In other defensive back news, CB Antonio Cromartie (concussion, hip) took part in individual drills without wearing the red no-contact jersey that players with concussions are generally required to wear.
There were no contact drills run during the part of practice that the media was able to watch.
WR Stephen Hill didn’t work with the wide receivers, and instead rode the stationary bike.
Geno Smith, embattled rookie quarterback for the New York Jets, has a league-high 20 interceptions through 13 games this season. He is keeping decent company. Ben Roethlisberger, Matthew Stafford, Eli Manning and Jay Cutler also threw 20-plus picks to this point in a season in their careers. Stafford actually had a lower passer rating and similarly dismal Total QBR score back in his 2009 rookie season, a reminder that first-year players tend to struggle, particularly when paired with vastly undermanned rosters.
Of course, some young quarterbacks never seem to recover from harrowing experiences suffered early in their careers. The fact that Stafford improved after struggling early assures nothing for Smith. The key for the Jets moving forward is to figure out how to improve their team in general and, specifically, their quarterback situation. Is Smith the long-term answer in New York? ESPN.com NFL scout Matt Williamson and NFL Insider columnist Mike Sando diagnose the Jets' problems and offer solutions.
Can Smith improve?
Williamson: It's time to worry about whether Smith is going to deal with David Carr syndrome. There are so many things working against him. The Jets even put Matt Simms in the game a couple times this season, because they don't have anyone else. To give Geno the benefit of the doubt, this really should have been a redshirt year for him. He was probably less ready for Week 1 than any recent QB I can remember. He was highly productive in college running a spread system from the shotgun and throwing to small, quick guys, but he never took snaps from behind center. Everyone has a hard time as a rookie adjusting to the pro game. He had never taken the drops from under center in what is more or less a timing-, rhythm-based West Coast offense the Jets are running. I'm not saying he was a bad fit, but it's a rough transition.
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The way he sees it, the Jets -- who took him 13th overall and also owned the ninth pick -- wouldn't even have a shot at grabbing him.
"Probably No. 1, most likely," Richardson said of where he'd go in a redraft. "Kansas City? Yeah. I went into the draft thinking I'd be the No. 1 pick. I had a shot."
While there was little scuttlebutt ahead of the draft in April about Richardson being a potential No. 1 pick, his play this season certainly makes him as valuable as any other rookie, and he would warrant consideration for the top pick in a draft redo. Richardson has been a stalwart on the Jets' defensive line, and he will be one of the top candidates for the league's defensive rookie of the year award.
Coach Rex Ryan believes Richardson deserves the honor.
Baltimore Ravens (7-6)
Remaining games: at Lions, vs. Patriots, at Bengals
Don't count out the Baltimore Ravens, even though it's easy to do when looking at their remaining schedule. Of the contenders for that second AFC wild-card spot, the Ravens have the most difficult final three weeks of the regular season, facing three division leaders, including two on the road. Despite the odds stacked against them and the fact that they're 1-5 on the road, the Ravens will make the playoffs because they're hitting their stride at the right time. It's games like this past Sunday's historic finish against the Minnesota Vikings that make you think the defending Super Bowl champions have regained their magic.
All three phases are starting to click for the Ravens. On offense, Joe Flacco is starting to stretch the field again, and his favorite target, tight end Dennis Pitta, has returned after dislocating his hip in late July. Defensively, the Ravens have allowed the eighth-fewest points in the league in addition to ranking in the top three on third down and in the red zone. On special teams, the Ravens have the NFL’s most consistent kicker in Justin Tucker and an explosive returner in Jacoby Jones.
The ability to make plays late is why the Ravens look like a postseason team again. The Ravens struggled early this season because they couldn’t win the close games. Baltimore was 1-3 in games decided by three or fewer points in September and October. Now, the Ravens are 3-1 in such games in November and December.
Plus, their final stretch isn’t as daunting as it seems. The Lions have lost three of their past four games, and running back Reggie Bush aggravated a calf injury Sunday. The Patriots lost tight end Rob Gronkowski to a season-ending injury, and they may not have as much at stake when they play the Ravens because New England can clinch the AFC East on Sunday. And the Ravens beat the Bengals earlier this season. In fact, there is a still a chance that the Ravens could be playing for the AFC North title, and not a wild-card berth, in the season finale in Cincinnati.
