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After a disastrous offensive performance that left many New York Jets fans fuming -- the audacity of 59 passes as the Jets allowed five sacks to the New York Giants in a 29-14 loss Saturday -- fingers are being pointed with the playoffs a distant possibility heading into the final game of the season.
A cheerless Christmas Eve was not what the team expected after a promising start. The Jets boasted the blockbuster re-signing of wide receiver Santonio Holmes and snatched a newly-released Plaxico Burress from a half dozen other interested teams. Yet now, the Jets season is one loss to Miami away from being a flat disappointment.
Some critics have renewed calls for offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer's firing, others have suggested that Mark Sanchez, who is in his third season, is not the quarterback of the future. Two days after a humbling loss to the Giants, Ryan gave them each a vote of confidence.
"I have a huge amount of confidence in both guys there's no doubt," Ryan said. "I've stated over and over my feelings about Mark Sanchez. And I've said it before, no quarterback is going to look great when that's all you do and you fall behind. It wasn't Mark's best day by any stretch of the imagination, but we know he's done it."
Then Ryan turned to back his offensive coordinator.
"As far as Brian Schottenheimer goes, shoot, we'll just keep working side by side and shoulder to shoulder," Ryan said, "and we're trying to find a way to beat Miami."
The Jets are 27th in the NFL in total offense. Ryan did say that he'd like to see the Jets stretch the field more. But he also pointed to the Jets improvement in red zone efficiency.
Earlier in the season, Ryan allowed that bringing in an additional voice helped with that.
The Jets bought in former Colts offensive coordinator Tom Moore as a consultant as the season began. He spent some time in Florham Park during the team's training camp, and was brought back three weeks ago to ride along for the rest of the year. Schottenheimer said he never considered the addition to be a threat.
"It truly makes the things that we were doing before so much easier," Schottenheimer said.
Schottenheimer is made available to the media once a week, usually on Thursdays.
Dustin Keller, the fourth-year tight end, backed both Sanchez and Schottenheimer and said he was surprised that the offense had not fared better this season.
"At the end of the season we should have everything figured out," Keller said. "That's not the case. It's something we need to get better at."
After the loss to the Giants, a report surfaced that the Jets front office was engaged in an internal discussion about whether Sanchez was the right quarterback for the future.
"It's just not true," Ryan said on 1050 ESPN's "The Michael Kay Show."
Asked by ESPN's Stephen A. Smith if Ryan would consider Colts quarterback Peyton Manning if he became available, Ryan laughed.
"There's no way we're looking to replace Mark Sanchez," Ryan said.
Ryan allowed that if he were starting a team from scratch that anyone would take Manning, but in the situation the Jets were in now, he would stick with his admittedly imperfect quarterback.
Sanchez has never had the same group of receivers in his three years as quarterback. In his first year, he had Jerricho Cotchery and Laveranues Coles, then Braylon Edwards and Holmes were brought in. This summer, Cotchery left and veteran slot receiver Derrick Mason came in. The Jets benched and then got rid of Mason after the Baltimore loss.
"Never at any time have we been consistent," Keller said of this season.
Offensive lineman Matt Slauson said the players didn't lack confidence in Sanchez.
"We aren't shaken by anything," Slauson said. "If you look at what Mark has done since he's been here, he is an amazing quarterback, and even though we've lost a lot of tough games, he is moving in the right direction."
Ryan was asked if he thought there needed to be changes in the offense if the season ends in as disappointing a fashion as their performance indicated on Christmas Eve.
"I thought we did an excellent job in the offseason of putting together what I think is an excellent football team with a lot of talent," Ryan said. "Have we had the results we were hoping for? No. But again the season's not over, and we'll look at everything obviously at the end of the season, but right now we're competing for it, we've got a chance and we've just got to find a way to get it done this week."
Ryan inherited Schottenheimer as offensive coordinator. The son of former NFL coach Marty Schottenheimer has been taking his lumps ever since he came in from San Diego in 2006. After the 2008 season, when Brett Favre and his injured shoulder nosedived late in the season, head coach Eric Mangini took the hit.
When the Jets drafted Sanchez after Ryan arrived, some of the criticism ebbed as Schottenheimer started to develop the one-year starter at USC. He has been brought along slowly, but with running back Thomas Jones in '09, the offense worked.
Ryan's support for Schottenheimer was a bit less spirited than for Sanchez, and went only as far as the final game of the season. Ryan is hoping that a win in Miami makes all of some questions go away. Backing into the playoffs would be even better.
"Obviously, it doesn't look good right now, but the season's still not over," Ryan said.Jane McManus covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com.