FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- They have a three-game losing streak. The owner isn't happy. The coach is an emotional pendulum, swinging from tears to tirades. The organization is mired in the "Terrible" Tim Tebow fallout.
It can't possibly get any worse for the New York Jets.
Oh, yes it can.
If they lose Sunday to Brian Schottenheimer, they might as well throw in the Terrible Towel.
The Jets kicked their former offensive coordinator to the curb last January -- officially, it was termed a mutual parting -- and now they face him and the St. Louis Rams in a different kind of must-win.
If Rex Ryan's defense allows Schottenheimer's offense to resemble "The Greatest Show on Turf," it'll be the biggest stain yet on the Jets' season – especially if Tony Sparano's offense continues to put up zeros.
Don't think for a second that some folks at 1 Jets Drive aren't a little freaked out by the prospect of reading "Schotty's Revenge" headlines in the Monday tabloids. No one is afraid of the Rams' 24th-ranked offense, but the way the Jets' season is going, it doesn't take a fertile imagination to think of all the ways this could go wrong for them.
Plus, they suspect that Schottenheimer has something up his sleeve. This one's personal.
"I'm sure he has fond memories of the Jets and I have fond memories of Schotty -- we won a lot of games together -- but at the end of the day, Mike Pettine is going to try to kill Schotty and Schotty will try to kill us," said Rex Ryan, referring to his defensive coordinator.
Predictably, Schottenheimer downplayed the matchup, but you can bet it means a lot to him. He served as Eric Mangini's coordinator for three years, got passed over for the head-coaching job when Ryan was hired in 2009, and stuck around to run Ryan's offense. He got beat up pretty good in New York despite two trips to the AFC Championship Game.
Ryan knows what Schottenheimer is feeling; the Jets' coach been there. Despite 10 enjoyable seasons as a Baltimore Ravens assistant, there's always added incentive whenever Ryan faces his old team.
"As much as I love those guys, they did pass on me as a head coach and, sure, that's a burr in my saddle," Ryan said. "I think when Schotty looks at it, it's probably going to be special for him."
Asked if he suspects a burr in Schottenheimer's saddle, Ryan said, "Oh, yeah, I would think so. He was here a few years and got passed over like I did. He was up for this job."
Ryan's job is to make sure Schottenheimer's offense doesn't have a breakout day. The Rams (3-5-1) haven't won since Oct. 4 and they've topped the 24-point mark only once. They're rebuilding in the first year of the Jeff Fisher regime, but they have a quarterback/running back/wide receiver troika that could pose problems – Sam Bradford, Steven Jackson and Danny Amendola.
The game isn't about the Rams' players, it's about Ryan and Pettine trying to get into the head of Schottenheimer -- and vice versa. Schottenheimer knows the nuances of the Jets' defense -- scheme and personnel -- and the Jets' defensive brain trust knows Schottenheimer's system.
Over three years, Ryan and Schottenheimer had many long, in-depth conversations, each coach revealing the secrets of his system. During bye weeks and offseasons, they performed self-scouting exercises, detailing how they'd attack the other.
Ryan saved the reports from those conversations with Schottenheimer, and he assumes Schottenheimer did the same.
"You kind of wish you held that back," Ryan said. "That's why it's going to be an interesting cat-and-mouse game."
Said Schottenheimer: "He's a fun guy to play cat-and-mouse with. He's a dangerous guy to play cat-and-mouse with."
You'd like to say it'll be a fascinating chess match, except with both units performing inconsistently, we'll have to settle for a fun game of checkers. Ryan said it will be like "chasing ghosts," trying to anticipate based on old tendencies.
Schottenheimer's system hasn't changed much, although Jets fans -- for years frustrated with his dink-and-dunk approach -- might be surprised to see how often the Rams throw deep. Bradford already has matched his career high for completions over 20 yards downfield, including five touchdowns, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
That was a problem last week for the Jets, who allowed three long touchdown passes.
"We can't let them throw the ball over our head," cornerback Antonio Cromartie said.
Ryan was so upset after last week's game that he cried in the locker room. By Wednesday, he was chewing out the team in the aftermath of unnamed players ripping Tebow in a published report. The Jets could be on the brink of implosion. As linebacker Bryan Thomas said, "We need a damn win."
The slump, coupled with the Schotty Showdown, has created a tense atmosphere around the team facility. Things would be more relaxed if ... like, they could actually score points. But the offense has produced only nine points in the last eight quarters, and Sparano is starting to get the Schottenheimer treatment from fans and media. The Jets are ranked 30th in total offense.
Ryan was asked if the offense is better than it was last season, a clever way of trying to get him to compare Sparano and Schottenheimer. He talked around the question, finally saying, "I think the mark of a good coach is to maximize the talent that you have around you. I think, without question, we do that."
That's hardly a flattering commentary of the Jets' talent. Since 2010, they've had eight games with no offensive touchdowns, the second-highest total in the league, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Schottenheimer and Sparano have a share in that dubious mark.
On Sunday, none of it matters. May the best man win.
"I think it would be nice for us to help him out and bring this one home for him," Bradford said of Schottenheimer.
If that happens, the Jets are Schott.