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Friday, October 14, 2011
Updated: October 17, 3:27 PM ET
Rex's Jets facing must-win vs. Miami

By Rich Cimini
ESPNNewYork.com

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- In this week's motivational message to the New York Jets, Rex Ryan talked bricks. No, not D'Brickashaw Ferguson.

Ryan told the players the only way to rebuild the season is to stack one brick on top of another -- one good practice, followed by another, followed by a good game and so on. He delivered the "brick" speech moments after announcing the Derrick Mason trade to the team.

So let's get this straight: Ryan wants a team of masons, just not a team with Mason.

You can't fault the coach of a struggling team for hammering a back-to-basics theme, but here's the problem with Ryan and the dysfunctional Jets, who take a three-game losing streak into Monday night's game against the Miami Dolphins:

Ryan promised his players a mansion, guaranteeing a Super Bowl, and now he's trying to get them to build small brick houses. That's a tough sell.

The bravado and bluster worked in Ryan's first two seasons because it was exactly what the organization needed, a changing-of-the-culture force that eliminated the "Same Old Jets" mentality and made them believe that, yes, they can.

Problem is, in Year 3, they know they can because they've been to two straight AFC Championship Games. It's pretty much the same group as last season, and they're playing as if they're entitled to a third shot. It doesn't work that way. Now they're bickering in public, with Santonio Holmes and Brandon Moore sniping at each other.

Until last week, there were an alarming number of sloppy practices, according to several players. The lack of focus has carried over to games, evidenced by the inordinate number of mental errors.

Let's be honest: They haven't played a complete game since the stunning upset over the New England Patriots in the divisional playoffs. (Sorry, can't count the win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.) They were flat against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship Game, and they've been flat ever since.

Maybe Deion Branch was right. Maybe the New England win was the Jets' Super Bowl. We're not even six weeks into the season, and the Jets are entering a death match. Holmes was asked if the team is desperate.

"I can honestly say, yes, there's a feeling of desperation," he said. "We have to win the game."

Guard Matt Slauson put it this way: "Nobody is panicking, but yeah, I mean, if there ever was a must-win, this is it."

The math doesn't look good for the Jets. Since the current playoff format went into effect in 1990, only 36 of the 173 teams that began with a 2-3 record rebounded to make the playoffs, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

That's 21 percent.

If the Jets lose Monday night, the number at 2-4 drops to 9 percent (13 of 149).

Let's be real: If the Jets can't beat the Dolphins (0-4), who have a seven-game losing streak and an out-of-mothballs quarterback named Matt Moore, they will be finished. The only drama remaining in the season would be the potential fallout, meaning locker-room dissension and a Brian Schottenheimer Watch.

"Must-win, need-a-win, whatever you want to call it, we just want to win the game," quarterback Mark Sanchez said.

The Jets haven't lost four straight since 2007, back in the Mangenius days.

It'll be fascinating to see how the team responds to the Mason blockbuster. No matter how they try to spin it, the Jets unloaded Mason because they felt he was a bad influence in the locker room -- specifically, the wide receiver room. They know it would've become worse if they had kept him around as the fourth receiver, behind rookie Jeremy Kerley.

In theory, Mason's ouster should serve as a siren in the locker room, a wake-up call, but you wonder if it will backfire on Ryan. Holmes and Plaxico Burress were disappointed by the move, with Holmes saying, "Everything he was doing around here seemed to be working just fine." If the offense flat-lines against the 28th-ranked defense, it will be damning.

Sanchez, asked his opinion of the trade, gave only non-answers -- telling.

The trade was a get-tough move by Ryan, but it might be too late. For eight months, he talked up this team, predicting a great ending instead of focusing on how to get there. It's the beauty and downside to Ryan's approach, all wrapped into one ball of fire.

"That's who he is, and that's why these guys love to play for him," GM Mike Tannenbaum said. "He won't change and I wouldn't want him to. Woody Johnson wouldn't want him to. We have to go play better. We have to play more consistently. We all know that, but he's a positive leader who really believes in what we're doing."

No doubt, but the team hasn't responded. Yes, offensively, the Jets showed signs of improvement last week in New England, and they're clinging to that as they prepare for the Dolphins. This is no gimme, nothing is a gimme for these Jets, but Ryan still has the rap.

On a conference call with the South Florida media, he was asked if he's still guaranteeing a Super Bowl.

"I guarantee you, we're going to chase it, that's for sure," Ryan said. "Do I think we'll win it? Yeah, absolutely."

Old habits are hard to break.