This time last year I was writing about the divisional round of the playoffs and the gut wrenching ‘non catch’ which ended the Dallas Cowboys’ dreams of returning to the glory they so desperately seek. Only last week, kicker Blair Walsh destroyed the hopes of the Minnesota Vikings when he hooked the game winning field goal wide left. Obviously in a game where only one out of 32 teams can win the grand prize a certain amount of disappointment is inevitable for the majority of participants. However as a Jets fan, the 2015 season has shown that there are definitely degrees of heartbreak and the closer you get, the harder it is to accept, especially when things seem to be heading in the right direction.
In 2014, the Jets were awful for the most of the season. Following the week one victory against the Raiders, it was pretty much downhill for the rest of the year. The list of what went wrong to result in a 4-12 record is a long and well documented one. The failure was disappointing but expected, especially considering the chaotic quarterback situation and sieve-like secondary. Change was swift and while Lions, Cowboys, Packers and Seahawks hearts were being broken in January, Jets fan were looking forward to something new.
In 2015 things were different, not perfect, but exponentially better. Following a mediocre mid-season record of 5-5, something clicked after the loss to Houston in week 11. With five wins on the trot by the time week 17 rolled around, the Jets were in touching distance of a playoff berth. Optimism was high, with the offense for once taking the plaudits; breaking records and collecting AFC player of the week awards. Naturally all they had to do was beat Rex Ryan’s embattled Bills (who had only pride to play for) but of course, it wasn’t to be. The Jets 2015 train came to a sudden and shuddering halt on the first Sunday in January. As much as we talked of tempering our excitement until the Bills had been hurdled, I clearly hadn’t prepared myself for waking up Monday morning without the prospect of Jets football for the rest of the season. Unlike in 2014, where the disappointment was long in the making, the end of 2015 left a hangover harder to shake. Of course, in the grand scheme of NFL heartbreak, missing out on the playoffs is relatively common and as Todd Bowles said, every game since Houston had been a must win. However to get so close, something that could’ve been scarcely imagined in 2014, but still be too far remains hard to take.
Is there a ‘best way’ to lose? This is an age old debate amongst sports fans and the nature of competition means someone always must. Obviously, everyone wants to win, but like coming fourth in the Olympics, there is a clear correlation between how close you get and how much losing hurts. The Jets got closer than most of us would have predicted preseason and have lots of positives to take forward into 2016. Playoff football is even more brutal; Green Bay fans are probably crying into their cheese heads as we speak and just like many before, someone will painfully miss out on the Lombardi at the end of Super Bowl 50.
Go back through NFL history and there are countless examples of heartbreak much worse than the Jets faced in Buffalo this year, but the continued possibility of coming out on top is what keeps us loving this game. Like all good entertainment, drama, controversy and heartbreak make the NFL thrive. But no matter how much it hurts we jump straight back on the train for next year, carrying higher hopes with us. It might be the archetypal football cliché but “we need to get better everyday,” is what drives this league forward and what keeps us fans coming back for more, even with broken hearts.