LaDainian Tomlinson: We didn't show up
Of all the indictments to be made about the Jets' performance in a 29-14 loss to the Giants -- and there were plenty of them in a game that may have knocked them out of playoff contention -- the one that stands out the most was the one that came from the lips of future Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson.
Not once, but twice.
"We wanted to prove a point, and that's what's disappointing, because we didn't show up," Tomlinson said.
A player with that kind of stature accuses his own team of not showing up in the biggest game of the season . . . against the rival Giants . . . in front of a Jets home crowd . . . with a playoff run on the line?
That is about as grim as it can get for a team that came up infinitesimally small in a gargantuan spot Saturday afternoon.
But just to give Tomlinson the benefit of the doubt, and to make doubly sure he clearly understood the gravity of such an accusation, I asked him again if that was what he really meant.
"For us to play like this -- we were well prepared, and our coaches did everything they could to prepare us for this game -- but for us to come out and in different situations, it was disappointing," he said. "In situations where we needed to make plays the most, we didn't. Bad plays, turn the ball over, dropped balls. It was just very disappointing.
"So yeah, I say we didn't show up, because there were times when the pressure was on, we always came through [before], but we just didn't today. Disappointing."
The Jets picked quite a moment to put together one of their most disappointing performances of the season, this on the heels of their worst game of the year in last week's 45-19 blowout loss in Philadelphia.
On a day that Rex Ryan had bellowed all week would be one of their finest moments, it turned out to be one of the worst of the Ryan era. Especially given the magnitude of the circumstances.
The Jets had a chance to control their own playoff fate with a win over the Giants and go into next week's regular-season finale against the Dolphins with a chance to clinch a postseason spot. Instead, they squandered that chance with a woefully inconsistent offensive performance and a defensive effort that often was brilliant yet ultimately was undone by some key mistakes.
The biggest mistake, of course, was allowing second-year wide receiver Victor Cruz to turn a short pass reception into a 99-yard touchdown late in the second quarter, giving the Giants a lead they would never relinquish. The Jets made it a 20-14 game on Mark Sanchez's 1-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter. But they got no closer as the Giants, whose own season was on the line in the battle for New York, put the game away with a late safety and touchdown.
The Giants will be playing for the NFC East title next Sunday against the Cowboys at MetLife Stadium. The Jets will be in Miami for what they hope will be a win over the Dolphins. They'll need that victory, coupled with an unlikely sequence of results from their wild-card competitors, to sneak into the playoffs.
Ryan told us early in the week that he was putting this on his shoulders and that if the Jets lost, it was all on him. No argument there, even if he wasn't the one throwing passes or making tackles.
The Jets completely got away from their ground-and-pound mentality of running the ball with authority, and instead put the game in Sanchez's hands by having him drop back a whopping 64 times. He was 30-for-59 for 258 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions and also was sacked five times by a defense that could concentrate on rushing the passer once the Giants had the lead and forced the Jets into passing situations.
But how the Jets' offense got so out of whack in the run-pass ratio is as disturbing as the final result. They clearly had established superiority at the point of attack and were running the ball effectively, especially up the middle. So why stop, especially with the score not completely out of hand through most of the game?
Tomlinson, who gained 29 yards on five carries behind Shonn Greene's 58 yards on 14 carries, wondered the same thing.
"I was a little surprised," he said. "These last few weeks, we have really picked it up running the football. So I was surprised we didn't run it a little more."
So was Ryan.
"We averaged 4.2 yards a carry," he said. "We were running the ball effectively. But you fall behind like that, where we were behind a couple of scores, we had to speed it up. When you throw it 64 times, if you count the five sacks, that's not who we want to be. We want to be more balanced. We know we can run the football, and we'd like to be able to have it reversed. I'd love to see 60 rushing attempts."
Not this time, leaving Ryan to lament his team's fate.
"I'm not going to say we're out of it, but you don't win this football game, it's not in your control anymore," he said. "All I can say is we're going to compete. We're going to Miami, and they're going to get our best shot. We'll see if it's good enough, and we'll see what happens if we can make it or not."
But this wasn't what the loquacious coach had in mind coming into this game. He talked early and often, as did his players. Meanwhile, Tom Coughlin stood by his edict, "Talk is cheap, play the game," although a few of his players returned verbal fire during the week.
When it was over, Ryan met Coughlin at midfield for the postgame handshake and offered a perfunctory greeting that lasted about as long as Bill Belichick's infamous wet-fish handshake to former Jets coach Eric Mangini a few years back.
With all the big talk leading up to kickoff, Ryan and his players couldn't back it up when it counted most. Tomlinson was right: They didn't show up.
Now it looks as though the show's over.