By Tom E. Curran
Bullet? Dodged. It's safe to uncover your eyes and ears. The Jets are dead. Theliving, breathing refutation of everything the New England Patriots have stood for during the Bill Belichick Era faceplanted in the first two quarters of the AFC Championship at Pittsburgh.They are silenced.
They sleepwalked through a first half in which their deepest penetration came when Mark Sanchez picked his nose and wiped it on backup Mark Brunell. And they even though theyscratched and they clawed and they battledback from a 24-0 deficit to lose 24-19, all their proclamations and predictions wound up like hot air on a very cold day -- steam rising then fading away. The AFC representative in the Super Bowl will be the Steelers, the Patriots' closest AFC kin. And anyone that was feeling ABTJ -- Anybody But The Jets -- can look forward to the runup to what might be the last football game before a work stoppage. How would you have liked watching Fireman Ed with the Lombardi Trophy aloft? (Glurp.) Think they were insufferable since, oh, February of 2009 whenlarge and in charge Rex Ryan took over?Imagine how the next 15 days were going to be. "If people want to criticize us, go ahead, but you got no right," Rex Ryan said after the game, rescinding the right to free speech he thought was so vital when Antonio Cromartie was calling Tom Brady an ass. Don't like the Steelers? Don't like Hines Ward and his perma-grin? Can't hold your nose and get past the fact Ben Roethlisberger is -- at best -- a friggin' creep? Hate their fans, their hypocrisy in bringing up Spygate when their '70s dynasty was built on the pimplybacks of 'roided up players? Skip on down and find the good in Pittsburgh.Great city. Great ownership. Tough football on both sides of the ball. Underrated coach. Underrated GM (name him . . . it'sKevin Colbert). And Steelers-Packers? Can't wait. With this matchup, you have two of the best quarterbacks in the league not named Manning or Brady running the offenses. Both these teams are resilient and built under the same general model the Patriots have been. And the Packers made the ballsiest non-Patriots personnel move of the past few years when they said "enough is enough" to Brett Favre. Oh, there are irritations with the Packers. You got the regional insult that was Super Bowl XXXI,with Desmond Howard duck-walking into the end zone,Brett Favre hicking around the field with his helmet off, and John Maddenwith his lips and furry eyebrows attached to the posterior of the Packers. And Chris Berman will be tough to take with his odes to Lombardi and Nitschke and blah, blah, blah.
But could you have taken another Bears' Super Bowl? After what they slapped out there in 2006 against the Colts? After what Jay Cutler slapped out there? Cutler played with intense disinterest in the first half against Green Bay. Then he came out for the second half, threw a pass while fading away, trudged off with a tiny limp and never came back on the field. (Can't wait to ask Steelers quarterback Byron Leftwich what he thinks of Cutler's grit in the face of a sore knee.) Said Deion Sanders on the NFL Network Sunday night: "There's reality and perception. The perception is he tapped out. Carry me off. You have to carry me off to get me off the field. I got everything shot up to go out there and play this game." Cutler made Tony Eason look like Joe Kapp (click here to see the wonderfully politically incorrect Sports Illustrated cover featuring Kapp). He'll be digging out from under this day for, oh, about the rest of his career. If you're a football fan, you got the best possible result for No. 45. If you're a Patriots fan, same thing. Otherwise, you'll have drive-by columnists saying the Patriots need to be more like the Jets. Need to spend like the Jets -- mentioning the Patriots have the third-lowest NFL payroll while ignoring the fact they burped up 90 million in guaranteed money to four guys in the past few months (Brady, Wilfork, Bodden, Banta-Cain). Need to talk likethe Jets despite the factRyan is now sucking on his third straight AFC Championship game loss like a gout-ridden foot. Need to be like the Jets who haven't been to a Super Bowl since 8-track tapes were new technology. Super Bowl Sunday won't be the best dayever. But it won't be a green-hued nightmare either. Tom E. Curran can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran