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Mennella Line: Jets Shutout a Referendum on Ryan


New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez (6) is sacked by Green Bay Packers linebacker Brandon Chillar (54) during the first quarter of an NFL football game at New Meadowlands Stadium Sunday, Oct. 31, 2010, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez (6) is sacked by Green Bay Packers linebacker Brandon Chillar (54) during the first quarter of an NFL football game at New Meadowlands Stadium Sunday, Oct. 31, 2010, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

The Jets were frustratingly futile in trying to score points on Sunday against the Packers. In fact, they suffered their first shutout since 2006.

Appropriately enough, what with midterm elections being held Tuesday, this game had the feel of a referendum on head coach Rex Ryan. And, as we know, the Jets’ verbose leader didn’t fare especially well.


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Week 8 was an important benchmark for the Jets. They pulled into their Week 7 bye with a nice 5-1 record, which is no small feat in a league as competitive as the NFL. Still, concerns loomed, as they do for all teams.

Gang Green hadn’t played especially well in the weeks leading up to their bye, notably in eking past the struggling Vikings and lowly Broncos in Weeks 5 and 6, respectively. Specifically, Mark Sanchez was neither opportunistic nor efficient as the Jets’ so-called game-managing quarterback, which is about all they’d asked of him. The defense, too, was uncharacteristically leaky, as Darrelle Revis struggled to fully heal from a strained hamstring he suffered in Week 2, and Calvin Pace hadn’t yet returned from foot surgery.

Of course, the Jets were supposed to rectify those things during the bye. That’s what byes are for. Teams rest, then get back to work. They get healthy. They iron out the kinks. They study their opponents closely and formulate especially strong game plans.

All of that was supposed to happen. Then, the Jets performed dreadfully on Sunday.

The offense didn’t execute especially well, which was discouraging since it’s what we were paying particular attention. The receiving corps dropped more passes than I care to recall, and Sanchez’s rhythm rivaled that of an adolescent learning a manual transmission. The rushing attack yielded only modest early returns, and the coaches abandoned it far too soon thereafter.

The Jets looked out of sorts, underprepared and poorly coached. The Packers, meanwhile, were dealing with a spate of injuries, and they haven’t yet enjoyed a bye (their’s is Week 10).

All of that, I’m sorry to say as a fan of the gregarious Ryan, is a reflection of the head coach, who has moved no closer to shedding his rap as little more than a defensive coordinator masquerading as the top dog. Early-tenure mistakes are fine, but this was not an encouraging performance of a guy who was coaching his 26th game (23 regular season, three postseason).

Ryan, for all he’s brought to the Jets’ now-stout defense, hasn’t much understanding of the nuances that distinguish a guru/specialist from a big-picture leader. Think of someone like Mike Martz as opposed to, say, Bill Belichick.

On Sunday, for example, punter Steve Weatherford audibled into a fake-punt run on 4th-and-18 from the Jets’ 20, for some unfathomable reason. I wouldn’t have run this play in a dorm-room duel of PS2 Madden during my college years — even if I were severely inebriated, leading or trailing by five touchdowns. And yet, here were the Jets, cavalierly testing the bounds of sanity by even the most liberal measure. Of course, Weatherford’s mad dash barely fell short — only after a Packers replay revealed that he stepped out of bounds about a half-yard short of what would have been an 18-yard gain. The result for the Jets was a turnover on downs well into their own territory.

One must wonder, regardless of whether Weatherford managed to convert this lengthy fourth-down try, was it worth the risk? The best-case scenario would have entailed the Jets picking up a first down at about their own 40-yard line. That’s merely OK. It hardly would have assured them points or even a chance to net points. A viable field-goal try, in light of the Meadowlands’ gusty winds, was still no fewer than 25 yards away.

Now, Ryan said after the game that the audible was Weatherford’s to call. I, for one, find that extremely hard to believe, but even if it were true, isn’t it kind of alarming for several reasons?

First, why have Ryan and special teams coach Mike Westhoff furnished their punter with unconditional power in calling his own number? That smacks of a so-called players’ coach allowing his men too much latitude.

Next, regardless of what the Packers’ defensive formation may have indicated to Weatherford, didn’t it occur to him that it wasn’t worth the risk? Because, regardless of his faith in his athletic ability or whether he thought the Packers’ punt-return corps would part like the Red Sea, he simply must realize that for him to sprint 35 yards for a first down — while being hotly pursued by linebackers and defensive-back types — would require nothing short of a herculean effort. A player who can’t think with even the remotest respect for context is either too shortsighted to play for me or horrendously coached.

Finally, why did he feel compelled to share that it was Weatherford’s call? It only served to embarrass Weatherford, which is generally not a sound player-management approach, and illustrate the extent to which Ryan is misappropriating some rather important decision-making processes.

Whatever the answers to these queries, it doesn’t bode well for Ryan.

The fake punt wasn’t necessarily the defining moment of the game for the Jets, but it certainly was symptomatic of some greater issues from which we’ve willfully turned away. When considered with a rash of dropped passes, a couple ill-advised challenges and second-half timeout mismanagement, the fake punt was part of a long, disquieting day for the Jets, and there may be more ahead.

The early results are in for Ryan as a head coach, and it’s a mixed bag. We know the defense, when healthy, has been outstanding on his watch. Now, for the Jets to avoid performances like Sunday’s, he must tighten up the ship elsewhere.

Dan Mennella is a reporter and editor for MLB.com. Check out his blog, danmennella.com, and follow him on Twitter @danmennella.

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