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Sunday Football Notes

Here is how the Jets can get back on course

Jets owner Woody Johnson has to first decide whether he believes in Rex Ryan as a coach.

Bill Kostroun/AP

Jets owner Woody Johnson has to first decide whether he believes in Rex Ryan as a coach.

The entire nation saw the latest incarnation of the Jets hitting rock bottom (it’s a long and inglorious history) in their humiliating 49-19 loss to the Patriots on Thanksgiving night.

The Jets were bumbling, comical, and embarrassing. And to think, just two years ago they had been in back-to-back AFC Championship games. Now they’re worse than a punch line.

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That’s where the Jets are, at 4-7 and all but eliminated from the playoff race.

But how can they emerge from the darkness?

The first thing is that owner Woody Johnson needs to start taking advice from the right people — football people — outside the organization. One of the Jets’ great flaws recently has been their propensity for groupthink, whether it be about the talent on the team, what offensive schemes the team is capable of in certain games (45-3 loss to the Patriots a prime example), and where the weaknesses are in the organization.

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Earlier this month, Johnson convened a meeting with all the top decision-makers in the organization, from team president Neil Glat to general manager Mike Tannenbaum to coach Rex Ryan and his coordinators, to figure out a short-term answer for the team’s woes.

Don’t get the same group together after the season. They all have reasons not to be honest with their answers. Johnson needs an unbiased accounting of how bad things are, and how best to rebuild. Johnson needs to find a former general manager, be it Carl Peterson, Bill Polian, or Bill Parcells, to bounce ideas off. Glat, who has been involved solely in the business aspect of the NFL, is not the guy.

Johnson should keep in mind that Robert Kraft once made bad decisions (Pete Carroll and Bobby Grier) early in his ownership, but is now a shining example of how one move (by the name of Bill Belichick) can change the perception and direction of a franchise.

Outside counsel should not be needed to tell Johnson that there has to be at least some change. The Jets can’t return with the team and front office intact. The fans won’t and shouldn’t stand for it.

Johnson has to first decide whether he believes in Ryan as a coach. Everything else is based off that, because this is not going to be a quick fix. It could be two or three years before the Jets, whose salary cap and quarterback situations are beyond screwed up, are Super Bowl contenders again.

Johnson has to decide now whether he can ride that out with Ryan.

He should. Ryan is not the problem, at least not now. Is he still learning how to be a head coach and making mistakes along the way? Absolutely. Might he be better the second time around elsewhere, like Belichick? Probably. But Ryan shouldn’t be fired. He’s a darn good coach.

If Ryan is the guy, that means Tannenbaum will have to be served up as the change. He has been with the Jets since 1997, was named general manager in 2006, and somehow survived when Eric Mangini was fired after 2008.

Tannenbaum is not a football guy, he’s a cap guy who makes decisions off the input from his personnel and coaching departments. And those have not been good enough. And considering the Jets will go into next year with around $10 million left in cap space to fill out 17 spots on the roster, according to nyjetscap.com, that cap mess really puts the blame on Tannenbaum.

His departure would give the organization a chance to sell change to the fans.

If Ryan is the guy, that means Johnson has to hire a general manager who is basically handpicked by Ryan. Johnson can’t bring in a strong general manager because he may not want to keep Ryan, and that would prolong the turmoil.

Perhaps Ryan finally can be the one to persuade Ravens general manager-in-waiting Eric DeCosta, who is from Taunton, to leave the nest. The Ravens have paid DeCosta well to keep him in-house for when Ozzie Newsome retires, but Ryan can be persuasive. Moving to New Jersey would not be a huge change for DeCosta.

If DeCosta stays in Baltimore, perhaps Ryan could bring in someone else from Baltimore, where he coached from 1999-2008, be it former Browns general manager George Kokinis, pro personnel director Vincent Newsome, or perhaps vice president of football administration Pat Moriarty, who is similar to Tannenbaum but has more of a football background.

With a general manager capable of having strong input and a fresh eye alongside Ryan, the two can get to work on solving the problems with the cap, the lack of a franchise quarterback, the direction of the offense, and the reworking of a defense that has become increasingly old and slow.

That new general manager would have to tell Ryan that he needs to make another change at offensive coordinator, no matter how bad he would feel about firing Tony Sparano after one season.

