In less than 48 hours, we reach the conclusion of an epic tragedy. Or is it a great comedy? With the New York Jets, it all depends on perspective. From the inside — especially to the fans — this is the team of doom. An apocalyptic suck. The overcrowded, never-ending pain train rolling straight down a mountain with a one-way ticket into the valley of death. From the outside — to casual fans of football, and anyone with a sense of humor that leans toward anarchic slapstick — this crew is a well-paid gang of fools. Feel bad about your team? At least they’re not the Jets.
This story ends soon because the peak of tragicomic circumstances is at hand. On Sunday afternoon, the Jets kick off their 2013 NFL season against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Normally, this game would be relatively meaningless. But the NFL’s schedule masters are a nefarious bunch. So the Jets will face a Bucs team led by former New York shutdown cornerback and exotic real estate magnate Darrelle Revis, who was traded away this spring. Revis is arguably the second-best player in Jets history, an elite defender with a cool nickname, a quietly flawless game, and an invincible aura. Throwing at him was like throwing into a quasar — the universe could hardly comprehend such a choice, and the results were predictable.
This game — one that all Jets fans fear — arrives exactly 18 months after the franchise began an embarrassing spiral of buffoonery. Of course, the Jets have always been a joke, one of the silliest and most infuriating franchises in sports. In the years before 2012, they were a traditional N.Y. media circus, defined by their brash coach, their pretty-boy quarterback, their back page–fiending owner, and a collection of jawing semi-stars. (Bart Scott is gone, but his mouth lives on.) But they were more ordinary than many would have you believe. The team experienced surprising success in Rex Ryan’s first two seasons as head coach, rumbling deep into the playoffs despite certain, let’s call them deficiencies on offense. After a disappointing 8-8 finish in 2011, capped by wide receiver Santonio Holmes storming out of the huddle like a huffy 9-year-old in the final game of the season, Ryan’s regular-season record sat at 28-20. Above average. And considering the Jets’ long history of calamity, it would do for most fans.
Then things turned absurd. And awful. And so, so dumb.
How absurd? How awful? How dumb? Here, we present a detailed history of what might be the most pathetic stretch in NFL history:
March 7, 2012: The Jets are reportedly interested in free-agent quarterback Peyton Manning.
March 9, 2012: Manning passes on the Jets because he was born with a human brain.
March 10, 2012: After ending their pursuit of Manning, the team extends quarterback Mark Sanchez with a new five-year, $58.25 million extension, including more than $20 million in guaranteed money. “The contract virtually assures that Sanchez will be the starter for at least two more seasons,” according to ESPNNewYork.com beat writer Rich Cimini. In three seasons with the Jets to this point, Sanchez has ranked 28th, 27th, and 23rd in passer rating, throwing for 55 touchdowns and 51 interceptions.
Other pertinent stats: 55.3 completion percentage, four playoff victories, and two appearances in GQ wearing white jeans.
March 13, 2012: Jets owner Woody Johnson on Peyton Manning: “We passed on him,” Johnson said of Manning on the Fox Business Network, which is a network. “We’re signed up with our quarterback. Sanchez is not leaving. We’ve got a pretty good tether, we’ve got five years. We like Mark.”
He likes Mark. This is typical of the Woody Johnson experience: attempt a secret strategy. When said strategy is exposed and then fails, simply lie. Then give the person you’ve lied to $58.25 million.
March 20, 2012: Manning signs with the Broncos.
March 21, 2012: Tim Tebow is traded along with the Broncos’ 2012 seventh-round draft pick for the Jets’ 2012 fourth- and sixth-round picks. For the rights to Tebow, the Jets will pay the Broncos $1.5 million in 2012 and $1.03 million in 2013, made in weekly installments.
Fans are stunned. With Manning in place, Denver’s desire to move Tebow was no secret. And the Jets had felt Tebow’s wrath the season previous in a crushing last-minute November loss.
Still, few saw this trade coming. Reaction is mixed.
March 27, 2012: Ryan: “Tim Tebow is a good football player. Mark Sanchez is a good quarterback.” Definitely a cool quote. Johnson: “There are really no negatives to Tim Tebow that I can think of. They’re all positives. He’s not going to be the starting quarterback. As a backup quarterback, he can do so many [more] things than an average backup quarterback and actually add to the team in every game.” Tough but fair analysis from the Johnson & Johnson scion.
