But what, exactly, are they collapsing from?
Headed into this season, the Jets were faced with the lowest expectations of the Rex Ryan era. Few experts had them anywhere near the playoffs; some thought they were the single worst team in football.
These Jets are not collapsing—as the great Dennis Green proclaimed, they are who we thought they were.
Fueled by doubt from fans and the media, the Jets took the league by surprise and raced to a 5-4 start to gain control of their playoff destiny.
Not only did they win more games than anyone could have imagined through the first nine weeks, but they were beating good teams in the process, including the New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints.
What the Jets weren’t doing, however, was beating anyone in any kind of convincing fashion. They needed late-game miracle comebacks to squeak by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Patriots and Falcons. The Jets were just a few missed Nick Folk kicks away from a miserable losing record, where there would have been a lot less playoff talk and a lot more talk about who could replace Rex Ryan next season.
Yes, a win is as good as any in the NFL, but the fact that the Jets have had as many close victories as they have goes to prove that perhaps the Jets were never as good as they thought in the first place.
Maybe the experts who thought so lowly of them were right all along.
When Geno Smith was playing at his best, he was an unknown commodity to the NFL, and defenses were unsure of exactly how to prepare for him. He took advantage of excellent pass protection and picked apart defenses.
The Jets lived and died by the big play, which has all but disappeared from their offense.
Twelve weeks into the season, and the blueprint is out on how to beat Smith. The Jets struggle to pick up blitzes while Smith, who is still looking for a receiver to get open down the field, has not been able to adjust.
In other words, the league has caught up to the Jets—and the Jets are not good enough to throw a counterpunch.
Not only have the Jets been able to adjust offensively, but the results they are getting from their declining defense should hardly come as a surprise.
The Jets, who featured one of the best secondaries in football a year ago, can be thrown on at will. They gambled on Antonio Cromartie’s ability to sustain a Pro Bowl-level of play for another season, despite him never playing at such a high level for an extended period for an entire season.
They replaced Darrelle Revis with rookie Dee Milliner, who, like so many Alabama cornerbacks (see Kirkpatrick, Dre), has struggled in the professional ranks. Milliner has been benched three times this season, most recently this week against the Dolphins.
Because of cap limitations, LaRon Landry has been replaced by his much less dynamic brother, Dawan Landry. They then tried to solve their issue giving up big plays by adding an aging Ed Reed to the lineup, and the big plays continue to occur.
Playing a brand new position at outside linebacker, it has taken a dozen weeks for Quinton Coples to start playing like a first-round pick.
The Jets have been strong where they have invested high draft picks into young talent, the defensive line and inside linebacker positions. They have struggled where they have gambled: the play of inconsistent veterans and unproven rookies.
While it has been lost in an imaginary playoff “push,” the Jets are in the middle of a rebuild.
Teams looking to win a championship do not force rookies into the starting lineup before they are ready (Dee Milliner and Geno Smith) or make visible downgrades to their roster (Dawan Landry)—nor do they rely on historically inconsistent players to magically become consistent (Antonio Cromartie).
Desperate teams looking to “get through” a season while they continue their rebuilding do such things.
The truth is the Jets were never a great team, and they were never supposed to be a great team. Any expectations that were generated about the playoffs were made because of the Jets’ surprising success early in the season.
The Jets were (and still are) playing with house money. Had they won anything, it would have been nothing but a nice bonus, but this season was never about contending for a championship. It was always about finding out which players deserved to be a part of the future and which ones needed to be replaced.
The Jets’ collapse is not all that puzzling; they are collapsing for no other reason than the fact that they are playing like the team everyone thought they were.