FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — The boos started sometime in the third quarter, anxious Jets fans watching their struggling team get trampled.
By the time the game Sunday was in its closing minutes, the remaining few wearing green and white made their feelings known with each chant, loud and clear:
Well, this mess the New York Jets are in might be too big for even Tim Tebow to fix.
Mark Sanchez and the offense had another lousy performance in a 34-0 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Bad passes, bad routes, bad football.
But this was supposed to be exactly how Tebow was going to help, by bringing a spark to the team by confusing defenses and making big plays.
So far, the Tebow wildcat experiment has been a dud. He has played in just 31 of the Jets’ 257 offensive snaps, and Tebow has done little to strike fear in opposing defenses when he has been out there.
“We haven’t been as successful at running the wildcat as I thought we would,” Rex Ryan said. “I think that’s fair to say, but again, without question, I’m not ready to give up on him. I think the wildcat is tough to defend and I’ve always said that.”
Still, while they are standing by Sanchez right now, perhaps their biggest potential playmaker — Tebow — is mostly just standing by.
Ryan, general manager Mike Tannenbaum and owner Woody Johnson insisted all summer that Tebow wasn’t a publicity stunt to sell tickets and jerseys. He was going to be a key part of a rejuvenated, dynamic and unpredictable offense under Tony Sparano.
Everyone is still waiting to see all that. Tebow was in on seven offensive plays — three at quarterback and four as a fullback — and accounted for a measly 9 yards Sunday. That came on the first and only pass he has thrown with New York, a jump toss to Dedrick Epps, who injured his right knee on the play and fumbled.
“I’m just ready and willing to do whatever they want me to do,” Tebow said Sunday, not once saying anything that could be construed as frustration or be twisted to feed into an increasingly hotter quarterback situation.
Ryan did his best to defuse any talk about a change at the position, declaring Sanchez the undisputed starter after the game and then again Monday.
“I just know in my heart, right now, that this is not the time,” Ryan said when asked what it would take for him to switch quarterbacks. “I think Tim is an outstanding player and I think Mark is. Right now, I think Mark gives us our best opportunity to win.”
But there have been several moments in games this season that appeared to be perfect fits for Tebow to give the offense a boost. Instead, the NFL’s most popular backup quarterback has remained on the sideline for many of those situations.
“If you guys had all the answers, then you would be offensive coordinators,” linebacker Bart Scott said on a conference call. “Football guys, players and coaches kind of know the pulse of the team and what needs to be done. It’s early in the season. You can’t try and change everything around in Week 5.”
On the surface, it’s hardly a time to panic for the Jets, who are 2-2 and sitting in first place in the AFC East with two wins in the division.
In reality, this is a team in deep trouble with the Houston Texans, arguably the best team in the AFC, coming to town next Monday night. Then come games against Indianapolis, New England and Miami. The Jets are already without star cornerback Darrelle Revis, out with a knee injury, and are waiting to learn the status of receiver Santonio Holmes after he hurt his left foot Sunday.
If the Jets don’t get better in a hurry, this season could begin spiraling out of control.
“We have to come up with some solutions,” Ryan said, “because if we just keep repeating the same things or whatever, how can we expect the results to change?”
That’s why Ryan is huddling with his coaches Monday and Tuesday, giving the players the two days off to do some soul searching. The coaching staff is going over what they’ve been doing for the first four games and trying to figure out what’s gone so wrong.
“We have talent,” Ryan insisted. “There’s no doubt we have talent here. Are we getting the most out of our talent? I think that’s what we have to do. That’s a challenge to myself and the coaches.”
As much as Ryan likes to spin things positive for his guys, he knows the season might already be on the brink — just five weeks in.
“I’m confident we’ll come back,” Ryan said. “I’m confident we’ll respond and play much better.”
The defense is just as at fault as the offense. Sure, it kept the Jets in it early before the 49ers ran all over the field, rolling up 245 yards on the ground. New York is ranked 31st in the NFL against the run, a stunning spot for a Ryan-led defense.
Even the special teams unit has had some mishaps, with a blocked punt Sunday the capper to an all-around horrid performance by New York.
“It’s (the media’s) job to push the panic button,” Scott said.
But after that display on the field at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, it’s difficult to spin it any other way.
Unless, of course, you can somehow see the silver lining.
“It could be one of the best things to happen to us all season,” Tebow said. “When you have defeats like this where you get beat up and you get beaten in every phase, it really is something you can rally behind and motivate you.”