Up next: Jets defense getting gutted

Missed tackles were one of several glaring defensive deficiencies Sunday as the Broncos gashed a Jets defense that had shut down Tennessee the week before but had been torched last month by the Patriots for 511 yards. Denver amassed 484 yards, the second-most allowed by the Jets this season.

None of the Jets' next three opponents -- San Francisco (4-8), Buffalo and Seattle -- rank higher than 20th in the NFL in total offense. But their final regular-season opponent, Miami, is 10th in the league. And if the AFC East-leading Jets (8-4) reach the playoffs, the chances are good that they will face a high-powered passing attack in the first round.

"I thought it was behind us," linebacker David Bowens said, referring to the Jets' defensive struggles. "We went out there from the opening drive and it just seemed like we weren't clicking.

"A loss is a loss and we're all upset about it," he added, "but all those things are correctable. We're going to bust our tails this week and try to get that solved."

For only the second time this season, the Jets recorded no sacks Sunday, which is a big reason why Jay Cutler passed for 357 yards.

"There were opportunities where we had guys (come through) clean and (Cutler) was able to make them miss," coach Eric Mangini said. "What you need to be able to do when you have those opportunities is execute on those opportunities."

Just ask rookie linebacker Vernon Gholston, who almost got to Cutler on a third-quarter play. Cutler instead completed a 24-yard pass to tight end Tony Scheffler. Gholston still is looking for his first NFL sack.

Cutler "is a scrambler so I wanted to keep in front of him," said Gholston, who admitted "in some moments, (frustration) has set in. You look at the sack total for yourself and you wish you had some."

Mangini has invariably defended Gholston to the media this season, but there was an edge to his voice Monday when he said, "There were plays to be made. (Gholston's) opportunities were based on his ability to make those plays. ... I think that he needs to continue to improve."

The coach also wasn't happy about strong safety Abram Elam's missed tackle on Eddie Royal's 59-yard touchdown reception. Elam went for the ball and whiffed, and then couldn't make the tackle as Royal went down the right sideline for the score.

"When you're the last player back there," Mangini said, "and you don't make the play, it's going to go for a touchdown. ... As the deep safety, you have to, worst-case scenario, secure the tackle."

It's possible the defense could get a boost at San Francisco as linebacker David Harris (groin surgery) and strong safety Eric Smith (two concussions), who was starting ahead of Elam this season, both could return.

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What turned out to be the Jets' last touchdown Sunday was the result of a heads-up play by Thomas Jones. He plunged into the line on first-and-10 from the Denver 29 in the second quarter and appeared to have been stopped by Denver's Kenny Peterson. But Jones actually landed on Peterson's back, and Jones' knees and elbows never touched the ground.

So he alertly scrambled to his feet and went untouched for a 29-yard scoring run, his second of the game, to cut the deficit to 17-14.

"I knew I didn't touch the ground," Jones explained. "When I rolled over (Peterson), I just tried to stay on my feet."

The Broncos unsuccessfully challenged the call.

When asked if he had ever had a touchdown quite like that one, Jones replied, "I don't know. Maybe in high school."

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During the second half, when the trailing Jets were using their no-huddle offense a lot, five different Broncos left the game for at least one play because of injuries. And all of those injuries occurred after completed passes, taking the Jets out of their rhythm at the time.

Coach Eric Mangini was asked if he thought the Denver players were faking those injuries to throw off the Jets' timing.

"You'd have to ask them about that," Mangini said after the game. "With any injury situation, you take it at face value."

None of the injuries occurred after the two-minute warning, when Denver would've been assessed a timeout.

Jets offensive linemen Alan Faneca and Brandon Moore both indicated Monday they would be interested in seeing the Broncos' injury report for their next game, although that might not give much insight. Denver coach Mike Shanahan is known for listing as many players as probable. In fact, the Broncos listed eight players as probable for this game.

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Denver center Casey Wiegmann did a good job against 360-pound nose tackle Kris Jenkins in the Broncos' victory. The Jets had a lot of trouble with Denver's zone blocking schemes.

"I think the zone scheme is very good," Mangini said. "Really, Denver is the team that made it a staple."

