How the Jets Hit Rock Bottom and What They Must Do to Rise Again

John Rozum@Rozum27Correspondent IJanuary 16, 2013

Rex Ryan asking Mark Sanchez why the Jets traded up for him. Sanchez gives no answer.
Rex Ryan asking Mark Sanchez why the Jets traded up for him. Sanchez gives no answer.USA TODAY Sports

How did Rex Ryan, Mark Sanchez and the New York Jets get into this mess?

To figure it out, let's see what ride the Jets have taken their fans on over the past four years.

How Long Ago Was That? Really? Seems Longer...

Yes, only two years ago from right now did we see Gang Green in their second consecutive AFC Championship Game. Not to mention, making another deep postseason run required back-to-back victories over the then-Peyton Manning led Indianapolis Colts and Tom Brady of the New England Patriots.

On the road.

New York fell just shy of Super Bowl XLV to Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers 24-19. Expectations for the 2011 season then skyrocketed to seemingly realistic levels.

With Darrelle Revis dominating every receiver across from him, Ryan's defense was slated to be among the best once again. In addition, Mark Sanchez had played impressively well during his two postseason appearances.

Throw in some marginal regular season development and that 2011 season was to be a breakout performance for Sanchez. —SPOILER ALERT!— 

To say the least, that was a roller-coaster year on its way to a frustrating finish.

The Mark Sanchez Pete Carroll Knew the Jets Would Get

The Jets were in the postseason mix at 8-5 and looking for an AFC Wild Card spot. Unfortunately, this isn't the AFC West where losing down the stretch still manages to back you into the playoffs with a .500 record and a division title.

On the bright side, who in their right mind expects a .500 division winner to make a deep postseason run? Even when the Arizona Cardinals won the NFC West in 2008 at 9-7, few anticipated Larry Fitzgerald's Super Bowl run, let alone near victory over Pittsburgh.

The point is, squeaking into the postseason as a division champion doesn't occur in the AFC East. As long as Brady and Bill Belichick reside in New England, reaching double digits on an annual basis is needed to claim a home-field playoff game.

So, dropping their final three games, the Jets missed out on January at 8-8.

During this brief time capsule, New York managed only 50 points and gave up 83. However, could this meltdown have been avoided?

Yes, by not selecting Sanchez in the 2009 NFL Draft.

There, the Jets traded up from the No. 17 position to No. 5 with the Cleveland Browns. Although Mike Tannenbaum didn't give up an extensive amount for the deal, Sanchez was only coming off one legit college season.

Looking back, Pete Carroll disagreed with Sanchez's decision to leave USC early for the NFL.

One impressive college season doesn't guarantee anything in pro football. Even a consistently dominant college career doesn't always transition either.

(Cut to JaMarcus Russell, Danny Wuerffel and Joey Harrington nodding)

We could put any average quarterback under center on the Jets' team and the same would occur, if not better, in 2009 and 2010. Rex Ryan's defense ranked No. 1 overall in 2009 and No. 3 in 2010.

Running backs Shonn Greene and veteran LaDainian Tomlinson had New York ranked No. 1 in rushing offense (2009) and No. 4 in 2010. Just imagine had the Jets not traded up and waited on Josh Freeman.

He was selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in New York's No. 17 spot after Cleveland had traded down a second time. Freeman is clearly more developed than Sanchez to this point, and the luxury of a defense like Ryan's in '09 and '10 has yet to assist the Buccaneers offense.

Why Wasn't the Jets' 2012 Offseason On Broadway? It Would Have Been a Hit

Fast forwarding to post-Week 17 of the 2011 campaign and the drama began. According to Rich Cimini of ESPN New York:

The New York Jets' final meltdown began last Wednesday in a classroom, where Santonio Holmes and Mark Sanchez exchanged pointed words in a quarterback-wide receivers meeting, team sources told

Sanchez, in an attempt to rally the slumping offense, stood up before the entire group, announcing he wanted to meet after hours with the wide receivers for extra film study in preparation for the season finale against the Miami Dolphins.

Holmes showed up for the meeting, but stood in the back of the room and was "pouting the whole time," one source said. According to another source, Holmes said, "Why do I have to do this?"

It exploded in the final minutes of Sunday's 19-17 loss, which eliminated the Jets from playoff contention. Several players felt Holmes, held without a catch for the first time in his career, had quit on the team. Tackle Wayne Hunter called him out in the huddle and a heated exchange ensued.

Then came other offseason of theatrics. First, per CBS New York, Tomlinson stated:

“It is as bad as I’ve ever been around, honestly,” Tomlinson said of the locker room. “And I’ve been around some locker rooms and quarterback-receiver situations and what-not. But it was as bad as I’ve been around.”

