George: Jets’ collapse comes with questions

Thomas George reports from the Dolphins-Jets game. Check later for his complete column.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Just like the crisp, white jerseys they wore Sunday, the Miami Dolphins showed the New York Jets what a cleaner brand of football looks like, feels like. The Dolphins showed the Jets just what it can bring.

Efficient football fetched the AFC East title and a 11-5 season for the Dolphins, who punched the Jets 24-17 at the Meadowlands. Yes, the 1-15 Dolphins from a year ago just completed their about-face from vagabond to prince, from errand-runner to honcho. They did it, in huge part, by breaking the NFL record for fewest turnovers in a 16-game season. The old mark was 14, set by the 1990 New York Giants. These Dolphins committed 13.

One turnover — a fumble — surfaced for Miami in this game. But the Dolphins intercepted three Brett Favre passes, recovered a fumble and blocked a Jets punt. Thus, Miami won the turnover battle, won the quarterback battle of Chad Pennington against Favre, won the battle of desire and broke the New England Patriots’ stranglehold on the AFC East.

The Dolphins will host the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC playoff’s first round next week.

The Jets (9-7) improved on their 4-12 season from a year ago, but by any measure, this was a disappointing finish. The Jets were an 8-3 team that had won road games at New England and Tennessee in late November. But the Jets went 1-4 in their final five games. They lost their last two.

This loss symbolized much of the inconsistency in the Jets’ finish.

Favre not in concert with his receivers. His receivers dropping wide-open passes. Favre trying to do too much in too many situations (22 interceptions this season). No Jet able to make the difference-making play, the winning play, to overcome the group’s inadequacies.

So, for the Jets, let the howling begin. How can Pennington, the former Jet, get the last say and embarrass his former team in its own stadium? Is Favre done? Is coach Eric Mangini done? Are the Jets not good enough? Or are the Jets plenty good enough but just toiling in futility?

Those are tough questions, and many of them will be tossed Mangini’s way. The third-year coach had to look across the field and realize that, with such a big game on hand, rookie coach Tony Sparano led his Dolphins to a better performance, a winning performance.

The only solace the Jets can take from this is that their loss knocked New England out of contention for the AFC East title and helped push the Patriots out of the playoff picture. And that means plenty to the Jets, considering their distaste for the Patriots.

Really, though, little can color the odor of this complete collapse by the Jets, who proved as a team that they couldn’t handle late-season prosperity, who all season long worked to get Favre connected and into the fold and in command of the offense, only to see early positive results erased by a late-season swoon.

The Dolphins wear the crown.

For the Jets, forget calm. Expect chaos.

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