-- Jamison Hensley, ESPN.com Ravens reporter
Remaining games: vs. Patriots, at Bills, vs. Jets
A month ago, the playoff prospects of the Miami Dolphins seemed iffy at best. This was a group that couldn’t finish in the fourth quarter and was distracted by off-the-field issues involving the bullying scandal with offensive linemen Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin.
But something clicked with Miami at just the right time. The Dolphins have won three of their past four -- which includes two straight road games in December -- and that's enough to make me believe they can make the postseason for the first time since 2008.
Still, Dolphins second-year coach Joe Philbin did a good job keeping the team focused with recent wins over the San Diego Chargers (6-7), New York Jets (6-7) and Pittsburgh Steelers (5-8). The victories over the Chargers and Jets, in particular, provide key head-to-head tiebreakers that could pay dividends. Those are two of the teams Miami is battling for the final wild card in the AFC.
Miami's biggest concern is the Ravens, who beat Miami in Week 5. However, Baltimore has a tougher remaining schedule. The Ravens will play at the Detroit Lions (7-6), the New England Patriots (10-3) and at the Cincinnati Bengals (9-4). Baltimore’s opponent winning percentage is .667. The Ravens could slip up at any moment. Miami has an opponent winning percentage of .512 and will be favored in at least two of its final three games.
Considering all that has transpired this year in Miami, the Dolphins would be a phenomenal story if they made the playoffs.
-- James Walker, ESPN.com Dolphins reporter
Remaining games: at Panthers, vs. Browns, at Dolphins
The Jets will miss the playoffs for the third straight year. If you're living in a vacuum, that might be a disappointing, considering they were 5-4 at their bye week. But remember the big picture: This is a rebuilding season under first-year general manager John Idzik. The Jets are starting five rookies, including quarterback Geno Smith. They're too young and too inconsistent to win their final three games, which probably is what it will take to have a chance at a wild-card spot. Remember, they haven't won two in a row all season, and there's no reason to think they can start now.
The offensively challenged Jets will have a hard time scoring points against the Carolina Panthers. When they can't run the ball and have to rely on Smith, it usually doesn't end well. Smith has talent, but he has thrown 20 interceptions, making poor decisions and trying to force the issue when adversity strikes -- typical rookie stuff. His supporting cast is highly suspect. You could argue that the only skill-position player meeting expectations is running back Chris Ivory. No doubt, the offense is headed for an overhaul in the offseason -- and that may include the quarterback position. At best, Smith remains a question mark.
Rex Ryan relied on his defense in most of the wins, but the unit appears to be wearing down. The Jets have allowed 838 total yards in the past two games, the highest back-to-back total in the Ryan era. If fatigue is a factor, it's understandable, considering how long the defense has been on the field. The once-formidable secondary, hurt by poor cornerback play, is allowing too many big plays. There's no telling how many yards the Jets will surrender to Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon. The recent addition of future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed hasn't helped much.
Unfortunately for the Jets, they still have two games on the road. They're a terrible road team -- a 1-5 record, having been outscored 105-26 in the past three.
The Jets still are playing hard for Ryan, evidenced by last week's 37-27 win over the Oakland Raiders, but they simply don't have the talent or consistency to make a strong and late push for a wild-card spot. Even if they do make it interesting, their awful conference record (3-7) will doom them in applicable tiebreaker scenarios. The bigger suspense is whether Ryan will return. He has only one year remaining on his contract, and his record over the past three years is 20-25.
-- Rich Cimini, ESPN.com Jets reporter
Remaining games: at Broncos, vs. Raiders, vs. Chiefs
San Diego played its best game of the season this past Sunday in a 37-14 rout of the New York Giants to get to 6-7. However, the Chargers dug themselves too much of a hole to climb out of in the last three games to make a postseason run.
Even though they play two of their final three games at home, the Chargers face teams with a combined record of 25-14.
Miami already holds the head-to-head tiebreaker against the Chargers because they defeated San Diego earlier in the year. And San Diego has a worse conference record (3-6) than the Dolphins (6-3) and the Ravens (6-4), so the Chargers would have to finish a game ahead of both of those teams.
