FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - That the perfect storm of another Jets calamity should wind up with the latest installment of their decades-long rivalry with the Patriots is, well, perfect. That the forecast calls for heavy rain makes the metaphor that much more compelling.
The Jets are barely clinging to hope as their 1-5 season teeters perilously on the edge of the abyss, so what better scenario for a game that will result in either a jolt of badly needed confidence or another dose of gloom on a lost season that portends big changes.
The story lines are many, the backdrop rich with drama. Jets-Patriots is always compelling, and this prime-time matchup is riveting despite the Jets' atrocious start. In fact, it's riveting because of their atrocious start.
It starts with the quarterback and the coach.
Geno Smith came into the season looking as if he had taken important steps forward in his development and appeared in command of the offense. But the second-year passer has come unglued over his last three games, not only losing all three, but showing disturbing signs of regression on the field and immaturity off it.
He cursed out a fan after a home loss to the Lions. He missed a team meeting the day before the following week's game against the Chargers, playing miserably before being benched for the second half. And the day after Sunday's loss to the Broncos, in which he got the Jets to within a touchdown in the fourth quarter, he complained to Patriots' beat reporters that the New York media often "miscommunicated" and "misprinted" and "misunderstood" things about the quarterback.
Look, I realize these players are under an intense amount of scrutiny, and it takes a high level of composure to deal with it all. But the timing of Smith's complaint wasn't good, especially after much of what was written has come as a result of his inappropriate actions. And Smith's behavior certainly doesn't bode well in the tough New York market, which can be relentless on its athletes, especially when they lose
Smith can assuage many of his critics with an improved performance in a big spot here, even if a win won't completely erase the faults that have surfaced during more than a month's worth of losing. He needs to reward the faith that the organization has shown in him, especially after Rex Ryan continually has declined to replace Smith as the starter with veteran Michael Vick.
Ryan himself is another major story line here, with his tenure in New York now threatened by a woeful start just months after he was given a contract extension that was essentially a one-year flier and not a long-term commitment. Ryan did some of his best work last year with a retooled roster, getting to 8-8 with a rookie quarterback and drawing a huge ovation from his players after team owner Woody Johnson announced after the regular-season finale he would be back in 2014.
Ryan came to New York with the promise of winning Super Bowls and the swagger built largely around his belligerence toward the Patriots and their coach Bill Belichick. "I didn't come here to kiss his rings, I came here to kick his [butt]," Ryan once famously told Newsday less than two years into his tenure.
But it is Belichick who has continued to own this rivalry, never once ceding the AFC East championship to the Jets, no matter how loudly Ryan screamed. The Jets' coach did get the better of Belichick in the 2010 playoffs, but that was about it.
Now Ryan gets to see his old cornerback, Darrelle Revis, in a Patriots' uniform after the Jets declined to pay a king's ransom for a one-year rental of the best defensive back in Jets history. The prospect of seeing Revis in Patriots red, white and blue makes Ryan "a little sick to my stomach." And losing to Revis and Belichick will be that much more painful. Especially if Revis, who reportedly would love to score a touchdown on offense against his old team, does get into the end zone.
Ryan danced around the issue of whether he wanted to sign Revis in the offseason, although in fairness, Revis couldn't save this team from all the problems it currently faces, even if the Jets could have fit him under the salary cap. No, the coach's problems run a lot deeper than one elite cornerback could address. The offensive line has woefully underperformed. The running game has not been consistent enough. The passing game has been a train wreck because of Smith's poor play.
And Ryan's defense -- his calling card throughout his NFL coaching career -- has not played well enough for most of the season. After that 21-3 getaway in the first half against the Packers in Week 2, when the Jets looked like a legitimate playoff contender, the wheels have come off with five straight losses.
Only an unlikely win in Foxborough can stave off more misery, even if only for another week or so. Another loss against the Patriots, and Belichick's Patriots can throw some more gas on the fireball the Jets' season has become.