The 2009 Pro Bowl is in the books, and the neat thing for Green & White followers is that the six Jets in the game all made some positive plays today.
Now that's not saying much, you might argue, considering that the AFC fell to the NFC, 30-21. But the point would be that as disappointing as their regular season ended, the half-dozen Jets (not including the seventh, Brett Favre, who withdrew due to his shoulder injury), comported themselves well on the NFL's all-star stage.
"It was tons of fun," said Leon Washington, kick returner and multipurpose threat. "With all these great guys on the AFC and the NFC, having camaraderie with these guys, and them coming out here to play for the fans of the Jets, everything was great."
Four of the six Jets got starts. For Jones, the AFC's leading rusher this season, he contributed six carries for 21 yards from the first drive through the opening drive of the second half.
"It felt good," Jones said. "I haven't played in about a month — I'm a little rusty. Practices were light so you really don't get the full effect of the game till you get out there. But I felt pretty good. I got some pretty decent reads, the line did a great job, all the backs ran well today, ran hard, and we just came up short."
Washington was even more prolific. Although he was hemmed in by the Giants' two kickers, kickoff man John Carney and punter Jeff Feagles, who managed to kick away from him most of the game, Leon had 67 kick-return yards and 28 offensive yards, including the longest run of the game, a 20-yard scoot that started the AFC on its final touchdown drive early in the fourth quarter.
Leon praised John Harbaugh and his Ravens coaching staff for allowing him to "provide those sparks when we needed them on offense." But he admitted to some disappointment because the Giants' wily kickoff man John Carney and punter Jeff Feagles deftly kicked away from No. 29 on several occasions.
"The guys from the Giants showed me no love, kind of kicked away from me, so I got kind of frustrated," Washington said. "I talked to John Carney before the game and early this week and he told me, 'We're not going to kick you the ball.' I thought he was just kidding."
Eight-time Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca and Pro Bowl rookie center Nick Mangold also made the starts on the O-line and played most of the first half, during which the Americans racked up 221 yards, 14 first downs and a 14-10 lead.
"It's always fun," Faneca said, "especially when you've got guys on your own team out here with you and especially on your own unit. Playing next to Nick all year and then to come out here play next to him, it's something special.'
"It was pretty bland stuff, so not much communicating needed to be done," Mangold said of the AFC scheme, "but it was nice having Alan there to make things a little easier throughout the week and then going into the game."
Turning to defense, Darrelle Revis didn't start but he contributed a lot to the AFC effort. He played left corner, right corner, nickelback and on special teams. And while there are some big plays in games that lost their significance due to the way the games unfolded from there, Revis' first Pro Bowl interception could've been huge.
As the third quarter aged, Giants QB Eli Manning tried to go for the home run to give the Nationals their first lead on a go-route to the Cardinals' Anquan Boldin. But Revis made another of his eye-popping picks, faintly reminiscent of that interception on a Chad Pennington-to-Ted Ginn end zone throw that he started the season with to seal the victory over the Dolphins.
"I saw Anquan Boldin just go deep, so I turned into him and looked up and saw the ball coming," Revis described the play. "It was in the sun a little bit, so I stared into the sun real good and saw the ball well. There wasn't that much contact between me and him. I just turned my body and tried to one-hand it. It was a good play on my part showcasing my talent and my abilities."
Last but certainly not least, DT Kris Jenkins got the start at the 1-technique in the AFC's 4-3 front. Jenkins had no tackles but was still active. He had that offsides penalty, for which he ran a personal 10-yard "gasser" between the opposite 30- and 40-yard lines, but he came back two plays later to reject a Drew Brees pass in the backfield and put on a nice spin move to bring pressure to Drew Brees' feet on a first-quarter incompletion.
"I always have a ball when I come out here," Jenkins said. "My father lives out here on the west end of the island. It's always good for me to be able to come out here and spend time with him. He was at the game, my grandparents were there, uncle, sister, not to mention her fiancé. Everybody came out and showed support and we had fun."
That's kind of what the Pro Bowl is all about it, and so what if some want to knock it for its perceived lack of competitiveness and anticlimactic nature. This game was plenty competitive, even after the NFC pulled away late. It provided again the chance for a team's top players to bring their families to a delightful venue.
And it gave a stage to a Jets outfit that wants to play next year in one of those two postseason-ending games they'll be playing in Miami in February 2010, either the relocated Pro Bowl or the little affair that will come a week later called Super Bowl XLIV.
"The Pro Bowl is definitely exciting," said Mangold, who was about to bring his family to join Faneca and his family, for a stopover on Maui before they headed back to the continental U.S. "This is definitely up there on the good things that have happened to me. The only thing i can imagine being better would be the Super Bowl."
We can dream and we can plan. And the Jets, some shaking off jetlag and some not, will soon begin doing both for 2009, now that 2008 is finally over.