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SportsColumnistsBob Glauber

More anguish for long-suffering Jets fans

A fan throws a snowball onto the field

A fan throws a snowball onto the field during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game between the Atlanta Falcons and the New York Jets on Sunday, Dec. 20, 2009, in East Rutherford, N.J. The Falcons beat the Jets 10-7. Photo Credit: AP

Jets fans, I honestly don't know how you do it.

Week after week, year after year, decade after decade, I just don't know how you process all this heartache and still keep coming back for more.

You love your team, you bleed green and white, you live for Sundays. You scream "J-E-T-S, Jets! Jets! Jets!" right along with Fireman Ed.

And oh, how this team keeps breaking your heart.

The names on the back of the jerseys change, the coaches change, the owners change, and still, the calamitous endings stay the same: different year, different opponent, same gut-wrenching result.

Sunday, it was another punch to the gut, this time delivered by the Falcons in a 10-7 loss at the Meadowlands. A day that began with playoff possibilities percolating right along with your coffee, aided by positive results involving other would-be wild-card teams in recent weeks, ended in misery again.

The Jets may be mathematically alive despite yesterday's loss, but you know better. You know they're toast.

After a snowstorm pummeled the East Coast - and particularly Long Island - the Jets pummeled you with another fourth-quarter collapse. Three more Mark Sanchez interceptions, three failed field-goal attempts and a defensive meltdown late in the fourth quarter, and the nightmare was complete.

Some of you didn't even make it to the half-empty stadium to bear witness to this latest debacle. You shoveled out from under more than two feet of snow, and there wasn't enough time to get to the game.

Unlike Philadelphia and Baltimore, the NFL didn't give you the benefit of a 4:15 p.m. start. Then again, maybe you were spared.

Sanchez returned with high hopes after missing last week's game with a knee injury. But it was another fateful afternoon for the rookie, who played like one.

Despite the color-coded communication system devised a month ago for the 23-year-old quarterback, Sanchez took way too many chances, made way too many bad reads and threw way too many errant passes.

An interception on his second pass. Another on a second-quarter heave to tight end Dustin Keller. And the last - the one that finished off this latest travesty - on a pass intended for Braylon Edwards with 1:05 to play.

"You can't win like that as a quarterback," Sanchez said. "It's disheartening and unfortunate."

Where have Jets fans heard those words before? Pick a post-Super Bowl III season - any season - and you'll find "disheartening" and "unfortunate."

Sanchez remains a work in progress. He is getting invaluable experience but still is a long way from being polished enough to make a meaningful playoff run.

As for rookie coach Rex Ryan, it has been a learning process. He has built a vastly improved defense that is ranked first in the NFL in yards allowed, and his team recovered from a six-losses-in-seven-games collapse to get back into playoff contention. But with the season on the line in the final minutes Sunday, that defense failed, allowing the Falcons to go 73 yards for the winning 6-yard TD pass to future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez.

"If you have a great defense, you make that stop, regardless of what hole you're in," Ryan said. "You keep 'em out of the end zone. For us to have the kind of defense I think we're capable of having, we have to find a way."

The defense didn't find that way Sunday, just as it failed in a similar situation against the Jaguars last month, and against the Dolphins the month before that. Afterward, Ryan conceded the obvious: The playoffs essentially are out of reach.

Strangely, he did talk about the Super Bowl, just as he did back in January, when he included in his introductory remarks a proclamation that the Jets would win a championship in the not-too-distant future.

"This group right here is gonna win us a Super Bowl; it's just not gonna be this year," Ryan said. "The nucleus of this football team is here. We just have to get better at what we're doing."

Ah, the "wait 'til next year'' mantra you poor Jets fans have had drummed into your skulls for an eternity. Only to end in the bitter disappointment of another late December collapse.

They don't get any easier, do they?

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