? That's because there was nothing to say. For New York's sake, that better change. There's another quarterback in their division who has won Super Bowl trophies, and he knows how to get to the top -- and it's by beating injury-depleted teams like Green Bay. The Jets failed, and only time will determine how significant this loss becomes.
"We just got overshadowed by injuries," Williams said. "That's cool. Overshadow us. We still know we're capable of being great."
They just proved it.