By Kristian Dyer
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Rex Ryan apologized for the wrong thing.
In the early minutes of Monday morning in the press conference following his team’s humiliating 37-16 loss to the Patriots, the Jets head coach apologized to the fans for the loss. Losing by three touchdowns at home was bad enough, but it wasn’t the fact that the Jets lost to their most heated rival that stung the most. It was the way they lost.
A team once known for “Playing Like a Jet” is now lacking an identity, and that’s what Ryan should be apologizing for. In stopping short in his postgame remarks, Ryan failed to embrace the heart of the matter.
These Jets just aren’t that good and more than that, they’re not playing like they have the past two seasons.
That’s not to say that they’re a bad team, they should still make the playoffs and perhaps can make another postseason run. But to think that they are an elite NFL team, like the team that beat them on Sunday, is foolhardy. In fact, they’re really not much of a team at all, in the truest sense of the word.
Instead, these Jets are built for goodness, not greatness. Penalties marred their play, mental lapses cost them in the secondary and the offensive line was wildly inconsistent. But most of all, they lack an identity and any sense that they are more than talented individuals in matching uniforms; what they lack is what made them great the past two seasons.
Two years ago in Ryan’s first year with the team, the Jets were a scrappy underdog team that squeaked into the playoffs behind a physical, smash mouth ground game led by veteran Thomas Jones and rookie Shonn Greene. The defense lacked stars, but for the emerging Darrelle Revis, yet they played as a unit and the defense kept the team in nearly every game. Come the playoffs, the Jets shook off the ups and downs of the regular season to piece together a shocking run to the AFC Championship Game.
It was a team that had come together and played as one, played with unity and played for each other.
Then last year, the Jets built a similar mentality. Though they weren’t underdogs anymore, they banded together through controversy after controversy and an “Us against the world mentality” emerged to once again come within one game of the Super Bowl. They weren’t as talented as Indianapolis or New England, the two teams they beat in the playoffs, but this was a Jets team that was willing to fight for each and fight for their coach.
This year’s team, who knows what their identity is and if they ever will ever find one.
What has been assembled is a collection of talent, star players who provide a nucleus for the team, but an appalling lack of depth and even more worrisome, no sense of cohesiveness. The game on Sunday night was there for the taking, against a Patriots team that was beat up, had a beleaguered secondary and whose star quarterback didn’t particularly play well in the win.
Rather than band together and fight like the teams from the past two years, the Jets seemed to have no answers. Now, they face nothing but questions.
This could be a playoff team if they get their act together and stop playing like 22 individuals, but that’s going to take an attitude adjustment in Florham Park, a desire to start playing in the system that has accomplished so much the past two years. But the team put together by general manager Mike Tannenbaum and Ryan may not be able to accomplish that.
The Jets didn’t win because of their stars the past two years, they won because their stars put winning above their own selfish desires. No one complained about getting the ball, no one called out their teammates in the media for lackluster play and Ryan never called an error by one of his players “the stupidest thing in NFL history.”
Instead, they came together as one, and in turn won plenty of games.
This Jets team may not have that bond, that ability to play together as a unit and not as individuals. If they don’t, there may be more nights this season like Sunday against the Patriots, where there was only one real team on the field.
And it wasn’t the Jets.
Kristian R. Dyer covers the Jets and Rutgers for Metro New York and contributes to Yahoo!Sports. He can be followed at twitter.com/KristianRDyer