- Johnette Howard, ESPN.com columnist
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Antonio Cromartie should be applauded, not mocked, for saying he believes the 3-5 Jets are going to rally and make the playoffs.
It's just, you know ... a little sad that it's come to this.
A regime that started with a sonic boom four summers ago with Rex Ryan making grandiose promises about not kissing Bill Belichick's rings and taking the Jets to the Super Bowl never felt so distant. The same goes for those two trips to the AFC title game in Ryan's first two seasons. Now look at them.
All their expectations and ambitions have been downsized.
They're the Incredible Shrinking Jets.
Cromartie has never been confused with the most astute man on any team he's played on, but there was some laudable honesty and optimism in what the Jets cornerback said, even if he was only acknowledging the obvious. The Jets have trimmed their goals.
The Jets have backslid the longer Ryan has been here.
Instead of taking the NFL by the throat as he had hoped, Ryan is now stuck merely hoping he'll survive long enough to get a second contract with the Jets.
Instead of a career arrow that's steadily climbing, Mark Sanchez doesn't look like a franchise quarterback anymore.
Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum's personnel moves are getting scrutinized like never before -- if not nearly harshly enough.
The Jets have even managed to do what seemed impossible before: They've squelched Tebowmania.
The way Tim Tebow has been put in mothballs is reminiscent of that old line that the only person who could hold Michael Jordan to 15 points a game was Dean Smith, his North Carolina coach.
Tebow may not be a better quarterback than Sanchez. But he's still a serviceable player taking up a roster spot. First-year Jets offensive coordinator Tony Sparano has done more to quiet Tebow than any defense in the NFL. And now look at the result: Instead of a quarterback controversy, the Jets have an offensive coordinator controversy. And just wait, the topic will only whipped up more next week as the Jets prepare to face St. Louis and Brian Schottenheimer, the offensive guru they let walk.
Compared to Sparano, Schottenheimer looks like the second coming of Bill Walsh.
Cromartie has quietly had the best season of any Jets player. And he deserves to be praised for that, too, not just for Thursday's attempt to jostle the Jets into still believing a late-season run is possible. Unlike Santonio Holmes, who got an enormous new contract from the Jets last season and almost immediately began acting out again in some of the same ways that got him shipped out of Pittsburgh, Cromartie has lived up to his lucrative new deal so far.
Oh, he still has his occasional knucklehead moments and penalties. But the Jets' defense would be lost this year without him. He's lived up to the boast he made after Darrelle Revis was lost for the season that he is one of the NFL's elite cornerbacks.
But the sound of Ryan hemming, hawing and choosing his words carefully on Thursday after being told of Cromartie's playoff prediction was another reminder of how much things have changed.
Ryan used to like to style himself as the NFL's big-talking, big-dreaming desperado. On Thursday, he finally mustered a line about how the rest of the NFL was likely to regard Cromartie's boldness -- "Nobody wants to hear it," Ryan allowed, "but who cares?" -- but it seemed more out of habit than seething conviction.
Like I said, sad ...
Ryan was later asked if the Jets should "embrace" the tough road ahead of them, and he said, "Yeah, I think so. I think as a competitor, you like measuring yourself against tough opponents or whatever and maybe tough circumstances. We haven't done too well at it, quite honestly, this year being 3-5. But this is a new opportunity for us, and we're all in."
If you noticed, there was no more mention of the Super Bowl. "All in" has replaced the boasts about going all the way.
They're the Incredible Shrinking Jets.
19hEric D. Williams
2dSharon Katz & Hank Gargiulo