It wasn't supposed to be this way for the New York Jets, who were supposed to take the next step this year. Expectations placed upon the Jets, largely put there by the weight of their own hype and talk, had the team winning the AFC East for the first time since 2002 and just the third time in franchise history.
Now on Sunday with the New England Patriots winning their ninth divisional title since 2001, the Jets are not only left to wonder where their team-building went wrong, they are left to battle and scratch their way into the postseason. Coming off a humiliating 45-19 loss in Philadelphia on Sunday, the Jets saw their three-game winning streak snapped, a streak that had them believing they were among the best teams in the conference. Now 8-6, they face a desperate New York Giants team on Saturday afternoon in a Christmas Eve battle where the loser will likely wrap up its regular season with coal.
But the Week 15 loss to the Eagles could likely prove to be decisive in the battle for the AFC wild-card spots.
"Obviously a horrendous performance by us, that goes without saying. One thing we entered the game thinking we had to run the table and that we'd control our own destiny. We come out of the game, we need to win the rest of the games to control our own destiny, so it does count just for one game," head coach Rex Ryan said. "But obviously, that was about as bad as it gets, especially in the first half and early in the third quarter, we couldn't stop them on defense, we were turning the ball over on offense. It was just a terrible performance, obviously."
But it was "obvious" to all who watched the game that this Jets team is built right now for mediocrity — or at the very least they're playing that way — and the much-hyped offseason moves aren't paying dividends as other teams in the division made additions rather than maintain the status quo. If Ryan wants to unwrap a "stocking stuffer" and make the playoffs for a third straight season, it likely won't be because of the big names that they brought in before the season started.
On Sunday against the Eagles, the Jets' offseason of mishaps came to roost.
There was Santonio Holmes, who signed a five-year, $45 million dollar contract this offseason to return to the Jets. Holmes fumbled on the opening drive, setting up a Juqua Parker 47-yard touchdown rumble, and then later in the first half let a Mark Sanchez pass go straight through his hands for an Asante Samuels interception. Even when Holmes redeemed himself late in the second quarter by connecting with Sanchez on a 25-yard touchdown reception, he drew an unsportsmanlike penalty for his arm-flapping celebration.
"Yeah, obviously I'm disappointed. I mean when your best player turns the ball over twice, directly, I mean, that's a disappointment," Ryan said. "But that was kinda the way the day was."
And though he had an athletic 9-yard diving touchdown grab in the fourth quarter, that was the only catch for wide receiver Plaxico Burress against the Eagles, another headline grabbing, big-name signing in August. Right tackle Wayne Hunter, who was handed a long-term deal as well this summer, was consistently abused all afternoon long by the Eagles linebackers in what has been a rough and penalty-filled year for Hunter.
The Patriots, meanwhile, are 11-3 and looking as dominant as ever in their road win against the Denver Broncos. So as the Jets limp into their crosstown game against the New York Giants this weekend, they now have no choice but to win.
And in typical Ryan voice, the big talk is there, even just moments removed from a 26-point loss where his team was down by four touchdowns midway through the second quarter. He says the Giants will get the best from his Jets — and it's already started with some talking.
"It's going to be ridiculous. You know it's going to be…that's a war. Whoever loses is probably out, and the fact that -- I mean we're both fighting for our playoff lives," Ryan said. "But we know what it's all about. You want to own your town, you got to win that game."