Capitals

J-E-T-S went from Super Bowl contenders to M-E-S-S

201212201118406848770-p2.jpeg

J-E-T-S went from Super Bowl contenders to M-E-S-S

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) From nearly Super to just plain stupefying.

That is what the New York Jets have become in a span of two NFL seasons.

From a botched trade for Tim Tebow before the season to a botched snap by Mark Sanchez that ended the season, Rex Ryan's bunch became a dysfunctional mess with no clear solution in sight.

The Jets are considered by many a laughingstock, one big circus which ranks up there with the Bronx Zoo Yankees, the Isiah Thomas Knicks and the late Al Davis' Raiders. At least those Yankees won a few World Series titles, and the Raiders took home three Super Bowl trophies despite all the madness.

Woody Johnson's flawed franchise could be headed for a total teardown before things get any better.

``Being in this market for six years, I've seen the ups and downs,'' defensive lineman Mike DeVito said. ``You get used to it after a while. You see the good stuff and the bad stuff.''

Lately, it's been all bad.

The Jets are a team whose owner craves attention, and gets it - always for the wrong reasons, it seems. Two years ago, the Jets were a win away from the Super Bowl, just as they were the previous year.

Both times, they fell just short of ending the drought that began after Joe Namath delivered on his guarantee in 1969 for the franchise's first and only title.

But there was hope for the future.

Ryan was a brash and bold coach who didn't back down from anyone and said what was on his mind, predicting Super Bowl wins before the season even started, a refreshing departure from the tight-lipped three-year tenure of Eric Mangini. He had a dominant defense, led by All-Pro Darrelle Revis, and a young, promising quarterback in Sanchez.

And most of all, the Jets were winning games.

Those positive feelings all seem like a distant memory as the Jets (6-8) play out the last two games of the season and head into a winter of uncertainty with a second straight year out of the playoffs.

``If you look at it, right now, I'm not looking further than this game against San Diego and (then) we have one more game,'' Ryan said. ``We'll see what happens. My focus has to be with those two games and that's it.''

That's because Ryan and general manager Mike Tannenbaum don't know for sure if they'll even be back beyond the final game of the season.

Tebow will be out the door less than a year after coming to New York and saying he's ``excited to be a Jet.'' Sanchez could be a goner, too, although his hefty contract could keep him put - but as the former face of the franchise instead of the next Namath.

Tired of getting into arguments with fans for wearing Sanchez's No. 6 jersey this season and fearing the incidents could escalate, the Jets' most famous supporter, Ed Anzalone, hung up his helmet last month and ``retired'' from being Fireman Ed.

So, there are no more J-E-T-S chants led by him. Still, the Jets insist they are far from the muddled M-E-S-S they are perceived by many to be.

``I certainly don't feel that,'' Johnson said earlier this season. ``We are deadly serious about what we do here, trying to win games and trying to represent our fans in a way that they expect us to represent them.''

But perception often is reality, and the Jets have provided plenty of fodder to feed into that during the past few years.

There was Ryan at his opening news conference nearly four years ago, talking about how his team would soon meet President Barack Obama as champions.

He came with plenty of other guarantees, too, that made him one of the most confident - and as a result - disliked sports figures New York has seen.

Most Jets fans loved his approach, though, and bought in.

They're some of the same fans who now hope for a change in leadership, tired of Ryan's empty promises and the distractions that have marked his tenure as coach.

And, there is a lengthy list: the Ines Sainz locker room incident, the foot fetish videos reportedly involving Ryan and his wife, the assistant coach who tripped an opposing player from the sideline during a play, the prime-time exposure on HBO's ``Hard Knocks,'' to name a few.

Tannenbaum has also produced some big-time winners on draft day in his seven years as GM, including Revis, Nick Mangold, D'Brickashaw Ferguson and David Harris.

But there have also been some major duds along the way, such as Vernon Gholston and Vladimir Ducasse. All three of his picks from 2009 - Sanchez, Shonn Greene and Matt Slauson - could all be playing their last games as Jets.

Key locker room presences have also gradually been cut, traded or allowed to become free agents, well-respected players such as Thomas Jones, Leon Washington, Kris Jenkins, Alan Faneca, Damien Woody and LaDainian Tomlinson.

While Sanchez's ability to read defenses and adjust is one major problem, the team did little to provide him with continuity on offense with constant change in the skill players around him.

``There's been a little bit of turnover, but at the same time, you have to work with what you have,'' Sanchez said of the various receivers he had to work with the season.

This past offseason began with a brief flirtation with Peyton Manning, and then came the most stunning move of them all: the trade for Tebow in March. It had most people scratching their heads then and now has even the popular but little-used backup quarterback wondering why he even came here in the first place.

``I tried to make the most of every opportunity that I had,'' Tebow said. ``I would've loved to have more.''

Everyone expected more, even Ryan, who acknowledged that the Tebow-powered wildcat-style offense that was kept so under wraps in training camp up in Cortland, N.Y., never developed into what the team had hoped.

Now, the Jets will either try to trade Tebow or release him by the time the NFL's free agency period begins in March.

The lasting image of Tebow's tenure will be his shirtless jog off the practice field in the rain during training camp - when ESPN was broadcasting live shots of Jets practice for a week.

Fans and media kept waiting all season for the quarterback controversy they were sure was to come: Sanchez vs. Tebow. Turns out, it was third-stringer Greg McElroy, a seventh-round draft pick last year, who took Sanchez's job in Week 16.

