EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- This was supposed to be a top five defense -- "That's a given," Rex Ryan said in August -- led by the self-described best defensive coach in football and complemented by an up-tempo offense that would challenge opposing defenses to keep up while imposing its will in the run game.
The New York Jets' 2012 installment of the Wildcat was advertised not as a gimmick, but as a revolutionary change of pace that would give opposing defensive coordinators sleepless nights wondering how they could possibly contain Tim Tebow and Co.
The starting quarterback was a new man, in the best shape of his life, with a superior command of Tony Sparano's new offense, and confident to the point where Mark Sanchez finally found the gumption to say what an NFL starter should say: "This is my huddle."
The best player on the team is injured and will undergo surgery this month on his torn ACL. Yet Ryan announced last week, in one of those headline-making distractions the Jets embrace like nobody else, that because there could be a flicker of hope -- "0.002 percent," Ryan said -- that Darrelle Revis would be rehabilitated and ready to play in the Super Bowl, they will wait until seeing the results of the surgery before deciding whether or not to put him on injured reserve.
The Super Bowl.
So, while every other NFL coach cherishes every single one of his 53 roster spots, Ryan was proud to be the exception. No, it wasn't a problem for his team to play with 52, at least for a few weeks.
What a crock. All of it.
Reality has set in for the New York Jets. It arrived by way of a 34-0 loss to the San Francisco 49ers and was delivered in a manner every bit as complete, cold and calculated as the final score would suggest. Jim Harbaugh's team outrushed Ryan's, 245 yards to 45, providing an eye-popping ratio to a season-long problem: The Jets run the ball and stop the run with nearly equal ineptitude. How charming.
The 49ers' backup quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, was a bigger part of the game plan against the Jets than he had ever been before. And the 2011 second-round pick became Harbaugh's instrument by which to send an unmistakable message to Ryan: We can beat you every which way, including with the Wildcat.
It was Kaepernick who delivered the first touchdown, on a seven-yard run wide left during which he was lightly shoved by cornerback Kyle Wilson, but otherwise untouched. And it was Kaepernick who delivered the final dispatch, running for 30 yards with less than two minutes to play and, with a clear path to the end zone, sliding at the Jets' 3 as an act of mercy. Or pity, depending on your perspective.
Either way, it was the ultimate indignity, and Ryan knew it -- which is why while he seemed angry as he stood at the postgame podium, he also came off as embarrassed and perhaps a bit unnerved.
How else could Ryan have felt? The Niners' backup quarterback outrushed his entire team.
The Niners' backup quarterback outrushed his entire team.
Think about that.
There was (and is) no way for Ryan to spin this game; the Niners made sure of that. After a similar physical beatdown in Pittsburgh in Week 2, Ryan explained away the 27-10 loss to the Steelers as a just-miss, with a few third downs making the difference. Phooey. The Steelers manhandled the Jets.
And the Niners manhandled them worse.
With a date against the Houston Texans looming next Monday night, it's possible that progress will be represented not by winning, but simply by putting up a crooked number on the scoreboard. Any number.
The Jets face a remaining season without Revis, likely without receiver Santonio Holmes for at least some time (MRI results on his injured foot should be revealed later Monday) and without a defense that sniffs Ryan's usual standards.
The quarterback scenario is a different animal altogether. If not Tebow now, then when? Fans chanted his name in Sunday's fourth quarter, and it is a question that will not go away, especially as Sanchez lugs a 49.2 completion percentage into his huddle. Yet Ryan knows that once he makes that call, to Tebow, there is no return. The long-term fate of Mark Sanchez as a Jet might not be something Ryan ever wants to ponder during a season; he certainly doesn't want to do it before the leaves fully turn.
The Jets are a mess that might not clean up nicely, though the remaining schedule following the Texans game could provide an opportunity to right the season. Then again, who knows? This is a mess that might not clean up at all, given the overall lack of talent and depth on the roster.
This is Ryan's biggest challenge with, by the way, what he said could be the best Jets team he's had.
That's a crock, too.
Somebody bring back the preseason circus. As these Jets might come to see it, those were the good old days.
Follow Kimberly Jones on Twitter @KimJonesSports.