- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A few days ago, they buried a football -- a hokey motivational play by Rex Ryan. On Sunday, the New York Jets may have buried their season.
In less than a week, the swagger-licious Jets have been reduced to a confused and clueless bunch, a team that couldn't reach the end zone with a police escort. If the Monday Night Massacre in New England was a mere hiccup -- that was the team spin -- how to describe the 10-6 loss to the Miami Dolphins?
It was worthy of a barf bag. And here's the sobering part: It's going to get worse before it gets better.
With back-to-back road games in Pittsburgh and Chicago -- combined record: 19-7 -- the reeling Jets could be looking at a four-game losing streak. They might still sneak into the playoffs, thanks to a two-game lead in the wild-card race, but the glowing promise of a special season looks to be gone.
Barring a dramatic turnaround, it's going to be a "Same Old Jets" December.
"I'm very concerned," a subdued Ryan said after a second straight no-show by his offense. "You look at our next opponent, and if you think this [Miami] defense is good, just wait until next week. Pittsburgh is going to be a huge challenge."
The way Mark Sanchez is going, the way his supporting cast is playing and the way Brian Schottenheimer is coordinating the offense, a UFL team would be a huge challenge. The Jets have gone eight consecutive quarters without a touchdown, and, in their four losses, they have a grand total of zero touchdowns.
It's positively mind-boggling to see a team with so much skill-position talent make opposing defenses resemble the '85 Bears. The players readily admit they're underachieving. When players talk that way, it's a tacit criticism of the coaching staff.
We know how the fans feel. As they waited for Ryan to show up for his postgame news conference, the 200 or so fans outside the glass-enclosed interview room in the stadium's swanky VIP lounge turned into an angry mob.
"Schotty must go!" they chanted.
Schottenheimer will go if the downslide continues, you can bet on that, but this isn't entirely his fault. Sanchez has regressed, so much so that he almost got pulled late in the third quarter, Ryan revealed afterward. LaDainian Tomlinson looked old, clearly not the same back he was early in the season, yet he still got the bulk of the carries. The once-vaunted offensive line was creaky. The receivers dropped at least six passes.
"Never in my wildest dreams did I think we'd get shaked down like that," one disgusted player said. "No touchdowns in eight quarters? Something is wrong."
When a reporter mentioned the two-game slump to Ryan, he shook his head.
"Yeah, that's pretty hard to believe, no question," he said. "I don't care who you go against. We've got plenty of talent. We have to find a way to get it done. Something has to change because this isn't good enough."
What's he going to do, bench Sanchez for the Steelers? Come on, let's be realistic; the Jets have no shot with an ancient Mark Brunell behind center. Is he going to fire Schottenheimer? Funny, but Ryan didn't give his coordinator an enthusiastic vote of confidence when asked about Schottenheimer's play calling.
"The fact that we haven't scored a touchdown two weeks in a row . The play calling is what it is," Ryan said. "We'll take a hard look at what we're doing. We have all the confidence in the world in our offensive coaches "
A blanket endorsement, but no individual love for Schottenheimer.
The offense was too predictable against the Dolphins. For the first 58 minutes, the Jets ran on 18 of 26 first downs, going nowhere against a defense stacked to stop the run. How about some safe first-down passes to loosen up the defense? How about an occasional throw to Braylon Edwards? He was targeted only twice, and he later barged out of the locker room in a huff, saying little.
"We got our asses whupped. Period. End of story," he said, leaving.
Most of this falls on Sanchez (17-for-44, 216 yards), who was intercepted once and lost a fumble. He got lucky because it could've been four interceptions, but cornerback Sean Smith, impersonating the Jets' receivers, dropped three would-be picks.
Twenty-eight starts into his career, Sanchez still has ball-security issues, holding it low and in one hand when he tries to escape pressure. The result was four fumbles. Amazingly, the Jets recovered three of them.
Facing inept Chad Henne, who completed only five of 18 passes for 55 yards, the Jets needed only one or two big plays from their quarterback. That's all that was required to register their 10th win, but Sanchez made one horrible decision after another. His passer rating in the past three games: 46.8.
Sanchez lost a potential touchdown when Santonio Holmes dropped a pass in the end zone, and he was under duress throughout the game because his offensive line couldn't block anybody. Six sacks? That used to be a so-so month for this proud line.
"It's a huge shock, playing the way we are," right guard Brandon Moore said.
Left guard Matt Slauson said, "It's sad, aggravating. We all need to take a hard look at what we're doing. Yeah, we're stacked, but we still have to make it happen."
It's up to Ryan to figure out a way to salvage the season. It's time to give more work to Shonn Greene. Maybe he should create a role for Joe McKnight's young legs. Maybe he should bring back the color-coded wristband for Sanchez.
"We know we're missing opportunities," Sanchez said. "If this keeps up, we could miss this whole thing."
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