March 30, 2012: Tebow retains his no. 15 jersey number because the previous owner of the number, wide receiver Scotty McKnight, considered the number cursed, according to a TMZ report. (McKnight was childhood friends with Sanchez, which is purely a coincidence, and there is no way that he cursed Tebow.)
April 10, 2012: Johnson on Tebow: “If it’s a good decision, if he turns out to be a great player, I will take full accountability for that.” Johnson also said he would be willing to take credit for cold fusion, Candy Crush, and the miracle of childbirth.
April 17, 2012: Cornerback Antonio Cromartie’s wife, Terricka Cason, announces she’s expecting twins in November 2012, which would bring the grand total of Cromartie offspring to 12. Never forget:
April 24, 2012: Wide receiver Jeremy Kerley on Tebow, according to Conor Orr of the Newark Star-Ledger: “[He’s] different than Mark [Sanchez]. [Tebow’s] ball comes out a little bit stronger, but he’s accurate, he’s more accurate than what I thought he was going to be. But he’s a good dude, he has a great personality, he’ll bring a lot of personality to the team. A lot, a lot more velocity. No dis to Mark, he brings it, man.”
April 25, 2012: Via Cimini: “At NFL event today, Trent Richardson said #Jets called him Sunday to verify correct contact info just in case they trade up for him. Hmm.”
April 26, 2012: The Jets opt not to trade up for Richardson and draft North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples with the 16th pick instead. Richardson, a touted product of the national champion Alabama Crimson Tide, is one of the most exciting prospects in the draft. Coples, who went to the less powerhouse-y UNC, has a terrifying brand on his arm.
May 6, 2012: Ryan on newly drafted linebacker Demario Davis: “This is amazing. He reminds me of Ray [Lewis].”
May 10, 2012: Revis on his contract: “Yeah, I’m cool. I signed it two years ago. I’m not unhappy about nothing.” Sounds like everything is going great.
May 11, 2012: The Jets decline an offer to appear on HBO’s Hard Knocks again. The last time the team appeared on the show we were gifted the above Cromartie moment and “Let’s go eat a goddamn snack!” before the Jets finished 11-5 and made the AFC Championship Game in arguably their greatest season since 1969.
May 15, 2012: Joe Namath on Johnson: “I don’t like the feeling, the vibes I get back whenever I cross Woody’s path.” Joe Willie, Truth Warrior.
May 21, 2012: Nose tackle Kenrick Ellis pleads guilty to misdemeanor assault and battery, leading to 45 days in prison.
June 6, 2012: Johnson: “If you see our defense, you have to be amazed. We’re loaded on defense and the offense will be good, too.”
Johnson on ticket sales: “I don’t want to be Joe Namath, but I guarantee we’ll be sold out.”
“I don’t want to be Joe Namath” is essentially the sum total of Johnson’s problem.
June 25, 2012: Defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson’s car overturns after striking another car on the Garden State Parkway. He suffers minor injuries.
July 19, 2012: Numerous reports state Ryan lost 105 pounds because of Lap-Band surgery, taking him from 348 pounds to 243 pounds.
July 28, 2012: Tebow runs shirtless through the rain at practice.
SportsCenter airs this clip, and attendant arguments about Tebow’s chances in New York, every single day for weeks. It may still be running on the Ocho.
August 8, 2012: Johnson on Tebow: “I think the enormity of the coverage kind of surprised me a little bit.”
August 10, 2012: Tebow throws for 27 yards on 4-of-8 passing with one interception in his Jets preseason debut against the Cincinnati Bengals.
After the game, here’s Tebow on failing to protect the punter on special teams: “I thought, ‘Oh, shoot, I’m out there,’ so I just sprinted out there and got out there a few seconds late because for the first time in my life, I was out there on special teams.”
August 18, 2012: This happens:
August 21, 2012: The Jets are informed the NFL will not suspend Ellis after his assault plea. Let’s have a party.
August 26, 2012: Sanchez, after the Jets’ third consecutive preseason loss: “We’re saving our good stuff for the regular season.”
August 29, 2012: Johnson on CNBC at the Republican National Convention: “I think you can never have too much Tebow.”
August 30, 2012: Third-string quarterback Greg McElroy throws the first and last Jets touchdown of the preseason. The Jets lose all four preseason games.
September 9, 2012: Ryan, after the first regular-season game, a resounding 48-28 win over the Buffalo Bills: “Vindication, chip on our shoulder, maybe that’s not the right things. We were just excited to play.”
Kerley after the win: “We knew what we could do. We just showed the world today.”
