Rex Ryan's New York Jets Appear to Have Crashed and Burned

Roman UschakCorrespondent IDecember 29, 2011

New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez looks into the stands prior to an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills in Orchard Park, N.Y., Sunday, Nov. 6, 2011. (AP Photo/Derek Gee)
Derek Gee/Associated Press

The New York Jets look to be done like dinner, at least as far as the 2011 NFL season is concerned.

Oh, the Jets could still beat Miami on Sunday afternoon to keep their fledgling playoff hopes alive, but they also need Cincinnati, Tennessee and Oakland/Denver to all lose to wrap up one of the two AFC wild card spots. That's a lot of variables that have to fall into place in a single day.

The Jets could have helped themselves tremendously by beating the New York Giants on Saturday to get themselves to nine wins, but that didn't happen. Now they have to defeat a Dolphins team that has given them trouble in the past few seasons (including a 10-6 upset at the Meadowlands last year) and hope several other AFC teams lose just so they can get into the playoffs for a third straight year.

Coach Rex Ryan talked a good game before Saturday's loss to the Giants in East Rutherford, but he's talked a lot in his nearly three years at the Jets' helm. As Giants coach Tom Coughlin said last week though, "talk is cheap."

The Giants aren't great this year either, but they won on Saturday and only need a win against Dallas on Sunday night to clinch the NFC East and earn a playoff berth that would surely gall the loquacious Ryan, who said last week he had no wish to be anyone's little brother.

Ignoring Ryan's bluster, though, what have the Jets really won in his tenure? They're 4-2 in the playoffs and have gotten to the AFC Championship Game both seasons, but they didn't get the job done in either Indianapolis two years ago (a game they led at halftime) or in Pittsburgh earlier this year.

Having gotten in as a wild card both times, they have no AFC East titles to their credit which is, again, their only hope of postseason qualification. It will also require (again) three road victories for them just to claim the conference crown, never mind the Super Bowl. Listening to Ryan these past few years, you'd think the Jets were right on the cusp of that success.

It looks more and more like Mark Sanchez is not going to be the QB to lead the Jets back to the promised land that they've missed out on ever since Super Bowl III. Sanchez threw for one TD and ran for another against the Giants, but he still makes too many mistakes. He received a gift call on his first fumble on Saturday when his tuck was ruled an incomplete pass, but his second fumble into the end zone ended what should have been a touchdown drive. He also threw two damaging interceptions, including one with no receivers in the immediate area.

Dustin Keller had eight catches against the Giants, but he also dropped a few balls he should have held on to. Plaxico Burress caught a TD pass against his old team, but it was rightly called back because he pushed off on a Giants' defender. Santonio Holmes, a favorite target of Sanchez's, was limited to just four catches on Saturday.


Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer still calls a head-scratching game from the sidelines. He had Sanchez throw 59 times on Saturday, which was way too much, even if the Jets had to battle back from a 13-point deficit. Three years ago he had Brett Favre throwing 40-plus times an outing when the Jets also had a decent running game with Thomas Jones and Leon Washington in the backfield. The Jets can't abandon the run entirely when things don't go well early on, not with a 1,000 yard rusher on the roster in Shonn Greene and a reliable veteran in LaDainian Tomlinson.

Earlier this week, Ryan said that he backs both Sanchez and Schottenheimer. If they miss the playoffs, which is a likely possibility, will he still feel the same way about both/either?

The Jets' defense, which gave up 19 points in the second half Saturday, has also had its spotty moments this season, especially the secondary. Darrelle Revis may be an island unto himself, but Antonio Cromartie continues to have cover problems. His most glaring mishap was the 99-yard TD reception surrendered to Victor Cruz on Christmas Eve, which gave the Giants a 10-7 lead they wouldn't relinquish. Cromartie wasn't the only Jet victimized on the play, but he had a real chance to make a tackle and end it before it got worse. Teams have picked on Cromartie before and probably will again. Losing Jim Leonhard to injury again late in the season isn't going to help the Jets' pass defense, either.

To top it all off, the Jets seem to have lost their cardiac comeback ability of last year, when no game seemed to be out of reach for them in the final minutes. They had a chance on Saturday, trailing just 20-14 in the fourth quarter, but Sanchez's fumble into the end zone and a later sack for a safety subsequently derailed those hopes. The Jets were pulling out games like that in 2010, but not necessarily so in 2011, including a 17-13 loss at Denver earlier this year when Tim Tebow scored a late TD for the Broncos.

It could all still come together for the Jets on Sunday afternoon in Florida. They could still beat the Dolphins, get the three wins they need from other teams and qualify for the postseason a third straight season. After two subpar performances in a row though, first against Philadelphia and then against the team they share a stadium with, it looks more like the Jets will be grounded for the winter sooner rather than later.