Still not sold on the Jets? Apparently, neither are they
Their impressive five-game winning streak is a distant memory. After another lackluster loss, the Jets have little time to convince themselves that they're legitimate title contenders, Jeffri Chadiha writes.
"It's one thing to talk about going out and winning football games," Law said. "But I'm not so sure we believe we're a good football team just yet."
That's a pretty big problem for these Jets. They've got three games left in this regular season and that's not a lot of time to start building the kind of faith they desperately need to pull through moments like these. Two weeks ago, they seemed capable of doing just about anything, especially because they were riding a five-game winning streak that included road victories over the New England Patriots and Tennessee Titans.
The Jets understood they had a great opportunity to beat a 49ers team that had just four wins prior to Sunday. But when they left Candlestick Park, they also had to be thinking about something far more depressing: How will they dig themselves out of this ill-timed slump?"We have to execute," Jets quarterback Brett Favre said. "It really is as simple as that. There's no big formula here. When we left New England [after a 34-31 overtime win on Nov. 13], people were saying that we were rolling and they wanted to know why. Well, the same thing is happening right now. It's just that it's going the other way for us."
Favre stressed that his teammates hadn't lost their confidence and that there wasn't a sense of desperation swelling inside the locker room. But after watching the Jets on Sunday, you couldn't help but notice a distinct lack of energy in their effort. Whether their funk had anything to do with their third road trip to California this season -- and the Jets also lost at Oakland and San Diego -- is something we'll never know. What is apparent, however, is that a team that had been running smoothly for over a month suddenly can't do anything.
The numbers, by the way, speak for themselves. The Jets managed just 182 yards of offense -- after averaging 346.4 yards a game entering the contest. They converted just one of their 10 third-down chances and allowed the 49ers to control the ball for nearly 40 minutes. If that wasn't bad enough, the Jets also had eight penalties, one of which was a dubious holding call that wiped out a 99-yard kickoff return by Leon Washington.
In other words, there simply was no point in this game when the Jets had any semblance of momentum. Some of those problems are directly attributable to the aggressive 49ers defense. But the Jets certainly helped their opponents' cause."The big thing was that they had the ball for 40 minutes," Jets head coach Eric Mangini said. "When a team has the ball for 40 minutes, there isn't going to be much production."
We have to have that same approach when we're expected to win. It's not something that can be taught, either. You have to learn it through games like these.
-- DB Ty Law, after the Jets' loss to the 49ers
"When it was going good for us, we were doing all the things that you need to do," Favre said. "But situational football hasn't been very good for us lately. Last week [in a 34-17 loss to Denver], we had problems in the red zone. This week, we struggled on third downs. I give San Francisco a lot of credit, but I know we're capable of executing better than that. Because we were doing it a few weeks back."
It's amazing how little the Jets now resemble that team that had won five consecutive games. In fact, one ominous sign for New York's fortunes Sunday came on the first play of the game, when the 49ers attempted an onside kick that Jets special teams ace Brad Smith fielded cleanly. That play gave New York the ball on the San Francisco 46-yard line.But instead of capitalizing on great field position, the Jets promptly ran three plays that netted merely 8 yards before Reggie Hodges' punt landed in the end zone for a touchback.
The Jets realize they can no longer afford to let chances like those slip away. They also understand that they're going to need more consistent effort. They had the requisite toughness when they were underdogs facing an undefeated Tennessee team and they had it again in that critical AFC East win over the Patriots.But as Law said, "We have to have that same approach when we're expected to win. It's not something that can be taught, either. You have to learn it through games like these. Because all that matters when you want to be successful is that you play at the same level week in and week out."
The Jets obviously know what is at stake if they can't grasp that lesson quickly. Their schedule certainly appears favorable down the stretch -- they play a struggling Buffalo team and Miami at home, with a road trip to lowly Seattle sandwiched in between those contests -- but there are no givens with this bunch anymore. If you can fall to losing teams like the Raiders, Chargers and 49ers, then you can fall to anybody.
The only good news for the Jets is that they are sticking together. Favre said there was no finger-pointing going on and that everybody in the locker room is accepting blame for the team's latest woes. Now the Jets have to do something else far more important than just reinforcing their unity: They have to prove that they really are as good as they once appeared.
Senior writer Jeffri Chadiha covers the NFL for ESPN.com