The offense isn’t good enough. Start anew with a coordinator who can groom the next starting quarterback to spearhead a balanced attack. You can’t ground-and-pound to a Super Bowl title; you must make critical plays in the air.

A new general manager, offensive coordinator, and quarterback.

That’s the kind of change that can make any Jets fans believe again — and it’s the right way to go for an organization that has lost its way again.

OFFICIAL EXPLANATION

Helmet-to-helmet hits aren’t all created equal

With Julian Edelman sustaining a concussion against the Jets on an obvious helmet-to-helmet hit — and the Patriots, including linebacker Brandon Spikes, delivered a few of their own — there seems to be some confusion on what is a penalty for helmet-to-helmet contact. I spoke to NFL director of football operations Ray Anderson for some clarification.

Basically, it’s a penalty if the player who is hit is considered defenseless.

“A runner or a receiver who is in possession of the ball, has established himself as a runner and therefore has an opportunity to protect and avoid, is not protected from helmet-to-helmet contact,” Anderson said. “A runner, as soon as he takes the handoff, it is not illegal to hit him helmet to helmet. A receiver, once he has two feet down and there’s an element of time whereby he has the opportunity to protect himself and begin to avoid contact, then the defenseless protection is lifted from him and he can be hit helmet to helmet. Those are the real guiding principles.”

Quarterbacks in the act of or just after throwing a pass, a runner already in the grasp of a tackler whose forward progress has been stopped, and a player on the ground are among the classifications of defenseless players.

There also is some discrepancy on hits against a quarterback where the defender (like Jerod Mayo against Andrew Luck) hits his upper chest but the helmet moves up to the neck/head area.

“If you hit him forearm, shoulder or helmet in the neck or head area and it ends up going up into the neck area, the official is going to call it,” Anderson said.

“Just because it’s flagged on the field doesn’t necessarily mean it will be disciplined from this office. But the officials have been instructed to be very aggressive in protecting players against those hits, especially when they’re in defenseless postures. At the same time, if an official misses a play on the field, but we see it here, we will discipline him.”

ALTERATIONS DEPARTMENT

Schwartz’s gaffe could prompt change in rules

The NFL screwed up in 2011, and that may have factored into the Lions’ loss to the Texans, but the bottom line is rules are rules, and it’s the coach’s job to know them.

The officials originally ruled Justin Forsett’s third-quarter 81-yard run in the Texans’ 34-31 overtime victory at Detroit Thursday a touchdown, even though replays showed Forsett’s knee and elbow clearly hit the ground when he was hit.

It was a scoring play, so it’s automatically reviewed, but Lions coach Jim Schwartz threw his red challenge flag anyway. That’s against the rules. The Lions were assessed a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and any replay review was voided.

The NFL acknowledged that the rule is probably too rigid.

“Not being able to review a play in this situation may be too harsh and an unintended consequence of trying to prevent coaches from throwing their challenge flag for strategic purposes in situations that are not subject to a coach’s challenge,” NFL director of football operations Ray Anderson said.

The original penalty was put in place to keep coaches from throwing challenge flags in an effort to buy time. It was a good rule, but the NFL goofed by not taking the penalty out when the rule was changed to make all scoring and changes of possessions subject to automatic review.

Really, there doesn’t need to be a big delay if Schwartz throws the challenge flag when the play is already under review. Just throw the flag back to him and tell him it’s up to the booth.

Expect the Competition Committee to alter the rule in the spring. It will be too late for the Lions, but Schwartz admitted he should have known better.

“I had the flag out of my pocket before he even scored the touchdown,” said Schwartz. “That’s all my fault. I overreacted in that situation and I cost us a touchdown.”

ETC.