The Jets have three quarterbacks who came to the NFL with impeccable credentials: Sanchez a top-5 draft pick from Southern California, Tebow a two-time national champion at Florida and a Heisman Trophy winner, and McElroy a former Texas high school state champion who led the University of Alabama to a national title. But New York will go into this offseason not knowing if it even has its quarterback of the future on its roster.

Given everything that has gone on with the franchise, it was only fitting that a week after Braylon Edwards - then with the Seattle Seahawks - called out the Jets on Twitter by saying that fans should blame ``the idiots calling shots'' for Sanchez's struggles, he was brought back to New York by the same people he criticized.

Johnson could opt to clean house completely by firing Ryan and his coaching staff. He could do the same to Tannenbaum, or possibly re-assign him within the organization.

Offensive coordinator Tony Sparano, brought in to boost the running game and get Tebow involved, could also be gone. Or, they could all be back for one more twirl.

Either way, Johnson's team is sure to consistently make splashy headlines this winter. Just the way he likes it.

---

Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

Quick Links

Braden Holtby puts loss to Tampa solely on his own shoulders

usatsi_10635504.jpg
USA TODAY Sports

Braden Holtby puts loss to Tampa solely on his own shoulders

The mood in the Capitals locker room following a 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday was one of frustration. Forty minutes of strong play from Washington amounted to nothing because of a disastrous opening first period in which the Lightning jumped out to a 3-0 lead.

No one in the locker room was more frustrated than Braden Holtby.

"Obviously you don't want to go down three," he told reporters after the game. "That's on no one else but me. The third goal, especially the third, fourth goal, that's the difference in the game. I thought we played a really strong game against a really good team. We should have got a better result and that's on me why we didn't."

Tampa scored three goals in the first off of only eight shots. For the game, the Lightning managed to pierce Holtby four times off of only 19 shots.

RELATED: WHY THE CAPS LOST TO THE LIGHTNING

Frustration seemed to boil over on the fourth goal when a normally stoic Holtby was visibly upset after allowing Nikita Kucherov to beat him on a breakaway in a play similar to what we saw in the All-Star Game.

See for yourself:

"The key to getting better is learning from your mistakes and obviously I didn't do that," Holtby said. "I was just trying to play it patient. I wasn't trying to cheat towards that move and he came at it a different way. That's on me for not recognizing it. That's not a goal I can give up in that situation after our team battled the way they did, especially in the third."

The frustration Holtby feels likely is not the result of one goal, but the culmination of a recent slump that continues to plague the Vezina winner.

Holtby has lost four straight starts and has given up at least four goals in each of those games.

While Holtby was quick to take the blame for Tuesday's loss, head coach Barry Trotz was quick to defend his netminder.

"No one takes the loss," he said. "We all take a loss. I take a loss, the group takes a loss and Braden's part of the group. ... He's had a little tough stretch. It's no different than, we've got guys that haven't scored in 15, 20 games. It's no different than a player."

The challenge now is overcoming that slump.

For a slumping skater, Trotz could try different line combinations or play someone in different situations over the course of the game. Getting a starting goalie out of a slump, however, is more difficult. Most of the work has to be done in practice with the hope that it will carry over into the next game.

"You analyze how the goals are going in, what you're doing differently," Holtby said. "There's always some stuff that you can't control and stuff that you can and it's focusing on those contrallables that you can make a difference at. Like the first goal in Chicago, the last two goals here, those are goals that I could and should stop. You get to practice the next day and you focus on that and work hard until you figure it out so you don't do it again."

MORE CAPITALS: CHECK OUT THE 3 STARS OF THE GAME FROM CAPS-LIGHTNING

Part of the problem in Washington is that team defense is the Caps' biggest weakness. For most of the season, and even in years past, Holtby has made up for much of the team's mistakes on the backend. Now that he is slumping those mistakes become much more glaring and costly.

"The goaltenders in this league are erasers," Trotz said.

Lately, Holtby has not been able to erase those mistakes.

But the team has already moved to address the defense. Brian MacLellan added a puck-moving defenseman in Michal Kempny to help the team get the puck out of the defensive zone more quickly. Waiving Taylor Chorney could also signify another move may be coming before Monday's trade deadline.

As for Trotz, even during the slump, he made clear his confidence in Holtby has not wavered.

"He has been a rock since the day I've been here the last four years and he's been an elite goaltender and I look at him that way."

Quick Links

2018 Olympic Hockey Results: Czech Republic eliminate U.S. men in shootout winner

usa-chez-usat.png
USA Today Sports

2018 Olympic Hockey Results: Czech Republic eliminate U.S. men in shootout winner

GANGNEUNG, South Korea -- Pavel Francouz stopped all five shooters and Petr Kouka scored the shootout winner as the Czech Republic eliminated the United States with a 3-2 victory in the quarterfinals Wednesday.

Jan Kovar and Tomas Kundratek scored in regulation for the Czech Republic, which was fresher after winning its group and getting a bye into the quarterfinals. The U.S. looked fatigued after facing Slovakia in the qualification round and was outshot 29-20.

Ryan Donato and Jim Slater scored for the U.S, which again was led by its youngest players, including speedster Troy Terry. U.S. goaltender Ryan Zapolski allowed three goals on 29 shots and one in the shotoout, while Francouz stopped 18 in regulation and overtime.

Koukal was the only player to score in overtime. Chris Bourque, Ryan Donato, Marc Arcobello, Terry and Bobby Butler couldn't beat Francouz.

RELATED: OVECHKIN HAS LITTLE DESIRE TO WATCH 2018 WINTER OLYMPICS