Rex Ryan used every gimmick in his arsenal to try to breathe some life into his team’s stagnant offense during the New York Jets’ 23-17 loss to the undefeated Houston Texans on Monday night at MetLife Stadium.
Well, almost every gimmick.
Ryan went for two fourth downs in his own territory in the second quarter, including a fake punt. He called for a third-quarter onside kick and played a cornerback at wide receiver one week after testing out a running back at cornerback. He lined his starting quarterback up at wide receiver in the red zone.
However, Ryan — be it a result of his stubbornness, his fear of change or simply a gross oversight in planning on his part — has still yet to unleash the one surprise that might actually make a difference as his 2-3 team slides further into irrelevance.
He still hasn’t given Tim Tebow a chance to lead the offense.
Now let’s make one thing clear: I’m not advocating starting Tebow at quarterback over Mark Sanchez, who completed fewer than half of his passes (14 of 31) for the fourth straight game and threw more interceptions (two) than touchdowns (one) for the third week in a row. Not yet anyway.
Sanchez is the more talented quarterback, and should be the player to lead the offense more often than not.
But Tebow, one week after taking the field for just seven snaps in a shutout loss to the San Francisco 49ers, had a hand in just seven plays against Houston (including the fake punt, which he ran three yards for a first down) and that’s simply not enough for a dynamic player who has the potential to make such a sizeable impact.
“I think each game you go in and you have a certain amount of plays, and whether you get to them or not, sometimes the game dictates it,” Ryan said. “Tim’s a guy that we think is a weapon and we need to use him.”
Simply put, for Tebow to be effective as a change of pace, he has to be more than a one-trick pony. He’ll never stop being predictable — and therefore, never stop being useless to the Jets — if his action is limited to one- and two-play spurts and special teams work.
Tebow’s ability to make something from nothing with his feet when a play breaks down is the only thing that makes him worth having on the roster, and if there’s no threat of him throwing — and with him throwing only two passes this season, it appears there’s not — there’s no threat of that happening.
If Tebow doesn’t stay in games long enough to get hit, get warm, or get into a rhythm with his receivers and O-line, his presence will never have the desired effect of keeping the defense on its toes, and his plays will never amount to anything more than wasted downs. And that doesn’t do him or the team any good.
“I’m still a little kid at heart that just loves playing football,” Tebow said after the game. “(The coaches) are a lot smarter than I am. I just do what I’m told.”
After Monday’s loss, Ryan boasted about his gutsy play-calling, which, to his credit, worked more often than it didn’t. The only curveball New York struck out on was the onside kick, which came on the heels of a 100-yard kickoff return by Joe McKnight. That play only failed because the ball squirted through receiver Chaz Schilens’ arms, allowing Houston to recover.
“I came here to win, that’s it — whatever it takes,” Ryan said. “When you ask your players to lay it out there and do whatever it takes to win, that’s me included.”
But Ryan did his team a disservice by allowing Sanchez to keep floundering while Tebow, arguably the greatest unknown on the Jets sideline, stood in waiting. And he may have cost his team at least one touchdown by failing to take a chance on his eager backup.
Early in the fourth quarter, with the Jets trailing 23-14, New York found itself with a first and 10 from the Texans’ 16 after a pass from Sanchez to Jeremy Kerley. Tebow came in at quarterback and immediately moved the sticks with a 13-yard run — the longest run by a Jets player since the season opener against Buffalo and the team’s second-longest run of the season.
On the next play, the Houston defense stopped Tebow at the line with Sanchez lined up at receiver — what do you expect when the guy only runs one type of play? On second and goal from the 3-yard line, Sanchez moved back to quarterback, where he threw an incomplete passes, followed by another on third down that forced New York to settle for a field goal.
“I was excited for the opportunity that I got with those two plays,” Tebow said afterward. “I should have punched it in when I had the chance.”
Or maybe he just should have gotten more chances.
Thus far the Jets aren’t letting Tebow take the reins — even for a full set of downs or a single drive — and perhaps one of the reasons Ryan is so hesitant to make the call is because he’s afraid it might actually work in the short term and alter his long-term plans.
If Tebow comes in and succeeds, then the Jets will be left with no choice but to keep going back to that well. And once they make the decision to go with Tebow full-time in a ruthless market like New York, there will be no turning back.
There will be no repairing the damage that call will do to Sanchez’s fragile ego — you certainly couldn’t expect him to get better if Tebow were to outclass him, even for a drive — and for a proud coach like Ryan, it would be tough to admit that he was wrong in leaving Tebow on the bench so long.
It’s a tough call to make, but Ryan has to make it.
It may not be Tebow Time all the time, but Ryan has to learn to know it when he sees it and stop being so scared to take a chance. The Jets have tried the gimmicks, and they’re still not winning. So it’s time they actually start using their best trick play.