It was that kind of day in Chicago. The Jets offense, the defense and special teamers were all in varying degrees of unhappiness about their hard-fought but unsatisfying 38-34 loss to the Bears.
But they also had to factor into the equation that minutes after their game was wrapped up at Soldier Field, the Jaguars lost to the Redskins in overtime, 20-17, and so therefore, the Jets had clinched their playoff berth.
"Sweet and sour chicken," is the way DT Sione Pouha captured the bittersweetness of the situation.
"I don't know why someone's celebrating when we lost the game," Brandon Moore said. But Brandon, the playoffs? "Hoop-de-doo," said the guard.
The Jets, who returned to their Chicago hotel after the game due to the snowstorm back east and won't return home until late Monday morning, will get over their grumpiness and in fact have a chance to get healthy because surely some of their veterans, including sore-shouldered QB Mark Sanchez, will get some rest next week for the regular-season finale against the Bills before making the 14th postseason appearance in franchise history.
All three phases of the Green & White attack had some good moments mixed in with the bad. The defense had Chicago QB Jay Cutler back on his heels in the second quarter as the visitors opened a 21-10 lead, in part on Dwight Lowery's 20-yard interception-return TD. Then Cutler came back smoking with a TD keeper late in the first half followed by three third-quarter touchdown strikes over the Jets' beleaguered secondary.
Sanchez and the offense could produce only a Nick Folk field goal in their last four drives, and Sanchez threw his only interception with 51 seconds left, trying to hit Santonio Holmes down the left sideline and instead finding the deep help in safety Chris Harris. But Sanchez opened with 9-for-9 passing, completed 67 percent of his passes before the pick, went unsacked by Julius Peppers and any other Bear, and led a 393-yard, 27-point offense against the NFL's eighth-ranked yardage defense and its No. 3 scoring D.
And the specialists, well, they did a pretty good job of keeping the ball away from Devin Hester. Pretty good except for twice. One was a 38-yard punt return to the Jets 32 that set up Cutler's second strike, to, of all people, Hester wearing his wideout's hat. The other was a 40-yard kickoff return to the Jets 49 to start Cutler's third TD drive of the quarter.
"I just didn't hit the ball well," said Steve Weatherford about his one ineffective punt mixed in with three more unreturned inside-the-20 punts that he added to his NFL-leading total. "Not to take anything away from Devin — he's incredible."
"He's just a damned good player," said James Ihedigbo, who aggravated his knee injury as he lost his footing on the flurries-slicked Soldier Field grass trying to slow Hester's progress on that PR.
To underscore that all the Jets felt the same way about Hester, they tried everything to keep the ball out of his hands, including a fake punt on fourth-and-3 from their 40 on the first play of the second half. Mark Sanchez was on the field, took the snap, and hit Brad Smith, but Smith dropped the ball and the Bears took over for their first TD of the half.
"We worked it all week. We felt good about it," Ryan said. "Obviously, that's why we made that call and quite honestly, if the ball got in Hester's hands, we knew where it was going to end up. It's just one of those things where we thought that play was there, and we knew that play was there. Again, we have to execute that play."
The Jets defenders seemed particularly down because they moved to a position of strength and of regaining their intensity in the second quarter after giving up 10 first-quarter points, only to lose it when Cutler picked on Jets DBs for those three third-quarter TD strikes, all of 25-plus yards.
"Without saying something wrong," said LB Calvin Pace, "we just didn't make enough plays."
There was the pass coverage in that fateful third quarter as Dwight Lowery, Drew Coleman and Antonio Cromartie were unable to stop the bleeding. But the pass rush was able to take Cutler down only twice.
"It was tough to get to the passer," head coach Rex Ryan said. "They struggled to get to the passer as well. Those conditions aren't ideal. Generally, you have to generate pass rush on those kind of conditions but that leaves you vulnerable on the back end, where obviously we were vulnerable today. So it's kind of a Catch-22."
And the Jets had their shares of Catch-22's today. But they should wake up tomorrow and feel a little better about their situation as they make their way back to New Jersey.
"Obviously the loss is disappointing," said wideout Jerricho Cotchery. "But Washington helped us out in an amazing way. So we're in. We're happy to be in the playoffs. And we've got some work to do."
Or as Ryan said after finding out from GM Mike Tannenbaum during his news conference that the Jets had made it 2-for-2 in playoff attempts in his tenure, "By the way, I think we're in the playoffs. It ain't the way I wanted it, but I'll take it."
Sanchez's 23-yard touchdown to Santonio Holmes on a double move past CB Tim Jennings in the third frame was the Jets' first TD pass in 12 quarters, or since Sanchez and Holmes hooked up in the third quarter on Thanksgiving night vs. Cincinnati. ... Shonn Greene did some nice running with a team-high 70 yards on 12 carries, and both he and LaDainian Tomlinson scored second-quarter TDs. Tomlinson's was his sixth of the season and his first in nine games. ... Matt Forte had 169 yards of offense for the Bears.
Lowery became the sixth different Jet to return two INTs for TDs in the same season. The last defender to achieve that: CB Otis Smith in 1997. The only one to do it twice: S Erik McMillan in '88 and '91. ... Rob Turner's false start in the first quarter gave the Jets 100 penalties for the first time since 1996. But the Jets had only three penalties for the second straight game.
The Jets-Bills game will not be "flexed" by the NFL and will remain with a 1 p.m. ET kickoff.