Carlos Rogers says the Jets' defense quit last Sunday, which is the most insulting thing professional athletes can say about each other. And Rex Ryan, who spent his first three years as coach of the team looking for an edge if he wasn't creating one, suddenly has too many other things to worry about to even take offense.
In fact, from the low bunker, the Jets coach has decided to take the high ground: He took what Rogers said to be a backhanded compliment.
"Certainly we didn't play well," said Ryan Wednesday. "It's obvious we didn't play to his standards either.
"We have a reputation in this league of being a tremendous defense and we didn't play that way, but as far as us quitting, there is no way. Did I think we got fatigued? Yes. But there's no quitting.
"We got beat, no two ways about it, but it does show that other teams expect more out of this defense. Not any more than we expect out of ourselves."
Now that is some serious spin, rivaling even the spin of opposition ballcarriers out of Jets tacklers' grasps over the first four games. Vaseline-handed linebackers and defensive linemen can't get a grip on their intensity of yore, leaving Jet Nation wondering if their blustery coach is grasping for straws now that his best offensive player, Santonio Holmes, has joined Ryan's best defensive player, Darrelle Revis, as out for the year.
Last we looked, the Jets, despite it all, were 2-2 and tied for the AFC East lead headed into Monday night's game against the unbeaten Texans. But for three weeks it has been hard to look at a defense that has been a shadow of the one it used to be. With Mark Sanchez and Shonn Greene struggling, with Dustin Keller already as badly missed by Sanchez as will be Holmes, and with green an appropriate color of the surviving receiving corps, the defense more than ever has to find its will to find a way.
Sign Mike DeVito up.
"It's all mindset," the defensive tackle said. "Even if you make a mistake, if you're going 100 miles an hour, nine out of 10 times you'll knock the guy back and it will turn out all right.
"It's a family deal. It's a team deal. That's been our M.O. from the beginning. A guy goes down, the next guy steps up. We have to find a way to play for each other, pick each other up, get excited when guys make good plays, and get back to doing what we do."
That doesn't sound so hard, except for, currently, the making-good-plays part. The Jets reached consecutive AFC title games by those linebackers being their pass rush and instruments to turnovers. But now opponents are running out of Bart Scott's grasp and the steadiest of linebackers like David Harris are whiffing.
"Seventeen missed tackles [by Ryan's count] is ridiculous," said Yeremiah Bell. "And uncharacteristic."
We'll see about the second part of that, but we don't have to wait for another 17 missed tackles to point out that they make the absence of Revis a red herring, leaving the Jets a fishy self-image unless they can force themselves back to the basics of minding their gaps and finishing plays.
"Tackling is all about that desire to get this guy on the ground, no question," said Ryan. "Fundamentals are another part of it, bringing your feet with you, wrapping guys up, driving inside, low-number-to-high-number and all of that.
"But you're going to miss more tackles when you have to make more plays in space. I think that's what happened to us as a football team, missing a ton of tackles, but some of them we were missing, there was a lot of room there.
"They were able to get some movement on us that widened holes. When you shorten where a guy is going to run through, you're going to be a much better tackling team."
After one good half against Buffalo, the only shortening the Jets have been doing is the patience of a fan base fearing 8-8 in 2011 was the first hint of a bad run. There is little question a major overhaul is coming, but there are 12 games left for veterans to show they have something left and, more important, for Muhammad Wilkerson and Quinton Coples and Kenrick Ellis to prove worthy of the investment of high draft picks.
Getting back to basics can start with the base fear of being humiliated for a second straight week, this time on national television.
The Jets have to circle the wagons, and maybe Texans quarterback Matt Schaub, too. The passive scheme that dropped more guys into coverage against a 49ers team that doesn't throw it especially well may or may not have contributed to the ongoing passivity of the tackling. But it can't hurt to turn a few guys loose to help the Jets get some turnovers and their mojo back.
Tough love in practice runs the risk of only hurting more guys. There will be no Oklahoma drills to get any of these guys to give up their scholarships.
"Going to live tackling in practice, you can't do that," said Ryan. "There is no way.
"Talk about it, emphasize ending every play in football position, that's something we will try to do."
As he pointed out yesterday, a lot of these same players rallied themselves to the 2009 playoffs after losing Kris Jenkins and Leon Washington in successive weeks and after separate three-game losing streaks.
"This is a resilient football team, there is no doubt," said Ryan. "We just have to get better, and we will.
"How many people are going to feel sorry for the New York Jets? We certainly are not feeling sorry for ourselves."
The Jets are going to show up Monday night. Don't know if they are going to win, but they can win back their self-esteem, which is where it must start after a rock-bottom loss.
They realized they were so bad against the 49ers that apparently you couldn't even insult them. But there is too much season left to see that swirl above the drain just yet.
With Indianapolis following Houston in, the Jets are probably going to be 3-3 and a game behind the Patriots going to Foxborough still entirely in contention. So I don't want to start writing draft columns and be accused by Carlos Rogers of quitting.