The New York Jets came into the 2010 NFL season with high hopes. Coming off a surprise run to the AFC Championship Game last January and with a brash, young team seemingly on the rise, the Jets were a sleeper pick to reach this year's Super Bowl in Arlington, Texas.
And they started the season looking like potential world beaters. Yes, they lost their opening tilt to the Ravens on Monday Night Football, but they proceeded to win nine of their next 10 games.
But they ran into a Patriots buzz saw on Monday night, Dec. 6, and with Sunday's tough 38-34 loss to the Bears in Chicago, the J-E-T-S have now lost three of four.
Though they backed into an AFC playoff berth with Jacksonville's loss to Washington on Sunday, the Jets aren't exactly roaring into the postseason on a positive note.
Even the most fervent of Jets fans are leery of their squad's playoff chances, and here are the five main reasons why.
There's no truth to the rumor that the Jets are abandoning their kicking game to keep their specialists' feet clean, fresh and injury free (despite what coach Rex Ryan and his wife might have to say on the matter).
But maybe they should consider it.
Through 15 games, kicker Nick Folk is 29 for 38 on field-goal tries (76.3 percent). That's the fifth-worst percentage among teams in the league. Not good for a playoff-bound squad.
Punter Steve Weatherford's average of 42.7 yards a kick is in the bottom half of the league as well, and the Jets have allowed an average punt return of 10.2 yards, 10th worst in the NFL.
On the surface, it looks like the Jets' O-line is performing well this season.
It features names like Damien Woody (a two-time Super Bowl champ), Nick Mangold (a two-time Pro Bowler) and D'Brickashaw Ferguson (a first-round pick in 2006, No. 4 overall).
It boasts the sixth-ranked rushing offense in the league at 139.9 yards per game.
They've only allowed 27 sacks so far this year, ninth fewest in the NFL.
It would appear that all is well.
But not so much.
Yes, LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene are getting their yards, but Woody was injured on Sunday and quarterback Mark Sanchez has been pressured regularly. The line is making mistakes, and as a result, opposing defenders are allowed relatively free shots at the backs or at Sanchez.
As Newsday's Roderick Boone suggests, "there's no cohesiveness, no continuity with the Jets' run game. They never seem to be completely in sync for a sustained period of time, and it really hasn't happened since they clobbered Buffalo on Oct. 3, running for 273 yards."
"Every play, there's just something not going right, just poor execution by one guy on every play," left guard Matt Slauson told Newsday a few weeks ago. "It's a different guy every time. We just need to clean it up. We need to play more consistently on every play."
Sure, quarterback Mark Sanchez has won some big games and led the team to the AFC title game last season.
But he's been successful largely by staying out of trouble and by not making mistakes: winning games by not losing games.
But this year, he's thrown 13 interceptions and fumbled the ball eight times.
And despite some improvements in his mechanics during his second year as a pro, Sanchez still has trouble throwing the ball down the field.
Sanchez is 28th in the league in QB rating (75.3), 22nd in yards per game (219.4) and 30th in completion percentage (54.8).
He can hit receivers on quick-hitting slants, but ask him to throw it downfield and it's a different ballgame.
Their wide receivers should be one of the Jets' biggest strengths on offense. But it's just not happening.
Leading yardage man Braylon Edwards (52 catches, 852 yards, 6 TDs) is known for his tendency to drop balls in big situations.
Santonio Holmes (51 catches, 729 yards, 5 TDs) has been solid despite missing four games due to suspension. But he had a bad fumble again on Sunday against the Bears.
Jerricho Cotchery (38 catches, 401 yards, 2 TDs), too, has performed solidly in limited action, but he doesn't get enough balls thrown at him to make a regular difference.
Dustin Keller is leading the team with 55 grabs (and has 687 yards and 5 TDs), but he's no longer the secret he was last year, and teams seem to know to keep an eye on him on passing downs.
Brad Smith, too, is a dangerous contributor, but he, too, is no longer a surprise. When he's in the game, they're running. Period. Sure, they call it the "Tigercat" formation, but it's basically the Wildcat... except they run. Every time.
Smith has four catches in 2010. He's rushed the ball 33 times.
They're not surprising anyone.
The recent foot fetish that's come to light is unquestionably one of the oddest sports stories I've seen in years.
To each his/her own and all that. But really, Mr. and Mrs. Ihaveprettyfeet?
No, people may be giving Rex Ryan a hard time. Deservedly.
But they still appreciate his coaching.
Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, though, is catching some flak for his group's performance of late.
Schottenheimer, Sanchez and company have put up a total of 18 points in their four losses prior to this weekend in Chicago and have averaged just 16.25 points a game in losing three of their last four.
But Schottenheimer is willing to take the criticism for the offense's struggles and lack of consistency.
"It comes with the territory," Schottenheimer told the New York Daily News. "I know I'm a damn good football coach. Are we pleased (with the recent lack of production)? Absolutely not. Am I disappointed? Absolutely....I'm going to do the best job I can. I'm going to bust my (butt)."
But can the Jets get it turned around in time for the playoffs?
They have a warmup tilt with the Buffalo Bills at home in Week 17, then they'll be hitting the road as a wild card.
There's more than enough talent to help the Jets win some postseason games again early in 2011. But if they remain as inconsistent as they have been in recent weeks, don't expect these Jets to soar like they did a year ago.