As his franchise feverishly prepared to chase that elusive Super Bowl title following two seasons that ended in conference championship purgatory, Jets head coach Rex Ryan all but exhorted New York City to preorder tons of green confetti for a Ticker Tape parade in February 2012.
Those who subscribed to the “In Rex We Trust” credo were left disappointed, however, as Gang Green’s blustery leader again demonstrated that he is no Nostradamus. But not even the world’s most prescient preseason prognosticator could have confidently predicted that the Jets’ franchise would suffer a late-season collapse that sent them spiraling to their first postseason-less campaign since the Eric Mangini epoch.
Ryan knows what happens to Big Apple teams that fall short of their big-city expectations. To give the man credit, he would prefer to take all the blame for his squad’s unsuccessful season. Such is not possible, however, as there is simply too much finger pointing to go around.
Who is at fault for Gang Green’s unsuccessful season? Let’s take a look.
Brian Schottenheimer: At times, the Jets embattled coordinator looked to be in need of his own offensive line as fans and media alike seemed to blame the son of Marty for all of the world’s woes. Starting with the stunted development of quarterback Mark Sanchez, much of the criticism was not unwarranted. Under Schotty’s watch, the Jets’ third-year signal caller managed to complete just two passes for more than 40 yards all season. And please will someone explain why Gang Green threw the ball 59 times against the Giants on Christmas Eve?
The Jets’ running game, which was supposed to be a team strength, finished 22nd in the league with 105.8 rushing yards per affair. Overall, the offense finished 25th with 377 yards compiled per contest.
The aforementioned statistics would get many coaches kicked out of town. In Rex’s World, however, a ringing endorsement was in order.
“He’s got everything it takes to be a successful head coach in this league,” Ryan said. “I think it starts with the pedigree, but more importantly here’s a guy who’s been successful, he knows how to develop players and we’ve gone to two back-to-back AFC Championship Games. A lot of that is due to his work ethic, which I think is tremendous.”
Ryan’s words may have been more sales pitch than delusion, as they were issued amid reports that the Jacksonville Jaguars had asked to interview Schottenheimer for their vacant head coaching position. If the underachieving Schotty were to leave, so too would the $3.2 million he is owed through 2013.
Mark Sanchez: Remember when people were predicting that Sanchez would take his game to the next level in 2011? Can’t blame you for forgetting.
The third-year signal caller committed a career-high 26 turnovers, including nine during Gang Green’s season-ending three-game losing streak. To be fair, he also set new personal-bests with 26 touchdown passes, six rushing scores and 3,474 yards compiled through the air. As much as he hurt his team at times, Sanchez could have fared better with a more formidable supporting cast.
Mike Tannenbaum: The Jets general manager did a poor job during an offseason that was drastically shortened due to the labor lockout, giving a five-year, $45 million contract to big baby
Tannenbaum also dropped the ball when he tried to replace wideout Braylon Edwards with 37-year-old Derrick Mason, who was traded for both performance and attitude shortcomings following Week 5. Plaxico Burress was a bust, as well. Despite his red-zone value, the former felon now runs like a tight end.
The Jets GM’s biggest swing and miss came when he failed to swing a deal for top free-agent cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. News that Asomugha had instead signed with the Philadelphia Eagles shocked much of a football world that believed all defenders would flock to play for Ryan.
Eric Smith: This safety seemed to excel at being out of position with the game on the line. Images of Smith’s missed tackles against Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow and Giants wideout Victor Cruz will be seared into the collective memories of Jets fans for quite some time. The aforementioned low-lights were not isolated blips on an otherwise solid season, either. Just watch the tape from either of Gang Green’s games against the Patriots or the Cowboys.
Wayne Hunter: The best way for an offensive lineman to get noticed by the casual football fan is to commit penalties and to allow sacks. Jets right tackle Wayne Hunter frequently did both in 2011. His season started ominously when he allowed Cowboys outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware to sack Sanchez on the Jets’ very first offensive play from scrimmage. And as his inclusion on this list suggests, things never improved for the first-year starter.
In summation: The Jets could have done damage in the AFC playoffs had the aforementioned parties not ruined all the fun. Gang Green would have likely beaten the Texans in the first round. The 13-3 Patriots, the conference’s top seed, are no better than they were when Ryan’s team knocked them out last year. Wins over the aforementioned two teams would have placed Ryan’s squad back in the AFC title game against either the banged-up Steelers or the beatable Broncos or Ravens.
Oh, well. There’s always next year.
Zach Finkelstein is a contributing writer for YESNetwork.com and SNY.tv.