The Jets arrived at MetLife Stadium with the intention of inching closer to that final AFC wild-card spot. Instead, they left their home turf embarrassed, outplayed and unsure of even who will be their starting quarterback next week.
The seven-week regression of Geno Smith reached a tipping point Sunday against the Dolphins, culminating in an 8.3 first-half passer rating and his third benching of the season. But his replacement, Matt Simms, failed to deliver the spark Rex Ryan so desperately needed.
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The Jets' 23-3 loss dropped them to 5-7 and distanced them further on the playoff periphery. They entered the game as one of six teams -- including the Dolphins (6-6) -- vying for the final playoff berth. But after a week of chatter about a much-needed sense of urgency down the stretch, the Jets looked absolutely awful.
"We did nothing well today,'' said Ryan, whose team hasn't won since Nov. 3 against the Saints. "I feel bad for our fans, especially the ones that were here in the stadium. They deserved better than that. It was an awful performance by us.
"We better get better in a hurry.''
The problem is, he and his players have been saying that for weeks. And now no one on the team -- not even Smith or Simms -- knows who will start Sunday against the Raiders.
"I can't answer that question right now,'' Ryan said. "I need to see it, get everybody's opinion and do what's in the best interest of our football team.''
This is how bad things have gotten for the Jets: After trailing 6-0 at halftime, Ryan and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg turned to Simms in the locker room.
"Rex came up to me and said, 'Are you ready to go? Do you know the game plan?' '' Simms said. "I said, 'Yes, sir. I'm ready to go.' ''
But the quarterback switch -- which coincidentally came almost a year to the day after Ryan benched Mark Sanchez in favor of Greg McElroy in a 7-6 victory over the Cardinals on Dec. 2, 2012 -- did little to change the outcome.
Now the Jets are left to figure out whether Smith, Simms or the always-inactive David Garrard will start against Oakland. But it came as no surprise that although Smith (4-for-10, 29 yards and an interception) said the past three weeks have "been tough,'' he still believes he's the man for the job.
"I have complete confidence in myself,'' said the rookie, who hasn't thrown a touchdown pass since Oct. 20 and has accounted for 23 turnovers. "I think I am the best option for this team.''
Although several players refused to talk after the game, those who did expressed irritation and genuine surprise about their lack of execution in recent weeks.
"They do frustrate everybody,'' linebacker Calvin Pace said of their three straight losses. "It's sickening, man. But we've got another week, so we'll see.''
Tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. cited bad practice habits carrying over to game day, but tackle Austin Howard said he thought the team prepared "very well'' this week.
"It's just frustrating that we couldn't pull it out,'' Howard said, "because we all were very focused on how big this game was and the fact that we really needed to get the 'W' today.''
Basically, the game was out of reach after Caleb Sturgis nailed two second-quarter field goals to put Miami up 6-0. Brian Hartline's 31-yard touchdown catch and Mike Wallace's 28-yard TD reception after Dee Milliner whiffed on a tackle added insult to injury on a day the Jets surrendered 453 yards of total offense.
Mornhinweg's unit mustered only 177 yards, the fewest allowed by Miami this season, and finished 2-for-12 on third-down conversions. The Dolphins dominated time of possession, 38:52-21:08.
Inserting Simms was supposed to provide a lift. Instead, it highlighted the many things wrong with this team.
"We did absolutely nothing offensively in the first half, so I was just trying to give us a spark somehow,'' Ryan said. "When games go on like that, you try and find ways to pick the team up.''
A quarterback controversy very well could be headed to Florham Park. At the very least, there's a real chance that resentment will begin to fester among overworked defensive players. But cornerback Antonio Cromartie maintained that won't happen.
"Look, if you want to try to make a story out of a story,'' Cromartie said to reporters. "We don't have any resentment. We're teammates. We understand what we got to try to do.
"This is a tight-knit group. And that's how we're going to keep it.''
Ryan, and his quarterbacks, had better hope Cromartie is right.