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 as anything else. Thomas Jones scored the Jets' first touchdown on the next play, and the Jets were off and running to a 37-0 victory that clinched a wild-card playoff berth.
"That play wasn't designed to go inside," Jets fullback Tony Richardson said. "But [right tackle Damien] Woody blocked at the point of attack, I made an adjustment, and Brad read it out. In practice, we thought it might go outside, but Brad followed me, and it popped for a big gain."
As it turned out, the biggest runs all belonged to Smith operating out of the Wildcat, which the Jets call the Tiger in honor of the former Missouri quarterback's college roots. 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 a second-and-11 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, cutting upfield and racing untouched to the end zone for a 17-0 lead.
In all, Smith took the snap in the Wildcat seven times, running four times for 92 yards and a touchdown and handing off three other times for 10 yards, including two plays that resulted in first downs.
"He's always had that ability," Jets coach Rex Ryan said. "Schotty came up with a lot of plays for him. He's such a weapon."
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 rematch with the Jets on Saturday in Cincinnati. The Jets needed the win to qualify.
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. Although Sanchez was effective in the short passing game, Schottenheimer mixed in the Tiger formation as a low-risk change of pace to keep the defense off balance.
Maybe Smith's franchise-record 106-yard kickoff return the previous week in Indianapolis reminded Schottenheimer that he had another weapon in the arsenal.
Now there's no telling what Schottenheimer might plan for Smith on Saturday.
As Ryan said: "He can pass the ball, too. Maybe we'll find that out."