FLORHAM PARK, N.J.
Even before their best player went down with a knee injury Sunday, the Jets' chances of making the playoffs seemed remote. Now that they've lost Darrelle Revis with a knee injury, playing into January looks downright impossible.
Maybe that's why the expression on Rex Ryan's face as he announced the grim news about Revis yesterday afternoon was so morose. Come to think of it, we're hard-pressed to remember a time during Ryan's four-year run as the Jets' coach when he has looked more forlorn.
Even after the Jets' two losses in the AFC Championship Game, Ryan could at least look back with pride on his team's overall success. But this time, keeping a stiff upper lip was hopeless.
"Obviously, that's a significant injury, and that's something we're going to have to overcome as a football team," Ryan said. "I don't know what else to say about it. I guess that's the horrible thing that came out of that [Dolphins] game."
Oh, sure, Ryan eventually got around to saying he believed in his players, that he felt that they could get the job done. He pointed to the 2009 season, when they lost both Kris Jenkins and Leon Washington to season-ending injuries. The Jets wound up advancing to the AFC title game in Ryan's first season as coach.
Ryan also pointed out that he'd been with the Ravens when linebacker Ray Lewis went down with an injury for an extended period. "We had a lot of injuries, but you find a way to get it done," Ryan said.
Actually, he may not want to remind his players about how the Ravens dealt with Lewis' injuries. In the two seasons Lewis missed extended playing time because of injury, the Ravens failed to make the playoffs each time. They went 7-9 when he missed 10 games in 2002 and 6-10 when he missed 11 games in 2005. Safety Ed Reed missed six games that season, as well.
Even with Revis, the Jets' defense had been mediocre. Through three games, they ranked 21st overall, and have been particularly bad against the run. They've allowed opponents 148.7 rushing yards per game; only four teams have been worse.
Without Revis, the Jets can no longer shut down his half of the field and the opposing team's best receiver. Now it's up to Antonio Cromartie to be the No. 1 cornerback, with former first-round pick Kyle Wilson and journeyman Ellis Lankster serving as the No. 2 and the nickel corner, respectively.
It's one thing if the Jets had a fearsome pass rush to to make it easier on the secondary. But it has been anemic throughout Ryan's tenure, and this year is no better. The team has three sacks in three games; only one team has fewer (the Jaguars have two). No wonder the Jets' performance on third downs is so abysmal; the Jets have allowed teams to convert 24 of 43 third-down attempts, 56 percent, dead last in the NFL.
"We have to be 1,000 times better [on defense]," linebacker Calvin Pace said. "We haven't been great against the run, so it's hard to rush the passer when we're facing third-and-4. The offense can pretty much do what they want to do. So we have to be a million times better on first and second down."
Linebacker Aaron Maybin, who is counted on to provide a strong pass rush but hasn't delivered this season, said life without Revis makes it that much tougher on defense. "That's the best cornerback in the game right there, someone you look to to shut down half the field for us," he said. "That does mean the margin of error is just a little smaller, because there are some quarterbacks who would never look [Revis'] way who will obviously peek over there and see if their guy is open. But it's up to us to make sure those windows are closed."
Not an easy task without Revis. More like an impossible one. A season that figured to be tough at the outset just got a lot tougher without the Jets' best player. The look on Ryan's face told you just how much.