September 10, 2012: This is the first and last enjoyable week of the entire season.
September 16, 2012: Tebow following a 27-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers: “We can’t get negative plays, it always hurts when you do.” Sound logic at work.
September 19, 2012: Special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff confirms this will be his last season as a coach. Westhoff, a survivor of cancer who has undergone 10 leg surgeries related to a misdiagnosis, is one of the most celebrated, inventive, and hard-nosed special teams coaches in NFL history. This franchise has broken him.
September 23, 2012: During a game against the Miami Dolphins, Tebow lines up in the slot and runs an out route. Sanchez fires a pass just as Tebow turns. Then, this:
This GIF is the worst thing that has ever happened to me. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the approximately 387 people who sent it to me.
September 24, 2012: After Revis suffers a noncontact injury in the third quarter of the Jets’ 23-20 overtime win over the Miami Dolphins, an MRI reveals a left ACL tear. He will miss the rest of the season. This win is the last time the truly great Revis will suit up for the Jets.
Revis spent six seasons in New York, emerging as the league’s very best player at his position. He was raked through the New York media muck by the front office for holding out for a contract extension. Fans resoundingly sided with Revis, who, while not quite a world-famous NFL superstar, is iconic to the base.
September 30, 2012: The Jets fall to the San Francisco 49ers, 34-0, at MetLife Stadium. Colin Kaepernick scores his first professional touchdown on a 30-yard rush, effectively jump-starting his career. Center Nick Mangold after the game: “We couldn’t even throw a screen pass today.”
October 11, 2012: Guard Matt Slauson is fined $10,000 for an illegal block on Brian Cushing that led to a left knee injury. Grantland’s Robert Mays dubs Slauson’s move “the dirtiest play of the season.”
October 21, 2012: Sanchez fumbles in overtime, resulting in a 29-26 New England Patriots win. In a baffling flub, Jim Nantz states twice that the Jets have won the game.
It’s unclear at this moment if Nantz has been paid off by a high-end Jets troll — perhaps one of Johnson’s robber baron frenemies — or if he’s merely suffered a massive subdural hematoma. Either way, this was a lovely kick to the groin after a prolonged series of gut punches.
October 23, 2012: Eva Longoria and Mark Sanchez split after three months of dating. The teams’ woes on the field are blamed. Here’s how one source that probably isn’t a real person described the affair: “It’s hard to maintain a relationship when one person is upset all the time.”
(N.B.: Both of these people have more money than G_d.)
October 28, 2012: The Jets lose to the Miami Dolphins, 30-9, as the team falls to 3-5 heading into the bye week. “To say I never saw this coming is an understatement,” Ryan said. Other things Ryan failed to see coming: an interest in amateur foot fetish cinematography; slim-cut slacks; humility.
November 11, 2012: The Jets lose to the Seattle Seahawks, 28-9. Afterward, Ryan says, “It’s about a 2 percent chance at making the playoffs with the record we have and we are going to take that shot.” This would have been a better press conference if Ryan said, “It’s about a 2 percent chance at making the playoffs with the record we have, so we’re closing up shop and I’m gonna spend the rest of the season working on my whittling.”
November 14, 2012: “He’s terrible,” an anonymous defensive starter says of Tebow to the Daily News.
November 15, 2012: “Anybody that’s anonymous has no credibility and anonymous people don’t speak for the New York Jets, they really don’t,” Johnson said. “I’m out here every day talking to players and coaches, meeting with the coaches and players, and so I think I’m a reasonably good judge.”
November 18, 2012: The Jets snap a three-game losing streak, defeating the St. Louis Rams, 27-13. “If you really take the positives from this game, build on those, continue to get better and improve, we can become a team that just doesn’t turn the ball over,” Sanchez said. “That could be our identity, if you want it to be and if you work at it.”
November 22, 2012: The Butt Fumble.
Let’s say for the sake of argument that this isn’t a cosmic joke, a smiting at the hands of a devious god of mischief. Let’s say that this really happened and it was human error. Let’s say the devil-angels didn’t crawl from a pit under the ground and mysteriously align Sanchez’s face with Brandon Moore’s estimable posterior. Let’s say this happened because Sanchez lacks field awareness and dignity. Let’s say that.
Following the Butt Fumble: “Discouraged? Of course,” Ryan said. “I’ll put it to you this way: We’re about as wounded as you possibly can be, but we’re not dead.”
