Based on their sense of historic dread, many Jets fans probably settled into their seats for the last time at Giants Stadium last night accompanied by a certain amount of angst about the possibility of another folderoo with a playoff berth on the line. But six plays into the season finale against Cincinnati, versatile Brad Smith lined up in the Wildcat formation, took the snap and ran straight up the middle for 57 yards to the Bengals' 1-yard line.
The cheer he received was as much an exhalation by Jets fans than anything else. Thomas Jones scored the Jets' first touchdown on the next play, and the Jets were off and running to a 27-0 halftime lead. As it turned out, the biggest runs belonged to Smith, the former University of Missouri option quarterback, operating out of the Wildcat.
On a frigid night at the windy Meadowlands, the Jets often chose to take the ball out of the hands of quarterback Mark Sanchez and give it to Smith to make something happen.
On second-and-9 at Cincinnati's 32-yard line in the second quarter, Smith took the snap and ran the option around right end, faking the pitch to running back Shonn Greene and cutting upfield and racing untouched to the end zone for a 17-0 lead.
In all, Smith took the snap in the Wildcat six times in the first half, running three times for 91 yards and a touchdown and handing off three other times for 10 yards, including two plays that resulted in first downs. It marked the most productive use of the Wildcat formation by the Jets all season.
Of course, the game meant far more to the Jets than it did to the Bengals, who had four new starters on defense, one because of injury and three because they apparently were being rested for the wild-card playoff game next weekend. The Jets needed the win to qualify for the playoffs and a rematch in Cincinnati.
Seeking to avoid the kind of turnovers that have killed them in many losses this season, the Jets figured to go with a ball-control ground game featuring backs Jones and Green. They did just that, and the offensive line was very effective, especially running right behind center Nick Mangold, guard Brandon Moore and tackle Damien Woody.
Although Sanchez was effective in the short passing game, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer mixed in the Wildcat formation as a low-risk change of pace to keep the defense off balance.
While at Missouri, Smith became the first player in NCAA history to pass for at least 8,000 yards and rush for at least 4,000. He ranks fourth in NCAA career total offense with 13,088 yards. He was so effective last night that it made you wonder why the Jets didn't make better use of him this season, especially when Sanchez was fighting the interception bug.
Maybe Smith's franchise-record 106-yard kickoff return the previous week in Indianapolis reminded Schottenheimer that he had another weapon in the arsenal.
No doubt, the Jets will get Cincinnati's best shot next week, but conditions should be similar, and Schottenheimer has time to dream up some new wrinkles for Smith in the Wildcat.