The Jets continue to grab headlines for all the wrong reasons. The latest story that threatens to ground the Jets came on Wednesday when backup quarterback Tim Tebow was the target of some surprising criticism from his own team.
A report in the New York Daily News quoted one anonymous starter on defense who said that Tebow is “terrible.” Left guard Matt Slauson was also quoted calling Tebow an “athlete” and not a quarterback, perhaps a backhanded reference to his unconventional playing style. What followed was the typical media storm only New York City could produce. But true to his form, head coach Rex Ryan tried to spin this toward his team’s advantage.
“I think this team is coming together. Will this galvanize it? I don’t know, maybe so. This team, in my opinion, is not going to be pulled apart by outside people. I think inside the walls, we are going to be [together] and that’s what’s going to give us an opportunity,” Ryan said. “If I’m wrong on that, obviously, that’s going to be a different issue. I don’t believe that. I believe this team is coming together and we’ll see if there are no cracks in the armor. We’ll find that out. Maybe we’re not there right now, but I think we will be.”
It’s a cute thought but faulty.
Ryan can paint this as something that can help his Jets but there’s an important caveat here: It isn’t “outside people” who are tearing this team apart. Instead it is an unnamed source on his team who called Tebow “terrible” and Slauson who diminished his own teammate’s abilities. These are personalities in Ryan’s own locker room, not some great league-wide conspiracy. It is unfair to criticize Ryan for losing control of his locker room in this instance but it is equally unfair of him to spin harder than “Baghdad Bob” and try to paint this as an external issue. It simply isn’t one because the source of the issue is very much coming from “inside the walls.”
This all wouldn’t be an issue if incumbent starter Mark Sanchez had stepped up and produced. Five times this year his completions have been under 50 percent in a game and his four red-zone interceptions leads the league. Waiting in the wings, Tebow has been little-used since a mid-March trade from Denver, completing five of six passes for 40 yards and rushing the ball another 27 times for 92 yards. But even in his limited use, the fan sentiment is beginning to tip in his direction.
In 2011, the Jets bounced back after their string of controversies and scandals. When the story broke of the alleged harassment of reporter Ines Sainz in the team’s locker room following their Week 1 loss to the Ravens, the Jets showed resilience despite the media firestorm around them with an impressive home win over the Patriots that next Sunday. Just days after that, wide receiver Braylon Edwards was arrested for a DUI and the Jets again ignored the criticisms and responded with a tough win Miami. Then, when former strength coach Sal Alosi tripped a Dolphins player in mid-December, the Jets left the distraction at home and went on the road for an impressive win over the Steelers.
But a player calling out another teammate’s skill set is not the type of thing that leads to everyone holding hands and singing “Kumbaya.” If anything it serves to underscore the divides in the locker room.
In all likelihood, it will be next to impossible for Ryan to create an “us against the world” mentality when the Jets have brought this mess on themselves.
“I think there was some frustration and some sadness. It’s never fun to hear criticism. At the same time, it’s something that I’ve always used as motivation. You try to get stronger from it,” Tebow said. “That’s how I approach it. I always find the good and the positive in every situation. The positive in this is working a little bit harder and improve and to build better relationships with your teammates.”
Yet in a strange way, Ryan’s spin seems to be working where it matters most. While the media may scoff at his line of thinking, one Jets player told Metro New York this week that “this is something that the media created. We aren’t sure if this really came out of our locker room.” It is the talking point for the whole team.
“I see this team as really tight knit and maybe it’s because of the stories that have been circulating recently — unfair criticism and the anonymous criticism in particular which is kind of cowardly in my opinion. Put your name on it,” owner Woody Johnson said. “If you have criticism, hey, stand up and we’ll be glad to talk to you about it. It is having kind of an effect of bringing the guys closer.”
But Johnson’s comments show the flaws in comparing this situation with the way the team has bounced back from adversity in the past. Johnson at one point called this issue “something out of thin air, essentially.” But it is something that they created.
Both Johnson and his head coach used the term “cowardly” to address anonymous quotes, but neither dealt with the heart of the matter: locker room cancers. They put up a straw man talking point to focus on when the issue is really about a possible divide in the locker room.
Which of course the Jets say isn’t the case.
“I don’t think so. The reason I say that is that guys are stepping up in the locker room, making sure guys are not trying to badmouth a teammate. [We] understand we need to build our teammates more than badmouth teammates,” cornerback Antonio Cromartie said. “I think with Rex taking control of it and Rex’s understanding that every guy needs to understand that everyone is a part of this family, everyone is a part of this organization. Whatever you say to badmouth a teammate or a coach or whatever anybody in this organization, it affects everybody that’s in here and we understand that we need to fix that before it gets bigger than it already is.”
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.