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NEW YORK – The coach is blaming himself, the quarterback situation is a mess and the defense suddenly can't stop anyone.
The New York Jets are 1-4, on a four-game skid and facing a season on the verge of spiraling out of control.
Oh, and up next: Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. After that? Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. Both in a span of five days.
"Well, those are two guys and two teams that, obviously, you'd much rather face somebody else," coach Rex Ryan said. "But, the fact that they are here and they are up, we better get better in a hurry. I think our team needs to make huge strides, huge improvements to see if we are up for this challenge."
The season depends on it.
And maybe for Ryan, so does his job. Perhaps for quarterback Geno Smith, too.
"We're not dead in the water," Smith said. "We've still got a bunch of games left that we've got to go out there and play, and I feel confident in the guys that we can turn this thing around. But it's going to take a good effort.
"I think we've got the guys to do it."
But is Smith one of them?
The second-year quarterback is off to another rough start with six interceptions and two lost fumbles in five games. He has already been benched once for Michael Vick, sitting the entire second half of Sunday's 31-0 drubbing in San Diego. But Ryan announced after the game that he's sticking with Smith against the Broncos — despite calls for Vick to get a full game to see if he can spark a struggling offense.
"I think Geno will make some improvements," Ryan said. "I think one of the improvements he needs to make, I think he needs to get back to using his legs."
The Jets are taking a long, hard look at Smith, their second-round draft pick last year, to determine whether he's the answer at quarterback or just another in a long line of would-be franchise quarterbacks who couldn't cut it. Smith is coming off a miserable week in which he was fined $12,000 by the NFL for shouting an expletive at a fan after a game, bristling at suggestions that the Jets could be better off with Vick under center — and missing a meeting while going to a movie the night before the game against the Chargers because he mixed up times.
Then came the benching that some believed was inevitable since the day the Jets signed Vick in March. But Vick didn't perform much better than Smith, so he'll be back on the sideline while Smith starts.
"That's our quarterback and we're going to stick with him," linebacker Calvin Pace said of Smith. "I think he'll have some good days moving forward."
Smith isn't the only one who badly needs some of those.
As of Monday night, the Jets ranked tied for fifth in the NFL with 42 penalties — including 11 for 89 yards against the Chargers. They also had 11 in the season opener against Oakland, New York's only victory.
"Those are some of the things that are just mind-boggling," center Nick Mangold said. "It's just a lack of focus and concentration."
Linebacker Demario Davis was critical after the game, saying that the team as a whole needs to do a better job of preparing during the week and "we're not practicing like a championship football team."
Struggles in the red zone, on third down and in the passing game have also been glaring issues for the offense. So has the mediocre play of the defense, which has been disappointing despite being ranked No. 5 overall, based on yardage allowed.
The secondary has been a problem all season, particularly with the cornerback situation unsettled. The Jets have also given up five touchdown drives of 90 or more yards, including three against the Chargers.
"I know this kind of sounds like a broken record, but we have to find a way to get better," Ryan said. "That's an obvious statement, but it's true."
Ryan says he needs to be better coaching. But his roster is one that many believe general manager John Idzik didn't adequately stock in the offseason despite the Jets being more than $20 million under the salary cap.
Furious finger pointing could come with another loss or two, along with whispers about a dividing locker room. Ryan and the players insist that won't happen. Pace thinks he knows the best way to prevent it.
"Don't listen to you guys," he said, referring to the media. "That's what it is: Don't listen to you guys. At this point in time, only the people in the locker room matter. The media, the fans, they're not contributing to what's going on right now.
"We've got to fix this. I know we will."
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