Slap on Edwards' wrist is slap in face

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Go ahead and start Braylon Edwards against the Miami Dolphins. Play him from the first whistle to the last. Send him out there to score, to taunt, to help his team seize first place in the AFC East.

The New York Jets have already sold seven-eighths of their soul to the devil; they might as well punch it across the goal line and close their Faustian deal.

To bench Edwards for a series, or a quarter, or even a half would be a complete joke. The Jets have already declared themselves as a contender without a conscience, a franchise running dangerously low on redeeming social value.

So they should do what their renegade head coach did the last time he made a big South Florida fuss. Rex Ryan's Jets should give everyone the middle finger and order Mark Sanchez to throw his first pass -- and a long one -- to Edwards.

Of course, in a perfect world, a world where victory isn't confused with virtue, the Jets would've announced Wednesday that Edwards wouldn't play a single second Sunday night. The Jets would've dared the players' union to pick that public fight, to advance the cause of a man charged with drunken driving.

The Jets would've announced to one and all that nothing, not even a divisional game on the road, is worth the sacrifice of their good name.

But the Jets' world is wildly imperfect. Their coach runs a program that would've put Jerry Tarkanian's to shame, a program notarized by the owner, Woody Johnson, and the general manager, Mike Tannenbaum.

It's a program that will trick you when it can. Like Wednesday, when the Jets tried convincing all right-minded fans that stripping Edwards of his starting position -- but playing him whenever good ol' Schotty said the word -- was just punishment for a receiver already working on his second, third or fourth chance.

Or when the Jets tried throwing a serious piece of Darrelle Revis news to the masses so they wouldn't pay any attention to that troubled wideout behind the curtain. NFL teams forever wait until the last possible minute to rule out significant players, if only to complicate their opponents' attempts to prepare, and yet there was Ryan eagerly announcing that Revis was out of the game before getting around to confirming that Edwards was not.

"It's too risky a proposition to put him out there," Ryan said of Revis, not Edwards.

Nice try, Rex and Woody and Mike. But Revis' injured hamstring wasn't diverting anyone's attention away from Edwards' blood-alcohol content.

"Let's just end it," Ryan told his players in a morning meeting. He was talking about the embarrassment they'd caused Johnson, the billionaire who embarrassed himself by signing off on all of the Jets' troubled recruits.

"Let's just stop," the coach continued. "However severe or minor, we don't need to be that team."

Though he fingered himself for "being as guilty as anybody" for flipping off fans at a mixed martial arts event, Ryan sounded like Dr. Frankenstein desperate to get his own monster of a program under control.

Only this sorry excuse for a punishment is hardly a credible start. At his locker, unable to hide behind his mountain-man beard, Edwards said he wouldn't have fought the Jets if they had decided to impose a greater penalty than they did.

Wow. It sure sounded as if Edwards would've punished Edwards more than his bosses did.

No, the Jets weren't any tougher on the receiver for getting busted at 5:15 a.m. than commissioner Roger Goodell was on the Jets for demeaning a female TV reporter.

Goodell will get his crack at Edwards soon enough. Meanwhile, Ryan needs to be held accountable for creating an anything-goes culture, the kind that shaped the reckless opening-night performance against the Ravens and the predictable taunting from Edwards against the Patriots.

The kind that emboldens players to wear their togas on and off campus.

"We've got to clean up our act a little bit," Revis said.

Or a lot.

"It's an embarrassment to the whole organization," the cornerback continued. "You can't be out after three or four [in the morning]. That's just too late."

It's too late for Ryan to play the role of the fed-up head coach. It's too late for him to demand that his team grow up and find its lost moral compass.

He gave himself up on "Hard Knocks," just as Tony Dungy said. The Jets are out of control, and Ryan has been part of the problem, not the solution.

He should just go ahead and start Edwards in Miami. There's no point in going halfway. There's no point in faking it in an attempt to sate the public or the news media.

"I think our football team has learned our lessons," the head coach said.

Yeah, I would take the points and bet against that.

Ian O'Connor is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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