By Jason Keidel
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Think of the Jets as a moniker and a metaphor, a team fueled by faerie dust and fool's gold, that lost a bad game to a bad team in Tennessee on Monday night, thus ending their season for real and for good.
There are no more possibilities, false dreams or permutations for the Pollyanna. The final statistical twig from which they swung has snapped.
There was a chilling symmetry to see it end against a team with the Jets' original handle: the Titans. It must feel like eons since they mattered. In retrospect, those two AFC title games were just part of the illusory montage that the Jets have painted over the four years of the current fiefdom -- and the four degrading decades since Joe Willie.
It's been rather nauseating to hear Jets fans -- some of whom are hosts on this very station -- wax optimistic about Gang Green's postseason odds. The book is now closed on the regular season for a very regular team. Call it 43 years and counting since Namath flexed his forefinger in the Orange Bowl.
And the worst part about the Jets -- metaphor in mind -- is that there's no flight plan, no direction; a team sputtering and circling the runway while fuel gushes from their flank. The Jets -- metaphor in mind -- have no clear, proven pilot to lead them to a Lombardi Trophy.
Mike Tannenbaum has never built a champion. Rex Ryan has never coached one. Mark Sanchez has never led one. Even their special teams, corralled and cajoled by Mike Westhoff -- universally regarded as a special teams savant for decades -- are broken beyond repair.
There was a great moment just after the game, a frame of the head coach of the Jets. Viewers watched a close-up of Ryan, muttering F-Bombs all the way to midfield for the perfunctory handshake with the enemy. Ryan's red face is a perfect façade over the season.
The Jets have been toast since October, but that didn't stop them or their fans from projecting obscene optimism, getting carpal tunnel from all the calculations. If the Steelers do this and the Bengals do that…
And meanwhile you envisioned the Jets winning five straight games. So not only did you pray to the scoreboard gods to pardon their performance, but you also expected a 4-7 team to suddenly morph into a 5-0 team.
Then, with about 25 seconds left, on the lip of Tennessee's end zone, Sanchez fumbled the poor snap from the Pro Bowl center, the ball and the season squirting away. The Titans gobbled up the pigskin, jumping around the muddy field while the Jets were resigned to yet another season ending in ignominy.
Winning is a habit. So is losing. And the Jets have perfected the latter. The Jets are so collectively detached that it's hard to know if they know the difference. When Ryan said that he decided to go with Sanchez after benching him, he said it was a decision that he's "real happy about." What exactly could he be so happy about? The team's 5-7 record at the time?
"I better get this right," he said.
And he didn't.
Trent Dilfer and Steve Young tag teamed the Jets on Monday night. Dilfer was particularly offended by the Jets' "chuck-and-duck" offense, no doubt vexed by yet another 5-for-10, 25-yard stat line from Sanchez.
Dilfer declared, "This is the worst performance I've ever seen from a team trying to make the playoffs."
During the broadcast, the announcers said that it was the first time in the seven years of Monday Night Football on ESPN that a team had 14 penalties and five turnovers.
"There's a quit in it," Young agreed.
And for a team that prides itself on its blue-collar grit, to hear analyses like "zero effort" and "The locker room is lost" have to haunt the team and our town. It's hard to imagine the Jets (6-8) contending as long as the same men are playing and are picking the players.
A solemn, defeated Ryan spoke in a soft monotone after the game, his bluster gushing out like helium. The formerly haughty and hefty coach, now suddenly gaunt and gutted, spoke in dim platitudes about playing to win, regretting this and that -- trying to save face, if not his job.
And it's fitting that the Sanchez era ended with a fumble. Over the last two seasons Sanchez has 50 turnovers, the most in the NFL. The other three quarterbacks who comprise the top four -- Ryan Fitzpatrick, Philip Rivers and Josh Freeman -- aren't in the playoffs, either. Despite Sanchez's wretched play, he and Gang Green are inextricably bonded for another 12 months. The most unholy trinity of Ryan, Sanchez and Tannenbaum are the faces of this floundering franchise, a "Sanchise" that once seemed so promising.
The weekly, screen-in-screen soap opera that had become the Jets' QB situation just took another turn for the surreal. Ryan announced on Tuesday that Greg McElroy will start this Sunday against San Diego. But as with all their staggered movements, this one is too late, too.
Tim Tebow, whose acquisition was a mysterious move, hadn't played an entire series until Monday night, when he took five straight snaps. Tannenbaum, Ryan and Sanchez have always been tethered to each other and the future, which doesn't look so vivid anymore.
Any one season can be dismissed as an aberration. But the Jets have gotten exponentially worse since Ryan and Tannenbaum picked the personnel together. Sanchez has wilted under the weight of losing games and talented teammates. Tebow, the centerpiece of Tony Sparano's wildcat offense, was never used. McElroy won a game for them and then was benched again because they owe Mark Sanchez $8.25 million next year.
Sanchez has become Oliver Perez -- too bad to start and too expensive to bench. And now the Jets join the Mets on the landfill of lost seasons.
Have the Jets officially hit rock bottom, or will it get even worse for this franchise before it gets better? Sound off with your thoughts and comments below...
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