The Chargers also have been inconsistent, winning two games in a row only one time this season, so the likelihood of this team stringing three wins together, including a victory against the Broncos, who are undefeated at home, isn’t good.
However, one thing giving San Diego a glimmer of hope is quarterback Philip Rivers. He's playing the best football of his career right now and is 27-6 in the month of December since taking over as the team's starter in 2006. Rivers also is 5-2 at Denver over that time. Having a franchise quarterback playing at a high level can help mask some of the mistakes this young team makes on a weekly basis.
Even with the fleeting playoff hopes, San Diego coach Mike McCoy said his team is focused on getting a win in Denver on Thursday.
"We are not worried about how we are going to feel next week or at the end of this year or what this does for next year," McCoy said. "We are trying to win every game we can -- the next game and that's all we are worried about. We are not worried about the future. The future is now."
-- Eric D. Williams, ESPN.com Chargers reporter
They've been at it again this week. The New York Jets are preparing for the Carolina Panthers, who lost last week to the New Orleans Saints, who employ Rob Ryan as their defensive coordinator. So, naturally, they've been talking, with Rob offering insights on the Panthers offense. The Jets haven't played the Panthers since 2009, so any knowledge is good knowledge.
Ryan said he spoke to his brother Sunday night after the Saints' 31-13 win, and again Monday. There was no point in denying it because, "They’re not believing that, and you’re not believing that, so the truth is, absolutely, I talked to him," Rex said Wednesday. "Anything that you can pick up, you’re going to try to see how it would fit what you do. Now, we’re not going to change our scheme or something like that, but we may look at some things, maybe some tips."
The Ryan brothers have shared intel twice before -- and it worked for the recipient. We will call it the "Buddy" system, named after their father.
In Week 1, the Jets beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers by a point. The brothers talked. The following week, Rob's Saints beat them by two points.
In Week 6, the Saints lost to the New England Patriots by three. The brother talked. The following week, Rex's Jets beat them by three.
If the Jets upset the Panthers, Rex should upgrade Rob's Christmas gift.
There has been an unusual amount of overlap because the Jets have faced the NFC South. In fact, they have six common opponents. The Jets are 4-3 against them, the Saints 5-1.
The Panthers get to face a Ryan for three straight weeks because the Saints-Panthers rematch is next week in Carolina. That probably will mean more brotherly chit chat.
ICYMI: Quarterback Geno Smith, looking back on the three-game losing streak that ended last week, said he was playing like a robot. The Jets hope his performance against the Oakland Raiders was a transformer. ... The ever-confident Sheldon Richardson said he'd be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 draft if they did a re-do. ... Muhammad Wilkerson isn't happy that the Jets have dropped out of the No. 1 ranking in run defense, but he's predicting a quick return to the top spot. Hear that, Carolina? ... Wide receiver Stephen Hill is battling knee swelling, and his immediate future is hazy.
For reasons known only to Mike Shanahan, the Washington Redskins benched Robert Griffin III Wednesday in favor of Kirk Cousins. The upshot, intentional or not, is a three-game showcase for Cousins, who can create a trade market for his services by demonstrating long-term potential amid a dysfunctional situation.
Cousins should be a person of interest for the Jets, who will enter the offseason facing the same question from a year ago: Who is our starting quarterback? Mark Sanchez, still mending from shoulder surgery, almost certainly will be jettisoned in March, leaving Smith and Matt Simms on the depth chart.
The Jets can’t simply hand the job to Smith, not after 20 interceptions (and counting), so Idzik has to import competition or a bonafide starter. He can do it by drafting another quarterback or checking out the free-agent market, which will include a lot of mediocre talent and, possibly, the erratic Jay Cutler, whose big arm will cause some desperate team to wildly overpay.
Or Idzik can try for the best of both worlds, bringing in a young (and cost-efficient) veteran with upside. A player like Cousins, who still has two years left on his rookie contract.
Cousins has started only one game in two years, has just 73 pass attempts, but he’s well regarded in the scouting community. Obviously, he wouldn’t have lasted until the fourth round if he had RGIII’s skill set, but he’s a solid prospect with potential, the kind of player that should intrigue a team like the Jets.
