- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Sal the Tripper became the fall guy, the casualty of a transparent cover-up attempt by the New York Jets.
This was a hoot, even by Jets standards.
Three days after Sal Alosi tripped Nolan Carroll, incurring a rest-of-the-season suspension and a stiff fine, the Jets announced Wednesday they had discovered "new information" -- information the rest of the YouTube world had known from the outset of Tripgate.
The Jets admitted they used an illegal "wall" formation on their sideline to deter the Miami Dolphins' gunners on punt coverage -- oh, really? -- and they said Alosi cooked up the entire thing by himself and ordered five inactive players to stand with him shoulder-to-shoulder, toes touching the boundary.
That's a no-no, according to the NFL.
Coach Rex Ryan and special-teams coordinator Mike Westhoff both tried to distance themselves from the controversy, claiming that Alosi acted unilaterally. So they expect us to believe that a strength and conditioning coach, a guy at the bottom of the coaching-staff food chain, was doing something illegal and they knew nothing about it.
Sorry, but that doesn't pass the smell test.
In the everything-is-choreographed world of the NFL, it's hard to believe a strength coach was a solo rogue. One of Alosi's Gang of Five, a rookie tight end named Jeff Cumberland, said good 'ol Sal had been ordering the inactive players to stand that way since the beginning of the season.
And his superiors didn't know about it?
"Where it came from, I have absolutely no idea," Westhoff said with a straight face, refusing to admit he ordered the "Code Red." (Sorry, just some Col. Jessup humor from "A Few Good Men.")
Ryan, GM Mike Tannenbaum and owner Woody Johnson -- the Jets' version of the Warren Commission -- decided after their investigation to suspend Alosi indefinitely. This came two days after he was suspended without pay, and fined $25,000, for tripping Carroll.
Why didn't they fire Alosi immediately? After all, he misled the Jets (or so they claim) into believing this was an isolated case of poor judgment -- a bad trip -- not an orchestrated effort to crowd the sideline. Maybe, just maybe, the Jets are reluctant to fire him because they're concerned he might tell the whole truth and nothing but. Plus, they could be worried about a potential lawsuit.
Alosi gets no sympathy here, because, after all, it was a despicable act, tripping an opposing player. But this story transcends Alosi because it underscores the Jets' image as a undisciplined franchise.
The head coach flips the bird to drunken fans at a wrestling match. The star receiver is arrested for drunk driving. Players and coaches act like fraternity boys when an attractive TV reporter from Mexico attends practice. A coach trips a player. The team tries to cover up an illegal sideline tactic.
What's next, a coach impugning another team by claiming it does the same thing?
Oh, wait, that actually happened. Westhoff, in an interview Wednesday with a Chicago radio station, accused the New England Patriots of employing sideline walls. Later, in the Jets' interview room, he didn't back down, saying, "Just watch the tape. You tell me."
That's just wrong. Maybe Westhoff is right -- maybe the Patriots have done it -- but it was downright reckless to bring them into the mess. The way their season is going, the Jets should worry about scoring a touchdown, not napalming the enemy to the north.
Westhoff said he didn't suspect the Patriots until the Tripgate fallout, when he wanted to see if it was prevalent throughout the league. So he popped in a DVD and noticed the Patriots' allegedly crowded sideline. Westhoff also said he and assistant Ben Kotwica reviewed every punt from the Jets' first 13 games, determining there were no walls "for the most part."
Interesting. On Tuesday, a personnel executive from another team told ESPNNewYork.com that the Jets have used the wall technique in recent weeks. At the same time, the Jets' sideline always is clear when they're doing the punting, the executive said.
Yet the Jets plead ignorance. Right. There's a term for this; it's called institutional knowledge.
Westhoff said his initial reaction to the accusations, including the Zach Thomas bombshell from Miami, was "This whole thing is ridiculous." Then he watched The Trip. His reaction then?
"You didn't have to be Sherlock Holmes to see [they] were lined up," he said.
If it's that obvious, why did it take so long to figure it out? Did the league pressure them? (The Jets say no.) Did the Jets succumb to public pressure? These are all valid questions, but the bottom line is this:
For the Jets, it has been the trip from hell.
Jets coach Sal Alosi acted alone on the sideline? We're not buying it.