When you think back to all the hope and noise that accompanied Rex Ryan's first two years in town, it's hard to imagine the Jets would so soon arrive at a Sunday when they feel so abysmally, totally irrelevant.
They used to be the NFL's "look at me" team. Now they're just a laughingstock. And nothing that happens today in the Jets' home finale against the San Diego Chargers or next weekend's season-ending game in Buffalo will change that.
The starting quarterback's spirit is broken, the celebrity backup's aura and ability have been so publicly undermined that he may get run out of the league, and third-string quarterback Greg McElroy -- the Jets' new starter -- is already hearing he's not the answer either. But hey, kickoff is at 1 p.m. Sunday. Go get 'em, boys!
Colossal failures of judgment have become the trademark of Ryan and general manager Mike Tannenbaum's tenure.
And you know what the most damning thing is? They should have known better.
The Jets were told that what has gone wrong in 2012 would go wrong.
In most cases, the warnings came before the end of training camp.
They just didn't listen.
Worse, it even didn't take any special acumen to see it. All of this was clear to NFL experts and nonexperts alike:
• The ground-and-pound attack that Ryan hoped to revert to is a dinosaur offense, and Shonn Greene isn't the sort of franchise back you can pin that on anyway.
• Tebow is not an NFL-level passer. Even some of his admirers among the Denver Broncos confirmed it.
• The way to light a fire under Sanchez wasn't to lavish an extension on him once Tebow arrived. It was to push him and make him sweat before deciding if he earned the big payday that is now handcuffing the Jets.
• Remember how the Jets were told they didn't have enough playmakers even before Santonio Holmes got hurt? They scoffed.
Throw in Tannenbaum and owner Woody Johnson's penchant for behaving like Dan Snyder Lite by throwing big money at established stars and tossing away draft picks and what do you get? It's left the Jets' depth chart predictably depleted. It also blew up their salary cap position -- the one thing Tannenbaum was supposed to be great at managing.
And it still didn't land the Jets the surefire stars he hoped to land by trading up.
Johnson doesn't seem to have the will to fire Ryan, but does the owner have the patience to let Tannenbaum preside over another draft or roster rebuild? If so, why?
Ryan should have listened to the years of talk that he needed to find the offensive meeting rooms more and make himself coach of the entire team the way past defensive coordinators-turned-head coaches successfully have done, such as Bill Belichick, Tony Dungy and Mike Tomlin.
He said he would. But he didn't do it effectively enough to regain the pulse of the team that he admittedly lost last year. Once again, the Jets' offense imploded as he helplessly looked on.
Respected veterans like LaDainian Tomlinson and Kris Jenkins still haven't stopped banging Ryan's Jets for how they provided some of the more ridiculous NFL moments they've ever seen. And that was before the Jets had to sign free-agent Braylon Edwards out of desperation just weeks after he called Jets management "idiots" and first-year offensive coordinator Tony Sparano insisted Thursday that the Tebow Wildcat wasn't a failure.
If that's really Sparano's stance, he should be fired just for that.
The judgment lapses just keep stacking up. It's been ugly to watch. Painful too. It feels like players' careers have been ruined or wasted when it didn't have to happen.
The Jets used to brag they were the team everyone in the league wanted to play for. That's no longer the case. The same may soon be true about attracting top-shelf coaches, if it isn't already.
Because questions abound. Whose idea was it to bring in Tebow? We still aren't sure. Who ordered that Vlad Ducasse, one of the Jets' slow-developing high picks, split time with Matt Slauson at guard? The Jets' offensive line coach griped that it wasn't him.
For all its past bluster and high-stakes swagger, the Ryan-Tannenbaum-Johnson trio exhibits a weird, self-defeating combination of traits. Its opposition to accepting advice smacks of egotism, yet it's hypersensitive to criticism and obsessive about massaging public perception.
This year, it's seemed more intellectually dishonest than ever too. Tebow's treatment is Exhibit A. The trio continued to spoon out fictions like his day was coming -- a well-coordinated lie.
And so here we are, with people rubbernecking at what a mess the Jets have become when most of it was foreseeable.
The Jets were always told that constantly managing with an eye on winning the tabloid back pages and goosing ticket sales would catch up to them. And it has.
They were always told not to write checks with their mouths that the team couldn't cash. And it burned them.
Ryan has always been tweaked -- affectionately at first but increasingly with more edge as his tenure has worn on -- for his delusional or over-the-top statements. The best example used to be his annual Super Bowl guarantees. He finally dropped that. But he replaced it this year by declaring that this 2012 team was the most talented Jets squad he's ever coached.
He stuck by that although everyone from the midnight-to-8 shift at the Florham Park Dunkin' Donuts to NFL analysts who have run teams for years correctly protested, "You can't be serious."
A harmless fib? Another inexcusable lapse in judgment by a man at the head of a billion-dollar enterprise? Either way, Ryan is a self-editing shell of his former self.
None of the judgment calls mentioned above are after-the-fact I told you so's.
Ryan and Tannenbaum should have known better.
They didn't listen.
The new twist this week is unnamed sources leaking how the Jets plan to fix things by entertaining offers for Sanchez and waving Tebow goodbye -- though such talk is crassly premature with San Diego in town Sunday and Buffalo left to play. But hey, go get 'em today, boys! Run the table.
It's easy to see the leaks for what they really were. After all the misjudgments, sounds like somebody in a high place is trying to save his own butt.