NEW YORK — Rex Ryan still couldn’t believe it, stunned even 12 hours after his Jets left Denver with a devastating loss.
Too many mistakes. Too many blown opportunities. And, now, there’s serious doubt whether this is even a playoff-caliber team.
“It was obviously a huge, huge loss for us,” Ryan said Friday.
After the Jets (5-5) allowed Tim Tebow to cap a 95-yard drive with a 20-yard touchdown run in the final minute of a 17-13 loss Thursday night, Ryan knew exactly what went wrong: pretty much everything.
“Obviously, we had some breakdowns in protections,” Ryan said during a conference call. “We had a turnover for a touchdown, we fumbled another special teams play on a kick return after we had a huge return, and then obviously, the 95-yard drive, which is, it’s still hard to really fathom. I mean, it really is.”
At this time last week, the Jets were riding a three-game winning streak and looking to establish themselves as one of the premier teams in a wide-open AFC. Consecutive losses to New England and Denver in five days have New York instead suddenly in the middle of a muddled postseason picture.
“Our playoffs start right now, there’s no question,” Ryan said. “We have to beat Buffalo. I don’t see any breathing room. We’ve already used that up.”
Ryan wishes his team could play its next game this Sunday, but the Jets must wait until Nov. 27, when they host the Bills. That might be a good thing, considering all New York needs to clean up.
“Every area of our team has certain issues,” Ryan acknowledged.
That was clear on the field in Denver as the Jets couldn’t put away a Broncos team that was outplayed for the first 55 minutes. Then came Tebow’s latest comeback, one that could have been quashed on the first play.
The Broncos quarterback threw an ill-advised pass to Eddie Royal in the end zone, and Jets safety Jim Leonhard got him — and then lost him as Royal broke free for an 8-yard gain. It was a bad omen for a defense that had played well up until that point, but appeared gassed as Tebow started running around the field.
“It’s very disappointing,” cornerback Darrelle Revis said after the game. “A lot of people are disappointed in here of how the outcome came for the game.”
New York still had a chance to make a huge play and go back home feeling fortunate to squeeze out a win. But on third-and-4 from the Jets 20, Tebow spotted New York dialing up its first all-out blitz of the night. So he took the snap, got past safety Eric Smith, cut back and then rumbled into the end zone.
“Hindsight behind 20-20, obviously, we would’ve done something, anything but that,” Ryan said of the decision to blitz. “I even told the defense before (the play), ‘This kid is not going to take the ball out of his hand. He is going to keep it in his hand,’ and that’s exactly what he did. He ended up just making a great play. None of us saw it coming.”
So Ryan and his staff will spend the next several days trying to turn things around in what has been a mediocre 10 games of a season that the Jets’ bold and brash coach promised would be special.
“When you look at it, are we going to change a few things? Yes, I think we need to,” he said. “I think we really need to look, study some things. I won’t get into the particulars, but I think we really do, and also learn from our past, how we did things, and really try to look at that and try to get better.”
On defense, that means being able to close out games and keep consistent pressure on the quarterback. On special teams, that means holding on to the ball and clamping down on opponents’ returns. And, on offense, it’s improving the running game — granted, Shonn Greene was injured early — and making sure quarterback Mark Sanchez starts to show signs of progress.
After the game, Sanchez took the blame, something he has done a lot lately. His poor pass to Plaxico Burress in the third quarter that Andre’ Goodman picked off and returned 26 yards for a touchdown tied the game at 10 and immediately swung the momentum in the Broncos’ favor at a time when the Jets could have taken total control.
“It’s an embarrassing play on my part,” Sanchez said. “I hurt the team and lost the game.”
Ryan acknowledged that it was a bad decision by Sanchez on the play, but refused to blame him for the loss.
“It absolutely doesn’t belong on Mark’s shoulders,” Ryan said. “He’s just a player. He’s a big piece of the puzzle, but it wasn’t all on Mark Sanchez.”
But Sanchez did little to assert himself as a game-changing leader, a criticism he has heard even while he helped take the Jets to the last two AFC title games. He has not regressed in his third season, but he has made little progress behind a spotty offensive line and with some new wide receivers. That has many fans and media members wondering if Sanchez will ever be a championship-caliber quarterback.
“I’m extremely confident,” Ryan said when asked of his trust in Sanchez. “We’ll go out there and play tomorrow. That’s how I feel about Mark. This is our quarterback. He’s going to be our quarterback for as long as I’m here, which I hope is a long, long time.”
While Ryan looks for answers, his belief in his team remains typically high. It might be desperate times for the Jets, but they’ve proven the last two seasons that’s when they’re at their very best. They’ve got six games now to save their season.
“We all have to get better,” Ryan said. “There’s no doubt. We all have to get better. Again, I’m confident that this group wants it in the worst way, and it’s a resilient group. We’ve done it before, and we just have to do it again.”