The New York Jets' season looked like it was over after last month's embarrassing Thanksgiving Day loss to the New England Patriots, but a modest two-game win streak had given them the faintest of playoff hopes entering Monday night's matchup against the Tennessee Titans. Any time a team has a shot at the playoffs, no matter how slim, it's a good thing.
That good thing, however, quickly came to an end when Mark Sanchez threw four interceptions and coughed up a game-sealing fumble in a 14-10 loss to the Titans. Now the Jets must begin repairing -- or rebuilding -- their team. And that starts with everyone in the organization facing the cold, hard reality that they do not have a talented roster.
As I've written previously, coach Rex Ryan must quit his P.T. Barnum act. He must stop overselling us on the talent and the greatness of his team, as he did this summer, when he referred to the 2012 version of the Jets as the best team he's ever coached in New York.
It's time for Ryan to be completely honest with himself. If the leader of an organization is not honest, how can he expect everyone else to follow his lead? Leaders cannot sell false hope, but that's what the Jets have lived on for the past two years. Before the Jets can improve, they must be honest when it comes to their own evaluations. They must stop lying to themselves.
They must stop telling themselves that Sanchez is the savior at quarterback. They must stop telling themselves Sanchez has the skill set to challenge the New England Patriots in the AFC East. They must stop telling themselves they can build around him, or that they have the right system in place to make him effective.
The Jets need to take an honesty pill so they'll stop thinking Sanchez is going to turn a corner, because he isn't going to. He is not accurate with the ball. He is mistake-prone, both physically and mentally. Most importantly, he has lost the trust of the other men in the locker room. How can the Jets' coaching staff and organization have any credibility with their own team if they continue to support Sanchez?
New York's offseason plan should not be complicated. Yes, they need more talent on the roster overall; yes, they need help at many positions. But until they fix the quarterback position -- until they find a player they can build around -- nothing will improve much. Want proof? Look at what Andrew Luck did for the Indianapolis Colts, or what Robert Griffin III did for the Washington Redskins, or what Russell Wilson did for the Seattle Seahawks. All three teams had talent, but adding a blue-chipper at quarterback made the difference, lifting up all three rosters.
Of course, there is no way -- and I mean no way -- the Jets can get rid of Sanchez. Thanks to the awful contract they negotiated, he's guaranteed $8.25 million next year, and they'd reportedly take a huge cap hit if they were to release him. Still, the Jets must search for the quarterback of the future. Despite the loyalty they've shown Sanchez, this is a quarterback-oriented league, and the Jets must find a signal-caller they can build around. The time has come to make a move, if not on the roster, then on the field.
Is Tim Tebow or Greg McElroy the answer? I don't believe so. Tebow is not going to be able to throw the ball effectively enough, and McElroy does not strike me as a starter in the NFL. But both should play over the next two weeks. What do the Jets have to lose? Why are they guaranteeing Tebow half of his salary for next year if they don't plan on playing him? If he sits, he's nothing more than an expensive luxury item, and the Jets can't afford luxury items, given the talent level of their team.
Finding Sanchez's replacement will be hard -- really hard -- especially because at least 10 teams are going to head into the offseason looking for a new quarterback. Cap restrictions mean that the Jets must find the answer in the draft, where they also must start general rebuilding efforts.
The Jets need to stop thinking they're close; they need to start reconstructing the roster, one player at a time. They must stop guaranteeing contracts for future years, which hampers their cap flexibility, and they must stop trading away draft picks. For the Jets to improve, they must look past the contracts they've guaranteed for 2013. They must find new ways to procure talent. Those guarantees might make it almost impossible to cut players, but they do not hinder the Jets' ability to be honest with their evaluations.
Ryan must stop believing he is coaching the most talented team, and he must stop covering up for the sins of the front office. Instead, he needs to change his tune and re-evaluate, repair and rebuild the Jets.
THINGS I LOVED
I loved that Adrian Peterson put up another incredible performance, convincing me that he is the NFL MVP. Peterson has done things this season I never thought possible for someone coming off an anterior cruciate ligament injury. Even more impressive than his recovery has been his ability to run the ball despite the Minnesota Vikings' lack of a passing game. How can anyone rush this well when every defense he faces is playing to defend the run? He has my vote.
I loved the statements made by the Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks. The Falcons beat a good team (the New York Giants) convincingly, taking control of the game by halftime, while the Seahawks scored another 50 points with an offense that seems ready to take the next step. On Statement Sunday, the Falcons and Seahawks made big ones.
I loved how Kirk Cousins performed, but I really loved how the Washington Redskins' defense continued to play strong. Over the past month, that unit has overcome injuries to play well, slowing down the opponent and getting off the field at critical times. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett deserves much of the credit, as do the players who have bought into the system. If the defense continues to play like it did in last Sunday's win over the Cleveland Browns, Washington will win the NFC East.
THINGS I HATED
I hated that Mason Crosby couldn't seem to shake his case of the yips. The Green Bay Packers kicker cannot come close to making a kick right now. I don't think the Packers should cut Crosby, but I do think they need to add another kicker, so that Crosby can chill out. Winning in the playoffs often comes down to making a clutch kick; all of Packer Nation knows Crosby is in no shape to come through in such a situation.
I hated that Josh Freeman made himself even harder to figure out. Sometimes I think Freeman is not the answer at quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and sometimes I think he is; his inconsistent play makes it tough to clearly assess him. Over the past three weeks, he has not been able to connect on the deep throws, and he has not played as well. On Sunday, he threw four picks in a 41-0 loss to the New Orleans Saints. This makes me wonder: If teams take away Vincent Jackson and the deep ball, does Freeman have what it takes to overcome that and get the Bucs to playoffs?
I hated that five of the eight 1 p.m. games last Sunday were over by halftime. I usually love to sit back and watch all the amazing finishes of the early games, but most of those contests weren't even competitive in Week 15. I understand some teams had little to play for, but since it was Statement Sunday, I thought some would try to make one.
THINGS ON MY MIND
» I wish I could figure out the Pittsburgh Steelers -- on both sides of the ball. The Steelers just can't find a consistent pass rush. Despite the presence of James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, the Steelers cannot generate pressure on the passer, and this has to be a huge concern for all.
» The San Francisco 49ers appear to be the most complete team in the NFL. Any team that beats them will have to win all three phases of the game. And with Colin Kaepernick running the offense, the Niners have shown they can keep up in a high-scoring shootout.
» I loved that on Sunday, the NFL paid tribute to all the victims of the horrific tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. I really loved that Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson had all the victims' names written on his shoes. This story continues to break my heart. One of the most touching things I heard about all week was how an assistant coach walking off the field after a painful loss was told by a star player "to keep this loss in the right perspective, as the bigger issue is to find a way to make life safe for our babies to go to school." He is so right.
Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi.