For most of the season, the Philadelphia Eagles were considered the poster team for underachieving. But in the end, the New York Jets gave them a run for the title.
The Jets ended on a three-game losing streak, finishing 8-8 and missing the playoffs for the first time under Rex Ryan. They played an easy schedule, and still couldn't get it done, going 0-4 against teams that finished with winning records. They also lost six games by double digits, underscoring the gap between the Jets and the top teams.
Aside from the record, the most troubling part of the season was how they lost -- lacking cohesion and chemistry. The lasting image of the 2011 season will be that of the Jets arguing in the huddle with two minutes left in their sorry season.
All of Rex Ryan's chickens came home to roost. All the big talk that wasn't backed up, his futile effort to endow his players with leadership qualities they didn't have, and his attempt to build Mark Sanchez into a winning quarterback -- gone, in the aftermath of a crushing Week 17 loss to the Miami Dolphins.
The Jets were outplayed and outcoached, but not out-headlined after the game.
* Santonio Holmes quits on team
* Ladanian Tomlinson and others calls out their former "captain"
* Conflict with Mark Sanchez escalated into a full-on shutdown
* Darrelle Revis skips presser, Bart Scott flips off cameras.
The best part about this ongoing drama: Rex Ryan, Mark Sanchez, Santonio Holmes and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer are all under contract to return to New York next season. The odds that all four actually come back? 0.0%
No matter what they say publicly, the Jets have to be concerned by Mark Sanchez, who committed a career-high 26 turnovers. Sure, he threw 26 touchdown passes, but he regressed in the areas of decision-making, ball security and game management. That he survived the season is a credit to his toughness, but the beating affected his mechanics and poise. It's hard to believe, but 10 of his 18 interceptions came on throws under 11 yards. He completed only 57 percent of his play-action passes, which are supposed to be his strength. Clearly, he has a lot of work ahead.
This was a flawed team. GM Mike Tannenbaum sacrificed character for talent, getting rid of too many good locker-room guys. That came back to haunt the Jets. They rebuilt the receiving corps at the 11th hour, adding older and slower parts -- Burress and Derrick Mason, an unmitigated disaster. They put too much on Sanchez, expecting him to galvanize an offense with too many warts. He didn't progress as they had hoped, and it came down like a house of cards. For some reason, they didn't spend to the salary-cap limit (that's on owner Woody Johnson) and that hurt the team's depth, especially at offensive line and linebacker. They also didn't get enough out of the last two drafts (see Vladimir Ducasse and Kenrick Ellis). The best move was re-signing Maybin, but if they thought he'd lead the team in sacks, they never would've cut him in the first place.
Even the rookies are chiming in on the chaos. Rookie quarterback Greg McElroy missed the entire season because of a thumb injury, but he witnessed the sideshow of the New York Jets' locker room. It was an eye-opening experience for the former Alabama star, who said there was a "corrupt mindset" in the locker room and "extremely selfish individuals" -- suggesting that the problem extends beyond Santonio Holmes, who jawed with teammates and was benched during the season finale.
Unnamed veterans and team sources on the Jets are taking shots at Holmes, saying he shouldn't return to the team in 2012, the New York Daily News reports. "He's a cancer. It's like dealing with a 10-year-old," a club source said Monday per ESPN. Holmes has a $7.75 million base salary for 2012 that is fully guaranteed, so the Jets don't have an easy way out of this. It should make for an interesting, if crazy, offseason in New Jersey.
Rex Ryan admitted he didn't have the pulse of the team. If that's not a self-indictment, what is? Simply put, the Jets underachieved. Ryan and Schottenheimer tried to mold the Jets a three-receiver passing offense, straying from their Ground-and-Pound roots, and that backfired. He admitted the mistake, but all that did was convey doubt to his players. He decided to name captains, but instead of letting the players vote, he did it himself -- bad move. He gave his star players (i.e. Holmes) too much latitude. He let the locker-room turmoil fester.
The team was wildly inconsistent (two three-game winning streaks and two three-game losing streaks), and that goes to coaching. Brian Schottenheimer's greatest failing was Sanchez's regression. The offense never found a rhythm or an identity, although it had to be hard with all the egos. Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, in his first season as the play caller, strayed too far away from the blitzing mentality. The Jets finished a respectable fifth in total defense, but they played like a top-five defense only against journeyman quarterbacks.
An offseason of hard knocks might be an understatement. Look for the 2012 Jets to have a new look, new attitude and hopefully for their sake a new, more subdued swagger. Oh to be a fly on the wall for the Rex-player exit interviews.
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