For the second straight season the now 6-9 Jets will not make the playoffs. This comes after two straight trips to the AFC championship game.
This much has been known since Mark Sanchez fumbled away the final snap against the Titans last week. Though Buffalo still looms there is little for the Jets to play for except for draft pick order. Even the question of whether seventh-round pick Greg McElroy can play quarterback in this league has been wiped out as McElroy has a concussion and will watch Sanchez against Buffalo’s less-than-imposing defense.
How did the Jets find themselves in this predicament again? Is there anything to salvage from the season?
Things They Couldn’t Control
The Jets certainly weren’t handed a great season injury-wise. All-everything cornerback Darrelle Revis was lost for the season in just the third game against Miami. Naturally this was a significant blow, but with Cromartie still on board, defensive mastermind Rex Ryan did a very nice job of slowing down opponents anyway.
Ryan may have faults on the other side of the ball but substituting Kyle Wilson for Revis and keeping the defense strong was a great job on his part. Unfortunately the offense was another story.
Just one game after losing Revis, wide receiver Santonio Holmes was lost for the season with a foot injury. Though Revis is on a whole other level as far as production, the loss of Holmes was a bigger blow for the Jets. Already thin at wide receiver, the loss of Ryan’s top playmaker on offense was certainly a blow to a unit that was already having trouble moving the ball.
Adding to the list of lost playmakers has been the absence of tight end Dustin Keller. Keller has been limited with several injuries this season and has only played eight games while totaling 317 yards on 28 catches—both are career lows by quite a bit for the fifth-year veteran. Keller hasn’t played since December 2 against Arizona and is questionable to play this week with an ankle injury.
Finding Some Positives
There have been some encouraging signs for Ryan’s bunch—several coming on the defensive side of the ball.
Two years ago, the Jets were getting old on the defensive side of the ball and an overhaul needed to take place. The Jets then drafted defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson with their first pick in the 2011 draft, 30th overall.
Although he started every game last season the 23-year-old’s impact wasn’t felt until this season. Wilkerson is second on the team with five sacks, fourth in total tackles with 66, and has three forced fumbles—he even scored the team’s only touchdown against Seattle. He has been in and around the quarterback on almost every passing play, has recorded four pass deflections, and was even credited with a blocked kick on special teams.
Complementing Wilkerson on the defensive front has been rookie part-time starter and fellow lineman Quinton Coples. The Jets took Coples with their first pick, 16th overall, in the 2012 draft, and are surely happy with his inaugural season. The 22-year-old Coples leads the team with 5.5 sacks despite starting only two games. He should provide a great 1-2 punch with Wilkerson for years to come.
Another bright spot for the Jets has been receiver Jeremy Kerley. Kerley leads the team with 739 yards and 53 catches despite being the main target on an offense with few weapons. Kerley, who is more of a slot receiver, has turned out to be a good find for the Jets who grabbed him in the fifth round of the 2011 draft.
Sticking with the positive theme, the Jets’ offensive line has bounced back to become a bright spot for them once again. Trading the much-maligned Wayne Hunter to St. Louis and inserting tackle Austin Howard alongside stalwarts Brandon Moore, Nick Mangold, Matt Slauson, and D’Brickashaw Ferguson has solidified the line again.
The Quarterback Situation
There’re not too many positives about the quarterback situation. When the Jets traded up in the first round in 2009 to get Mark Sanchez not many people envisioned him being benched by the end of his fourth season. Three or four seasons is normally the time it takes for a quarterback to blossom. But after continued inconsistent play the former USC star’s struggles were unable to be masked this season.
After expected sub-par seasons his first two years as the Jets signal-caller, Sanchez did little to give anyone confidence in his play last season. But the fall guy ended up being offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer who eventually left for the Rams after last season after being under fire from the fans for most of the season.
Needing to free up some salary cap space this past offseason the Jets gambled and extended and guaranteed Sanchez more money as part of a reworked contract. This was after four-time MVP Peyton Manning was briefly on the free agent market and just weeks before trading for Tim Tebow.
But the talented Sanchez did not make the leap this year to Pro Bowl starter.
In fact the 26-year-old posted some of the worst passing statistics in the league this year. His paltry quarterback rating of 67.9—ranking him 33rd out of 34 qualifiers and last among anyone with 10 starts or more spoke volumes about his production.
He’s thrown more interceptions (17) than touchdowns (13) and his completion percentage of 54.8 percent is 32nd out of 34 qualifiers. At one point Sanchez posted four straight games of less than 50 percent completion rate, marking the first time since 1999 that any quarterback had done that.
Despite all the ugly statistics, the time the Jets spent in last place, and the constant boo-ing of Jets’ fans for Sanchez, Rex Ryan failed to see that his starting quarterback wasn’t getting the job done. Even after benching Sanchez in the Arizona game and watching McElroy come in and save the day Ryan stuck with his clearly struggling starter and it cost him and the team.
Admittedly with the lost weapons on offense the task was tougher for Sanchez, but at the same time it could have been his chance to shine and show how great he could be. Maybe that was Ryan’s thinking. Maybe Ryan thought it made no sense to bench such a highly-paid player and that the Jets needed to get some return on their investment.
Any time the question came up though Ryan insisted that he thought Sanchez gave them the best chance to win—no other specifics to back up his decision. Of course in hindsight there were no stats to back up the decision.
Unfortunately for the Jets when Ryan finally benched Sanchez in favor of McElroy, the second-year player did not have a good first start, getting sacked 11 times by San Diego in a loss. And unlike last season, there is no obvious pick of Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin waiting to be drafted to save a franchise’s offense for the next 10 seasons.
The Tebow Package
As previously mentioned the Jets acquired Tebow soon after re-working Sanchez’s contract. At the time it was a major trade as Tebow had worked his magic to the tune of a second-round playoff appearance for Denver. But his role with the Jets seemed to be different.
From all indications the Jets envisioned a Tim Tebow package much like the one they had with Brad Smith a few years back that was a decent change of pace for the offense. It also seemed to be understood that this package would be especially effective in the red zone. Another positive for the trade is that maybe this would push and motivate Sanchez to get to the next level.
Obviously the plan didn’t work.
For one thing the Jets didn’t make the red zone very often. Putting Tebow in at odd times on offense seemed only to disrupt what little rhythm Sanchez had going.The Jets weren’t very consistent with the package in the first place. This was never more evident than when Ryan’s crew traveled to New England to take on the Patriots. At different points in the contest the Jets elected not to put Tebow in at the goal line and then compounded the mistake by putting him in for a run play just before the two-minute warning that netted little and only contributed to an overtime loss that should have been a win.
Of course the package they ran for Tebow didn’t highlight his biggest strength which is fourth-quarter comebacks.
Tebow was incredible in 2011 at pulling out late wins (as he did against the Jets) but somehow the Jets’ braintrust never seemed to view him as a starter, even though they kept putting out a starter with some of the worst stats in the league. Ultimately it cost them a chance at the playoffs this season and a waste of a fourth- and sixth-round pick that it took to get him as the former Heisman winner is surely gone after the season.
The Jets clearly need help on offense from coaching to finding playmakers and most importantly getting a good quarterback. This is certainly a tall order but it’s the only way to get the Jets back to where they belong—the postseason.