November 23, 2012: Backup quarterback Tim Tebow reveals he has two broken ribs. Remember this guy? To this point, he has appeared on the field just 34 times, almost all of them as a pass protector in punting situations. Hope you’ve enjoyed the 10,000 allotted hours of media coverage thus far.
December 2, 2012: McElroy is subbed into the game against the Arizona Cardinals. He throws the game-winning touchdown. Of course he does.
Ryan on the decision to bench Sanchez: “It’s just something that I sensed, that I felt. When you’re around this game long enough, you get that feeling that, You know what? I’ve seen enough, and it’s time to make that change.”
December 9, 2012: Tebow is deemed healthy enough to play against the Jacksonville Jaguars, but sits for the entire game. “I never felt comfortable enough to go with him in the Wildcat,” Ryan said. The Wildcat is the offensive formation Tebow was specifically brought to New York to implement.
December 17, 2012: Sanchez throws four interceptions in a loss to the Tennessee Titans. The team is eliminated from playoff contention.
December 21, 2012: Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine turns down a contract extension. Pettine would go on to take the coordinator job in Buffalo after the season. Buffalo.
December 23, 2012: McElroy is sacked 11 times in a 27-17 loss to the San Diego Chargers. I, for one, applaud Ryan’s social experiment to become the first head coach to have his quarterback dismembered during a game.
December 30, 2012: Sanchez, after the Jets’ 28-9 loss to the Buffalo Bills and finishing their 6-10 season on a four-game losing streak: “I know I’m better than this. I’m contracted to be here. And I want to be here.” This is how deadbeats talk to their girlfriends. Give me another chance. I’ll never hurt you again.
December 31, 2012: The team fires GM Mike Tannenbaum, the architect of the roster, whose reputation as a salary cap wizard slowly came undone. Among his many bungles, Tannenbaum traded up for Sanchez in 2010, inked aging linebacker David Harris to an unwise $36 million deal, drafted the preposterous bust Vernon Gholston, reached for cornerback Kyle Wilson in 2010, and signed Sanchez to his notorious extension. According to a comprehensive study conducted by ESPN.com’s NFL Insider, the 2016 Jets are projected as the worst team in football three years from now. This is Tannenbaum’s legacy.
Ryan is retained.
January 4, 2013: The Daily News captures a photo of a sunbathing Ryan with a tattoo of a woman resembling his wife who appears to be wearing Sanchez’s no. 6 jersey.
January 8, 2013: “There’s a question of, ‘Is that a real tattoo or not?’ I’ll keep you guessing. But no, it’s funny, it’s actually a tattoo I’ve had going on three years now. I know what you’re thinking. Obviously if Sanchez doesn’t play better that number is changing. That’s pretty much a given.” – Rex Ryan, impossible human
January 18, 2013: Seattle Seahawks vice president of football administration John Idzik Jr. is named general manager. Though the team had targeted several personnel men with deep backgrounds in scouting, going so far as to hire Jed Hughes of the executive recruiting firm Korn/Ferry to find the right person for the job, it settled for Idzik, another cap specialist who had never run a draft war room.
February 19, 2013: The Jets waive Bart Scott. Can’t wait … for his role as a colorful analyst. This is the first of a roster bloodletting Idzik has been tasked to enforce. Uncuttable: Sanchez, owner of a $12.85 million 2013 cap hit.
April 22, 2013: The Jets trade Revis to the Buccaneers for the no. 13 pick in the 2013 draft. The final twist of the knife: Revis, long smeared as a greedy holdout, signs a completely non-guaranteed, incentive-driven contract to prove his health.
April 25, 2013: The Jets draft cornerback Dee Milliner, ostensibly Revis’s replacement, and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson in the first round. With their five first-round picks since Sanchez, the Jets have chosen five defensive players. The team has been ranked 10th, 25th, and 30th in total offense during that span. Cool trend.
April 26, 2013: The Jets draft quarterback Geno Smith in the second round. I called for Smith to the Jets last October, before West Virginia fell apart and its Air Raid offense was exposed by Texas Tech and Kansas State, which annihilated Smith’s squad to the tune of a 104-28 combined score. This one’s on me, guys.
April 30, 2013: The Jets release Tebow. And we shall be released! (The team must pay Tebow $1.03 million this season, in weekly installments. Like the mafia.)
May 7, 2013: Johnson claims there is a “buzz” surrounding the Jets. Denies reports that it was created by the flies circling Ryan’s corpse.
May 16, 2013: Milliner fires his agent. Swell.
May 17, 2013: Running back Mike Goodson is arrested on drug possession and weapons charges.
