With the season on the line, Mark Sanchez did nothing to quiet the growing chorus of critics. (Anthony J. Causi/Icon SMI)
Rex Ryan has never wavered in his support of Mark Sanchez as the Jets' No. 1 quarterback. Let's consider the approaching offseason Ryan's moment of truth.
Was New York's late-season collapse, 8-8 finish and failure to secure a playoff spot all on Sanchez? No, of course not. The Jets' issues were plentiful, from their coaching staff on down. But the third-year quarterback had a chance over the past few games to silence his critics. Instead, the hoots and hollers will be louder than ever.
New York came out of a Week 14 blowout win over the Chiefs at 8-5 and seemed set to grab a playoff spot. Instead, they were destroyed by 26 in Philadelphia, by 15 against the Giants, then, down to their last breath Sunday, turned in a dud at Miami in a 19-17 loss (box | recap).
The final nail in the coffin came with the Jets down six and driving in the waning moments of the fourth quarter.
On 3rd-and-6, Sanchez dropped to pass and couldn't find anyone open. Finally, after dancing in the pocket, he tried to squeeze one in, off his back foot, to Shonn Greene. The pass was picked off and the Jets never again had a chance to tie or take the lead.
In New York's final three games, Sanchez threw seven interceptions and turned the ball over nine times total. This is not a QB thrust into a difficult situation or an inexperienced guy trying to find his way. Sunday's start marked Sanchez's 47th regular season start.
He has been in the playoffs, fought through the late-season grind. By this point, nothing he sees should feel new or unexpected. And yet, here the Jets are, after a miserable letdown of a season, wondering when -- if ever -- their franchise quarterback will turn the corner.
If the Jets don't want to pin any of this on Sanchez, then who? Rex Ryan? The up-and-down skill position players? A defense that never played quite as well as it should have?
For many the fault will lie with offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, who's likely to play the role of scapegoat in light of New York's failure to make the playoffs. That's fine -- the Jets were unimaginative in their play-calling for much of the season and often failed to take advantage of their talented roster.
But as most NFL players will tell you when someone gets the axe, it's not the coach's responsibility to execute on the field. The Jets simply never executed consistently.
The quandary facing the Jets now is figuring out how much of that problem was on Schottenheimer, how much of it was on Sanchez and if it might go beyond those two to a bigger, organizational issue.
It's tough to pin it on the third choice, given the Jets' back-to-back AFC championship game appearances. Still, for anyone who saw Santonio Holmes pouting on the sidelines at the end of Sunday's game, apparently benched despite being healthy, there might be some weight to that theory.
Yet, at some point, Ryan has to take a long, hard look at Sanchez. Maybe, for now, that just means bringing in a viable veteran option to back Sanchez up -- this year's No. 2 QB, Mark Brunell, would have been hard-pressed to step in and deliver any meaningful minutes.
Maybe it means taking a quarterback in the draft's middle rounds, someone who can take a year to learn the NFL game while also putting a little heat on Sanchez.
Or maybe it's time to go down a new path entirely, via free agency or trade.
One thing's for certain: What the Jets got from their quarterback this season was not good enough. Sanchez finished the season with 25 touchdowns and 26 turnovers, the second time in his three NFL years that his TD-to-turnover ratio has finished in the negative column.
For a team that believes it can go to the Super Bowl each year -- Rex Ryan guaranteed as much before the 2011-12 season started -- that's unacceptable.
Can anyone confidently say that the Jets are better off at quarterback than Buffalo (Ryan Fitzpatrick) or even Miami (a rising Matt Moore)? They're certainly nowhere near the vicinity of the Steelers or Patriots in that category, and those are two of the teams that the Jets eventually must get past to make their end goals a reality.
Sunday's loss was a fitting end to an altogether murky season for the Jets. They have between now and next September to figure out how much of the blame rests on Mark Sanchez's shoulders.