FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Another week, another vote of confidence for struggling quarterback Geno Smith, and so it goes for Jets coach Rex Ryan, who is desperately attempting to keep his team from another late-season freefall.
The losing streak is now three and counting after Sunday's 23-3 stinker against the Dolphins. And if the losing keeps up this week against a mediocre Raiders team, and continues beyond in games against the resurgent Panthers, Browns and Dolphins, then this will be about more than just Smith.
This will be about Ryan and whether he stays or goes.
Another month's worth of losing from the Jets' fifth-year coach, and then it will be time for owner Woody Johnson and his recently appointed general manager, John Idzik, to make a change.
A month ago, that doomsday scenario seemed highly unlikely. The Jets had beaten the Saints and Patriots within a three-week span to improve to 5-4 heading into their bye week. And Rex was looking more like a candidate for Coach of the Year honors, not a coach looking for his next job. The Jets had defied the preseason predictions of a seasonlong swoon, and they had gotten through what seemed like the toughest part of their schedule better than anyone could have imagined.
Smith looked comfortable as the Jets' No. 1 quarterback, Ryan's young defense looked terrific, and the Jets seemed headed for a surprise season that almost no one could have envisioned. But three straight losses, each one more dispiriting than the last, a stunning regression from Smith, and the failure of the one constant through most of Ryan's tenure -- his defense -- have the Jets teetering on a second straight collapse.
If the Jets wind up with a record similar to last year's 6-10, Ryan will be the one to go. He still has another month to turn things around and prove to Johnson and Idzik that he should stay. But unless he can get his team playing more competitively these next four games, then the Jets need to move on and find someone else to take over.
Had these last three losses been by narrower margins, and had the Jets shown more fight against the Bills, Ravens and Dolphins, then Ryan's evaluation would look a lot different. But the Jets have gotten progressively worse, and not just because they're going with a rookie quarterback experiencing the usual ups and downs.
If your team has shown the kind of promise the Jets displayed against the Patriots and Saints, then there is every expectation that you should be able to at least be competitive in subsequent games. Ryan did a fine job in getting the Jets to 5-4, and he had his young team imagining the possibilities if things had continued with that positive trajectory.
But this is simply not the same team we saw back then, and Ryan has to be held accountable.
What's especially troubling is Ryan's defense, which sparked the wins over the Saints and Patriots, two of the most prolific offenses in the game. Ryan had his young unit flying around, with Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson and Demario Davis looking like a terrific core group. Promising second-year safety Antonio Allen did a commendable job against New England's Rob Gronkowski, and was also a key in the Saints' win.
But then Ryan convinced Idzik to bring in veteran safety Ed Reed, a move that looked reasonable given Reed's familiarity with Ryan's system. But instead of using Reed in a part-time role and help players such as Allen improve, Ryan essentially benched Allen and put Reed in full-time.
The Jets' secondary has regressed badly during Reed's time here, and the embarrassing stat for the future Hall of Fame safety continues to grow: Since winning the Super Bowl with the Ravens last year, Reed hasn't won a game in which he has played this year. That's 0-10 and counting.
Three of those losses are with the Jets, and unless things turn around fast, the unfortunate streak will continue to grow.
Just a month after some were suggesting Johnson should give Ryan a contract extension, the coach is now in crisis mode after a three-game losing streak has sapped all the good work he'd done in the first nine games.