The New York Jets, three games under .500 for the first time in the Rex Ryan era, are heading south faster than the Florida snowbirds. Statistically, they have a 1.4 percent chance of making the playoffs, but this season no longer is about the postseason. It's about personal survival.
Everybody in the organization is on notice: Ryan. General manager Mike Tannenbaum. Quarterback Mark Sanchez. Everybody.
Barring a miracle turnaround, this will mark the first time under Woody Johnson's ownership that the Jets have endured two straight non-winning seasons. That makes it hard to predict how the boss will respond. Last year's fall guy was offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, who will be on the opposite sideline Sunday when the Jets meet the St. Louis Rams.
Haunted by a scapeghost? Oh, that would be cruel symmetry.
Johnson, who hasn't made any public comments since proclaiming that he expects to have two more years of Tim Tebow, will have some tough decisions to make. Let's examine:
His regular-season record in seven seasons is 54-51, with no division titles, three playoff appearances and four postseason victories. He deserves credit for stocking the roster from 2006 to 2010, culminating in 2010 with the most talented team the Jets have had in nearly a decade. But there has been a slow, steady drain, caused by a win-now, quick-fix approach that has left them woefully thin at many positions.
Tannenbaum survived in 2009, when Johnson decided to fire Eric Mangini after three seasons. Tannenbaum was instrumental in the hiring of Ryan -- largely a positive -- and he has demonstrated the ability to reload after poor seasons (see 2006 and 2008).
In the end, the biggest stain on Tannenbaum's record could be the Tebow trade, which was handled clumsily from the outset and has sabotaged the team on multiple levels. It's hard to determine how much of it was Tannenbaum, and how much he was prodded by the Tebow-obsessed Johnson, but you know one thing: Owners never hold themselves accountable for deals gone bad.
Does Tannenbaum get another chance? Johnson tends to make impulsive decisions, based on public sentiment, but he might want to take a look at the Houston Texans. Owner Bob McNair showed patience, sticking with GM Rick Smith through tough times. Now they're reaping the benefits. Thing is, can Johnson sell that approach in the New York market?
Like Tannenbaum, Ryan is signed through 2014. They both got new deals after the surprising success of 2009. The perception that they're joined at the hip will be tested after this season.
Frankly, it would be a surprise if Ryan is fired. Johnson loves Ryan and what he has brought to the franchise, on and off the field. Simply put, his larger-than-life personality is good for business and exposure, and we all know that Johnson likes the back pages.
Unless the blowouts continue, Ryan probably built enough collateral with back-to-back trips to the AFC Championship Game to survive this mess. But he doesn't get a free pass here. Since the second championship game, the Jets are 11-14, having lost nine of their past 12 games. It's their worst 12-game stretch since 2007.
The injuries to Darrelle Revis and Santonio Holmes were tough, no doubt, but the Jets should be better than 3-6. Ryan's biggest shortcoming is his detachment from the offensive side of the ball. He made it a point to mention last week that he's more involved than ever with the offense -- he took pride in announcing he installed a couple of plays -- but he still lets coordinator Tony Sparano run the entire show.
And that show is unwatchable.
A lot of Monday Morning Quarterbacks are screaming for Sanchez to be benched, but it's not that simple. When the Jets extended his contract last offseason, they guaranteed Sanchez's 2013 salary -- $8.25 million. It bought him extra job security.
Sanchez will be back next season, but the circumstances could be different. If he continues to struggle over the final seven games, he almost certainly will be thrown into an open competition. The Jets will have little choice but to import a veteran to challenge Sanchez -- unless Greg McElroy gets an audition and proves worthy. It won't be Tebow, because they obviously have no faith in his ability to throw the football.
The Jets unwittingly rattled Sanchez by bringing Tebow into the equation, and it never was more apparent than in Sunday's 28-7 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. The sequence near the goal line epitomized the season and the failure of the Sanchez-Tebow dynamic.
Tebow was inserted on third down from the 1-yard line to run a counter, but the play never happened because of a penalty on Dustin Keller. Tebow was visibly angry as he came off the field. In came Sanchez, who threw his fourth red zone interception -- most in the league.
Sanchez revealed a hint of frustration after the game. He was asked about the rotation and its impact on his rhythm. When a reporter mentioned the 32-yard completion to Keller in the fourth quarter, Sanchez interjected, "And came right back out, yeah. It's something we're all getting used to, and I'm getting a better feel for it."
On Monday, Sanchez received another vote of confidence from Ryan, who doesn't seem concerned that his starting quarterback might take him down.
"I'm never going to make a decision to save my job," said Ryan, who still sees Sanchez as part of the solution.
There are only a dozen or so players with true job security, thanks to long-term contracts. The rest of the players are fighting for their future. Nine starters are slated to become unrestricted free agents, so there will be significant turnover in the offseason, regardless of who's calling the shots.
Ryan doesn't expect to go anywhere.
"I'm confident I'll be the coach," he said, "because we'll find a way to win."
They've got seven weeks to convince the owner he's right.