The New York Jets have gone from Super Bowl contenders to a joke in just two years. From the acquisition of Tim Tebow, above, to elimination from the playoffs last week, it’s been a steady downward spiral.
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — From nearly Super to just plain stupefying.
That is what the New York Jets have become in a span of two NFL seasons.
From a botched trade for Tim Tebow before the season to a botched snap by Mark Sanchez that ended the season, Rex Ryan’s bunch became a dysfunctional mess with no clear solution in sight.
The Jets are considered by many a laughingstock, one big circus which ranks up there with the Bronx Zoo Yankees, the Isiah Thomas Knicks and the late Al Davis’ Raiders. At least those Yankees won a few World Series titles, and the Raiders took home three Super Bowl trophies despite all the madness.
Woody Johnson’s flawed franchise could be headed for a total teardown before things get any better.
“Being in this market for six years, I’ve seen the ups and downs,” defensive lineman Mike DeVito said. “You get used to it after a while. You see the good stuff and the bad stuff.”
Lately, it’s been all bad.
The Jets are a team whose owner craves attention, and gets it — always for the wrong reasons, it seems. Two years ago, the Jets were a win away from the Super Bowl, just as they were the previous year.
Both times, they fell just short of ending the drought that began after Joe Namath delivered on his guarantee in 1969 for the franchise’s first and only title.
But there was hope for the future.
Ryan was a brash and bold coach who didn’t back down from anyone and said what was on his mind, predicting Super Bowl wins before the season even started, a refreshing departure from the tight-lipped three-year tenure of Eric Mangini. He had a dominant defense, led by All-Pro Darrelle Revis, and a young, promising quarterback in Sanchez.
And most of all, the Jets were winning games.
Those positive feelings all seem like a distant memory as the Jets (6-8) play out the last two games of the season and head into a winter of uncertainty with a second straight year out of the playoffs.
“If you look at it, right now, I’m not looking further than this game against San Diego and (then) we have one more game,” Ryan said. “We’ll see what happens. My focus has to be with those two games and that’s it.”
That’s because Ryan and general manager Mike Tannenbaum don’t know for sure if they’ll even be back beyond the final game of the season.
Tebow will be out the door less than a year after coming to New York and saying he’s “excited to be a Jet.” Sanchez could be a goner, too, although his hefty contract could keep him put — but as the former face of the franchise instead of the next Namath.
Tired of getting into arguments with fans for wearing Sanchez’s No. 6 jersey this season and fearing the incidents could escalate, the Jets’ most famous supporter, Ed Anzalone, hung up his helmet last month and “retired” from being Fireman Ed.
So, there are no more J-E-T-S chants led by him. Still, the Jets insist they are far from the muddled M-E-S-S they are perceived by many to be.
“I certainly don’t feel that,” Johnson said earlier this season. “We are deadly serious about what we do here, trying to win games and trying to represent our fans in a way that they expect us to represent them.”
But perception often is reality, and the Jets have provided plenty of fodder to feed into that during the past few years.
There was Ryan at his opening news conference nearly four years ago, talking about how his team would soon meet President Barack Obama as champions.
He came with plenty of other guarantees, too, that made him one of the most confident — and as a result — disliked sports figures New York has seen.
Most Jets fans loved his approach, though, and bought in.
They’re some of the same fans who now hope for a change in leadership, tired of Ryan’s empty promises and the distractions that have marked his tenure as coach.
And, there is a lengthy list: the Ines Sainz locker room incident, the foot fetish videos reportedly involving Ryan and his wife, the assistant coach who tripped an opposing player from the sideline during a play, the prime-time exposure on HBO’s “Hard Knocks,” to name a few.
Tannenbaum has also produced some big-time winners on draft day in his seven years as GM, including Revis, Nick Mangold, D’Brickashaw Ferguson and David Harris.
But there have also been some major duds along the way, such as Vernon Gholston and Vladimir Ducasse. All three of his picks from 2009 — Sanchez, Shonn Greene and Matt Slauson — could all be playing their last games as Jets.
Key locker room presences have also gradually been cut, traded or allowed to become free agents, well-respected players such as Thomas Jones, Leon Washington, Kris Jenkins, Alan Faneca, Damien Woody and LaDainian Tomlinson.
While Sanchez’s ability to read defenses and adjust is one major problem, the team did little to provide him with continuity on offense with constant change in the skill players around him.
“There’s been a little bit of turnover, but at the same time, you have to work with what you have,” Sanchez said of the various receivers he had to work with the season.
This past offseason began with a brief flirtation with Peyton Manning, and then came the most stunning move of them all: the trade for Tebow in March. It had most people scratching their heads then and now has even the popular but little-used backup quarterback wondering why he even came here in the first place.
“I tried to make the most of every opportunity that I had,” Tebow said. “I would’ve loved to have more.”
Everyone expected more, even Ryan, who acknowledged that the Tebow-powered wildcat-style offense that was kept so under wraps in training camp up in Cortland, N.Y., never developed into what the team had hoped.
Now, the Jets will either try to trade Tebow or release him by the time the NFL’s free agency period begins in March.
The lasting image of Tebow’s tenure will be his shirtless jog off the practice field in the rain during training camp — when ESPN was broadcasting live shots of Jets practice for a week.
Fans and media kept waiting all season for the quarterback controversy they were sure was to come: Sanchez vs. Tebow. Turns out, it was third-stringer Greg McElroy, a seventh-round draft pick last year, who took Sanchez’s job in Week 16.
The Jets have three quarterbacks who came to the NFL with impeccable credentials: Sanchez a top-5 draft pick from Southern California, Tebow a two-time national champion at Florida and a Heisman Trophy winner, and McElroy a former Texas high school state champion who led the University of Alabama to a national title. But New York will go into this offseason not knowing if it even has its quarterback of the future on its roster.
Given everything that has gone on with the franchise, it was only fitting that a week after Braylon Edwards — then with the Seattle Seahawks — called out the Jets on Twitter by saying that fans should blame “the idiots calling shots” for Sanchez’s struggles, he was brought back to New York by the same people he criticized.
Johnson could opt to clean house completely by firing Ryan and his coaching staff. He could do the same to Tannenbaum, or possibly re-assign him within the organization.
Offensive coordinator Tony Sparano, brought in to boost the running game and get Tebow involved, could also be gone. Or, they could all be back for one more twirl.
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