Jets' O needs to stick with the script

Rex Ryan isn't ready to admit Shonn Greene isn't the answer as his featured running back, or speculate in depth about how Plaxico Burress may be missing from the Jets' passing attack because of his aging legs and the same jailhouse rust that temporarily prevented Michael Vick from shining until his second season back in the NFL.

But even Ryan, the NFL's most unsinkable fabulist, didn't try to oversell the idea that the Jets did little more than keep themselves relevant by beating the winless Miami Dolphins on Monday night. To save their season, the entire Jets team -- and especially the Jets' offense -- is going to have to play far better.

Remember when the Jets' offense used to bill itself as an unstoppable force? Burress actually predicted the Jets would average 28 to 30 points a game, which now looks like one of those quotes that could haunt them as much as the premature "Dream Team" tag that Vince Young hung on the Philadelphia Eagles.

Burress saw himself and Santonio Holmes making one big play after another, and tight end Dustin Keller gashing opposing defenses down the middle. The Jets bet that Greene would finally blossom in his second season since being handed Thomas Jones' old job, and they saw Mark Sanchez busting out in his third year as a starting quarterback.

That was the script. But six games into this season, the Jets' offense has followed very little of the script so far.

The Jets improved to 3-3 Monday and avoided the disaster of falling three games behind the New England Patriots in an AFC East race they had hoped to finally win. The offense produced 17 points in the Jets' 24-6 victory over the winless Dolphins. (Darrelle Revis' interception return provided the rest.) The Jets played well enough overall to snap a three-game losing streak and tourniquet a week of in-house bickering centered around Derrick Mason's banishment to the Houston Texans for being (A) a crank, who (B) committed the far worse sin of having far too few catches.

But the same level of play probably won't be good enough for the Jets to outscore the San Diego Chargers when Philip Rivers & Co. come to MetLife Stadium on Sunday. And the Vegas oddsmakers were among the first to underline that for the Jets bright and early Tuesday morning, in one more breakaway from the Jets' wished-for script.

"I think we're underdogs this week in our own stadium, which seems odd to me," Ryan said during his Tuesday conference call with reporters.

But the slight is not hard to understand at all.

If you want to know why the offense is struggling, the sight of first New England and then copycat Miami both choosing to put double coverage on Keller -- "That's been something new," the Jets tight end says -- is a start. It means Holmes' and Burress' ability to get open in single coverage isn't scaring anybody. Neither is Sanchez's ability to get them the ball.

The fact NFL defenses pay so much attention to Keller is an easy-to-overlook indictment of how Holmes and Burress (even Greene) are underperforming. And opponents aren't the only ones noticing. The other day, NFL Network analyst Mike Lombardi, a former NFL personnel man, called the 6-foot-5 Burress little more than a "jump ball receiver" at this stage of his career, and said another reason the Jets desperately needed to swap out the 37-year-old Mason for rookie slot receiver Jeremy Kerley was Holmes and Burress don't have enough speed to stretch defenses and run away from defenders anymore.

But there are other reasons the Jets' offense is sputtering. The creeping change in how Greene is being used is telling as well. This is the second straight year the Jets penciled him in as their feature back. And for the second straight year Greene has backslid into splitting snaps with LaDainian Tomlinson. In short, Greene's production simply hasn't been good enough.

So much for keeping Tomlinson -- who is playing only year to year now -- fresh for late in the year.

"I'm comfortable using LT a lot," Ryan said Tuesday.

He doesn't have a choice.

The Jets have to hope the improvement their offensive line showed Monday will make a difference. Sanchez has been hamstrung by the line's struggles as much as anybody.

All that talk about Sanchez being one of the ascendant young quarterbacks in the game is on hold for now. Sanchez recently had to deflect Bill Parcells' assessment that even after two straight trips to the AFC title game and four playoff road wins, he's still not good enough to carry the Jets without significant help. And Trent Dilfer, the former Ravens quarterback who transformed game management into an art form behind a defense that drove Baltimore all the way to a Super Bowl win (Rex Ryan was the defensive line coach), has been unsparing of Sanchez, too. Dilfer has said what he notices is Sanchez plays too "slow" -- meaning indecisively.

Of course, the way Sanchez was belted around mercilessly against Dallas, drilled by Baltimore and pounded by Oakland could've left him a little shell-shocked by the time the Jets' offense had seven lousy three-and-out possessions against New England, or started so slowly against Miami it failed to pick up a first down until late in the first half.

Maybe the Jets' first win in a month lanced the pressure and lit a spark. Maybe the Jets will finally run the ball better against San Diego. Maybe Sanchez will complete more balls when given more time.

Beating San Diego is just as important for the Jets as Monday's must-win against lousy Miami was. But one difference, as someone pointed out to Ryan on his conference call Tuesday, is the Jets' three wins this season have come against three teams that have a combined three wins.

Now, the Jets' next challenge is to prove they can defeat a good team like the Chargers, and not just a train wreck like the Dolphins.

Which is such a modest, downgraded goal, isn't it?

Beating the NFL's best was implicit in Rex's original march-to-the-Super Bowl script for this season. Big things, big plays, big-time offensive fireworks were all predicted then.

"It's coming," Ryan promised Tuesday.

But Week 7 is here. Time to prove it, already.