“They created this,” said Tomlinson. “This is the type of football team that they wanted. Mike Tannenbaum, Rex Ryan are both brash, in-your-face type of style—say whatever you want, just get it done on the field. And then it leads to other things, as guys are calling each other out and saying, `I’m not getting the ball’ or whatever it may be.”

Second, this Valentine's Day tweet from Sanchez to Holmes:

@santonio10 you want to be my Valentine? #fb…

— Mark Sanchez (@Mark_Sanchez) February 15, 2012

Perhaps this helped soothe some bad blood between them, because Holmes expected a better 2012 season.

In an article by Jim Corbett of the USA Today last summer:

After Friday morning's training camp practice, Holmes revealed he and Sanchez mended their relationship during the "Jets West" players-only practice sessions organized by Sanchez this month in Mission Viejo, Calif. The duo also worked together in Florida this spring.

Why will things be different this season?

"Because we have trust," Holmes said. "We know what we have. We're football players. And we're going to allow ourselves to play football. And I think it's going to work from that point on."

Then again, why wouldn't a player believe that? To make such a turnaround requires nothing but the right attitude.

The Jets addressed the pass-rusher need by selecting Quinton Coples from North Carolina and two playmaking receivers in Georgia Tech's Stephen Hill and Western Michigan's Jordan White.

Factor in the addition of Tim Tebow and Tony Sparano as the offensive coordinator, and the dynamics were slated to return. Tebow's magic, Sparano's sneaky wild cat, depth at receiver and the experienced defense had realistic success forming.

Too bad it was a facade.

2012 and the Immediate Future

The preseason was dismal, but the regular season was so bad you couldn't look away.

Starting out 2-1, New York was 2-0 in the division and facing a tough stretch. Well, over the next eight games the Jets went 2-6 and scored over 20 points just three times. Five of those six losses came in contests where Gang Green put up fewer than 20.

Thereafter the two-game win streak that somehow kept New York barely in the postseason race didn't provide much glimmer. Sanchez was an atrocity against the Arizona Cardinals and Jacksonville Jaguars: Two teams that were so bad even Sanchez's porous play didn't cost New York.

Fortunately Greg McElroy did step in vs. Arizona to save the day as well.

The Monday night game against the Tennessee Titans, though, was the final straw.

New York then loses the next two games and finishes 6-10. And when the New Year began, the team cleaned part of the house...except for Sanchez and Ryan.

Moving ahead and the Jets are being held hostage by Sanchez's contract.

There should also be a warning label next to this that reads, "Warning, you're about to look at the NFL contract of Mark Sanchez. Some symptoms may include..." And list anything related to mutiny, because words do not do justice to how insanely ridiculous those numbers are for a quarterback of his unreliability.

Elsewhere, the Jets aren't entirely in bad shape.

Greene and the rushing attack ranked No. 12 in the league and Ryan's defense was No. 2 against the pass. Plus, all this was without Revis (Week 4 onward) because of an ACL injury and Holmes (Week 5 onward) courtesy of a foot injury.

Provided the Jets get healthy and find a quarterback capable of quickly developing, Gang Green will rebound sooner than later. Also, the defense does need some more talented youth in the front seven.

Linebacker Bryan Thomas and defensive tackle Sione Pouha are 33. Also, Bart Scott and Calvin Pace are 32. Considering the 2013 NFL Draft is loaded on defense, New York's initial selection need not be a quarterback.

 Just as Pete Carroll and the Seattle Seahawks have done with Russell Wilson, the mid-rounds offer plenty of talent. And developing a better quarterback than Sanchez who won't smack the salary cap as much is desperately needed.

As for coordinators, the right move was made on the defensive side. Per Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News:

Yes, Rob Ryan is a free agent, but Rex Ryan will promote Dennis Thurman to be Jets DC. Besides, not sure if 1 team is big enough for 2 Ryans

— Manish Mehta(@MMehtaNYDN) January 9, 2013

Offensively, Mike Mularkey would be a great addition to coordinator. He was just that for the Atlanta Falcons from 2008 through 2011, which developed Matt Ryan into an elite signal-caller.

Regarding general manager, Mike Holmgren fits nicely simply because of his NFL experience. Just as the Browns were turning a corner, Holmgren was let go by new team owner Jimmy Haslam.

Good decisions were made, patience simply never settled in Cleveland. Holmgren's knowledge of the game would benefit the Jets and quickly take the team in a positive direction.

Then Fireman Ed and the faithful Jets fans all over can have something to cheer about.

Follow John Rozum on Twitter.


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