Even after all the circuses, all the bad plays, and all the execrable coaching decisions, the New York Jets actually still had a shot at the 2012 playoffs if they could keep the fires burning and get a little help. But that 6-7 Jets team went into LP Field in Nashville and played its most depressing game of the season. The 14-10 loss to the Tennessee Titans not only ended any hope the Jets had of a postseason, but left several questions looming large for an offseason that will come all too soon.
The Jets invested heavily in quarterback Mark Sanchez before the 2012 season, signing the alleged franchise quarterback to a five-year, $58.25 million contract extension in March. If they were to cut Sanchez in the offseason, it would put a $17.1 million cap charge on the team for the 2013 season ... but after the way he played in this game, and has played through much of the season, it might be worth it for the Jets to do so. Sanchez completed 13 passes in 28 attempts for just 131 yards, one touchdown pass, and four interceptions. His fifth turnover of the game came from the Titans' 25-yard line with 47 seconds remaining in the contest.
Titans punter Brett Kern gave the Jets a golden opportunity they didn't deserve with a horrible 19-yard punt, and it took Sanchez just one play to waste the opportunity. He couldn't handle a low shotgun snap from center Nick Mangold, running back Bilal Powell inadvertently kicked the ball away, and that was all she wrote.
"It doesn't feel good," Sanchez said after the game, when asked if this was his worst performance in recent memory. "To hurt your team like that, it's not a winning formula. Where it ranks on the scale, I don't know."
Rex Ryan knew -- the Jets' head coach was clearly depressed, and a far cry from the boisterous man who has liked to predict Super Bowl titles in previous seasons. Ryan seemed to understand that the team he, general manager Mike Tannenbaum, and owner Woody Johnson put together this year had no margin for error -- there simply isn't enough talent to afford mistakes.
"As big as this game is ... we knew it was a huge game for us," Ryan said. "You turn it over five times, get the ball on the 25-yard line, a chance to win it at the end, and you turn it over again. Obviously, it's extremely disappointing, to say the least."
Backup Tim Tebow got in for seven snaps in the first half, and no action in the second. There is no indication as to where the team will turn in its last two games of the 2012 season at that position. Tebow had one pass attempt -- an incompletion - and he was sacked once. Still, he had a higher quarterback rating than Sanchez (39.6 to 32.6).
"I'm not ready to say who will be our quarterback for the next game," Ryan said, opening it up for yet another week of dismal Tebow speculation on all the morning yap-yap shows.
Ryan deactivated third-string quarterback Greg McElroy so that he could put six receivers on the field, but as much as he wants to blame the turnovers for the Jets' offensive struggles, it was the play-calling, as much as anything else, that ended the team's season from a meaningful perspective. New York's offensive line was struggling all night to keep up with Tennessee's blitz packages, and Sanchez was clearly struggling with his deep accuracy. But time and time again, the calls were for the receivers to run deeper routes, while Sanchez bailed out of the pocket.
When Sanchez caught fire in the second quarter, the Jets did what they usually and inexplicably do in that case -- they pulled Sanchez after completions of 11 yards to receiver Jeremy Kerley and tight end Jeff Cumberland for 22 yards, plays that took the team from their own 16 to their own 49-yard line. Tebow came in and fumbled a handoff to halfback Shonn Greene, which Greene recovered for no gain. Sanchez came back in the game, threw two straight incompletions, and the Jets had to punt again.
Ryan said that it was his idea to bring Tebow in for the entire third series, and the results indicated that Ryan should stick to defense. The Titans blitzed Tebow mercilessly, knowing full well that he didn't have a sense of the audibles, and that he'd crack under pressure. The worst play came on a third-and-11 from the New York 42-yard line, when the Jets were busted for delay of game, leading to a third-and-16. The Jets left Tebow in for an obvious passing down -- not his strength at all.
"I have no idea what they're doing with this sequence of plays," ESPN's Jon Gruden said from the booth. "Obviously, the Titans are automatic-ing to a blitz every time Tebow's in the game, the Jets don't have an answer for it, and they can't get the plays called in time, and now it's third-and-16."
And on that play, Tebow ran around for a while, failed to find an open receiver, bent under the pressure, and threw the ball out of bounds. The failed conversion left the Jets with just three successes on third-and-10 or longer all season, by far the worst rate in the NFL.
"A run-for-your-life play," as Gruden called it. The Titans showed Cover-1, dropped linebackers back, and Tebow couldn't make the read.
The Jets went back to Sanchez on their next drive, with predictable results. Sanchez tried to throw to Kerley, but the pass was intercepted by Titans cornerback Jason McCourty. It was one of two picks by McCourty, and safety Michael Griffin matched McCourty's total.
The 5-9 Titans didn't play well enough to win, but they did what one does against the Jets -- hang around and wait for the implosion. Running back Chris Johnson broke a 94-yard run in the second quarter, but gained just 28 yards on his 20 other carries. Tennessee quarterback Jake Locker proved that as he did in college, he still has trouble throwing from the pocket, and he completed just 13 of 22 passes for 149 yards. Locker didn't throw for any touchdowns, but he wasn't picked off, either -- and that was all the difference. Locker did run for a 13-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
Sanchez, who has accounted for 50 turnovers since the start of the 2011 season, gave the ball away on each of his team's final three possessions.
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