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Jets' issues point to major problems when playoffs begin

by | CBSSports.com Senior Writer

CHICAGO -- So the New York Jets back into the playoffs with a loss. Swell. You get there any way you can, and the Jets took the low road.

But now comes the hard part because the New York Jets can't rely on someone like Washington to bail them out. Now they must solve their problems by themselves, and from what I saw Sunday that's not likely.

Bad enough they lost to Chicago, but let's look at this a little more closely. They have no momentum, dropping three of their past four. Their quarterback's throwing shoulder is hurt, though it's unclear how bad. Their defense just surrendered 38 or more points for the second time in four starts and over 300 yards for the second consecutive week. They couldn't stop the run. They couldn't defend the pass. They couldn't pressure the quarterback. And their head coach punctuated a bad week with a bad game.

Yep, blame Rex Ryan for going brain-dead on a fake punt that sent his team hurtling downhill ... and more on that later.

For the moment, the most immediate problem for the Jets is fixing a defense that isn't remotely close to the top-ranked unit that took them to the AFC Championship Game a year ago. It was torched by New England three weeks ago, and it was torched by Chicago in a 38-34 defeat that should -- at the very least -- have its players, coaches and fans on edge.

Not only did the Jets blow a game they could have won, they lost it with a defense that was supposed to be the backbone of this club. But it is not, which is why I think this club goes nowhere in the playoffs. Matt Forte gashed it for 113 yards rushing and 169 yards overall. Jay Cutler tore it apart for three third-quarter touchdown passes. And nobody could make a stop when he had to, with the club turning a 21-10 first-half lead into another loss.

So what's going on?

"That's a great question," said Ryan. "I was asking myself the same question in the third quarter. We couldn't stop a nose bleed then. Everybody has to step up. It would've been easy if it was just one guy's mistakes or whatever, but you have to give [the Bears] credit. [Cutler] made some big plays against us. Eventually, it comes down to ... you have to make some plays."

Yeah, well, the Jets didn't, and that's why I would be worried if I were Rex. On Cutler's three third-quarter TDs, no Jets defensive back turned on the ball. OK, safety Dwight Lowery slipped on one of them. Big deal. It all adds up to the same thing: The Jets didn't make the stops they did a year ago that took them to the championship game against Indianapolis -- where, of course, they didn't have enough defensive backs to stop Peyton Manning.

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But this wasn't Manning and Reggie Wayne. This was Cutler and Johnny Knox. Or Cutler and Devin Hester. Still, the Jets couldn't make a play -- either by hurrying Cutler or defending critical passes. Heck, on one of them, they had Jason Taylor one-on-one with Forte, and Taylor wasn't within five yards when Forte made the catch to set up another TD.

"We can't let any team put up 38 points on us," said linebacker Bryan Thomas. "It's just unacceptable. As a defense, we can't allow that. We've got smart guys on this defense. Whatever the coach calls, we have to go out there and make it happen. Ain't no excuses."

Actually, there is. Maybe the Jets aren't that good on defense. There were suggestions afterward that some of the shortcomings might have come from the changes at safety, with the Jets carting out Lowery in place of the injured Eric Smith, who had been playing in place of the injured Jim Leonhard. Maybe, but, c'mon, guys: Everyone is hurt at this time of the year, and you make the best of what you have ... only in the Jets' situation, what they have wasn't good enough again.

"I'm not concerned," said defensive tackle Sione Pouha. "I'm sure we'll get it corrected."

Well, I'm not. I mean, this was a game the Jets felt they had to win ... and did not. The only reason they're in the playoffs isn't because of anything that happened here but because of what happened in Jacksonville, with the Redskins pulling the upset. So if the Jets can't win games they feel they must, how do they make it through the playoffs -- especially with the status of their quarterback in question and the defense hemorrhaging big yards, big plays and too many points?

Answer: They don't.

But it's not Mark Sanchez that concerns me; it's that suddenly porous defense. Afterward, the quarterback admitted he was sore, with Ryan saying he might rest him next weekend, but Sanchez played well enough to win. I mean, when was the last time the Jets scored 34 and lost? I'll tell you: 1988.

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New York Jets
New York Jets
Mark Sanchez failed down the stretch, but overall enjoyed a solid, accurate effort despite shoulder soreness. However the same couldn't be said for his receivers, who had a few critical dropped passes. An efficient running game failed to produce big gainers. Defensively, the slide continues with three second-half TD passes allowed and Matt Forte's 113 rushing yards.
Chicago Bears
Chicago Bears
Giving up 50 percent on third downs, 34 points and allowing a fifth straight 100-yard rushing game by the opposing offense showed the defense is still sliding. Offensively, Jay Cutler continues to improve and showed a new ability -- to come back from a silly INT that went for a TD. Devin Hester and punter Brad Maynard made up for PK Robbie Gould's shortest missed FG ever.
By Gene Chamberlain
RapidReports Correspondent

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So it's the defense that is this week's topic on the table, and if it's all about "accountability," as linebacker Calvin Pace suggested, then we have a serious problem. Because it's one thing to wonder about it in Week 2; it's another in Week 16, and that's precisely where the Jets are.

"It's a huge deal we have to get fixed," conceded Ryan. "Obviously, we're not going anywhere if we can't play better defense than that."

They're not going anywhere if they don't coach better than Ryan did Sunday, either. As I said, bad enough that his defense sprung leaks. But Ryan wasn't much better, making a critical mistake when the club was up 24-17 early in the third quarter. It was fourth-and-3 at the Jets 40, a sure punting down, but instead of doing what he should, Ryan was talked into trying a fake.

He failed, and one play later Chicago scored.

"We worked on it all week," Ryan said of the play. "We felt good about it. Obviously we made that call. Quite honestly, [if] the ball got in Hester's hands, we knew where it was going to end up. It was just one of those things where we thought that play was there, and where we knew that play was there."

Except it wasn't.

I'm with Sanchez when he later described it as a "high-risk, high-reward" opportunity, and he wasn't being critical. He was being honest, and he's right. But why are you taking an unnecessary risk when you have a seven-point lead early in the third quarter? I don't get it.

What I do get is that the Jets are in trouble. When your defense stinks and your head coach isn't much better you have a problem ... a big, big problem entering the playoffs. And the Jets do.

This is not last year's club that emerged out of nowhere. This is a once confident, once brash star-studded team that from the very beginning proclaimed itself a Super Bowl contender, only to start flopping around when it matters most.

So they made the playoffs here. If you're a Super Bowl contender you're supposed to make the playoffs. You're also supposed to play your best now, and the New York Jets are not.

"It's like sweet and sour chicken," Pouha said of what happened Sunday. "You don't know whether to save the sweetness or cringe at the sourness."

I do, and I'm cringing.


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