The Perils of Celebrating Before Anything’s Won

When turned a bare back to reporters before slipping a black T-shirt over his head, the five-word tattoo might as well have been blinking red, a warning to those who would mock him for the felonious mistake that cost him 20 months of his life and career.

“Everything happens for a reason.”

Burress, it turns out, may be the best reason there is hope for — as a playoff contender and as a team that has become notorious for compulsively misbehaving and shooting itself in the proverbial foot.

Stevie Johnson — the Buffalo receiver who pretended to take aim at his leg after a touchdown catch and whose penalty for excessive celebration was a primary reason the Jets beat the , 28-24, on Sunday at MetLife Stadium — still could have had the last word.

But Johnson dropped a perfect pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick on the run deep in Jets’ territory on Buffalo’s last-ditch drive and then failed to make what would have been an extraordinary catch on a Fitzpatrick overthrow in the end zone on the game’s final play.

Practical reason being, Johnson is 6 feet 2 inches, or three inches shorter than Burress, who has long been the elastic man of the N.F.L.

As Burress has been advising Mark Sanchez during their first season together, “Just stay focused, trust what you see.” And if Sanchez should see Burress towering over a defender in single coverage, just throw him the ball and let nature run its course.

This was no better suggestion or option for the much-maligned Sanchez on third-and-11 from the Bills’ 36 and the Jets’ season perhaps on the line coming out of the two-minute warning. Under blitzing pressure, Sanchez spotted Burress on the left sideline, without separation from cornerback Justin Rogers.

As Sanchez let fly, Rogers was positioned so that part of his body was between Burress and the ball. But here was the essential Burress, with a six-inch advantage on the 5-11 Rogers, reaching high, pulling the ball in with his right hand while somehow keeping his feet in bounds.

Having repeatedly done this during his career, Burress said, “It felt like a regular catch to me.” On any given Sunday, maybe. On this one, with the Jets in danger of falling under .500, it was a mini-MetLife miracle.

Two plays later, Sanchez rolled right from the 16 and hit Santonio Holmes in the corner of the end zone for his fourth touchdown pass and the margin of a sweaty palms victory that had even Coach Rex Ryan struggling for words.

His postgame news conference began: “OK. Whew. We’ll take it. Wow.”

These were the sounds of Ryan feeling profound relief. He could plainly see that this was looking like every other desultory Jets performance this season when Drayton Florence intercepted a second-quarter Sanchez pass intended for Holmes at the Jets’ 27 and Johnson beat Darrelle Revis on a 5-yard slant for a touchdown and a 14-7 Buffalo lead.

Here, Johnson decided to enjoy himself at Burress’s expense, pulling an imaginary trigger, mimicking the accident in a Manhattan nightclub that got Burress locked up and ended his run with the Giants. Johnson then spread his wings in the manner of a celebrating Jet, only to crash to the turf and — finally — incur a 15-yard penalty.

When Dave Rayner botched the ensuing squib kickoff from the Buffalo 20, the Jets took possession at the Bills’ 36 and scored in four plays, Sanchez to a wide-open Burress for 14 yards.

The damage done, Johnson at least struck the proper tone afterward. “It was very stupid of me going through that, and I feel like I cost our team the win,” he said. “It was a bad decision. I have to apologize to everyone and talk to the coach.”

Johnson is Buffalo’s problem. But can the Jets learn from the reflection of their own repellent behavior that begins with Ryan’s increasingly unconvincing bravado? Can this team that was supposed to embody his belief in smash-mouth football commit itself to more smash and less mouth?

Can the Jets learn from how Burress coolly dealt with Johnson’s insolent display?

He explained that he hadn’t seen it, was learning about it from reporters for the first time and what, after all, was the big deal?

“It doesn’t bother me,” he said. “I’ve already been through the wringer with that situation and dealt with it accordingly. I’ve seen worse and I’ve heard worse. He’s young. Maybe he understands one day later.”

Burress’s teammates were also calm, if less kind. Tight end Dustin Keller said: “He’s an idiot for that one. He should be embarrassed for that.”