After biding his time, Hoyer joins Steelers

Some didn’t understand why it was unfair to the player — though totally understandable from the team’s point of view — that the Patriots released quarterback Brian Hoyer after three years in the final cutdown in early September. Some probably thought that when Hoyer wasn’t signed by another team, it proved the Patriots made the right decision — cutting a player who had little value to the rest of the league. But consider this: When Hoyer finally signed last week with Pittsburgh, he became the first veteran quarterback this season to sign with a team with which he had no previous connection. Trent Edwards (Sept. 6, Eagles), Caleb Hanie (Sept. 11, Broncos), and Kellen Clemens (Rams, Sept. 13) were re-signed after Week 1 by teams they had been with in mini-camps; that way, the teams avoided fully guaranteeing their salaries. According to the NFL’s transaction wire, that is the extent of veteran quarterback signings since the season began. There’s a reason for that. Quarterback is unlike any position in the league. You can’t just plug in a guy who is unfamiliar with a system and win a bunch of games down the stretch. Add in that Hoyer has no practice squad eligibility and that he’s not going to sign beyond this year — he’ll want to find the best situation to start anew in the offseason — and teams aren’t in a hurry to add a veteran quarterback. In any event, Hoyer, who was keeping sharp throwing to high school students in his native Ohio, is studying hard to catch up with the Steelers. “For me, probably the best part of being in New England was watching [Tom Brady] work every day and having him there to kind of mentor me,” Hoyer said. “So at least I have some experience. I’ve been in that situation before, and you just have to be ready at a moment’s notice.” Said Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley: “Brian is a sharp guy. He’s a quick study. He’s been with a really good team and played behind a really good quarterback. So you could tell he doesn’t have big eyes when he steps into the huddle. He takes control. He’s a smart guy who’s working his tail off to be in a position to help us if he needs to.”

Nickel package

1. The news from Peter King that the NFL will consider abolishing all blocks below the waist next season won’t have much of an impact on the Patriots. The only cut blocking they do is on outside zone runs, and it’s not really necessary. It will, however, have a huge impact on dedicated zone blocking teams like the Texans.

2. So Alex Smith got Drew Bledsoe-d for Tom Brady, I mean . . . Colin Kaepernick? Big fan of Kaepernick’s, but this is a really big move. The Patriots were 0-2 when Bledsoe was injured in 2001, and Brady was 5-3 in Bledsoe’s absence. Kaepernick has made one start for the 7-2-1 49ers, and Smith had completed 25 of his last 27 passes when he was injured.

3. Puzzling why the Patriots would release a young receiver who has played in Josh McDaniels’s system like Greg Salas, who was claimed by the Eagles. New England doesn’t exactly have an assembly line for those guys, and right now only Brandon Lloyd and Matthew Slater are under contract for next season.

4. If you look at the alternatives for release, the most likely candidates were offensive linemen Markus Zusevics and Mitch Petrus, and defensive end Jake Bequette. All the other players have special teams value. You’d think Zusevics could have gone unclaimed — there’s no tape on him — but the Patriots are thin at guard right now, so Petrus is needed. Bequette was a third-round pick, who is safe, but now you’re a little bit more concerned that he produce something at some point.

5. Wouldn’t get hung up, even after the head-to-head matchup between the Texans and Patriots Dec. 10, on the “which team is better” debate. A lot is going to happen between now and a potential playoff matchup. But the bottom line is, the Texans and quarterback Matt Schaub are far from imposing. What they do on offense and defense should be in the Patriots’ wheelhouse.

Short yardage

Carson Palmer returns to Cincinnati with the Raiders to take on the team he carried for seven seasons before forcing a trade from the Bengals. He should get a cold welcome. “My last year there was physically, mentally and really, mentally just draining,” said Palmer. “That’s part of the reason it was just time.” . . . Amazing that Browns receiver/kick returner Josh Cribbs has just eight total offensive touches this season, considering the team isn’t exactly overflowing with weapons. Cribbs is a free agent after this season, and it will be interesting to see if a more creative team, especially one in need of receivers, can resurrect a career that once seemed so promising . . . Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller, who started the week ranked second in the league in sacks (13) and first in tackles for loss (23), continues to get better each time his steps on the field. “He also has speed, and there’s this term in football that says speed kills,” said Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel. “Speed forces other players to do things that they don’t normally do. So if Von lines up outside and I know he’s rushing the passer and I know he has speed, I had better get back or he’s going to run past me.” . . . The Broncos will miss the inside running of Willis McGahee (knee surgery), but it’s no major loss. McGahee has been an overrated, injury-prone player for a while.

Greg A. Bedard can be reached at gbedard @globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @gregabedard. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.
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