The natives appeared restless, and Ryan had much to answer for. His strength coach, Sal Alosi, stood accused of a Miami player. His offense seemed suspect, and he admitted he considered benching the franchise quarterback. His team, with all its aspirations, now had its first losing streak.
So the fans chanted. They chanted for Ryan to fire the offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. They chanted, perhaps overreacting, “Same old Jets.” The had induced this panic with their victory, in which their offense gained all of 131 yards and their quarterback completed all of five passes.
“They’ve got good reason to panic,” Jets linebacker Bart Scott said as he exited the locker room, although he disagreed on the need to. “We haven’t been playing good football, and we’ve got good teams coming up.”
The Jets entered December full of swagger, their championship goals still intact and realistic. But recently, their offense, their quarterback and, most important, their season have taken a dramatic turn south.
New England embarrassed the Jets six days earlier, on national television, with a 45-3 spanking. But the loss to the Dolphins (7-6), given the circumstances, sounded a more critical alarm. The Jets (9-4) fell two games behind the , and they must travel to Pittsburgh and Chicago, two division leaders, in the next two weeks.
At this point, even a playoff berth appears uncertain, as this season begins to resemble the great collapse of 2008.
The low point in this game, and perhaps of the season, came when Dolphins cornerback Nolan Carroll ventured wide onto the Jets’ sideline on a return, and Alosi leaned his left leg into Carroll, tripping him. Carroll limped off the field, but eventually returned, as the Jets added sportsmanship to the list of things they could not show (run, pass, score) on Sunday.
Afterward, Alosi released a statement: “I made a mistake that showed a total lapse in judgment. My conduct was inexcusable and unsportsmanlike and does not reflect what this organization stands for.”
In the past two games, the Jets failed to score a touchdown, despite nine first-round draft picks who start on offense. Tight end Dustin Keller, one of several Jets to drop passes Sunday, said this was the worst offensive stretch of his three-year career.
“Especially with the talent we have,” Keller said. “We have all the talent in the world, and lately, we just can’t score.”
It would be easier if the Jets could point the finger at a single culprit. Clearly, quarterback leads the mistake parade, and he recorded another two turnovers against the Dolphins. But he is not alone. The offensive line lost Damien Woody to injury and struggled throughout. The receivers dropped passes as if allergic to receptions. The play-calling of Schottenheimer, as the fans noted, also played an important role.
At his locker afterward, Sanchez accepted responsibility. He looked disappointed but composed, far less forlorn than after similar offensive debacles last season.
“At this point, I need to just play better,” he said. “That’s all there is to it. I’m making it harder than I need to.”
All week, Ryan reached deep for extra motivation. He buried a game ball from the Patriots’ debacle. He met Thursday with Sanchez, one-on-one.
Ryan even abandoned one of his hallmarks. On each of the first 13 times he won a coin toss, Ryan deferred and sent his defense onto the field. On Sunday, in hope of resuscitating an offense limited to 26 first-quarter points this season, Ryan elected to take the ball.
Brad Smith returned the opening kickoff 45 yards — and the Jets’ positives in the first quarter ended.
The Jets entered this game hoping to start fast, and avoid turnovers and penalties. In the first quarter, they were whistled for penalties three times. Sanchez had one offering dropped by a defender, another intercepted by Carroll, another that seemed a sure touchdown reception Santonio Holmes. Sanchez fumbled away another possession, after two defenders crunched him from behind.
The Dolphins pounced, turning those gifts into 10 first-quarter points. After the interception, Dan Carpenter booted a 47-yard field goal. After the fumble, quarterback Chad Henne found receiver Brandon Marshall in zone coverage for a 6-yard score. The Dolphins led, 10-0, after 15 minutes, and it was fair to wonder, did the Jets think they were playing again on Monday night?
The defense tightened, kept it close. The offense sputtered, gained no ground.
By the end, Miami punter Brandon Fields had emerged as perhaps the most important player in this game. He punted 10 times, and he boomed those punts, as if aiming for Manhattan. Those attempts traveled a full 564 yards, or much farther than both offenses traversed, combined.
With another season slipping away, with road games at Pittsburgh and Chicago next, the Jets continue to insist they will recover. Next week, of course, their lackluster offense, consistent only in its inconsistency, will face only perhaps the best defense in the league.
“I don’t feel like it’s slipping away,” Jerricho Cotchery said. “But there is a sense of urgency.”
Back in the fish bowl, Ryan used “very” before “concerned.” Concerned about his offense, his quarterback, his team. Because Alosi provided the perfect metaphor for December: The Jets have tripped.