When Plaxico Burress signed his one-year deal with the Jets in August, he knew the scheduled Week 16 matchup against the Giants would be an emotional one. He would have the opportunity to face his old teammates in a game that could potentially have serious playoff implications on Christmas Eve.
As the date approached, it became apparent that postseason dreams would be on the line Saturday afternoon. Unfortunately for the Jets, the 15-point loss places their season on life support.
"Everything we had control of, we let go," said Burress. "We let it get out of our hands. All we can really do now is try to go win."
The loss sends the Jets to 8-7 on the season, one game behind Cincinnati for the sixth and final playoff spot. The tired label of "must-win" has been applied to several games this season by Jets in the locker room, but Week 17 presents the first true must-win scenario. A loss sends them home, while a win gives them a glimmer of hope.
"We have to approach it like any other week," said Burress. "Just go out, play hard, lay it on the line and see what happens. That's all we can worry about is going out and getting the win."
By giving away control of the sixth seed to the Bengals, the Jets must beat the Dolphins in Miami on New Year's Day and hope for a loss by the Bengals at Baltimore plus favorable outcomes by the Titans and Raiders to have any chance of playing on the second weekend of January.
"You can't blame anybody but yourself. We let it get away from us," he said. "Everybody came into the season 0-0. The first goal for us was to win the division and get homefield advantage. We didn't accomplish any of that."
The Jets didn't accomplish their goal of beating their MetLife Stadium roommates on Saturday either. Ground & Pound was abandoned for an unprecedented aerial attack in which QB Mark Sanchez attempted 59 passes. It was the most pass attempts in a single game during his career by far, topping his previous high of 44, which he has reached five times.
"We came in with a plan to be balanced," Burress said. "For some reason, we just got out of character. You don't want to pass as much as we did without establishing the run. There were batted balls, penalties. We just couldn't get on track."
The Giants had been vulnerable through the air all season, entering Saturday as the league's 29th-ranked pass defense. They showed the Jets receivers respect by playing more zone coverage in hopes of preventing any thoughts of vertical plays.
Burress was targeted six times, catching three passes for 34 yards. He also had a fourth-quarter touchdown pass nullified by an offensive pass interference call against him on Giants CB Prince Amukamara.
It was not the performance Plax had envisioned.
"They know me. They know the way I am," he said. "They weren't going to let it happen. For the most part, I was doubled on the outside. They weren't going to let me get in a groove."
The outside coverage by the Giants opened up the middle of the field for TE Dustin Keller, who was targeted an eye-opening 18 times. He caught eight passes for 77 yards, establishing a new career high in single-season receptions with 58.
Christmas will not be as bright for the Jets as they had hoped. The sputtering offense came up short in the biggest moments of the biggest game this season. They converted only four of 21 third downs (19 percent) and, despite running 34 more plays from scrimmage than did the Giants, they averaged 2.3 yards less per offensive play.
After the game, the fact that the loss came at the hands of the Giants meant a lot less than the fact that there was just another "L" on their record. Although it comes at an inopportune time, the loss doesn't spell the end for Burress and the Jets.
"I just wanted to win the game," he said. "I didn't care who we were playing. We needed this game to help us get into the playoffs. It just happened to be against my old team. We just didn't get it done today."