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NY Jets: Requiem for a fan

Sep 13, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; A New York Jets fans cheers during the second half against the Cleveland Browns at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 13, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; A New York Jets fans cheers during the second half against the Cleveland Browns at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports /
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The NY Jets (10-6), in the biggest game of the season, with everything to play for, laid an egg with a flat performance against Rex Ryan’s Buffalo Bills.  Next week the playoffs commence; this week Gang Green clear out their lockers.  Welcome to the travails of a forlorn franchise.

Sep 13, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; A New York Jets fans cheers during the second half against the Cleveland Browns at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

To be a life-long fan of the Jets requires a strange combination of bravado and masochism.  It’s a particular strain of mental illness.  Symptoms include numbness, anger, frustration, depression, confusion and banging one’s head against the wall.  Perhaps you too suffer such affliction — otherwise you wouldn’t still be reading anguished posts like these.

This one was as bad as it gets.  This one will sting.  This frustration will linger.  Sunday afternoon’s 22-17 season-ending playoff-missing debacle to Rex Ryan’s Buffalo Bills just might be the most heartbreaking regular-season loss in team history, worse than the meltdowns of 2008 and 2000, that cost the respective NYJ coaching careers of Eric Mangini and Al Groh.  Gang Green picked the worst time to have their worst game of the season.

The road loss in Orchard Park was a colossal failure from top to bottom.  The Jets were out-coached, outplayed and out-hustled.  They inexplicably come out flat — against an injury ravaged, second-rate, third-place team with nothing to play for — with everything on the line.  It doesn’t matter that New York lost to their potty-mouthed former coach or that this franchise has not won in Buffalo since 2011.

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The Jets had all of the advantages.  But it’s difficult to win six games in a row, and they were due for a clunker.  Plus Ryan Fitzpatrick had been playing a little over his head, quite unlike the slightly below average quarterback of the past eleven seasons.

And yet, with no time outs and seconds left to play, they were still only a Kenbrell Thompkins reception away from a road playoff game in Cincinnati — where the Jets seem to always win.

We all drank the media Kool-Aid about how the Jets were capable of big run in a weak AFC playoff picture.  But now it’s time for the green-and-white to go home, and ruminate over what might have been.

The final slew of live concerts by heavy metal legends Black Sabbath have been dubbed “The End Tour” — which seems to connect to this five-page post’s theme of “Just End The Season.”  The band will be performing a song that most Jets fans can probably relate to: “Killing Yourself To Live.”

Next: 5. Heaven and Hell

Jan 3, 2016; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins (14) runs the ball after a catch while being defended by New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis (24) during the second half at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Bills beat the Jets 22 to 17. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

5. Heaven and Hell It was very difficult to watch the Jets’ vaunted defense get battered by a decimated Bills’ offense based around Mike Gillislee, Boobie Dixon and Jets cast-off Greg Salas.  Even worse was watching John Idzik project Walter Powell out-punt-returning the Jets’ multi-million-dollar fair-catch-machine Jeremy Kerley.

This column warned coming into this match-up about Ryan Quigley, possibly the worst starting punter of the 21st Century NFL thus far.  And the Boston College booter did not disappoint, with a Pop Warner-level 20-yard shank from the end zone that led to a Bills touchdown and left the Jets in the hole for the game’s entirety.

Randy Bullock missed a key third-quarter 40-yard field goal, but the Lake Erie wind swirls at Ralph Wilson Stadium — built 50 feet below sea level! — can be perilous to most pro place kickers, and Bullock executed on all his other kicks in a frigid, hostile environment.

Watching Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins dominate the Jets’ secondary bedrock Darrelle Revis made one realize why the Patriots flinched at giving the aging cornerback his three-years $39 million guaranteed.  Reeves was toast all night long, the sight of him lagging yards behind the Bills receiver will be a haunting memory of the afternoon.  Then again, one must wonder why constant reinforcements were never called in to defend Revis Island.

