Jets Squandered their Chance at Greatness
After losing the 2010 AFC Championship, the Jets seemed ready to take the next step to becoming a perennial powerhouse. Now, their franchise blueprint lies in ruins. What happened?
When the New York Jets entered halftime of the 2010 AFC Championship game with the lead, I excitedly turned to my friend and told him, “If we win this game, the two of us have got to find a way to attend the Super Bowl.” When the Colts eventually stormed back to win, we were able to console each other with unsensational thoughts of how the Jets would be good for years to come.
The sting of just missing the championship had produced a silver lining. The Jets and their blustery, first time head coach Rex Ryan had made a remarkable and unanticipated playoff run, due in part to a bevy of young talent and a dominating defense. Gang Green had a bright future ahead of them. This coach, these players, and this team were going places.
Or so we thought.
Now, almost three years later, my friend and I can barely believe our eyes. Following the embarrassing collapse of a second straight season for the Jets, this time at the hands of the lowly Tennessee Titans, we’re left with a single thought: there is no silver lining this time around because the team’s grand strategy for success lies in ruins.
All that remains is a question: how could this have happened?
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In 2009, the Jets possessed some tremendous assets. They led the NFL in rushing behind the best offensive line in football. It was the key to their success. In the playoffs they even discovered that their backup running back, Shonn Greene, was a battering ram and could be a long term solution at running back. Mark Sanchez, the fifth overall pick in the ’09 draft, had done well enough under center for everyone to believe that his two road playoff victories were not flukes. And they had a defensive whiz of a coach pulling the strings of the league’s top defense, which was anchored by the best cornerback in football, Darrelle Revis, and a promising young linebacker named David Harris.
Who, then, is responsible for turning those commodities into the freak show of a team we saw on Monday Night Football in Nashville?
While no single person is deserving of all the blame, let me give you a hint. If you threw a dart in the general vicinity of the Jets’ Florham Park practice facility you would probably hit someone who is partially responsible.
Take the quarterback, for instance. In his three-plus seasons, Sanchez has progressed very little, especially with regards to his accuracy (he is currently 32nd in the league in completion percentage). Additionally, he never learned how to protect the ball and limit turnovers, a prerequisite for a signal caller in a traditional East Coast style of offense.
Shonn Greene, now the starting running back, rarely flashes the same talent we saw against the Chargers and Bengals in the 2010 playoffs. Inexplicably, the play of the offensive line eroded despite the continued presence of stalwarts like D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Brandon Moore and Nick Mangold. As a result, the offense began having trouble running the ball, could not control the clock nor protect their young quarterback. At this point, the offense is nearly unwatchable.
The defense has, for the most part, remained a force, although the defensive front’s nagging inability to pressure the quarterback without help from an elaborate blitz has become particularly pronounced. The front seven also struggled this season containing opposing running backs.
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While it is fair to assign some fault to the players, there should be little doubt that the true villains in this tale are in the front office, starting at the top.
Team owner Woody Johnson is largely to blame for this year’s bedlam since he very clearly orchestrated the ill-advised trade for the NFL’s biggest distraction, Tim Tebow. Tebow’s mere presence on the sidelines caused a regular media frenzy, which constantly questioned the team’s plans for the backup quarterback, going a long way in upsetting team chemistry. Moreover, the coaching staff’s decision to actually use Tebow on occasion further unsettled Sanchez’s already shaky rhythm on the field.
But it was general manager Mike Tannenbaum who sacrificed draft pick after draft pick in boneheaded trades — for Tebow, to move up in the draft for Sanchez, for the most unlikable receiver in football, Santonio Holmes — with minimal return. It was Tannenbaum that allowed the offensive line to erode without adequately addressing it. It was Tannenbaum who never drafted or acquired a defensive lineman capable of creating pressure. Most amazingly of all, it was Tannenbaum who gave Sanchez, already the most overpaid quarterback in the league, a we’re-sorry-we-tried-to-replace-you-with-Peyton-Manning contract extension. He almost certainly will be the scapegoat for this disaster.
And then there is Coach Ryan. Rex once appeared to be a competent motivator and an above average defensive mind, but in his tenure with New York, he just hasn’t done enough good to outweigh the bad, and that is counting his two AFC Championship appearances. Originally, his tough talk gave the team an aura when no one else gave them a chance. This was useful during the playoff runs, but with the team struggling the past two seasons, Rex never realized that his team wasn’t deserving of such public praise. Come to think of it, Rex’s behavior might have even encouraged complacency and discontent in the locker room.
Rex Ryan may be a player’s coach, eschewing discipline in favor of admiration and mutual respect, but that is no excuse for his demonstrated lack of control of Jet players. Remember, it was Rex himself that famously admitted he had “lost the pulse of the locker room” after finishing 8-8 last year. When you combine this stunning admission with some of the more memorable incidents, like when several players anonymously criticized their quarterbacks or when Holmes picked fights with the O-linemen, it becomes clearer and clearer that Rex should probably lose his job, too.
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When Stephen A. Smith this morning said the Jets have become “an abomination of the highest order,” he was not over exaggerating. The previously auspicious outlook has turned quite bleak, and fans should not only be disappointed, they should be angry. Their team squandered a chance at a green golden age because of poor management, coaching and coddled players. We deserved better.
When the season officially comes to a close, Woody Johnson must cut out the rot by removing the general manager and perhaps even the head coach. If he truly wishes to give the Jets a fresh start, then Sanchez, Tebow and Holmes have no place playing in MetLife Stadium on Sundays. It’s time to close the door on this chapter of Jets history, Mr. Johnson.
We deserve that.