- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- A couple of days before the season opener, Rex Ryan delivered a fiery speech to the New York Jets, expressing his anger with the media's perception of the organization -- you know, the whole circus thing. Basically, he told the players: Let's go out and show 'em we're not a bunch of clowns.
For one glorious afternoon, the Jets were nothing to laugh at. They were magnificent, blowing out the Buffalo Bills at home and restoring hope after an awful preseason.
As it turned out, they had as much staying power as the man who led the stadium that day in a pregame cheer from midfield: Fireman Ed. The Jets peaked in Week 1, and that's a sad commentary. Ultimately, perception became reality as the Jets evolved into a butt-fumbling, quarterback-juggling laughingstock.
Mercifully, the season ends Sunday at Buffalo, which, by the way, has won the same number of games as the Jets since opening day -- five. How did it get this bad? Here are six reasons for the Jets' demise:
1. Schott in the dark: With one bang-bang decision, the Jets went from bad to worse on offense, with Tony Sparano replacing Brian Schottenheimer as the coordinator. They pushed Schottenheimer out the door, eventually announcing his resignation and Sparano's hiring in a late-night press release.
Because of Mark Sanchez's inconsistent play in 2011, the Jets needed to hire a coach with a track record for developing quarterbacks. Sparano is a meat-and-potatoes guy, a former line coach whose philosophy is rooted in the running game. He's not a quarterback guru.
Ryan was so obsessed with regaining the ground and pound mentality that he lost sight of what mattered most -- fixing his franchise quarterback. He left the fixing to quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh, who was surprisingly retained after last season.
Sanchez has regressed in Sparano's system, which isn't quarterback friendly. Many of the pass routes are designed to attack downfield, which is fine if Eli Manning is pulling the trigger, but Sanchez has struggled with his accuracy since his rookie year.
Some believe Bill Parcells was the man behind the Sparano hire, as Sparano and general manager Mike Tannenbaum are Parcells protégés. Parcells, Sparano and Ryan all have the same agent, Jimmy Sexton. It smacked of an arranged marriage -- and it was an ill-conceived fit.
2. The Sanchez contract: If the Jets wanted to rattle Sanchez out of his comfort zone, they picked a strange way to show it, signing him to a three-year, $40.5 million extension in mid-March. The motivation and the timing were curious, to say the least.
Sanchez had two years remaining on his rookie contract, so there was no urgency to renegotiate. They rewarded a player who, by their own admission, didn't progress as they had hoped. Not coincidentally, the deal was consummated on the day the Jets were spurned by Peyton Manning, who had absolutely zero interest in playing for them.
In a sense, this was make-up money, the Jets' way of demonstrating their faith in Sanchez after an ill-fated flirtation with Manning that lasted about as long as a burp. That they did the deal at the start of free agency was a bad move. The top free agents, players who might have pushed Sanchez for the starting job, were chased away by the team's commitment to him.
They knew then what everybody figured out during the season: The Jets never would put that much guaranteed money on the bench. Deep down, Sanchez knew it, too.
Ryan claimed the contract had "absolutely zero" bearing on his decision to stick with Sanchez for so long, but some in the organization believe it was a factor. He passed the Jets out of playoff contention, throwing 17 interceptions.
3. Tim-Sanity: The Tim Tebow trade will be remembered as one of the dumbest moves ever -- in any sport. It defied risk-reward logic. They took an extraordinary gamble, knowing the potential upside was limited. They acquired a part-time player who, through no fault of his own, became a full-time albatross -- "the tsunami of distractions," a longtime GM said.
The Jets misjudged Tebow's talent as a runner and passer, misjudged Sparano's ability to integrate him into a Wildcat-like offense and misjudged their ability to manage Tebow-mania. Instead of trying to minimize it, they fueled the madness, permitting ESPN to pitch a tent in training camp.
They called Tebow a backup, but they treated him like a starter, giving him the same amount of time in front of the cameras as Sanchez -- and that annoyed some players.
On the field, the coaches immediately lost faith in him, bypassing him twice in a 10-day span for the starting job. On Thursday, Sparano offered this revelation: He said you can't run a zone-read offense, Tebow's system in Denver, with a part-time player.
Uh, you think that might have been a valuable piece of information before the trade?
Now everybody is playing the blame game, turning Tebow into a pawn in a power struggle. In the end, Tannenbaum will have to wear it.
4. No weapons: It's hard to believe, but Tebow was the most significant offseason addition on offense. Tannenbaum created $6 million in cap room by reworking Sanchez's deal, but he never used the money to acquire a proven talent at a skill position. Some league sources suspect Tannenbaum was handcuffed by a tight internal budget.
The boldest move came during the draft, when Tannenbaum traded up in the second round to pick wide receiver Stephen Hill -- but that was hardly a no-brainer. There was a difference of opinion. The personnel department pushed for Hill, who received a first-round grade, but Ryan was reluctant, according to sources.
Publicly, the defensive-minded Ryan joked about not wanting to pick a receiver that high, but there was truth behind the guffaws. On this one, Tannenbaum sided with the personnel department, which has become frustrated in recent years with Ryan's clout in the draft room. Maybe it was his way of trying to keep the peace.
Tannenbaum based some of the decision on an endorsement from receivers coach Sanjay Lal, who convinced the GM he'd be able to get the underdeveloped Hill coached up for Week 1. Tannenbaum placed too much faith in a relatively inexperienced position coach. Yes, Hill was sensational in Week 1, but he disappeared.
Hill wasn't ready, and there was no suitable insurance policy -- another failing. They took a sink-or-swim approach with a player who had no experience in a pro-style offense.
5. From Mayhem to mayhem: The Jets didn't make any moves last offseason to improve their outside pass rush, essentially counting on a two-time castoff -- Aaron Maybin -- to lead the way.
The former No. 1 pick, cut by the Bills and the Jets, posted a team-high six sacks in 2011. With the full season in their system, Maybin would be a double-digit sacker, they figured. What they overlooked was the fact that most of his sacks were coverage sacks.
Maybin didn't have the size or the power to beat one-on-ones, failing to record a single sack in eight games. Fed up, the Jets cut him at midseason, eating about $500,000 in salary.
It would be unfair to blame Maybin for the defensive struggles, but he became a symbol. Instead of drafting Chandler Jones or Melvin Ingram, who tormented them last week, the Jets stood pat at linebacker, counting on the same aging cast.
They had no way of generating a consistent pass rush, and their ability to blitz was compromised in Week 3, when their security blanket in the secondary -- Darrelle Revis -- went down with a season-ending knee injury.
6. The injury plague: Ryan thought he had seen it all, but that changed at 9:30 a.m. Thursday, when quarterback Greg McElroy walked into his office, complaining of a severe headache. After three days of hiding a head injury, he finally owned up to a possible concussion.
Ryan, forced to change his quarterback again, was stunned. This, he said, has been his strangest season.
"And we've had some strange ones," he said.
Coaches don't like to use injuries as excuses, but there's no denying the impact on this season. The Jets lost their top playmakers, Revis and wide receiver Santonio Holmes, before the calendar turned to October. That's tough.
All told, the Jets have a total of 47 games-lost among their starters, including 22 among their top three pass-catchers. In fact, Holmes, Hill and Dustin Keller were on the field together for fewer than 30 snaps this season.
You can call it bad luck. You can say the Jets were victimized by bad decisions. What you can't dispute is this: They're just plain bad.
5dEric D. Williams
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