EAST RUTHERFORD - It was a long day's journey into another night of perhaps just a little self-doubt for this Jets team.
``The Rams are a good team,'' Vinny Testaverde said as the sad story of the 34-14 loss to the Rams at Giants Stadium was sinking in. ``In order to beat them, we needed to play an almost perfect game. It wasn't close to that.''
And the Jets, at 3-3, aren't yet ready to getting off their roller-coaster ride of a first season under coach Herman Edwards. One week they're up, the next they're down. Last week they were impressive in their Miami comeback. This week they were depressing in having no idea how to slow the 6-0 Rams, who didn't miss a beat in swapping Trung Canidate for injured featured back Marshall Faulk.
``There are no quick fixes in this league,'' defensive end Rick Lyle said. ``We've got to focus on what we've got to do and what we're trying to accomplish. We've just got to keep it together. That's always a danger when you lose games, but this is a mature team. We've got a lot of good vets here.''
Togetherness and leadership will be required after everyone is done dissecting this loss. From 3:11 to go in the first half until 13:25 remained in the game, the Rams nonchalantly, almost ruthlessly picked the Jets clean after many of Gang Green's bad tendencies reappeared. For instance, the visitors cashed in three trick plays for 17 of the 27 unanswered points that lifted them from a 7-7 tie to a 34-7 lead. And the Jets were aware that all three plays could be coming. The first was the option pitch from wide receiver Az-Zahir Hakim -- who juggled the initial handoff from QB Kurt Warner -- to Canidate, a 56-yard play on which Canidate went untouched for the final 44 yards and the go-ahead TD.
``Everybody has a `college option,' it's nothing unusual,'' Edwards said. ``You see it on tape, you practice it. We just didn't execute it properly.'' Trick No. 2 came in the third quarter when Warner split wide to the left and Canidate took the shotgun snap and zipped straight for the goal line for a 12-yard scoring run and a 31-7 lead. Edwards said the Jets also should have been ready for this one, no matter who was lined up behind center Andy McCollum.
``On the `banzai,' we didn't pinch down with our tackle, the tackle went outside, and the guy ran right up the middle,'' he said. ``It's just like the quarterback's back there, no different.'' Right after Jeff Wilkins' extra point, Wilkins executed the trifecta with an onsides kickoff that the retreating Jets never had a chance on. Special teams coach Mike Westhoff, whose ministrations fell on deaf ears two weeks ago, when the Bills recovered an onsides kick on that game's opening kickoff, no doubt watched in horror as Wilkins took an alarming straight-ahead approach, then veered sharply right and topped the ball 11 yards downfield, where Dre' Bly recovered it to start the Rams' final scoring drive. ``It was a different kind of onsides kick, like a throw behind a receiver from the quarterback,'' said Ferguson, who was near the point of recovery.
``I had no chance on it.'' The reason none of the Jets had a shot at it is because St. Louis coach Mike Martz said his special teams coach, Bobby April, ``told me all game they were turning and sprinting back there. He told me, `It's there, it's there, it's there.' '' ``The team we play next week is going to have to worry about the onsides kick,'' St. Louis' Aeneas Williams said, further defending the call from ``rubbing-it-in'' charges. ``That may help our coverage.''
The team the Rams play next week is the same team that the Jets play in two weeks: New Orleans. Sunday's little onside wrinkle may help the Rams but the Saints will be more than happy to pull the same surprise on the front line of the Jets' kickoff return team, if they don't keep their heads in the game. Wilkins' 30th consecutive field goal marked the end of a withering stretch during which the Jets ran three offensive plays to the Rams' 32 and controlled the ball for only 2:11 of exactly 18 minutes of clock time. And that was the result of two old vices: no inside run defense, which allowed Canidate to cut, hop, and scamper for 195 of the Rams' 234 rushing yards, and no third-down defense - the Jets have allowed opponents to convert 63.3 percent of their third downs the last two games and 51.2 percent on the season.
Edwards threw in the towel after Wilkins' final field goal. It seemed a quick hook for a quarterback and an offense that 363 days earlier scored 30 points in almost as little time. But Testaverde and several of his starters said it was the right thing to do, so Chad Pennington came on for his longest stretch as an NFL quarterback and rookie LaMont Jordan for Curtis Martin (the NFL rushing leader was limited to 63 yards on 14 carries).
``I felt good,'' Pennington said. ``Obviously, this was different from practice and preseason. A lot of emotions were running through my head. But we tried to run the usual things in our offense. We tried to score every time we got the ball.'' The Jets did that just once, when tight end Anthony Becht caught his second short touchdown pass with 1:34 left. `
`We've been resilient,'' Becht said in summing up the mood of the day. ``We've worked hard in practice and we've come back the next week. Early we had our heads down, but it's a long season. Right now the league is really jumbled up.'' The Jets will again try to solve their own jumble of a season and quickly, because, as Testaverde reminded, ``We have a long way to go and not a whole lot of time to get there.''