Rex's lackadaisical Jets losing swagger

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The weather was August-like, and so was the mood in the New York Jets' locker room after Sunday's 30-21 loss to the New England Patriots.

They gave the kind of answers you expect after a preseason game, empty chatter about how they made progress and how they're getting close to finding their offensive identity. There was no anger, no sense of urgency. Since when do the Jets accept a loss to the hated Patriots?

Rex Ryan actually used the word "encouraged" at the top of his postgame news conference. Now it's official: The Jets are lost. They've lost their swagger and soon they will lose their season if this isn't fixed.

Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer will get the heat because of a game plan that was a little on the stubborn side, conforming to Rex Ryan's desire to rediscover their run-oriented mentality. Well, guess what? They wound up getting out-Grounded and out-Pounded by the "finesse" Patriots, but that wasn't the story at Gillette Stadium.

The story was how the Jets, a preseason Super Bowl favorite, have fallen so far, so quickly.

"We're used to winning. … This is a little different territory," quarterback Mark Sanchez said. "We're going to see what a lot of guys are made of on this team, and it's my job to get the guys ready to play next week."

This team has internal issues, with a growing frustration among offensive players. This time, there were no pointed postgame comments -- Santonio Holmes sounded like his brain was programmed, spouting the company line -- but don't think for a second that everything is cool on Schottenheimer's watch.

Derrick Mason, who made critical comments after last week's ugly loss in Baltimore, was benched for the first half and wound up playing only a handful of plays. Ryan said, with a straight face, he wanted to give more opportunities to rookie Jeremy Kerley as the No. 3 receiver, but he sat Mason because of his mouth, ESPNNewYork.com has learned.

Mason dodged questions about his benching, saying, "You've got to ask Coach about that." Regardless of the reason, Mason, signed to replace the dependable Jerricho Cotchery, could be deemed expendable. The Jets miss Cotchery, especially his leadership.

Right now, the Jets (2-3) have a bad feel about them. Asked if he's worried about a locker-room split, Ryan scoffed, "No. Shoot, we've got a long way to go. Nobody said it was going to be easy. … Hopefully, we'll keep building and building and building. The teams that play the best at the end usually walk away with the trophy."

The Jets played their best defense before the game, issuing a statement to shoot down a New York Daily News report that said Mason, Holmes and Plaxico Burress have met individually with Ryan in recent weeks to question Schottenheimer's offense. If true, that's the kind of back-room stuff that can rip apart a team.

All four principles disputed the story, with Ryan saying, "That's 'Ripley's' to me. If it is, then maybe I got hit in the head or something. I don't remember that." He said no player has come to him to complain about the offense.

After the game, the spotlight on Schottenheimer intensified because of how the game played out. Facing the league's 32nd-ranked defense, the Jets opened the game with four straight three-and-outs. How is that possible?

The Jets managed to put together three touchdown drives, including two scoring passes by Sanchez, but they had another four straight three-and-outs in the second half. You can't win that way against an outstanding opponent.

Ryan told the players last week that they were going back to Ground & Pound and, by golly, they stuck to the plan. Before the final, garbage-time drive, the Jets had 25 runs and 22 pass plays.

Sure, they could've taken a few more shots at the softest pass defense in the league, but they wanted to shorten the game, reduce the pressure on Sanchez after his shaky game last week and keep Tom Brady on the sideline.

It almost worked. If Ryan's beloved defense had made a stop in the final minutes, instead of letting Brady eat six minutes on a field-goal drive to put the game out of reach, the Jets would've gotten the ball back, down by six points.

"I really did like the game plan," Sanchez said.

After last week's turnover-filled game in Baltimore, Sanchez was restricted in his ability to change plays at the line, perhaps the coaches' way of reducing his mental burden. Maybe that's one of the reasons they were helpless on third down, converting only three of 11. He simply ran what they called, with no chance to change plays based on the defensive looks.

Botton line: Sanchez passed for 166 yards against a team that was surrendering 369 per game.

"You just don't come out and throw it 50 times, that's not really who we are," said Sanchez, defending Schottenheimer's game plan. "I think we got away with that early in the year. It's easy to say from an outside perspective, 'Oh, those guys are last in the league, just throw it every down.' We're not built for that."

Truth is, the Jets don't know who they are. But everyone from Ryan to Burress to Holmes said they liked the game plan. The players sounded as though they had been warned not to say anything remotely critical.

At one point, Holmes, suddenly Mr. Sunshine, actually said of the offense, "Things are going well right now. I think we made a change for the better for this team. We got our running game going pretty good. We just have to find a way to win games."

That running game, by the way, produced only 97 yards, the Jets' third sub-100 game. In the first two seasons under Ryan, they had a total of three sub-100s.

Holmes admitted the offense is a work in progress and he claimed they're feeling the effects of the lockout. No one used the lockout alibis in the preseason, when Burress predicted they'd average at least 28 points per game.

That seems like a long time ago.