It all started after the Jets' loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on January 23, 2011. Tannenbaum let Braylon and Jerricho leave, the offensive line fell into a state of mix and matched pieces, valuable draft picks were generously handed out and mismanaged and in between all of this Sanchez slowly began to lose his confidence and regress.It was a recipe for disaster but the Jets either failed to pay attention or prayed the damage would be relatively minor. Whatever the case, 2011 would only be the tip of the iceberg as their most crucial mistakes took place in 2012 and are likely to seal the fates of many within the organization.
Even if he was only part of the problem Brian Schottenheimer hindered more than he helped this team and they wisely let him walk out of Florham Park for good but interestingly they kept another man who had his hand in the development (or lack thereof) of Mark Sanchez: Matt Cavanaugh. Adam Schein pointed out in SNY's Post Game segment that in the process of selecting their offensive coordinator, they also brought in coaches such as David Lee and there were some whispers about a Tony Sparano-Todd Haley offense early in the negotiations. Lee and Haley left for more appealing opportunities while Cavanaugh remained on hand, a mind boggling fact since his track record shows little in the way of helping Sanchez. Their next mistake was hiring the aforementioned Sparano to run the offense. It seemed to fit the puzzle the Jets were trying to piece together; Ryan and Sparano had similar philosophies and as we would later find, Sparano's knowledge of the wildcat would become more relevant with the arrival of #6's uber-popular back-up. Yet another mortal wound to the season as the play calling has gotten worse and worse since the week two loss to Pittsburgh and at times has even stumped Rex, causing arguments on the sidelines conveniently captured by cameras.
But perhaps their most outrageous errors came within a couple of weeks of each other. After receiving a pass his first two seasons in which the Jets reached the AFC Championship, 2011 was supposed to be the year where Mark Sanchez leapfrogged to the next level and began to not just rely on everyone around him but to elevate them. Those plans were dashed shortly after the season began as the late summer arrival of Derrick Mason (aided by cohorts Plaxico Burress and Santonio Holmes) would prove to be the fuse that set off discontent that would engulf the locker room for the majority of the season. So the expectations of growth were pushed back to this season. With a healed or at the very least healing locker room chemistry, a new offensive coordinator, and some new weapons in the form of the raw Stephen Hill and the solid but oft-injured Chaz Schilens this was supposed to be the year. The Jets had briefly flirted with the idea of luring Peyton Manning to New York but, it was never truly a reliable option and so to prove their allegiance to Sanchez they awarded him with a contract extension. This would be their first fatal flaw. Their second would come on approximately two and a half weeks later on March 21, 2012.
Leading up to this day, there was a general feeling of restlessness amongst Jets fans who were quick to express their sentiments on Twitter. Though free agency had just begun a few days prior, the Jets had yet to make any significant acquisitions aside from LaRon Landry and even then the move was met with trepidation as there were concerns about the health of his heel. Meanwhile, in Denver, the Broncos would emerge as the victors in the Manning sweepstakes and for general manager John Elway there was only one remaining obstacle: Tim Tebow. The same man who led the Broncos on an improbable playoff run was about to be kicked to the curb for an NFL legend. Elway was no fool; he rode the wave of Tebow's popularity but also recognized his limitations. Unsurprisingly, not many teams jumped to take the bait. The Jaguars were the most talked about and most realistic destination with Blaine Gabbert's uninspiring starts, their bevy of needs, and the hometown factor it seemed logical.
Enter the Jets. Nevermind they had just extended their franchise quarterback and they had just signed a capable back-up in Drew Stanton but now they wanted to trade for Tebow for reasons that I still to this day fail to comprehend. Maybe it was his Brad Smith Swiss Army knife-esque appeal, maybe it was to push Mark, maybe it was because of his success or maybe it was just about the headlines. Either way, the Jets worked their magic to outbid his hometown of Jacksonville and by day's end Tebow was in the largest, most venomous media market in America. This played right into the hands of networks everywhere, most notably ESPN who decided to attend training camp in Cortland even if nothing else to get a glimpse of Tebow. The headlines manufactured shamed journalism at times and only a few days ago would ESPN president John Skipper admit this mistake. It drove the fan base crazy having to hear about Tebow every waking moment during the summer as a quarterback controversy was manufactured.
