Bob Glauber has been Newsday's national football columnist since 1992. He was Newsday's football writer covering the Jets
MIAMI - MIAMI -- On a night when Mark Sanchez and Braylon Edwards made what should have ended with a triumphant flourish, the Jets instead wasted a perfectly good opportunity to take a massive step forward in the AFC East.
Sanchez and Edwards were breathtakingly effective in bringing the Jets back against the injury-riddled Dolphins. But their efforts went for naught because the Jets' defense - which was supposed to be the unquestioned strength of this year's team - wilted in a 31-27 loss to their longstanding AFC East rivals.
The Dolphins' Wildcat offense, considered by some to be a fad that wouldn't stand the test of time, constantly solved Rex Ryan's defense.
"You have to be disciplined,'' linebacker Bart Scott said of stopping the single-wing Wildcat. "It's a gimmick offense. It's pretty much an option type of college offense. You're just doing it with better players. We have to get answers for it and be better next time.''
Suddenly, instead of the Jets taking a one-game lead over the Patriots and a three-game lead over the Dolphins, only one game separates first from third. The Jets (3-2) lost for the second straight week; the Dolphins, who started off 0-3 and lost Chad Pennington to a season-ending shoulder injury, are 2-3.
What began as a night of questions surrounding Sanchez and Edwards turned into one giant question about a Jets defense that had been brilliant through the first month of the season.
No one is saying the Jets could have gone through the season with an in-your-face defense at its best every week. But whenever they needed a stop last night, they simply didn't deliver.
"We just didn't make a play,'' linebacker Calvin Pace said. "One play, and we change the game. Nowhere in the game did we affect the game and make them get away from what they like to do.''
Said Ryan, "It was a complete embarrassment by our defense and by me. I didn't have the defense prepared the way they should have been and I take full responsibility for that. I've never been involved in a game like that in my life. Our offense did tremendous and gave us every opportunity to win the game."
Sanchez answered any questions about his ability to bounce back after last week's three-interception meltdown in New Orleans. He led two go-ahead drives in the fourth quarter, finished 12-for-24 for 172 yards, and hooked up with Edwards five times for 64 yards and a touchdown.
It was another in a series of memorable Jets-Dolphins games, with the kind of tug-of-war drama that few rivalries can match.
Sanchez had so many fine moments, from his 53-yard bomb in the fourth quarter to David Clowney, to his thread-the-needle 34-yard pass to Edwards that set up Thomas Jones' go-ahead score to make it 20-17, to another long pass to Edwards that fell incomplete but resulted in a pass-interference call, setting up a 3-yard Jones touchdown that made it 27-24 with 5:12 to play.
All the Jets needed was one more defensive stop, and they couldn't do it. The Dolphins went 70 yards in 13 plays, ending it with Ronnie Brown's 2-yard TD run out of the Wildcat with six seconds to play.
"We're a hell of a team and I believe that,'' Ryan said. "I think we have plenty of talent, but we just have to play a hell of a lot better than we did today."
But there was some solace; the Jets can thank their former coach for laying the foundation of what the Jets have become.
Had it not been for Eric Mangini, there might never have been a trade opportunity to get Sanchez. Same goes for Edwards, whose ill-fated run in Cleveland came to an end Wednesday when Mangini's Browns dealt him to the Jets for Chansi Stuckey, Jason Trusnik and a couple of draft picks. Maybe the Jets threw in a ham and cheese sandwich for good measure.
Mangini possibly delivered his old team a franchise quarterback and a franchise receiver.
But last night will take a while to get over. With a chance to go 4-1, the Jets let this one slip away.
"We expect to play great every week,'' Scott said. "This week, they were the better team. We'll see them again. We have to take care of business.''
Ryan put it best immediately afterward:
"I've gotta do a hell of a lot better job than that."