The 'sad' and 'disturbing' fall of Muhammad Wilkerson

NEW ORLEANS -- A look at what's happening around the New York Jets:

1. Mo concerns: Former Jets coach Rex Ryan was dismayed to hear about Muhammad Wilkerson's one-game benching for chronic tardiness, the latest transgression in a once-promising career that has been spiraling since 2016. This, Ryan said, isn't the Wilkerson he coached from 2011 to 2014.

"It's definitely sad," Ryan said by phone. "I wish the kid the best. He played his ass off when I had him. He played his ass off. I never worried about him on or off the field. I never once worried."

Ryan suspects Wilkerson's fractured ankle (January, 2016) may have triggered the downturn in his career, but he added, "The thing that's disturbing is the other stuff, being late for meetings and all that stuff. He never had an issue before. I don't know what's going on there."

Ryan, an ESPN analyst, said he can't recall Wilkerson ever being late for a meeting.

Wilkerson has been disciplined at least four times in the last three years for showing up late and missing meetings, including twice in the last two weeks. It happened again Friday morning, which prompted coach Todd Bowles to sit him down for at least a game.

Substantial fines don't seem to have an impact; Wilkerson accepted a recent hefty fine without so much as flinching, according to a person familiar with the situation. He makes a lot of money -- $868,000 per week -- so maybe his wallet doesn't feel the pinch. He's the highest-paid player on the team, still enjoying the fruits of a five-year, $86 million contract in 2016.

Wilkerson's agent told the New York Post that his client notified the team Friday that he'd be late because of a personal matter regarding one of his children. Bowles would've understood if he had deemed it an emergency, but he obviously felt the situation could have been avoided.

"There were so many reasons to like him," Ryan said of Wilkerson, his first-round pick in 2011. "He wanted to learn, he wanted to get better, he was a local kid ... and he was a hell of a player. I don't know what happened. I don't know this Mo Wilkerson."

2. A big, big dog: It has been overshadowed by the other issues swirling around the team, but let's not forget the Jets will play a game on Sunday. It won't be much of a game, according to Las Vegas. They're a 16-point underdog against the New Orleans Saints, the Jets' second-largest spread in the last 10 years.

3. A smart phone? This game is a microcosm of what the Jets faced at the start of the season -- i.e. no one giving them a chance. You remember those days, don't you? They were widely regarded as the worst team in the league, destined to win two or three games, if that.

Maybe it's time for the players to re-check their phones. Yes, their phones.

At the end of the preseason, an in-house motivational video made its way from phone to phone in the locker room. It was a compilation of TV clips that features dire predictions for the Jets' season, so-called experts mocking their chances. Many players watched the video, which "made us want to go out with a chip on our shoulder and prove the world wrong," linebacker Jordan Jenkins said this week.

Jenkins believes the same mentality exists for this game, with outsiders saying they don't have a snowball's chance in the French Quarter of beating the Saints.

"Oh, man, it makes you play even harder," Jenkins said. "We'll go out there thinking we're going to walk away with a win."

4. Who dat in Saints' garb? Longtime Jets fans will recognize a familiar face on the New Orleans sideline -- special teams coach Mike Westhoff, who serve in the same capacity with the Jets from 2001 to 2012. Westhoff was retired from coaching, working as a TV and radio analyst in New York, when he got a call last month from coach Sean Payton, who was looking to upgrade his special teams. He made Westhoff an offer he couldn't refuse, and now we have a fun matchup.

"I loved my time with the Jets," he told ESPN on the day he was hired. "The most exciting part was putting together groups that, at different times, were as good as any in the league. I mean, we were damn good. We competed at the highest level. It was a ball for me, really fun."

In 12 years under Westhoff, the Jets led the NFL with 18 touchdowns on kickoff returns.

5. Unhappy returns: The post-Westhoff era has been devoid of fireworks. In fact, the last time the Jets scored on a kickoff return was 2012 (Joe McKnight) and the last time on a punt return was 2012 (Jeremy Kerley). Rules changes have greatly impacted special teams, especially kickoffs, but come on already. The Jets are one of only five teams that hasn't scored on a return since 2013.

6. Bad omen for Bryce? Bryce Petty's first start of the season, the fifth of his career, falls on the one-year anniversary of his infamous Miami sandwich -- when he got squished between Cameron Wake and Ndamukong Suh. Here's hoping he doesn't become the middle of a New Orleans-style 'Po Boy.

7. Air mail: Christian Hackenberg will put on a uniform for only the third time in 30 games. He moves up to the No. 2 spot, meaning he's oh-so-close to his first regular-season action. You get the feeling the Jets wouldn't be upset if he doesn't see the field this season. In a recent practice, Hackenberg overthrew a simple "out" route by such a wide distance that it could've hit a low-flying aircraft, according to one onlooker.

8. The big hurt: Josh McCown might have had a hard time playing this week even if he hadn't fractured his left hand. The hip-pointer injury that occurred last week in the second quarter was more severe than he let on. It left him with a large bruise on his lower back.

9. Playing the percentages: Offensive coordinator John Morton's admission of surrender has sparked quite a debate. Let me add this to the conversation: When the Denver Broncos kicked a field goal to go up, 23-0, with 11:33 to play, the Jets' chances of winning dropped from one percent to zero percent, according to ESPN analytics.

10. Hey, Pop: A familiar name worked out for the Jets on Tuesday -- free-agent linebacker Kacy Rodgers II, the son of defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers. Dad tried to stay out of sight.

"I poked my head in there, and then I didn't want to make him nervous or whatever, but that was kind of challenging," Rodgers said. "From where he came from, that was very thrilling for me to just watch because, from my standpoint, he's a self-made man."