By Steve Lichtenstein
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Denver over Jacksonville may have been the clear-cut choice of many knockout pool players, but count me as one Jets fan who could see Sunday's exasperating 19-6 home loss to Pittsburgh coming from a mile away.
Everything this week leading up to this game pointed to the Jets falling on their faces — the extra giddiness coming out of Jets-land following their last-second win in Atlanta last Monday, the knee injury suffered in Thursday's practice by "shutdown" cornerback Antonio Cromartie, and Friday's PED suspension of leading pass-catching tight end Kellen Winslow — all should have been taken as signs portending disaster.
The Jets were duly warned that this would be a trap game, with the previously winless Steelers and two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Ben Roethlisberger coming to town off a bye week and with the rival Patriots up next.
Rex Ryan emphatically denied that his team suffered a letdown, but there's no excuse for the Jets getting outplayed and outcoached the way they did.
Maybe the thought -- leaked to the media yesterday -- of Ryan coming back next season was a bit, shall we say, premature?
As with all things Jets-related, the time to evaluate such matters is after a season's worth of data has been accumulated.
And no one should be using Sunday's game film in their negotiations.
While Cromartie recovered enough to give it a go, he clearly looked a few steps too slow, having to resort to sneaky shoulder holds just to keep pace with speedy Steeler receivers Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders.
That didn't stop Ryan from going for broke with an all-out blitz on third-and-1 from just outside midfield on the Steelers' first drive of the third quarter. With no help in the middle of the field, Sanders easily blew past Cromartie for the game's only touchdown.
Ryan's schemes work well on the inexperienced and god-awful signal-callers permeating the league; not so much when the Jets are facing elite quarterbacks like Roethlisberger, who, like Atlanta's Matt Ryan before him, gutted the Jets' weak secondary with on-target throws in the face of pressure.
This time, however, Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith couldn't answer back. With Winslow and injured wide receiver Santonio Holmes unavailable (and later without running back Bilal Powell and wide receiver Clyde Gates), Smith had difficulty finding the seams in Pittsburgh's zone coverages.
Smith didn't convert on the few opportunities that were presented. He overthrew a wide-open Stephen Hill on a bomb in the second quarter and forced a pass to a triple-covered Konrad Reuland (what's he still doing on the roster now that high school buddy Mark Sanchez is no longer relevant to the Jets?) that was intercepted at the goal line as the Jets threatened to close the gap in the third quarter.
The final kick in the groin occurred with three minutes left in the fourth quarter, when Smith had taken the Jets to the Pittsburgh 12-yard line. All game, the Steelers' linebackers had made a mockery of the Jets' pass protection schemes, with mismatched Jets running backs often assigned with the task of slowing down their bull pass rushes one-on-one.
This time it was Mike Goodson who couldn't contain Pittsburgh's 245-pound linebacker Jarvis Jones. Jones nailed Smith on his release, causing the ball to flutter over the middle to linebacker Lawrence Timmons, thereby ending any hope for a Jets comeback.
Unfortunately, this crash-and-burn scenario was all so foreseeable.
It's why I passed on several opportunities to purchase tickets to this game for my sons. There's only so much disappointment I'm willing to pay for after years of watching the Jets come up short when the expectations are highest.
Look, I'm not one who always throws out the Same-Old-Jets rubbish, as this is clearly a new team that still has numerous players with potential to form a core that may one day contend in January. I'm sure others will use yesterday's dreadful performance to shove the cliché back in our faces.
The point is that I had strong feeling that the Jets were in for another learning experience for their young team. One day they'll figure out that they better be prepared for a dogfight every week, no matter the opponent's W-L record.
The Jets didn't look prepared yesterday and they're just not good enough or deep enough to earn a better result.
One that was easily predictable to those who wager on such things.
For a FAN's perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.
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