By Kristian Dyer
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – When the Jets look at themselves in the morning as the hangover from their 17-13 loss in Denver begins to fade, they will only have themselves to blame. It won't be for a lack of preparation during game week or anything schematically that they can point to. Probably, the finger won't be pointed at their talent, which should have them among the top teams in the league.
No, the reason for the Jets Week 10 loss began long before their 96-hour lead-up to Thursday night's game and their flight to the Rockies. It began in July and August.
It began with construction of this team.
This is a Jets team that went from preseason favorite to make the Super Bowl to suddenly and very realistically a team that could well miss the playoffs. With less talented teams the past two years, head coach Rex Ryan has made consecutive AFC Championship Games and become the stuff of folk lore for Jets fans. But now the Jets are 5-5 with a star-studded lineup on both sides of the ball and there are no excuses. There are also no answers.
The Jets must win now with what they have and what they have is no backbone.
It would be easy to point at the poor NFL Draft that yielded thus far only two players contributing to the team, or a free agent season that now seems disappointing and lackluster. But to focus on those personnel moves by general manager Mike Tannenbaum doesn't do justice to the Jets true issue.
There is a lack of leadership and fight on these Jets.
The pieces were in place last season and the season before that, but the Jets let them slip through their fingers, or maybe more appropriately, chose to let them go. Losing character guys like Tony Richardson, Damien Woody and Jerricho Cotchery hurt the team where it matters most – in their heart and soul. For all the talent Tannenbaum has accumulated on this roster, a group of 53 players as talented as any in the league, this star-studded group has no glue holding it together.
When the going gets tough, these Jets fall to pieces. It is a collection of individuals not a team.
At no point in the season was the character losses suffered this offseason more evident than in mile-high air on Thursday night. With a 13-10 lead midway through the fourth quarter, the Jets looked poised to improve their record to 6-4; seemingly they had seemed to rebound from a tough loss last week and had somehow churned out a win. Instead, with the ball at his own five-yard line and 95 yards to march for a touchdown, it was Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow who showed his inner fortitude, who stepped up when everyone and everything seemed to be going against him.
Tebow did anything and everything that the Jets seemed unwilling or unable to do.
He had read and seen all week that he wasn't a NFL caliber quarterback, that he couldn't stand up to the Jets supposedly stout defense and for more than three quarters, it looked just that way. Tebow was living up to the prophecies decrying him as an imposter in an NFL uniform. He was set to be crucified for another week in the press.
But in just under five minutes and using 12 plays, Tebow took a team that had no business being on the same field as the Jets and found a way to win. In those five minutes, he showed what the Jets are missing on this team. He made converts, turned doubters into believers as we all can testify that he belongs in this league. Tebow showed exactly who he is and what he is all about in the win.
He also showed what the Jets are missing. Heart. Character. Backbone.
Much of it, the Jets let retire or drift away on the free agency market, guys like Brad Smith and Drew Coleman who were quiet, blue collar guys on a team of big salaries and bigger egos. Smith and Coleman never complained about their roles on the team, never pointed fingers at teammates or sniped at reporters. Instead, they showed up and played with pride.
Now, they're playing for pride in Buffalo and Jacksonville and others like Richardson and Woody are on the outs looking in.
It shouldn't be this way in New York, a 5-5 record and a team beginning to splinter and falls apart at its very seams. But then again, the Jets only have themselves to blame for this mess.
Kristian R. Dyer covers the Jets for Metro New York and contributes to Yahoo!Sports. He can be followed at twitter.com/KristianRDyer
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