The New York Jets were never expected to make any kind of noise in the hunt for the 2013 playoffs -- their strongest supporters won't let you forget that fact, no matter how low their season sinks.
But their fall out of the playoffs -- a graceless thud after lifting the hopes of so many -- may be a harder fall than the one they would have taken by simply struggling throughout the year.
For the third straight season, the Jets have suffered a three-game losing streak in the final eight games. Now, our last remaining memories of the Jets are at their lowest point of the season. Quarterback Geno Smith has lost his job -- at least for now, if not for the foreseeable future -- and head coach Rex Ryan might be coaching for his.
It's clear he's in desperation mode. There were some reasonable decisions made amid a 23-3 stinker against the Dolphins, the Jets' seventh loss of the year and the proverbial dagger in their faintly-beating playoff hearts.
The problems run deeper than their rookie quarterback, and Smith was not the only player benched by Ryan on Sunday, and was joined on the sideline in the third quarter by rookie cornerback Dee Milliner, who missed a tackle on a 28-yard catch-and-run touchdown by Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace.
Rex stopped there, or else he might have benched the entire starting lineup.
"We've been so inconsistent, and a lot of it [is] in all [three] phases," Ryan said after the game.
That's been the case throughout the downward spiral for both Smith, who has thrown one touchdown and 12 interceptions in the past seven games, and the Jets, who are 2-5 in that same span. Not many other quarterbacks would do better with a wide receiver corps that features veteran wide receiver David Nelson, cut twice in the past 10 months.
That's a reflection on the receiving corps, constructed primarily by the previous general manager Mike Tannenbaum and inherited by new front man John Idzik. The Jets have the second-fewest receptions at wide receiver of any team in the NFL, ahead of only the 49ers' 75 receptions from their wide-outs.
Just like Idzik inherited the receiving corps, he also inherited Ryan.
Not even Rex's hallmark, the defense, could avoid embarrassment on Sunday.
A sack-starved defensive line was hoping to feast on the Dolphins, emitting blood in the water like they'd been bitten by Jaws. Instead, they only brought quarterback Ryan Tannehill to the ground once all day.
In the meantime, the Dolphins scored their most points since Week 5, and their most points in a win since Week 3.
The Jets defense can't hang its hat on the strong performances against Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Matt Ryan this season when it has to look back on awful showings against Tannehill, EJ Manuel and Andy Dalton. The phrase "consistently inconsistent" is mind-numbingly tedious, but goes a long way to describe what the Jets have been through this year.
One thing that's been consistent is Ryan's inability to develop a quarterback.
One could argue that Ryan was doomed by being saddled with bad quarterbacks, but Smith is the second quarterback that has not only failed to develop, but has tangibly regressed under Ryan's tutelage. Mark Sanchez went from serviceable to service light in a span of four years, and was the league's second-worst quarterback from 2011 to 2012.
In a quarterback-driven league, that has been unquestionably the Jets' worst position on the roster for the past three years -- and it's been worse than nearly every other team in the NFL, as Smith is currently the lowest-rated passer in the league.
We don't know whether Smith is beyond repair, but we do know that Rex most likely does not have the tool kit for the job -- which might also require a wrecking ball, if not for a face-saving win or two in the final four games of the season.
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