The price for Cousins would depend on how he plays down the stretch. The Redskins are starved for draft picks, and the Jets have two third-round choices in the next draft. It probably would take more than a third-round pick to make a deal, especially if he plays reasonably well, but it’s a potential investment that deserves consideration.
Hey, maybe the Jets could throw Sanchez into the deal. The Redskins were smitten with him before the 2009 draft, wining and dining him at a tony Italian restaurant in the D.C. area.
Obviously, it’s buyer beware when considering a player with a small body of work. There have been many examples over the years of quarterbacks that flashed potential in a cameo role, drew the attention of a quarterback-needy team and flopped. The list of one-hit wonders includes Scott Mitchell, Rob Johnson and Matt Cassel.
Idzik knows this better than most because his previous team, the Seattle Seahawks, gave Matt Flynn a three-year, $26 million contract based on one impressive start for the Green Bay Packers at the end of the 2011 season. The Seahawks proposed after one date and ended up in divorce court before the honeymoon ended.
The Jets wouldn’t be looking if they had confidence in Smith, but how can they be sure? He’s tied for the league lead with 20 interceptions and he has eclipsed an 80 passer rating in only four games, including last week’s win over the Oakland Raiders.
On Wednesday, Smith described the Oakland game as a turning point for him, saying he was “just playing freely” and instinctively. Previously, he said, he was playing “like a robot.” That sounds good, makes for a headline, but it’s really just player-speak.
It's easy to be loose against a mediocre defense, but quite another challenge to play that way against the No. 2 defense in the league. This week, he faces the Carolina Panthers (9-4) on the road, and the road hasn’t been kind to him -- four touchdown passes, 12 interceptions and a 1-5 record.
The Panthers can make young quarterbacks play like ... well, robots.
Idzik’s ability to rectify the quarterback situation will go a long way toward defining his tenure in New York. No doubt, he will explore all options, from Teddy Bridgewater (a pipe dream) to Michael Vick. The answer could be 200 miles to the south, where a young quarterback -- a pawn in a power struggle -- gets a chance on the big stage. The Jets will be watching.
"I’ve gotten a chance to actually focus in on it now. I’m playing with great players up front, it’s easier for me," Pace said. "[I’ve been paying] more attention to detail. Obviously in this league it’s all about sacks. It took me 10 years to really realize that. I’ve put more work into it and it's paying off."
"When you’re playing with young talent like Sheldon [Richardson], [and] Muhammad [Wilkerson] is having a great year, Quinton [Coples] -- I’m not going to say it’s easy, but they have to focus in on somebody and more times it’s not me," Pace said. "I’m left with some one-on-ones so it’s about capitalizing and making plays."
In his first two years with the Jets, Pace registered a combined 15 sacks. After posting his career high in 2009, his numbers slipped in each consecutive season, bottoming out at three sacks last year. With Pace's diminishing play, the Jets cut him in February but ultimately re-signed him to a one-year deal.
This season, the Jets have scaled back Pace's role, and it seems he's been more effective. He said he's rushed the passer more than he has in the past, although he rushed plenty last season, and has been able to get home more often. His eight sacks rank second on the team to Muhammad Wilkerson.
Pace acknowledged that the Jets releasing him galvanized him some.
"Yes and no. You play this game long enough you'll get cut. That played into it and the fact -- I'm man enough to realize last year wasn't my best work. I had some deficiencies in my game I needed to strength and be able to do better, which is pass rush," Pace said. "Type of league it is now, it's pass, pass, pass, got to have guys be able to put pressure on the quarterback. ... It's a situation where I had to go get better, and I'm not great at it but I feel more comfortable."
Pace will be a free agent at season's end and said he believes he can still contribute for two or three more years, provided it's in the right situation. He'd like to stick with the Jets, if possible.
"In a perfect world, I'd like to retire a Jet," Pace said.
"We have to get back to No. 1," Wilkerson said Wednesday. "We were No. 1 for I don't know how many weeks. These last two weeks, we haven't been doing too good up front. I think we're going to take care of that this week, though."
The Jets face the Carolina Panthers, who leap-frogged them in the rankings. The Panthers are No. 1 against the run, allowing 79.4 yards per game. The Jets are No. 2 at 82.6 yards.
