SAN DIEGO - An irritated Rex Ryan did the only thing he could think of: He said he was sorry about his team's shortcomings.
"First off, I apologize to our fans -- those that are left,'' Ryan said Sunday after the Jets' fourth consecutive loss, a 31-0 blowout by the Chargers.
In some ways, this defeat felt just like all the others. But in many ways, this shutout felt far more unsettling.
The Jets are in free fall, and no one in the organization has any answers.
"It's on me,'' said Ryan, who never had lost four straight since joining the Jets in 2009. "It's on one man. I understand what needs to be done and it'll start with our preparation, like it always does. But again, I thought I had my team prepared. And that wasn't the case.''
Even in the less than dominant AFC East, the Jets (1-4) find themselves drifting closer to obscurity. It doesn't matter that they haven't faced a divisional rival. This losing streak likely will haunt them, even if they're somehow able to resurrect their season.
For all the questions about Geno Smith, this sad effort proved that the quarterback play is only a symptom of a much larger issue. Ryan tried, in vain, to jump-start his offense in the second half by playing his one remaining card: Michael Vick. And even that didn't work.
Vick picked up right where the struggling Smith left off, and the Chargers (4-1) had their way with Ryan's beloved defense. The final score was "embarrassing,'' Ryan said. But the porous pass protection, horrible tackling and utter lack of discipline were just as troubling. The Jets were outgained 439-151 and outrushed 162-91.
That's why it came as no surprise that Ryan announced that Smith will start Sunday against Peyton Manning and the Broncos.
"I'm going with Geno Smith,'' said Ryan, who told Smith of the quarterback switch at halftime with the Jets trailing 21-0.
"It wasn't on him. He wasn't the guy out there blocking or blowing assignments. Like I said, it's not on one player, it's on one individual, and that's me. Again, Geno will be our quarterback next week. And that's just the way it is.''
The Jets couldn't run the ball or throw it, and their offensive line was a big reason why. The protection gave way early and often, sending Smith scrambling. He was 1-for-6 for 7 yards in the first quarter and finished 4-for-12 for 27 yards with an interception and a 7.6 rating. He and Vick were 0-for-9 on passes of 10 or more yards downfield, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
Philip Rivers (20-for-28, 288 yards, 125.3 passer rating), tight end Antonio Gates (two touchdowns) and Branden Oliver (two touchdowns, 114 rushing yards) carved up the Jets.
"We've got to stop the bleeding right now and just find a healing process,'' slot receiver Jeremy Kerley said softly. "And the only way we're going to do that is just sticking together. And hopefully we can start climbing out this hole.''
Muhammad Wilkerson took exception to Ryan's taking the blame. "As men out here, we've got to do our jobs. We get paid to play football,'' Wilkerson said. "We've got a long season ahead of us. Guys need to get this thing turned around. Everybody just needs to come in and work a little bit harder.''
Sheldon Richardson painted a clear picture of the Jets' predicament without even realizing it. Asked if the Jets can turn things around, he said: "Yeah, we've got to. We better. We've got no other choice. Otherwise, there are probably going to be changes. It's all on us [players].''
He later clarified, however, that he wasn't referring to Ryan's job status. "That's not what I'm talking about,'' he said, a little agitated.
But the truth is, Ryan could be on his way out if his team doesn't improve. And he knows it.
"I'm not familiar with this spot,'' he said of starting 1-4. "I've never been in this spot. A dark spot? Yeah. Are we scratching, clawing, finding anything we can, searching for answers? Absolutely.
"At this stage, it seems like too great a challenge, too great a task when you get beat like that today. But I know it's not.''