Eric Mangini sounded irritated and was out of answers. The Jets locker room was full of blank stares from players who looked like they had just been knocked in the chest in a heavyweight bout. The rain-soaked crowd had poured toward the exits, perhaps too waterlogged to display any emotion. For a franchise that began to turn disbelievers into believers, there was a feeling of emptiness at the Meadowlands yesterday.
Today the Jets searched for ways to chalk up their lackluster performance, but the sting of defeat remained.
"After watching the tape, I really don't feel much differently than I felt after the game," Mangini said in a calmer but still exasperated tone. "I think none of the three phases really played the way that we're capable of playing. I don't think that we by any strech played complementary football or complete football."
For one cold, dark afternoon, the Jets had turned their staple of success in wins over the Patriots and Titans against themselves. A botched transfer on a reverse between Brad Smith and Jerricho Cotchery led to a early momentum-building touchdown for the Broncos and several failed offensive executions on third down (3-for-11) quickly handed the football back to the Broncos' punishing offense to strike again.
As quarterback Jay Cutler effortlessly lobbed an airtight spiral to Brandon Stokley for a 36-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter, handing the Broncos a 34-17 lead, the Jets' smooth ride over the past month had hit its share of turbulence.
"As you go along you know we were doing good things and then to come out and not be able to do them, you kind of wonder why," center Nick Mangold explained. "After looking at the film, you see we weren't executing to where we had been."
For over a month, the Jets ability to execute carried them to the heights of the conference and slowly turned chirps and whispers of a "Subway Super Bowl" into shouts and screams. Running back Leon Washington explained that the Jets weren't "taking the gas" of a citywide Super Bowl talk, but now after the Broncos lit up the Jets for 484 total yards, those talks have descended into the abyss.
Regardless of where the Jets believed they had sat after winning seven of their previous eight games before yesterday, the sloppy performance did not appease to them.
"When you look at the tape and you definitely see we didn't put our best and we didn't play up to the level we had set," guard Alan Faneca said. "That's the most disappointing thing, we had set the bar high and we didn't acheive it."
Mangini, who was visibility disappointed in his team's inconsistent performance and inability to reach their own expectations, labeled yesterday as a "different type of loss."
"To me I think that when you've set the bar high in terms of your preparation, your consistency, your execution, you want to see that same consistent level," Mangini explained. "That's where your expectation is."
While the Jets let one slip away, they know there is still football left to be played. Laveranues Coles, who was blanketed by double coverages repeatedly yesterday and was limited to just two catches (two yards), labeled the loss as a "wakeup call."
Similar sentiments were muttered throughout the locker room after the 16-13 loss to the Raiders in Week Seven and the Jets responded with five consecutive wins.
"Here we are back at this point again, it's not like our season is over because of one game, but I think it gets us to realize that we can be smacked on the butt ourselves," Coles said. "At this point we need to wake up, get back to the drawing board, figure out what we did wrong and try to correct this week coming up."
Following yesterday's defeat, Mangini explained that the Jets had "established a certain way to play football, we've established a certain identity and it was nothing close to that today." In noting that disappointment, the Jets' head coach suggested that the Jets "did not coach very well." Today Mangini pinpointed the botched lateral between Smith and Cotchery and the failed fourth-and-one play-action in the fourth quarter that resulted in a sack as plays that could have been called differently.
"I think on the reverse play with Brad, probably would have changed the ball handling and made it more of an underhanded pitch instead of an overhanded pitch," Mangini said. "I think that would have softened it a little bit."
As for the play-action in which only tight end Chris Baker was sent deep, Mangini explained that he "liked the concepts, going with big people, hard-sell play-action" but Denver's safety was not fooled by the play-fake and thus remained in pass coverage.
"When the safety didn't come up, [we] would have had a better outlet answer when that happened. We had an outlet, just don't think it was as good as it could have possibly been."
Hillis Makes a Statement on the Field
Before yesterday, the last time an opposing back ran for over 100 yards against the Jets defense was when LenDale rushed for 106 yards on Dec. 23, 2007. Yesterday, rookie running back Peyton Hillis carried the ball 22 times for 129 yards. Why was Denver's rushing attack so effective?
"I think it was a combination of things," Mangini suggested. "I think the zone scheme is very good. Talked about this earlier in the week, a lot of teams run it. Really Denver is the team that made it a staple. Year in and year out they find backs that run it very effectively."
Mangini also attributed Denver's success to poor tackling and the need for better "gap integrity."
After taking additional looks at Denver's recovery of the botched reverse that led to a touchdown, Mangini explained that Cotchery still appeared to have possession of the football and that the defender "came in, rammed into him" and only thereafter did Cotchery lose possession of the ball. Mangini plans to send to play into the league office for a review.
"Yeah, that's definitely one that you'd want, we'll want some clarity on."
As for the numerous Broncos' injuries that stalled the Jets' momentum, Mangini said it would be "hard" to call the issue to the league's attention.
"I don't know how you would be able to get clarity on that," Mangini said.