Commentary

Sanchez not all to blame for Jet mess

Tannenbaum, Rex and Sparano deserve more criticism than struggling quarterback

Updated: October 28, 2012, 11:12 PM ET
By Ian O'Connor | ESPNNewYork.com

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Jets just turned their bye week into their bye-bye week, eliminating themselves from credible playoff contention before opening night in the NBA. On a day when tens of thousands of their fans ignored grim forecasts of the approaching storm, the Jets did not even bother to show up, the most unforgivable game-day sin of all.

Rex Ryan and his high-profile aides, Tony Sparano and Mike Westhoff, coached at a non-scholarship level against the Miami Dolphins, who dismissed the loss of Ryan Tannehill and played with a speed and ferocity foreign to the home team. The Jets and Dolphins had traded heavy verbal jabs all week, and it didn't matter who was right or wrong in this low divisional drama.

Mark Sanchez
Alex Trautwig/Getty ImagesMark Sanchez is not the man to blame for the Jets' no-show against the Dolphins on Sunday.

All that mattered was Miami's clear sense of purpose Sunday, when the Jets came across as an ill-prepared team in way, way over its head.

So the easy thing for these 3-5 Jets to do, the convenient thing, would be to scapegoat Sanchez for their own staggering failures, to finger the floundering quarterback for a second consecutive season gone south. And Sanchez deserves his fair share of blame for what happened inside MetLife Stadium, where fans incredulous that their team could lose by a 30-9 count to the unworthy Dolphins were compelled to boo Sanchez and chant for the second-stringer with the first-string Q-rating, Tim Tebow.

"You're playing in a big market, and this is a grown man's game," Sanchez said. "And you've got to play tough. They want results, we're not playing well, so they're going to call for somebody else. It doesn't matter. I just happen to be in this spot."

Quarterback, the spot of ultimate accountability in the NFL. Only if you were lining up suspects in this developing felony of a Jets season, Sanchez wouldn't belong in your top three.

Mike Tannenbaum, Ryan and Sparano should make up that list.

Tannenbaum built a roster devoid of playmakers on Sanchez's side of the ball, turning the quarterback's referendum season into one designed for him to fail. Even before he went down, Santonio Holmes wasn't anyone's idea of a top-flight No. 1 receiver, not anymore, but at least he could command a defensive coordinator's attention for a full week of preparation.

Who else on this team keeps that opposing coordinator awake now? Where else is Sanchez supposed to go with the ball?

Ryan, of course, hasn't helped matters by pushing the wrong human buttons with his team. The Jets had everything to play for Sunday, when a human pep talk named Dennis Byrd inspired them in the pregame and walked them through the winning coin toss.

This was a crucial AFC East game, a chance to get back to .500. "Man," Ryan said, "I couldn't wait to get here."

Rex swore his team had a memorable week of practice, a claim losing coaches often use as a shield against postgame criticism. Whatever. The Jets were great from Monday through Saturday, and the Dolphins were great from 1 p.m. through 4 p.m. on Sunday.

"I'm blown away by it," Ryan said.

So was his special-teams Yoda, Westhoff, who was schooled by his younger counterpart, Darren Rizzi. The Dolphins perfectly executed a surprise onside kick, blocked a punt and recovered it for a touchdown, blocked a field goal attempt near the end of the first half and returned a kickoff 57 yards to set up a touchdown early in the second half.

But Westhoff has too many game balls in his trophy case to be cited as part of the problem. Sparano, on the other hand, does not.

In fact, Sparano represents a bigger disappointment than the other major offseason acquisition, Tebow. The offensive coordinator came to the Jets with a reputation as a founding father of the Wildcat, as the right coach to get the most out of the sport's most unconventional player.

Sparano-Tebow -- it was a perfect marriage of creative mind and creative athlete, at least until it wasn't. As it turns out, Sparano has no better idea how to use Tebow than your average talk-show caller.

It doesn't end there. Sanchez hasn't grown at all under Sparano, whose linemen and backs responded Sunday as if they'd never expected Miami to blitz. When the Jets hired the former Miami head coach as Brian Schottenheimer's replacement, they acted as if they'd hired Bill Walsh. Instead it appears they've hired the guy who compelled Dolphins owner Stephen Ross to chase after every Jim (Harbaugh), Bill (Cowher) and Jon (Gruden) on the market.

The Jets are an unholy tangle of predictable plays, limited players and schematic breakdowns. Almost all of it can be traced to the coaches and management and yet Sanchez was the designated fall guy, the target of the crowd's rage.

"That chant," Chaz Schilens said of the second-half calls for Tebow, "is just B.S. as far as I'm concerned. Mark's the quarterback. I think the fans are out of place, but we didn't play well. They're pissed. They have the right to be pissed."

Yes they do. Sanchez threw an interception near the goal line, missed his share of semi-open receivers and held the ball too long in taking four sacks, in surrendering a damaging fumble and in completing only 28 of 54 passes.

Only Tebow would fare worse if given the same set of circumstances, the same set of non-playmakers around him.

"I'm a big Tebow fan," Dustin Keller said, "but I'm not a big fan of screaming to get the backup quarterback in. I feel like fans should have the starting quarterback's back until they do officially make some type of change. ... I felt like at times people weren't standing behind Mark.

"We're going to get this turned around. He knows that we, his teammates, have his back. Hell, we believe in him. And we will get this turned around."

Chances are the Jets won't get this turned around no matter who's lining up at quarterback. Ryan could've created a diversion by turning over the offense -- or what passes for an offense, anyway -- to Tebow, a Maybelline man who might temporarily cover all sorts of blemishes.

Ryan could've thrown Sanchez to the angry masses, fed them a raw piece of meat, and then offered up Tebow as a second-half savior. But Rex knows Tebow just can't throw the football; he saw it with his own two eyes last year in Denver. Rex knows a trade of Sanchez for Tebow will set back the franchise a good two or three seasons.

So the coach said he never thought of replacing his starting quarterback against the Dolphins, and he said he will not be turning to Tebow anytime soon. Sanchez, Rex maintained, "gives us our best chance to win."

Too bad the coaching staff and management have done next to nothing to help him, a truth that reduces the Jets' bye week to their bye-bye week.

Ian O'Connor

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Ian O'Connor has won numerous national awards as a sports columnist and is the author of three books, including the bestseller, "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter." ESPN Radio broadcasts "The Ian O'Connor Show" every Sunday from 7 to 9 a.m. ET. Follow Ian on Twitter »

SPONSORED HEADLINES

EDITORS' PICKS

ALSO SEE

MORE NFL HEADLINES