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When asked about Denver quarterback Jay Cutler, Jets free safety Kerry Rhodes said, "I don't like him. I don't want to talk about him."

Understandable, considering the way Cutler carved up the Jets three days after Thanksgiving. Cutler exploited them for 357 yards and two touchdowns despite a cold, steady rain as Denver (7-5) upended the Jets.

To continue with the post-Thanksgiving imagery, running back-kick returner Leon Washington said the Jets were served some "humble pie." And coach Eric Mangini likely was the one dishing it out to his players. His opening statement after the game easily was his most agitated after a loss this year.

"I was really disappointed with the way that we played," Mangini said. "We've established a certain way to play football around here. We've established a certain identity and that was nothing close to that (Sunday). I don't think we played well in any of the three phases. I don't think we coached well. I think when you have that, this is what you get."

Mangini also indicated he wasn't happy with the Jets' week of practices leading up to the game.

"I think it could have been better," he said. "It should be better."

Still, the coach denied that the Jets were complacent after two straight meaningful road victories over perennial nemesis New England and previously unbeaten Tennessee.

Rhodes said he's not concerned with the media hype that had surrounded the Jets since their impressive win over the Titans.

"It's disappointing we lost the game," Rhodes said, "but we don't really care about all that talk right now. If people in this locker room are worried about the talk, it's not good for us anyway. We still have a long season, four games left to right the ship from this game. We have San Francisco next. ... We just have to move on from here."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's definitely frustrating. But with the guys on this team, we will regroup. ... You don't want to feel like this again." -- RB Thomas Jones.

LINEUP WATCH: Abram Elam has started the last five games at strong safety in place of Eric Smith, who suffered two concussions earlier in the season. But Smith is back practicing full and could start next week after Elam was exposed Sunday against Denver. Elam was beaten for two long touchdown passes by Eddie Royal and Brandon Stokley in the Broncos' 34-17 victory, and the Jets may go back to Smith, who has good coverage skills.


PASSING OFFENSE: C-minus -- Brett Favre looked anything but comfortable in the cold, driving rain, completing only 23 of 43 passes against the Champ Bailey-less Broncos and being intercepted by Dre' Bly on a deep ball. Laveranues Coles, the intended receiver on that pick, was limited to two receptions for 2 yards. TE Dustin Keller had seven catches to lead the team.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B-plus -- Yes, Thomas Jones rushed for 8.6 yards a carry, but most of his 138 yards came on the TDs of 59 and 29 yards, which means the ground game wasn't consistent. Although perhaps the grade should be incomplete, considering the Jets chose not to run on two downs when facing a third-and-1 and then a fourth-and-1 at the Denver 46 in the third quarter.

PASS DEFENSE: D-minus -- Denver's high-flying passing game wasn't deterred by the rain, although the Broncos did use more short passes than usual. They exploited the Jets with wide-receiver screens, much the way New England did, and with tight ends, the way Tennessee tried to. TEs Tony Scheffler and Daniel Graham totaled 13 catches and Jay Cutler passed for 357 yards. Dwight Lowery did have an end-zone pick.

RUSH DEFENSE: D -- Denver's fifth-ranked rushing attack got the better of the Jets' fourth-ranked rushing defense, as the Broncos used converted FB Peyton Hillis at RB and he tore through some gaping holes en route to 129 yards and a TD on 22 carries. The Jets didn't tackle him for any losses.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- Leon Washington almost broke his first kickoff return, taking it 31 yards to the Jets' 41, but had only 56 yards on his other three returns, and was held in check on punt returns. The Jets did an even better job on coverage, as Eddie Royal averaged only 10.7 yards on three kickoff returns. Jay Feely ran his FG streak to 11 with a 30-yarder and Reggie Hodges was impressive in the wet conditions, punting four times for a 41-yard net average.

COACHING: D -- Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer followed up a brilliant game plan against Tennessee with several questionable play calls, including the ill-fated "Wildcat" play that resulted in a fumble and a Denver TD. Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton didn't adjust to Denver's short passing game until the second half, and by then much of the damage was done. Eric Mangini can say all he wants that it wasn't a letdown, but it sure looked like one after the wins over New England and Tennessee.