New York Jets  

 

Rex Ryan deflated after New York Jets' offense sputters in loss

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- On the field after the game, Rex Ryan shook Peyton Manning's hand and said something Manning was probably uncomfortable hearing.

"It's been an honor," Ryan told Manning.

Perhaps Ryan was just verbalizing what most opponents think about Manning's career. But it sounded, unmistakably, like Ryan was saying his farewells after the Jets dropped to 1-5 with the 31-17 loss to the Broncos, not because Ryan expects Manning to be gone after this season, but because Ryan knows his own future is now much more fragile than that of a 38-year-old quarterback.

The remarkable second act of Manning's career -- the QB threw three touchdown passes Sunday and is now just two short of tying Brett Favre's all-time record -- provides more than just a one-day sting for the Jets. The team's current road to ruin was paved early on in part by its unrequited ardor for Manning when he was released by the Indianapolis Colts nearly three years ago. After Manning made it clear he would not even listen to a wooing by the Jets, the team's braintrust inexplicably felt it owed Mark Sanchez an apology, giving him a kiss-and-make-up contract extension that tied the franchise to a failing quarterback and hamstringing its chance to nimbly move on.

It can't be known if the Jets would have targeted a different quarterback in the draft or free agency last year if Sanchez were not still there, if he did not have to be there because of that contract. But after watching the Jets' offense squander a good-enough defensive performance against Manning on Sunday, it is clear the team has still not pulled itself out of the quarterbacking quagmire it has inhabited since 2011, continuing to field a defense tethered to a sputtering offense.

Geno Smith was not the only -- or even dominant -- reason the Jets lost to the Broncos. But on a day when his only turnover came on a desperate end-of-game pass, he was nowhere near good enough to elevate an offense that features no downfield threat, minimal run blocking and ham-handed receivers. His defining moment Sunday came not on the pick-six that provided Denver's final margin of victory, but on a more dispiriting three-and-out on the previous drive, when the Jets, trailing by just seven points, still had a legitimate opportunity to stun the Broncos.

The offensive deficiencies were especially glaring because the Jets' defense had been emboldened by a game plan that confused and throttled Manning (relatively speaking). Manning called some of what Ryan deployed unorthodox -- the Jets split out their outside linebackers to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage, and dropped seven or eight players into coverage -- and the result was that New York held Manning's offense to just 24 points and forced eight punts. It produced what might have been the least dazzling three-touchdown day of the quarterback's illustrious career.

And evident frustration for the Jets.

With just four days until the Jets play the New England Patriots in Foxborough, the expectation was that the closer-than-expected loss would engender Up With People Rex, who would laud the effort the Jets gave in a game that everyone expected to be a blowout. Instead, it was Crestfallen Rex, who had the look and the sound of a man who knows he is just playing out the string, who knows he is hopelessly outmanned in the fights still to come. People love or loathe Ryan for his bluster, but nobody has less of a poker face than he does, and his sad-eyed countenance Sunday afternoon said everything about the Jets' current fortunes and his view of where they are heading.

"Oh man," Ryan muttered under his breath as he approached a microphone.

Then, he continued: "I thought our plan was fairly effective."

And then: "It's not as easy as one man or one position. We just have to find answers as a team. It would be a lot easier if it was just one person or one position, but we have to get better as a team."

It doesn't take much reading between the lines here. The Jets thought they had a sound game plan that was sufficient to beat the Broncos -- and they did. But there are too many personnel deficiencies to execute it. The defense held up its end of the bargain. The offense did not. In the current five-game losing streak, Smith has led 54 drives. Just eight touchdowns have resulted.

To the Jets' credit, that has not produced a locker-room split. But you don't need to hear sweat-covered bitterness to divine what has happened. The holes in the roster have been no secret, but now they are being exposed in ever more painful ways, in the routs perpetuated by good teams (San Diego) and in the achingly close losses to great ones (Denver). It wouldn't have taken much more to upset the Broncos on Sunday -- maybe just a modicum of a running game to relieve some of the pressure on Smith or someone who would could cover tight end Julius Thomas so that he is not tempted to scream "It's so easy!" after he scores his second (easy) touchdown.

It will almost certainly be another coach's problem to figure out next season, but Jets owner Woody Johnson will also have to ponder whether general manager John Idzik deserves a chance to hire his own head coach or whether the team needs a seasoned personnel man to play whack-a-mole on roster rebuilding. For a primer on how to do the job, Idzik needed only look across the field to the Broncos; John Elway first landed a quarterback, and then surrounded him with offensive weapons. Then, this past spring, Elway brought in defensive reinforcements. The Broncos now have the third-best scoring offense and the sixth-best scoring defense.

Ryan is hardly blameless in the Jets' collapse. His tunnel-vision focus on defense since the day he arrived has left the team badly out of step with the way the game is being played and -- when he wielded outsize influence during the draft with former general manager Mike Tannenbaum -- with a roster bereft of much young offensive talent. But Johnson is responsible for creating the doomed-from-the-start shotgun marriage of Idzik and Ryan, with their wildly disparate timelines. And whatever holes exist on the roster now and in the near future will be on Idzik's watch.

Make no mistake: This team is failing from the top down.

Assuming he is fired after the season, Ryan will become the hottest defensive coordinator candidate in the league. Players like Manning and Tom Brady will tell you they are sick of facing him, as ringing an endorsement as a defensive coach can hear.

No matter how many victories the Jets can muster from here on out -- and even if among them is a stunner Thursday night in Foxborough -- this is what the Jets' season has devolved into: a miserable march to the end, a protracted referendum on Smith's viability as an NFL quarterback, a televised audition for Ryan's next job opportunity.

"That is not a 1-5 defense," Manning said Sunday afternoon.

That might turn out to be Ryan's epitaph. And the first line on his resume.

Follow Judy Battista on Twitter @judybattista.

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