Wilkerson & Co. were knocked from their perch after surrendering 275 yards in the last two games, including 123 yards to Marcel Reece, the Oakland Raiders' fourth-string running back.
"It's important, not just being no. 1, but we want to be the toughest team in the NFL," linebacker Demario Davis said. "Being able to stop the run definitely says something about your toughness."
The Panthers (9-4) are a run-oriented team, led by DeAngelo Williams (662 yards), quarterback Cam Newton (495) and fullback Mike Tolbert (313).
"At times," the rookie quarterback said Wednesday, "I was playing like a robot."
Smith was a rock 'em, sock 'em failure during a three-game losing streak, throwing six interceptions and no touchdown passes, but he emerged from the funk last Sunday with a solid performance in a win over the Oakland Raiders. He credits the advice he received from offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.
A few days before the game, Mornhinweg told Smith to loosen up, to let his natural instincts take over. He was being too methodical with his footwork and reads. Smith took that mindset into the game and, for a change, didn't hurt the team with a spate of costly turnovers.
"I was just playing freely," said Smith, who completed 16 of 25 passes for 219 yards, with a touchdown and his 20th interception. "It goes back to not thinking about all my past mistakes. I think I got into this zone where I just tried to be way too perfect, and that's almost impossible to do at any level, especially as a rookie."
Next up is perhaps Smith's toughest assignment of the season -- a road game against the Carolina Panthers (9-4), who own the NFL's No. 2-ranked defense. The Jets (6-7), still clinging to playoff hopes, are 1-5 away from home, having been outscored by a 4-to-1 margin in their last three.
To prove last weekend was a turning point in his difficult rookie season, Smith needs another solid outing. His teammates hope he can replicate the poise he demonstrated against the Raiders.
"I don't know. We'll see," Ryan said about Hill's season being over. "Obviously we'd like to get him out here if he can play and can be effective. That would the best-case scenario for us. We'll see how it progresses."
"I think we've all been like, 'What's going on here?' and I think it's become clear he's had some swelling, some issues with his knee where he hasn't been able to burst out of breaks and things like that," Ryan said. "He was practicing, he was gutting it out, he'll do those things. How much [has that] helped him? Obviously [it] hasn't helped him a whole lot. We're trying to get him back to where he can really run and burst out of cuts and things like that."
The Jets traded up in the 2012 draft to acquire Hill, giving up fifth- and seventh-round picks to grab the Georgia Tech product. Hill hasn't fulfilled expectations, though, as he barely has made a difference and hasn't been a threat on the outside. The pick looks even worse considering Chicago receiver Alshon Jeffery, who was chosen two picks after Hill, is fifth in the NFL in receiving yards.
Ryan admitted that Hill's progression doesn't look good at the moment. He said he doesn't regret the selection, though.
"Really, by Year 3, I think that's the big one, you'll know if this guy has really hit it [or] this guy maybe hasn't been as good," Ryan said. "Certainly by the numbers, I understand you expect [a] certain amount of production, but there's some contributing factors here. I know one thing: He had a great training camp and we were all excited. I was excited about seeing him make those steps. Sometimes you're limited through different things."
Here's the full injury report:
DID NOT PRACTICE
WR Stephen Hill (knee)
CB Antonio Cromartie (hip/concussion)
TE Kellen Winslow (knee)
WR Santonio Holmes (foot/hamstring)
LB Garrett McIntyre (knee)
LB DeMario Davis (thumb)
DL Kenrick Ellis (back)
WR Jeremy Kerley (elbow)
WR David Nelson (ribs)
WR Greg Salas (finger)
DL Muhammad Wilkerson (wrist)
DID NOT PRACTICE
OG Nate Chandler (elbow)
DT Dwan Edwards (non-injury)
OT Jordan Gross (non-injury)
TE Greg Olsen (foot)
RB Jonathan Stewart (knee)
OG Travelle Wharton (non-injury)
OG Chris Scott (knee)
LB Jordan Senn (hamstring)
Cromartie suffered a concussion against Oakland on Sunday and it's unknown whether he will be available against Carolina. Cromartie has to go through the concussion protocol and pass the tests before being allowed to resume practicing.