May 20, 2013: Johnson to the media regarding Goodson’s arrest: “We’re trying to win games and do the right thing. Truth, justice, and the American way. We live by it, we really do.”
Is Johnson a pod person?
May 22, 2013: Smith signs with Jay Z’s Roc Nation sports agency. This is a terrific development if you think Jay Z is the sort of sports figure who forges lasting partnerships. If you are this kind of person, you also think Magna Carta Holy Grail totally rules.
May 23, 2013: Per CBS’s Mike Freeman: “This from a Jets player, who asked not to be identified: ‘Everyone on the team likes Mark personally but there’s a general feeling among some of the players that maybe it’s time to give someone else a chance.’ The player went on to say that he estimates that 80-90 percent of the team feels the same way he does.”
This seems like an alarmingly diplomatic anonymous quote. If you were a Jets player who was ready to go on the record anonymously, shouldn’t that be an opportunity to say what’s really going on? Something like: “Mark Sanchez does not understand spatial reasoning. When he sees a square, he thinks it’s a banana. He believes all footballs are purple. He eats pudding with a fork. He says he knows dinosaurs never lived, but that all men should sleep with a night-light to fend off the under-the-bed monsters. Mark isn’t the most inspiring leader. I’d say 80-90 percent of the team feels the same way I do.”
June 6, 2013: Ryan calls for a game of paintball with the team instead of a final day of practice. Excellent use of time.
June 11, 2013: Tebow signs with the Patriots. Lord, no.
June 25, 2013: Sanchez’s Vine-ventures.
July 7, 2013: Ryan runs with the bulls in Pamplona for the Fiesta de San Fermin. I don’t have a joke.
July 10, 2013: “When it’s a straight-up competition for the job, let’s roll,” the embattled Sanchez says in a sit-down with ESPNNewYork.com. “It really doesn’t bother me at all. It really doesn’t affect my confidence or anything like that. We’re competing for something. All right, I’m going to win. That’s just how I am.”
July 12, 2013: In a stunning turn, Smith opts not to attend Sanchez’s West Coast camp, Jets West.
July 15, 2013: Via CBS New York: “Book Claims Woody Johnson Drunkenly Fell Off Bridge In College While Urinating.”
July 16, 2013: Forbes‘s annual sports team valuation estimates the Jets are worth $1.284 billion, the sixth-most valuable team in the NFL and the 14th-most valuable sports team in the world. Related: Sports are stupid.
July 26, 2013: Holmes on whether he would return for the 2013 season: “I can’t answer that question.”
July 31, 2013: The Jets organization announce that the “J-E-T-S” chant will be divvied up between sections of the crowd during games to fill in for Fireman Ed’s unofficial resignation as chant leader. I would like to nominate native New Yorkers Billy Joel, Rosie O’Donnell, Stefon, and Diddy to lead their sections.
August 5, 2013: Holmes tells friends he expects to miss the first four games of the upcoming season, still recovering from a Lisfranc injury.
August 9, 2013: Smith goes 6-of-7 for 47 yards in the preseason opener against the Detroit Lions before leaving the game with an ankle injury in the third quarter.
August 10, 2013: Per the Daily News‘s Manish Mehta after the team’s loss to the Lions: “Rex Ryan says he didn’t see the Sanchez pick six #nyj” and “Rex Ryan said he didn’t get chance to evaluate Geno Smith since he was engrossed in the defense. #nyj”
August 12, 2013: Holmes: “Right now, I can’t run.”
August 17, 2013: Coples suffers a hairline ankle fracture in a preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. No word on the status of his horrifying brand. He is out indefinitely.
August 21, 2013: Via New York Post beat writer Brian Costello: “Holmes on Rex saying … Holmes looks like he’s in great condition: ‘Looks can be deceiving.’ #nyj”
August 23, 2013: Holmes is activated from the PUP list.
August 24, 2013: Smith gets the start in a Week 3 preseason game against the New York Giants; he logs three interceptions in the first half.
Playing behind a second-string offensive line, Sanchez is sacked on his throwing shoulder in the second half. The severity of his injury is unclear, but he is unable to start in Week 1. Everything is going just fine, by the way.
August 25, 2013: The Jets work out Matt Leinart; Leinart signs with the Buffalo Bills hours later. Again, with the Bills.
September 4, 2013: Smith is named the Week 1 starter. Somewhere, Jay Z giggles.
September 7, 2013: Once more unto the breach, dear friends.