Receiver Patrick Turner said that he didn’t see Johnson’s performance but that he, too, had Burress’s back.

“And then he dropped that last ball,” Turner said of Johnson. He nodded for effect and added a one-word summation.

“Karma,” he said.

Did it all happen for a reason? As it related to the playoffs, that will be up to the Jets over the next five weeks. For a team promising a , 2011 has been a humbling experience, if nothing compared with what Burress has been through.

From Ryan on down, they could all look at him, read the writing on his back, and find reasons to behave and believe.

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Jets Face Tough Path After Losing to Broncos and Patriots

In the small hours of Monday morning, left MetLife Stadium as a humbled team, humiliated at home, on national television, with the A.F.C. East lead at stake, by the rival , 37-16.

It was not even their worst defeat of the week, and it was not close, either. That distinction belongs to their flop on Thursday night against the , a fiasco that left the Jets panting and wheezing — and not because of the altitude. The 17-13 last-minute loss knocked them to the outskirts of the A.F.C. playoff picture, a place where other imperfect teams reside, but none that have done more than the Jets to sabotage their own seasons.

Even if the enduring memory is of ’s game-winning touchdown, which capped a 95-yard drive, the Jets did as much to lose this game as Tebow did to win it.

, who directed an offense that was 3 of 14 on third down and handed the Broncos 7 points with a critical third-quarter interception, called his night embarrassing. Awful special- teams play — a fumbled kickoff, a shanked punt, a long return allowed — underscored a systemic breakdown.

A defense that had allowed 75 yards on Denver’s previous 10 possessions suddenly forgot how to tackle, how to maintain assignments, how to win. It also collapsed on the Patriots’ final drive on Oct. 9, but at least then the Jets had to safeguard against the pass while they were being trampled by the run.

On Thursday, they knew the Broncos would rush, and so did everyone else at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. In hindsight, said Friday, he wished he did not call the all-out blitz on third down that Tebow recognized, processed and evaded, darting outside the Jets’ poor containment for a 20-yard touchdown. “Any bad feeling, we all had,” safety Eric Smith said.

In the stunned silence produced by such a crushing loss, the Jets did not want to think about the defeat’s impact on their playoff chances. Just worry about the next game, Santonio Holmes said. Without question it will be the Jets’ most important of the season. Buffalo (5-4) visits MetLife Stadium on Nov. 27, and the loser — especially if the fall Sunday at Miami — may as well start booking tee times.

When they played two weeks ago, the Jets won because they thwarted Fred Jackson, pressured Ryan Fitzpatrick and created three turnovers. They will need a similarly inspired performance from their defense again, if Sanchez’s play the last two games is any indication. Anyone watching him Thursday night could look beyond his 252 yards, his 60 percent completion rate (24 of 40), and see someone who struggled under pressure, made poor throws and bad decisions, and was upstaged by his counterpart.

When questioned about Sanchez’s development, Ryan often concludes his answers by referring to the past: the four road playoff wins, in particular, as if they grant him immunity from reproach. Sanchez’s good moments, like his 11 consecutive completions at one point on Thursday, are overshadowed by his critical mistakes, like the two interceptions returned for touchdowns in two games.

“This is our quarterback, he’s going to be our quarterback for as long as I’m here, which I hope is a long, long time,” Ryan said in a conference call. “He can make all the throws, he’s a competitive guy. Has it been perfect? No, absolutely. But it hasn’t been perfect for our entire team.”

The Jets’ imperfections have probably cost them a chance at the division title and the home playoff game they have long coveted. Their best hope of reaching the postseason, as things stand now, is to sneak in as the second wild-card team.

Over the last nine seasons, the A.F.C.’s wild-card teams have averaged 10.9 victories, with only 4 of the 18 winning as few as nine games. This season, in a conference that is competitive but not top-heavy, nine victories could be enough. More likely, the Jets would need 10. And to finish 10-6, they must win five of their final six games, a task that at present seems more daunting than the Lincoln Tunnel at rush hour.