Then the season begins with the big win in Buffalo but slowly declines from there on. Mark Sanchez's poor play was at first blamed by the struggling offensive line then it was Tebow disrupting his rhythm as coaches put him in to run the spread option package. Whether this actually had an effect can be debated but I know as a fan, I found myself annoyed by the fact that the game was essentially stopped to make sure Tebow would be content by getting his reps in for the day. While there were still grumbles about Sanchez's inability to start in the league, the hemorrhaging had yet to truly do much in the way of damage as the Jets pulled off a convincing win against a young but talented Indianapolis Colts team and a nearly pulling off a victory against the Patriots in a heartbreaking overtime loss as a result of a Sanchez fumble. The following week, the Jets were dismantled 9-30 by the Dolphins and if people hadn't already become resigned to the fact that the offense was a complete wreak they were well aware of it after that. The calls for Tebow grew in numbers yet Sanchez continued to give them "the best chance to win."
Another drubbing against the Seattle Seahawks saw the Tebow chants grow louder but, lo and behold, Tebow suffered two fractured ribs during the loss. This information was not publicly disclosed until days later when an MRI was performed only a couple of days prior to the Jets' laughable Thanksgiving match-up against New England in which Tebow would still remain active. Reeling from the loss and the fact that the coaches actually had the audacity to keep the lone, healthy back-up inactive, the Jets embarrassed themselves at home again with a poor offensive display against a mediocre Cardinals defense with Sanchez consistently finding new and creative ways to squander scoring opportunities. The chants for Greg McElroy were strong until finally Rex pulled the trigger. McElroy provided a spark that was and has been lacking all season and propelled the Jets to an ugly 7-6 victory yet, Sanchez retained his job as we were told for the umpteenth time he gave the Jets the best chance to win. A narrow seven point victory over the Jaguars saw Sanchez do enough to keep his job another week which leads us to last night, the culmination of bad past decisions.
While they were not in complete control of their destiny, the Jets had the ability to boost their chances of making the playoffs significantly by winning out their final three games starting with Tennessee. There was some early movement offensively and Sanchez looked OK but then they decided to insert Tebow. Mind you, Rex told the media earlier last week that Tebow was not yet at 100% and he would be used more as a conventional back-up however, the tune changed a few days later as Ryan decided Tebow was ready to see some work out of the spread option. That spelled trouble from the start. Sure enough, Tebow comes in and they give him a series for the first time this season...with the playoffs on the line. The first two plays start out well but a sack, a penalty and a lost Tebow throwing an incomplete pass later, I could envision in my head the pitchforks and torches being readied if this game took place at MetLife Stadium and McElroy had not been inserted. Sanchez returned and picked up where one too many times he has left off: overthrowing and underthrowing receivers, staring down his receivers, turning the ball over (a grand total of five times), getting sacked multiple times and just looking like a deer in the headlights. Of their three final offensive drives of the game, Sanchez threw picks to safety Michael Griffin and each time Tennessee gave the Jets a chance to get back in the game. The Jets defense had the Titans punting from their own end zone and even a shanked punt by Brett Kerns wasn't enough for the Jets as Sanchez, on the first play from Tennessee's 25 yard line, fumbled a low snap. The reactions from Twitter alone were enough to paint the picture: Once again on national television, Mark Sanchez and this time Tim Tebow both proved that they are equally incompetent and cannot be trusted to run an offense on a consistent basis.
After the game linebacker Calvin Pace summed up the Jets' season in a nutshell: "It was a miracle that we even had a chance at the end. We still blew that." That will be the story everyone remembers about the 2012 New York Jets team that they had multiple chances every step of the way and squandered all of them each and every time and who could forget the memorable 2012 slogan: "He gives us the best chance to win." When the Jets do take a look in the mirror, they will find the root of this problem is easily traceable and could have just as easily been avoided. In creating new problems for themselves (e.g. Sanchez's extension and the Tebow acquisition), the Jets have also gone to the well too many times. Too many times they have plugged up holes on the team with quick fixes meant to hold them over until they could seriously address them (still waiting on that pass rusher ever since the Gholston failure), too many times they have enabled Mark Sanchez to continue to quarterback this team when he clearly cannot, too many times they have cheated the fans out of acqiuring better and more suitable coaches and talent, too many times they have lied to the public and expected us to take them at their word.
In a way Tennessee did us all a favor because after another nationally televised embarrassment of a performance, management has no choice but to make changes because whatever it is they have tried to do has yet to work and the fans, and players for that matter, will not continue to stand for it. It's been talked about in the past how the Jets have been a resilient team and have found ways to come from behind. Now is the time to show us all. Pick yourselves up off the ground and show the world what they're made of: make the necessary changes.