By Jeff Capellini, CBSNewYork.com
NEW YORK (CBS 2) -- It would be easy to use the next 1,000 words or so to bash the living hell out of the Jets for their sorry performance up in Foxborough on Monday night. After all, they certainly deserve every last bit of scathing criticism the mainstream media, blogger universe and wounded fan base can muster. But yet, if you really analyze the end result of the 45-3 loss to the Patriots, you'd be left in the same place you were before the game even started.
You'd still have no clue who the Jets are.
I think it better to look forward instead of behind in this instance because to really determine if the 2010 Jets are the 1986 Jets or any other facsimile of the countless teams over the decades that have collapsed in December you have to look at how they respond to getting their heads kicked in to determine if revisionist's history is appropriate or if what went down Monday was simply a case of a still-developing team getting a lesson in humility.
How the Jets approach this Sunday's game against the Miami Dolphins in practice, in the media and then, ultimately, on the field will tell you really all you need to know.
Rex Ryan's bunch is not necessarily in disarray right now, but every last player and coach is hurting psychologically. Because they lacked an identity going into Monday, the Jets really have nothing to fall back on. They can't say it was just a bad effort because they've now been beaten by the three best teams on their schedule. Does that mean their 9-3 record is deceiving? That's hard to say, really. Their lack of quality wins over supposed power teams tells one story, but the fact that they have a .750 winning percentage in a league of parity tells another.
The question now becomes, which group of players are they?
It's up to Ryan to find out. The franchise is now in uncharted territory under his watch. Expectations remain high, but confidence is very low. Rex now needs to somehow come up with a way to get the very best out of every last member of this team, and that includes his coordinators and position coaches, while at the same time restoring the confidence and bravado.
That will not be an easy task.
The Jets' effort on Monday got progressively worse as the beating continued. They never once made a stand to give the impression they were fed up. I'm not saying they quit, but they certainly lost enthusiasm as the Patriots moved up and down the field. I saw many a head hung low during Mark Sanchez's maddening one-game regression from second-year star in the making to rookie running around out there like a Trojan with his head cut off. The looks on the players' faces didn't even express shock. It was more like they were indifferent to it all. That in itself was a bit disturbing.
The fan reaction was to be expected. Sites like Twitter were dripping with venom and I'm sure many thousands of folks out there switched off their televisions early in the third quarter uttering those three words that are usually in plentiful supply in the weeks leading up to the New Year. Yes, it sure felt like a case of deja vu all over again, but will it be?
Again, that's totally on Ryan to figure out.
There is some good news to report, believe it or not. The Jets did accomplish one thing on Monday night that could aid them going forward. They absolutely made sure no one will take them seriously in a big spot the rest of the way. And that could be a positive because the Jets have throughout their four-decade existence never responded well to being a favorite. For whatever reason front-runner status has been a strain on their relationship with their fans. The Jets may very well be a better team when nobody expects anything from them. Well, that logic hasn't always worked in the past, but with a team this talented and with coaches clearly capable of better than what they showed on Monday, maybe this team needed to be kicked out of the spotlight before it can reunite for a comeback tour.
What Ryan does over the last four games will speak volumes about his abilities as a leader of men. We all know he knows the game, but what we don't know is how he handles serious adversity and then translates the new message to his charges. Everyone basically loves the guy, but mostly because of what he says. It's now time to see what he can do as a head coach. Ryan has to get his Jets to force the Patriots to keep winning because if the green and white don't somehow win the AFC East and have to go back to Foxborough in January, well, you'd be hard pressed to make a sound argument for victory.
If the Jets emerge from the tunnel on Sunday and then proceed to forget about Anthony Fasano and Brian Hartline out wide, allow Chad Henne to give this illusion he's better than he really is or let Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams repeatedly move the chains, there will be a problem. If the Jets' offense comes out and sputters, meaning the running game doesn't get going immediately and Sanchez is as off-target as he was Monday, the boo birds will be out in full force. It will be a familiar December scene in the Meadowlands.
The key for Ryan is to make sure this doesn't happen. He has to make it so this team doesn't have a chance to fail, because we don't know if these players have what it takes to handle the type of atmosphere that's sure to hover over the new stadium if they even fall behind early, let alone late in the fourth quarter. We thought we knew in Weeks 1-12 when they repeatedly made big plays when they needed them. But now? Do we know there won't be a New England hangover? We most certainly don't. But, rest assured, our heads are telling us something our hearts are trying desperately to counter.
The young and restless among us will remain defiant. To them, the Jets are nothing like the past. They are bigger than those teams. Ryan is their leader. He will guide them out of the fog and into smoother seas.
The old and broken down among us see things just a little differently. While they want to live vicariously through the young fans who are either too young to understand the past or too stubborn to care, they are always mindful of those three words that seem to sum up a Jets season best.
Who will be proven right in this instance?
Only Rex knows. Or at least he better.
Because if the Jets fail from here on out the man everyone seems to adore won't appear so large and in charge any more.
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