It was not what the Jets had in mind when Fan Appreciation Day was announced. The team and the organization wanted more than anything else to give the fans who showed up at today's game and the green-clad folks at home a December win to remember. Instead it was a loss to forget.
After a day of early high winds, off-and-on rain, great defense and ineffective offense, the best the Jets could give themselves and their followers was a last-minute drive to a winning touchdown that never got further than their own 48.
The result was an ugly, soggy, devastating 10-6 loss to the Dolphins. And so the Jets, who started the day with one scenario alive in which they would clinch a playoff berth, ended it with a 9-4 record, their second straight loss — both to AFC East foes — and a daunting road trip ahead to Pittsburgh and then Chicago. The Dolphins, meanwhile, improved to 7-6 and suddenly are back on the fringes of the AFC wild-card talk.
"I'm very concerned," head coach Rex Ryan said at his postgame news conference. "I mean, shoot, look at our next opponent. You think this defense is good, just wait till next week. Pittsburgh's going to be a huge challenge. We've got to make sure we find a way to get better — we have to get better."
Mark Sanchez, whether it was raining or dry, struggled the whole game in completing 17 of 44 passes for 216 yards and an interception. The line on his and the Jets' 15 drives:
Two field goals, eight punts, two first-quarter turnovers and three losses on downs, the final one coming on NFL sack leader Cameron Wake's dropping of Sanchez on fourth down at the Jets 34 with 47 seconds to play.
But he wasn't alone as the Jets committed several key penalties, had a few more tough drops — including Santonio Holmes' dropped touchdown pass in the second quarter — and protection problems that allowed Sanchez to be sacked six times and fumble four times, although he lost only one in the first quarter.
The offense's ineffectiveness wasted a monster game by the defense as it harassed QB Chad Henne, his ground game and his receivers into a 131-yard game and nine three-and-out series. The only touchdown of the game came on the Dolphins' third drive, when Henne found Brandon Marshall for a 6-yard score just over the goal line.
"Our defense played the way we expected — they rose up," Ryan said. "Again, you win and you lose together. We've got to make sure our team gives its best effort in every phase of the game."
That TD, as it turns out, would have been enough to top the Jets, who now have gone eight quarters without a touchdown, nine quarters and 139:09 of clock time without an offensive TD. This is their first two-game stretch without a score since 2005.
"This might've been our worst performance of the year," said TE Dustin Keller. "Against Green Bay we had no points at all, but this one feels worse to us, especially this late in the season.
"If this keeps up, we'll miss this thing," Sanchez said of the Jets' playoff position two weeks after they shared the NFL's best record at 9-2. "We'll easily play our way out of it. We're tough guys. I know how they are in here, how they'll respond to me and my energy. It'll be a good test for me early in my career. We'll see how I do."
But everyone needs to step up quickly. The trip to the Steelers, who are 10-3 after defeating the Bengals, 23-7, without the aid of an offensive touchdown, comes on Saturday, the now very important game on Sunday.
"I don't feel it's slipping away," said WR Jerricho Cotchery, the game's top receiver with five receptions and 69 yards, "but whatever issues there are, we've got to get 'em fixed fast. If we don't, they'll continue to linger."
It seemed as if the Jets were ready for that elusive fast start against the Dolphins. Ryan said during the week that if the Jets won the coin toss today, they would choose to receive. Sure enough, after deferring on their first 13 coin toss victories under Rex Ryan, they won today and chose to receive.
Even that and Brad Smith's 45-yard kickoff return didn't help. The Jets went three-and-out, with Mark Sanchez almost throwing an interception on third down.
Then after the defense forced a punt, Sanchez did throw an interception, right to rookie Nolan Carroll at the Jets 43. The visitors from the south converted that into Dan Carpenter's 47-yard field goal 7:50 into the opening frame.
Next drive, another turnover. This time Sanchez tried to step up in the pocket but DE Kendall Langford came off of Wayne Hunter, who had come in at RT early for sore-kneed Damien Woody, to hit the QB hard from behind and force a fumble that LB Quentin Moses recovered at the Jets 26.
In six plays Henne found Marshall at the goal line for a 6-yard TD between LB Bart Scott and S Eric Smith. And the Dolphins had opened a 10-0 lead.
The Jets sputtered throughout the half but they at least struck for points after one of their turnovers, although it was four fewer points than they should have had. Calvin Pace rocked Henne for a strip sack that Sione Pouha fell on at the 'Fins 38 and the Jets were in business.
That touchdown that wasn't? Sanchez on third down from the 17 had Holmes all alone after a nifty double move for the Jets' first offensive TD in seven quarters — except that Holmes dropped the wet ball in the end zone. Nick Folk came on to save the drive with a 35-yard field goal and it was 10-3 with 4:33 left in the first half.
The hosts nearly had another score — but didn't — when Ronnie Brown fumbled when hit by S Brodney Pool, with ex-Dolphins icon Jason Taylor recovering at midfield with 1:52 left in the first half. But only one first down and 14 drive yards later, the Jets were still facing a 54-yard Folk field goal try in the rain or a Steve Weatherford punt. Ryan went with the punt, and Weatherford nailed his third inside-the-10 punt of the game.
But it wasn't enough to prevent the Jets from going into their locker room on the short end of a 10-3 score, and that set the stage for a 3-0 Jets second half that wasn't nearly enough to stave off this latest loss and the feelings of angst among the players and their fans.
The Jets say they're remaining together in the locker room.
"We just want to make sure that everybody has each other's back," said CB Antonio Cromartie, who helped bottle up Miami WR Brandon Marshall for two catches and 16 yards. "We're all out there fighting for our brothers and the guy that's next to us."
But they also know it's getting late in the season for the kinds of losses they've suffered the last two weeks.
"We're not talking about the sands in the hourglass right now," said Taylor, "but time's running out."
Pouha had a career game with a game-high 10 tackles, one of the Jets' five sacks and his third fumble recovery this season — and his first FR since getting two in the first half of the season opener vs. the Ravens. ... Pool added a fumble recovery to his forced fumble.
Dolphins' 30 net passing yards are the seventh-least by an opponent in Jets franchise history. ... 'Fins' 131 total yards were tied for 11th-least allowed in franchise history. ... Ryan praised Miami P Brandon Fields, whose 10 punts, often from deep in his end, averaged 56.4 yards gross and 49.6 net.
Ryan said of his injured players that S Eric Smith had a head injury and didn't finish the game; Greene injured his neck but was ready to return by the end of the game; he wasn't sure about the prognosis for Woody, who played two series before he left with his aching knee; and he wasn't sure about DT Trevor Pryce's hip.
Contact on the Jets Sideline
Jets strength and conditioning coach Sal Alosi was identified by the team as the person on its sideline who made contact with Miami's Carroll as the Dolphins defender ran out of bounds during punt coverage late in the third quarter. Jets director of public relations Bruce Speight said, "The team is reviewing the situation and is looking into the appropriate next step."
Alosi, in a statement released by the team around 9:50 p.m., said:
"I made a mistake that showed a total lapse in judgment. My conduct was inexcusable and unsportsmanlike and does not reflect what this organization stands for. I spoke to Coach Sparano and Nolan Carroll to apologize before they took off. I have also apologized to Woody, Mike and Rex. I accept responsibility for my actions as well as any punishment that follows."