Hill missed Sunday's game with his knee injury, the first game he's missed this season. After a full practice Friday, he was originally listed as probable against Oakland, but was then downgraded to questionable shortly after. The receiver has had a disappointing sophomore season and has been a nonfactor of late.
USA TODAY SportsSheldon Richardson (left) and Kiko Alonso have had outstanding rookie campaigns on defense.
ILB Kiko Alonso, Bills
Alonso, the 46th pick, has 131 tackles on the season. That’s 30 more than the next closest rookie and only eight behind Vontaze Burfict for the NFL lead. Alonso also has four interceptions, more than all other rookie linebackers combined.
The Buffalo Bills allowed an opponent Total QBR of 65 from 2010 to 2012. Only the Jacksonville Jaguars' defense was worse in that span. Alonso has helped bring that down to 42 in 2013, sixth-best in the NFL.
In terms of defensive expected points added -- which takes into account everything a defense does to affect the score -- the Bills have gone from negative-90 in 2012 (29th) to positive-28 in 2013 (eighth). Alonso has been on the field for every defensive snap.
DE Sheldon Richardson, Jets
Taken by the New York Jets with the 13th pick, Richardson has helped turn around a run defense that was uncharacteristically generous in 2012. The Jets allowed 4.3 yards per rush and 1.7 yards after contact per rush. This year, they are allowing 3.1 yards per rush (best in NFL) and 1.2 yards after contact per rush.
Richardson has 65 tackles on defense this season, 20 more than the next closest rookie defensive lineman and one more than 2012 NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt. Twenty-seven of those tackles were for a loss or no gain. Only Watt has more, with 31.
DT Star Lotulelei, Panthers
The Carolina Panthers have allowed 3.4 yards per rush on first and second down with Lotulelei on the field. Opponents are averaging 4.7 yards per rush with Lotulelei off the field on those downs.
Lotulelei’s run defense has led to a Carolina defense that has added 53 expected points on 446 snaps with Lotulelei. With Lotulelei on the sideline, the Panthers have added only eight expected points on 319 defensive snaps.
DB Tyrann Mathieu, Cardinals (tore ACL in Week 14)
For the next 19 days, there will be stories on whether he should be fired or retained, folks like me offering opinions and analysis on what the New York Jets could and should do with their head coach. I'm on record as saying he should be brought back next year if they finish 7-9 or better, playing respectable ball over the final three games. If you polled 100 executives from around the league, I bet at least 95 would deem 7-9 a successful coaching job, considering the roster.
Owner Woody Johnson, in a pregame interview Sunday with ESPN New York 98.7 FM, said he was "pretty happy" with the direction of the franchise, sounding very much like a patient boss mindful of the big picture. But Johnson has been known to change his mind. Late in the 2005 season, he told reporters he loved Herm Edwards. A few weeks later, he traded him to Kansas City.
Johnson can be swayed, and the man who could do the swaying is general manager John Idzik -- the wild card in this entire process. No one knows what Idzik is thinking. He's a poker player, rarely revealing much publicly. He's a first-time GM, so there's no track record that we can study as we try to forecast his plan. When he speaks to reporters, which isn't often, he always speaks highly of Ryan. He sounds like he genuinely likes him, but does that mean he wants to remain joined at his hip? Former Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith probably thought he was well-liked by his new GM, Phil Emery, but he was fired after a 10-6 season in 2012.
There's no way of knowing Idzik's thoughts. Heck, it might not matter if Ryan's performance is hailed a success. Maybe Idzik decided last January, soon after being hired, that he'd fire Ryan after the season, regardless of the outcome. Maybe he's waiting to see how the season plays out before making a decision. Maybe he's already concluded to keep Ryan because he loves his passion and defensive acumen. We probably won't know until Dec. 30, the day after the season.
In the meantime, let the speculation continue.
ICYMI: The Jets worked out several free agents Tuesday, including WR Danny Coale (a former Cowboys draft pick) and QB Nathan Enderle (Arena League, CFL, former Bears draft pick). ... We break down the tape of the Jets' win over the Raiders, highlighting some surprisingly good and bad performances. ... The Jets inched up to No. 21 in the latest ESPN.com Power Rankings. ... A look at the various playoff scenarios.