ST. LOUIS – This week's Tim Tebow flap had a familiar ring to the quarterback playing ahead of him.
Just like Tebow, Mark Sanchez recalls getting criticized by unnamed teammates last season. The common denominator: In both instances, the New York Jets were foundering.
Sanchez said increased focus on his failures was not a distraction in the team's late-season fade last season, and the alleged criticism of Tebow's skills is not going to hurt them Sunday at St. Louis, either. The team's problems, he contends, are the mistakes and missed opportunities on the field common to struggling teams.
Teams like the Rams (3-5-1), who are 0-3-1 in their last four games.
"I mean, people make it sound like we just went out to practice today and just threw our stuff down and stopped playing," Sanchez said in a conference call with St. Louis media. "That wasn't the case at all, and I'm not making light of it or trying to discount Tim's feelings in this thing. If anybody knows, it'd be me, I've been through that after last year.
"Somebody made an anonymous comment and said I'm lazy in practice and I don't work hard and nobody's challenging me."
Of course, Sanchez wasn't happy when singled out as the cause of the team's failures, and he knows Tebow must be upset with supposed ringing votes of no-confidence from several people in the Jets organization — many of whom couldn't envision a scenario in which a backup viewed as little more than a wildcat gimmick would be a preferable choice to run the offense. It's a backhanded compliment for Sanchez, who has completed an NFL-low 52 percent of his passes.
Dealing with the rumor mill, coach Rex Ryan reasons, is part of the cost of running an open shop. While many teams ratchet up media restrictions, instructing players on how to remain non-controversial and having media relations assistants hover near interviews, Ryan places trust in his players. He adds that the Jets deal with a lot more media than many other franchises, "maybe like 10 times more."
"We're a team that doesn't think we have anything to hide," Ryan said. "Now, is it always perfect? No, it absolutely isn't. But I'd much rather be that way and let people show who they are, how they feel."
Ryan thinks fans can better identify with players if they're not giving the "standard answer."
"Is there some times you wish that, 'Oh, man, maybe I shouldn't give that freedom?' Well, yes. Sure, of course," Ryan said. "But, I'd much rather (it) be team freedom of speech and everything else than one where you've got to tighten everything way down."
The criticism is no surprise given the team's woes. The Jets (3-6) have lost three in a row while dogged by difficulties on both sides of the ball and special teams, getting outscored the last two losses by a combined 58-16.
The Jets went to the AFC championship game in each of Ryan's and Sanchez's first two seasons in 2009-10, but have dropped nine of 12 dating to last season. This year, they've lost three times by 21 or more points, but have a favorable schedule the rest of the way, with just one opponent remaining with a winning record.
"Our season has been miserable," Ryan said. "We're 3-6, obviously not something where we wanted to be or ever thought we'd be at. We have seven games left and I'm excited about the way this team practices, how they prepare, and I think things will get better.
"That drives you as a coach."
The best course of action, Sanchez said, is to "tune out the noise," not spend any precious time trying to divine who said what, and get to work. He accepts his share of the blame, saying it all "starts with the quarterback making good decisions."
"We just haven't capitalized on some great opportunities that we've had, and it really shows," Sanchez said. "We have to play a cleaner game and we've got to start doing that this week."
The Rams can say the same thing.
Inconsistency has hurt them since a 3-2 start, along with playing much better competition. Before last week's tie at San Francisco, they had lost to the Patriots, Packers and Dolphins.
They were their own worst enemy against the 49ers, with a would-be winning 53-yard field goal by rookie Greg Zuerlein nullified by a delay of game call the most obvious example. The Rams also squandered 142 yards on a pair of long gainers to the 2 by Danny Amendola with ticky-tack penalties, and the defense allowed two touchdowns and a field goal on San Francisco's final three drives in regulation.
To new coach Jeff Fisher, the bumpy ride is not a huge surprise given he and GM Les Snead are rebuilding the franchise with one of the league's youngest rosters. Rookie holder Johnny Hekker, who dazzled earlier with a pair of fourth-quarter passes off fake punts, simply lost track of time on the 53-yard field goal. Two key rookies, cornerback Janoris Jenkins and wide receiver Chris Givens, were benched for the game for violating team rules; both have been reinstated for this week.
"We had opportunities to win this," Fisher said. "We have a young team that's growing, we're playing younger players, we had two that were deactivated, and at the end we saw improvement against one of the top teams. So, you have to take it from there.
"I think I can look the team in the eye and say we took a step forward."
There's no quarterback controversy in St. Louis, especially after Sam Bradford led one of the team's better offensive outings against one of the NFL's stingiest defenses. Coming off a dismal performance in a 45-7 drubbing by New England in London before St. Louis' bye week, the Rams produced 458 yards.
"We still made mistakes, but for the most part I think that was our most complete game," Bradford said. "We put up a lot of yards and a fair amount of points against a really good defense."
No one in the St. Louis locker room is stirring the pot, either.
"I'm a fan of Tebow," cornerback Cortland Finnegan proclaimed. "He's a character guy, he's an ambassador." Then he added, "I'm not sure what they have going on, but we have enough worries with the Rams."
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