After fast start, Jets head into bye struggling
Mark Sanchez and his New York Jets teammates grabbed a few things from their lockers and headed home, eager to get away. They're hoping to re-emerge from their bye-week break as the team they and coach Rex Ryan keep telling everyone they are, despite their 4-4 record. "We're on a great football team," Sanchez said. "Our record doesn't show the type of players we have, the kind of people we have in this locker room and the kind of coaching we have." The big question is: Who are these Jets? Are they the team that started 3-0 and had some dreaming of a deep playoff run? Or, are they the unpredictable squad that has gone 1-4 since, unable to overcome its shortcomings? "If I didn't feel like we were capable, I'd be standing here ecstatic about being 4-4," linebacker Bart Scott said. "I'm not doing cartwheels or jumping jacks." The break might have come at the perfect time because the season is teetering precariously close to falling apart. The Jets have eight more games to prove otherwise. "There are bumps in every road," Ryan said. "Am I still confident? I am confident. I have not wavered one bit, and never will. I think we've got the players and I think we've got the coaches. Am I disappointed? Absolutely." And for good reason. Ryan pumped up his team the moment he became coach in January, and the players followed suit, declaring themselves a force to be reckoned with. The bravado has been tempered a bit because of the recent struggles, combined with season-ending injuries to running back-kick returner Leon Washington and nose tackle Kris Jenkins. The Jets have also been a wildly inconsistent Jekyll and Hyde bunch. They've given up six touchdowns without their defense on the field, and lost their last three games by a combined 11 points. "We lost games that we shouldn't have," safety Kerry Rhodes said. "It's just one of those things where you have to look at yourself in the mirror and see that we're 4-4 and try to right that in the second half." That might be a lot easier said than done. Ryan has made some questionable calls - befitting of a rookie head coach - and Sanchez is still learning how to be an NFL quarterback. "I'll say the positive fact is we still control if we go to the playoffs or not," Ryan said. "Our expectations haven't changed. I know mine haven't." Ryan pegged this team to make the playoffs, and expects to someday bring a Super Bowl title to a franchise that hasn't won one since 1969. All of his big talk, echoed by many of his players, raised the hopes of a fan base desperate for a change in culture. But for now, that breath of fresh air has turned into a bit of hot air. Other than a 38-0 rout at Oakland two weeks ago, the Jets have failed to put a complete game together. "It's a little frustrating to look at what's happened this year and just can't really piece it all together," wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery said. Sanchez single-handedly gave away two games with poor decisions. The normally ironclad special teams unit allowed not one, but two 100-yard kickoff returns for touchdowns by Ted Ginn Jr. in a loss to Miami last Sunday. Even the defense, ranked No. 2 in the league, couldn't come through in New York's first meeting in Miami as the Dolphins ran wild with their wildcat formation. "I still believe that we're a good football team," Scott said. "We're not going out there and stinking it up. It's a little bit more exciting than we would've liked, but we're out there making plays and we're just coming up a little short." While the defense has been a strength, it hasn't been the overpowering force most people - Ryan included - expected. "We need to start scoring on defense," Ryan said. "We need to start getting the takeaways and start scoring when we get them. I've actually been on both sides, but I think that's when you start winning." The top-ranked running game, led by the solid if unspectacular Thomas Jones, has followed through on Ryan's ground-and-pound philosophy. Sanchez has been pretty good at times, too, but the flashes of brilliance have been offset by downright terrible performances. For instance, there was his five-interception game against Buffalo three weeks ago, and his three-pick performance two weeks earlier. "A lot of people will say, 'Hey man, you're a rookie and you're playing really good for a rookie,"' Sanchez said. "But I don't want to play like a rookie. I want to play like a 10-year vet, a Pro Bowler, a Super Bowl champion." He has a ways to go before all that, but his last two games have been encouraging with three touchdown passes, two TD runs and no interceptions. "For a rookie quarterback to play in this league, I think he's done a heck of a job, especially these last two weeks bouncing back from that poor performance against Buffalo," Ryan said. "Obviously, he's only going to get better. I'm excited about that." And so are Ryan's players, intent on putting it all together. "Right now, we have to realize that there's no margin for error," Cotchery said. "It's very slim right now. Every game is important. We still have a good shot at getting it done."