Sunday, December 12, 2010
For the slumping Jets, it's time to worry
By Tim Graham
Mark Sanchez completed only 17 of 44 passes and had a 45.3 passer rating in New York's loss.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Forget 45-3.
What transpired Sunday at the Meadowlands was more humiliating to the New York Jets than Monday night's fiasco in New England.
Getting vaporized on the road by an elite NFL team is one thing. Losing at home to an opponent that plays mediocre on its best day and played well below that level Sunday is quite another.
The Miami Dolphins beat the plummeting Jets 10-6 at the Meadowlands. The Jets left the field to a torrent of boos -- on Fan Appreciation Day.
In what should have been a statement game after the cleaving they took six nights earlier, the Jets failed to defeat a division opponent that gained 131 total yards, netted 30 passing yards and committed three turnovers.
Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne was awful, and yet Mark Sanchez somehow found a way to play even worse than him.
"It was horrible," Jets center Nick Mangold said. "It's not the way we envisioned, not the way we wanted."
The Jets remain on the cusp of clinching a playoff berth, but they are showing signs of a downward spiral reminiscent of 2008, when they started the season 8-3, became a chic pick to win the Super Bowl and then collapsed over the final five games and didn't qualify for the postseason.
The Jets have lost two games in a row, failing to score a touchdown in either. They will play division leaders on the road in their next two games. They will visit the Pittsburgh Steelers and Chicago Bears, defenses that ranked fifth and third entering Sunday.
Jets head coach Rex Ryan said his team's desperation meter is "pegged."
"I'm very concerned," Ryan said. "I mean, shoot, you look at our next opponent. You think this defense is good. Just wait until next week. Pittsburgh's going to be a huge challenge clearly, and then down the road we've got to make sure that we find a way to get better. We have to get better."
With how the Jets are playing and the upcoming schedule, it's not difficult to imagine their season coming down to the finale against the Buffalo Bills at the Meadowlands.
Who could have foreseen that a month ago?
"You understand time is of the essence," Jets outside linebacker Jason Taylor said. "You can find a million clichés for it. These are all must-win games. In this league, they pretty much all are anyway, but at this particular point in the season and in December you can't lose games. You can't lose division games. You can't lose home games. You can't do what we're doing right now."
Injuries are piling up. Right tackle Damien Woody left in the first half with a knee injury and didn't return. The Jets' ground-and-pound, all-weather offense was slush. LaDainian Tomlinson averaged 2.6 yards a carry. Shonn Greene, who left the game in the fourth quarter with a neck injury, averaged 2.1 yards.
Sanchez completed 38.6 percent of his passes and threw an interception. Dolphins cornerback Sean Smith dropped three Sanchez misfires. Also exasperating was Santonio Holmes' inopportune drop while wide open in the end zone in the second quarter. Holmes made several difficult catches Sunday, but he dropped the easiest one.
Ryan admitted he considered yanking Sanchez from the game in the third quarter.
The Jets' offense lately brings to mind a spin on those old Adam Ant lyrics: "Can't run, can't throw. What do you do?"
At Ryan's postgame news conference, held in a glass-encased room in the middle of a stadium bar, soggy Jets fans chanted for offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer to be fired.
The Jets' old kicker, Jay Feely, scored more touchdowns Sunday than they have the past two weeks. Feely had a touchdown run on a fake field goal and amassed 25 points for the Arizona Cardinals. The Jets would kill for half that from their offense.
The Jets have played seven games in their $1.6 billion stadium. They've failed to score a touchdown in three of them, including a shutout loss in Week 8 despite coming off a bye.
On top of their offensive woes, the Jets have little faith in their kicker. Nick Folk has missed at least one field goal attempt in five of his past seven games.
That, of course, won't be a factor as long as the Jets can't move the ball into field goal range to begin with.
The Jets' defense did bounce back from a deplorable performance against the New England Patriots, giving the offense plenty of chances to get back in the game. The Jets sacked Henne five times. They forced three fumbles. They limited the Dolphins to an average of 2.3 yards per play.
But the offenses were so pitiful that Dolphins punter Brandon Fields was the MVP. He punted 10 times and averaged 56.4 yards, the greatest average since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970. And yet only one of Fields' punts landed inside the 20, illustrating how little each offense advanced.
The Jets don't have much time to get moving again. One more victory probably will be enough to get the Jets into the playoffs.
But the granules keep dwindling through the hourglass.
"You can't panic," Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie said. "There's still three games left. If you're panicking, you're pressing for things to happen. But if you want to win in January, you've got to win in December.
"It's getting close. We're in a one-game season for the next three weeks. We can't talk about playoffs or anything else. It's critical."