On the surface, their schedule is favorable: their remaining opponents — Buffalo, Washington, Kansas City, Philadelphia, the Giants and Miami — have a combined winning percentage of .426 (23-31); among the A.F.C.’s 12 playoff contenders, only New England (.338) and Houston (.382) have a friendlier setup the rest of the way. In all likelihood, the second-place finisher in the A.F.C. North will capture one berth, leaving the Jets competing with Buffalo, Tennessee, the third-place team in the North and, for the moment, all four teams in the West.

What truly hurts the Jets is that all of their losses have come against contending A.F.C. teams, ceding the head-to-head tiebreaker to presumptive division champion New England (6-3), Baltimore (6-3), Oakland (5-4) and, now, Denver (5-5).

“I don’t see any breathing room,” Ryan said. “We’ve already used that up.”

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Giants’ Manning Will Have Little Room for Error Against Aggressive Bills

Then last Sunday the turnover-prone Manning returned in a 36-25 loss to Seattle. He lost a fumble and threw three interceptions, including one that went for a 94-yard touchdown with a little more than a minute left.

The result could have simply been an aberration. Brandon Browner’s long return, for example, came after the ball bounced off the hands of wide receiver Victor Cruz. Take that away and the Giants might have scored and Manning could have finished with four touchdown passes and two interceptions.

But that did not happen, and now, in the , the Giants will face the league’s best ball-hawking defense.

The Bills enter Sunday’s game at MetLife Stadium leading the league in takeaways (16), interceptions (12) and turnover margin (11). Their opportunistic defense, which has returned a league-leading three interceptions for touchdowns, picked off both Tom Brady and Michael Vick four times, propelling Buffalo to a 4-1 record and a tie atop the A.F.C. East with the New England Patriots, whom they defeated earlier this season.

Last season, Buffalo was 28th in the N.F.L. with only 11 interceptions. This season, playing out of a base 3-4 defense, the Bills have blitzed only 22 percent of the time. Rather than apply overwhelming pressure, they tend to drop players back into coverage, anticipating mistakes by the offense. The tradeoff is that the Bills give up long drives. They rank 30th in total defense, allowing an average of 421.8 yards per game.

“Pressure teams want to go three-and-out, and these guys are saying, ‘We’ll force a 15-play drive and somewhere in there you’re going to make a mistake,’ ” Giants guard Mitch Petrus said.

According to the Web site Football Outsiders, seven of the Bills’ interceptions have been “unusual circumstance” — deflected passes, passes tipped or bobbled by receivers, or, in one case, a pass thrown in desperation as time expired. In other words, the total could very well be lower.

But the Giants have been susceptible to interceptions off deflections. Coach said Friday that it was important that Manning communicate with his receivers.

“It’s got to be decisive,” he said. “So you work very hard to put yourselves in position where you’re not so contested that the ball ends up being tipped.”

The Bills’ defensive philosophy does not pivot on reaching the quarterback. The defense has only four sacks, last in the league. But the Giants maintain that the Bills’ front, led by nose tackle Kyle Williams and the rookie end Marcell Dareus, is tough to handle.

“They may not get the sack, but they get enough pressure on the quarterback and they force quarterbacks into errors,” tackle Kareem McKenzie said.

Expecting opposing quarterbacks to make mistakes is a high-risk strategy. If the offensive line can handle the pressure, the quarterback should have time to pick apart the defense. But two of the league’s best — Brady and Vick — had trouble doing so against a secondary led by safety George Wilson. Now it’s Manning’s turn.

“They’re just aggressive,” Cruz said. “They get to the ball well, they hunt the ball down, they’re trying to strip it, they’re trying to disrupt routes, they’re trying to disrupt timing. When you’re aggressive as much as they are, a lot of big plays will fall into your hands.”

EXTRA POINT

Defensive end Justin Tuck (groin/neck), running back Brandon Jacobs (knee), guard Chris Snee (concussion) and fullback Henry Hynoski (neck) have been ruled out for Sunday. Snee had played in 108 consecutive games, including seven in the playoffs. … Center David Baas (neck) and long-snapper Zak DeOssie (concussion) are questionable.

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