For all the talking the Jets have done this season, and they have done a lot of it, the team has done a pretty solid job backing up the chatter with their play on the field. Through 12 weeks the team was 9-2 with wins over all three AFC East foes. Most of the victories hadn't been pretty — the team needed consecutive late comebacks vs. the Lions, Browns and Texans — but thanks to a passing game that has made big plays when needed, a solid running duo and an attacking defense that exploits mismatches, New York was still in position Monday night to control its own destiny in winning home-field advantage through the AFC playoffs.
That position, as well as the trash talking, went mute on Monday. The Jets were embarrassed by the Patriots on national television, a 45-3 romp that was shockingly more lopsided than the score indicates. The big-play passing game generated fewer than five yards per attempt, the running duo never was able to consistently find lanes and the defense appeared to be confused from the opening snap.
"I'm not used to it, quite honestly," head coach Rex Ryan said about the lopsided defeat. "So I don't really know how to act. The only thing I know we're going to do is roll our sleeves up and go and come out fighting. That's the only thing I know how to do. We've got to tackle better. We've got to look at what we're doing, come up with a great game plan for our guys to be successful."
The PFW spin
This loss is embarrassing and uncharacteristic of the Jets under Ryan, but it doesn't mean the season is over by any means. There's still a quarter of the regular season left and a few more statement games for the Jets to back up all their talking. That starts this coming Sunday vs. the Dolphins, who have played three competitive games with the Jets the past two seasons.
But some aftershocks of the Patriots game must be a concern for the Jets and their fans, in all four units of the team:
Offense — From the opening shot of ESPN's telecast, when they showed QB Mark Sanchez getting his arm loose on the field, the second-year pro looked uncomfortable. Maybe it was the cold weather or the fear of facing a Bill Belichick defense or the increased attention he's received this year, but Sanchez looked as if he were auditioning for a Southwest Airlines 'Wanna Get Away?' commercial. That trepidation showed in his play, as he was missing targets early and often. It didn't help that his receivers couldn't catch and that the running game never got going, but Sanchez put his team behind the eight ball from the very start with his poor play.
Defense — For much of the night, the Jets "D" looked as if it had studied film and game-planned for a completely different opponent. Pass rushers Jason Taylor, Bryan Thomas and Calvin Pace didn't touch Tom Brady once, allowing the future Hall of Fame QB all day to find his targets criss-crossing the middle of the field. Ryan likes to bring pressure from unexpected positions to create mismatches, but he often outthought himself, such as when he dropped 305-pound DT Mike DeVito into coverage to contain Patriots RB Danny Woodhead. The former Jet had no problem circumnavigating DeVito, who never should have been asked to handle that assignment. Losing SS Jim Leonhard last Friday in practice really hurt, as he was the leader of the secondary and was asked to make all the calls for the defensive backs and also a really good defender in run support. But the difference between Leonhard and replacement Eric Smith was not the reason the team allowed points on New England's first four drives.
Special teams — Which kick was more embarrassing: Nick Folk's field goal that was so far short and wide to the left that it completely missed the net behind the uprights or Steve Weatherford's 12-yard punt, which gave New England the ball on Jets' 32-yard line? A week after big plays by the special teams helped the team beat the Bengals, the unit made no positive impact in the game other than Folk's second-quarter field goal, which prevented a shutout.
Coaching — Ryan is one of the better players' coaches in the league, but his in-game tactics need some polishing. Not only was he outcoached by Belichick in the X's-and-O's department, which isn't a shame since the New England coach is the best in the business, but Ryan hurt his own team with a poor use of the challenge flag and questionable play-calling. Challenging the spot on a QB sneak by Sanchez midway through the first quarter was foolish, especially if the team planned on going for it on fourth down. (The challenge failed, but the Jets got the first on the fourth-down conversion.) That drive ended when Folk shanked a 52-yard field goal, which was no surprise to anyone who'd seen Folk kick the past few weeks. With a struggling kicker, a heavy wind and a good defense, Ryan should have punted and made Brady go the entire length of the field. Instead all the momentum went to New England, something the Jets were never able to recapture.