By Steve Lichtenstein
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As a fellow Jets fan, I understand your temptation to run away and hide from public view, lest others bring up Monday night’s incomprehensible 14-10 defeat at Tennessee.
But if you look at the big picture, that loss — which mercifully eliminated the Jets from the AFC playoff race — was a good thing for the franchise. And the comic ineptitude made it even better.
Let’s say, instead of botching that first snap following Titans punter Brett Kern’s early Christmas gift that set the Jets up a mere 25 yards from the go-ahead score with 47 seconds left, Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez somehow got the Jets into the end zone.
At 7-7, the Jets would have been mathematically alive, with winnable games coming up against San Diego and Buffalo. Sure, they would have needed help from certain AFC North members, but crazier things have happened in the final weeks.
However, a playoff berth — or even just missing out with a 9-7 record — would have sent the wrong signal to owner Woody Johnson.
“Maybe GM Mike Tannenbaum and coach Rex Ryan were right,” Johnson might have thought. “With a few tweaks and better health, we’ll have the Jets back on the road to a championship next season.”
That would be catastrophic.
Monday night’s game was a microcosm for everything that is wrong with Gang Green. Specifically, it started with the flawed concept that you can win big in today’s NFL without major contributions from a passing game.
ESPN announcer Jon Gruden is known to ramble during his Monday Night Football gigs, but it was a short blurb at the end of the telecast that should be transcribed and pasted on Johnson’s desk.
“This is not a playoff offense,” Gruden said.
On almost all of the contending teams, the best player is the quarterback. (Houston and San Francisco are the lone exceptions, but both teams do not fear having to rely on their quarterbacks to make winning plays like the Jets do.) There may be a few who still have not given up on Sanchez based on his AFC Championship runs in his first two seasons, but I don’t see how he can be a part of the Jets’ long-term plans.
In this do-or-die game, Sanchez killed the Jets with four interceptions in addition to the fumble on the low snap from center Nick Mangold. There’s nothing in Sanchez’s game to like other than toughness — his arm strength, accuracy, field vision and decision-making range from average to abysmal. In a league where a 60 percent completion rate is the norm, Sanchez has failed to even reach 50 percent in half of his games.
To be clear, this doesn’t excuse the Jets from surrounding Sanchez with subpar talent. There’s no speed at any skill position.
And then there is Tim Tebow.
Tannenbaum’s Tebow experiment turned into one of the most colossal failures in Jets history. OK, at least since Leon Hess brought in Rich Kotite. Tebow was intended to be insurance; a nudge to Sanchez that there’s now a backup in town in case he didn’t improve. Instead, the Jets had Tebow bulk up and play all over the field. The Wildcat package didn’t fool anyone for more than a couple of plays.
The whole mess had Sanchez’s head on a swivel as he had to wonder whether he was going to be pulled after every play, even if he started to heat up. How many times did the Jets have to waste a timeout or take a delay-of-game penalty because they were late getting the proper personnel on the field?
Which brings me to Ryan, who bears as much responsibility as Tannenbaum. Yes, Ryan can coach defense — especially when facing lousy or inexperienced quarterbacks. But look at how many offensive players on the Jets have regressed under Ryan and his staff.
Outside of wide receiver Jeremy Kerley, who have they developed?
None of the other young receivers, including second-round draft pick Stephen Hill, have stepped up for the injured Santonio Holmes. A once-proud offensive line has placed the Jets in the bottom third in the NFL in both sacks allowed and yards per rush. Shonn Greene looks less like a featured running back every game.
This is a team that needs to be blown up. Now that Tannenbaum and Ryan can’t point to a playoff berth, it should make it easier for Johnson see the light.
There’s much to be done this offseason. Tannenbaum and Ryan need to be excised as soon as possible. The new GM must convince Johnson that the team needs to get younger and faster. And then he must hire a coach who has some semblance of modern-day NFL offenses.
The ludicrous decision to extend Sanchez prior to this season makes him virtually impossible to cut given the nearly $9 million salary cap hit it would cause. They’re stuck with him for another year. Johnson should force Ryan to let Greg McElroy play this season out to at least eliminate him from consideration. Then, the Jets have to look hard at the quarterbacks in the draft.
Thanks to the Tebow trade, the Jets lost their fourth- and sixth-round selections, and their six wins have them currently slotted outside of the top 10.
And that’s another reason why Mondays night’s loss looks better under a microscope on Tuesday than it did on TV.
Are you in favor of the Jets completely rebuilding, or are they just a few tweaks away from becoming a true contender again? Sound off with your thoughts and comments below…