SEATTLE -- Rex Ryan's glassy, red-rimmed eyes had nothing to do with the frigid air.
Once again, the Jets' coach couldn't escape the embarrassment and frustration that followed another gut-wrenching defeat Sunday. Two weeks of preparation had produced zero offensive touchdowns and raised even more questions about the state of his team and his starting quarterback.
After a week of providing playoff guarantees, the Jets found a way to systematically sink their season.
For much of the way, they were right there, just close enough to pull off an upset in the most hostile of environments. But rookie Russell Wilson's 31-yard touchdown strike to Sidney Rice with 13:33 left was the dagger in a 28-7 defeat.
Some might argue the true dagger was Mark Sanchez's sack-fumble on the ensuing Jets drive. Or was it the 23-yard pass from wide receiver Golden Tate to a wide-open Rice in the end zone with 7:59 left?
Take your pick. It doesn't matter. All that matters is that the Jets wasted a sterling first-half performance by their defense and are 3-6.
But even in the midst of abject failure, Ryan and his players kept muttering the same refrain: "Believe." The Jets refused to concede their season is a wash, remaining unified in their conviction that it can be saved.
Without hesitation, guard Matt Slauson said the Jets "absolutely" can make the playoffs. "We have given ourselves a tough road,'' he said, "but it's definitely possible."
Even Antonio Cromartie, who was first to issue the ill-advised playoff guarantee last week, maintained he is "still confident" that the Jets will make the postseason.
Sanchez was schooled by his rookie counterpart in front of his college coach, Pete Carroll. But even after playing one of his worst games at the worst time, Sanchez remained optimistic.
"I know we can do it," said Sanchez (9-for-22, 124 yards, one interception). "I have seen our guys do it. It just has to turn, and it starts with me."
He's right. As he goes, the Jets go. That's why it's not surprising that their defense succumbed to fatigue late in the game. The unit carried Sanchez and his 22.0 quarterback rating in the first half, sacking Wilson four times -- twice on back-to-back plays, resulting in Mike DeVito's strip-sack and forced fumble that was recovered and run in 21 yards for a touchdown by Muhammad Wilkerson. But the overworked defense eventually ran out of steam.
And while Sanchez seemed to unravel under the pressure of the blitz-happy Seahawks, Wilson consistently scrambled free and found the open man. He went 12-for-19 for 188 yards and a 131.0 quarterback rating.
The Seahawks' dreaded "12th Man" wasn't as much of a factor as Sanchez's poor decision-making. But Ryan said he's sticking with his starter. When questioned repeatedly about making a quarterback change, he fired back: "Because I believe we can win with Mark and I believe that we can win with [Tim] Tebow, but I'm not going to let you or anyone else convince me otherwise. Because this is how I feel.''
With the score tied at 7 early in the second quarter, Sanchez threw a 43-yard pass to a wide-open Jeremy Kerley, putting the Jets at the 7-yard line. Back-to-back runs by Shonn Greene moved them to the 1, and Tony Sparano opted to go with Tebow at quarterback. But the Jets' momentum was thwarted when Dustin Keller was flagged for his second false start of the game.
Tebow exited as the Jets retreated to the 6, and Sanchez promptly threw his fourth red-zone interception of the season. He was trying to hit Keller near the right front pylon, but cornerback Richard Sherman jumped the route, intercepted and stepped out of bounds at the 3.
Like Ryan, Cromartie defended Sanchez.
"At the end of the day, we don't give a damn about what anybody on the outside has to say,'' the cornerback said. "Mark is our quarterback and he's going to continue to be our quarterback. There's not going to be no division, talking about who needs to be at quarterback.
"Mark is our quarterback and he's our only quarterback.''