Publicly, Rex Ryan downplayed the awful offensive performance Saturday at Carolina. His players did the same, describing it as a hiccup, the product of a short week and a typical end-of-training-camp funk.
But not Brian Schottenheimer. The New York Jets' offensive coordinator took it at face value, lashing into his unit after a pathetic, 45-yard first half.
"Come off the ball, hit somebody in the [bleeping] mouth and play Jets [bleeping] football," he screamed in the locker room, his rant caught by the "Hard Knocks" cameras -- a tirade that wouldn't make him popular in the Tony Dungy household. "That's bulls---!"
Think the offense will show up Friday night against the Washington Redskins? It had better. If not, it will be time to start wondering whether the new-look unit, with all its big-name, skill-position talent, will take longer than expected to come together.
The starters will play about three quarters, meaning this is the most important preseason game, really the last chance for the first unit to iron its wrinkles, make a statement and shift into regular-season mode. The starters might play a series or two next week in Philadelphia, but that will be only a glorified practice.
"This is our last chance," quarterback Mark Sanchez said of Friday night's game at the new Meadowlands stadium. "We want to feel good going into the Ravens game. If we play well, it's like, 'OK, now we just have to be smart.' ... We play poorly, and it's like, 'We've really got to figure this thing out.'"
So there you have it, a bit of a pressure point for Sanchez & Co., which produced only 39 total yards in three series (18 plays) against Carolina -- a major step backward after a promising opener against the New York Giants. Fumbles by the butter-fingered Panthers provided great field position for the Jets, but instead of capitalizing, they did an offensive moonwalk -- they slid backward.
Ryan tried to make light of it. Asked which areas need to improve, he listed pass protection, completing passes and running the football.
"Other than that," he deadpanned, "I think it was a pretty good performance."
Ryan was most disturbed by the offensive line, one of the strengths of last season's team. But now the Jets are breaking in a new left guard -- Matt Slauson -- and a slip-up in pass protection resulted in a close-call hit to Sanchez's surgically repaired left knee. Left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson also allowed a sack.
Ferguson recently signed a six-year, $60 million contract extension, so he doesn't have to worry about job security. But Slauson does. He's the likely opening-day starter, but he has yet to be anointed. In Carolina, he let rookie Vladimir Ducasse (second-round pick) back into the competition. Ducasse will come off the bench again, but he's expected to get some work with the starting unit.
Ditto for wide receiver Santonio Holmes, who has appeared in only eight of the 49 plays by the starting offense. Holmes is expected to see more quality time as he draws closer to his four-game suspension. He and Sanchez still aren't in sync, and time is running out.
That was evident Tuesday at practice, when Sanchez misfired to an open Holmes, due to a miscommunication. Afterward, Sanchez, Holmes, Braylon Edwards and Jerricho Cotchery repaired to a side field, running extra pass routes after their teammates had left the field.
So, yes, there are glitches. Remember, Sanchez missed nearly the entire offseason while recovering from knee surgery. Maybe that down time has affected his timing with the receivers. Or maybe it's just normal growing pains. Fullback Tony Richardson, who has seen just about everything in 16 years, believes it's the latter.
"Last year, I remember people saying, 'What the heck is going on with the running game?'" he said, remembering well. "Well, we wound up leading the league in rushing. There's no need to panic."