All that is wrong with this dismal season for the New York Jets came together Sunday, and the Houston Oilers were the beneficiaries.
The Jets (1-12) essentially lost this one before the national anthem as quarterback Neil O'Donnell, returning from a separated shoulder that cost him six weeks, pulled a calf muscle in warmups and was scratched.
The Oilers (7-6) then went out and beat the Jets, 35-10, to stay in contention for a playoff berth.
The game was played before 55,985 empty seats--a Jet record. Of course, the Oilers are used to such small crowds as the 21,731 who braved the awful weather--they've had three home games with fewer than 28,000 fans after announcing they're leaving Houston for Tennessee for the 1998 season.
Rookie running back Eddie George carried 28 times for 141 yards and two touchdowns for the Oilers, and Steve McNair operated the Houston offense like a veteran. The second-year quarterback didn't let the elements bother him in guiding a conservative attack.
"This is definitely a confidence-booster," said George, the 1995 Heisman Trophy winner from Ohio State. "I thought I played a solid ballgame.
"We needed this win to get our momentum back and our confidence back. We do understand this is the Jets, and we continually have to get better."
O'Donnell's bizarre injury left the quarterbacking to Frank Reich, 1-5 in O'Donnell's place. Reich passed to rookie Keyshawn Johnson for an 18-yard touchdown late in the first half. But he also fumbled away two snaps, the second leading to a one-yard touchdown run by George early in the fourth quarter. Reich was only 13 for 27.
Reich then was benched for Glenn Foley, who finished out the Jets' 10th consecutive home loss.
"I've never encountered this many losses and I've been playing football since I was 7," said running back Adrian Murrell, one of the few bright spots in this dark year. Murrell rushed for 63 yards and has 1,104 this season. "It's a huge pill to swallow. We're all men and we've got to swallow it."
The Oilers' offense was ranked next-to-last in the AFC, but didn't play like it against the Jets.
"We talked about getting back to what we were doing at 5-2 and making plays," said Oiler Coach Jeff Fisher.