And while we’re mentioning the Patriots, you know that the Foxboro faithful were chanting every last Novena, praying Tom Brady wouldn’t have to get hammered again by Gang Green’s front four again in the playoffs.  But New York’s front-four got thoroughly schooled by a Buffalo offensive line anchored by the dislikable Richie Incognito.  That inability to hit the quarterback exposed the Jets’ weak edge pursuit, so slow that Tyrod Taylor looked down-right Cam Newton-ish at times.

The Jets braintrust will have much to consider this offseason.  Expect a replacement for special teams coach Bobby April, and a reinvention of the entire kicking game.  Maybe its time to make that call over to the SNY offices and lure “Jets Post Game Live” commentator Mike Westhoff back to the sidelines and straighten this mess out fast!

Next: 4. Sabotage

Jan 3, 2016; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills defensive back Nickell Robey (37) breaks up a pass to New York Jets wide receiver Eric Decker (87) during the first half at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

4. Sabotage Going into the 2015 season, expectations were modest.  But once the Jets arrived on the precipice of the playoff picture, everyone expected them to step up in a big way.  In the end, New York’s big-time defense was not big-time, their once-offensive offense exceeded expectations, and their special teams were especially un-special.

Now Jets fans understand what much of the football world already knew.  They see why Fitzpatrick and Brandon Marshall, with a combined 21 years of NFL experience, have yet to sniff a playoff game.  Both veteran locker room leaders again came up small in big situations.

All season long, we saw “the good Fitzpatrick,” the one that the Bills bestowed a $10 million signing bonus in 2011 to be Buffalo’s franchise quarterback.  But in his old stomping grounds Sunday afternoon resurfaced “the bad Ryan Fitzpatrick,” the one now on his fourth team since signing that $59 million contract extension.

The team’s much-improved wide receivers dropped too many balls in key situations.  Fantasy statistics may say something different, but Eric Decker has proven to be more of a clutch performer than Marshall.  De facto tight end Quincy Enunwa, in the most important game of the year, was awful, dropping passes as well as a “gimme” shuffle-pass that looked like it could’ve gone all the way.

But the real killer was that even despite it all, the Jets could’ve and should’ve won.  Most every fan will be suffering through the playoffs thinking “what if” — knowing that had they got into the tourney, they would’ve had a chance to dream.  It was all in front of them.  But they got beat down by a mediocre team.

Next: 3. The Wizard

Jan 3, 2016; Orchard Park, NY, USA; New York Jets head coach Todd Bowles on the sideline during the second half against the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Bills beat the Jets 22-17. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

3. The Wizard Head coach Todd Bowles did a very solid job in his first season.  He successfully changed a toxic culture and unified the roster.  But he had a very bad day in Buffalo.  Rex Ryan had his .500 squad prepared — and Bowles didn’t.  Todd Bowles cannot escape scorn for not having his team ready to play in Orchard Park — there is no excuse for that.  The Jets players always speak proudly about their head coach’s cool, confident demeanor.  But clearly some of these players needed bolder motivation.

Such flat performances were all too commonplace — most egregious the home loss to Chip Kelly’s Eagles, road embarrassments in Oakland and Houston, and that Thursday night horror, losing on national television, again 22-17 to the Bills, as Rex celebrated solo after the final whistle with no embraces from his former players.  And let’s not forget those slow start victories over Jacksonville, the Giants and Dallas.

But Bowles’ defense got torched — they were getting beaten over and over, and there were no adjustments.  They seemed so worried about containing Taylor’s scrambling game and slowing down deep threat Watkins, they changed their usual tough schemes to give cushions and play soft zones.

Just how many big-time third- and fourth-down conversions did Buffalo have?  And how many Jets mis-tackles and costly penalties?  The most egregious penalty was a game-changer; Sheldon Richardson jumping offside when EJ Manuel stepped under-center on a third-and-short, for the sole purpose of trying to draw the Jets offside!

Offensive coordinator Chan Gailey had a tremendous season, but he also saved his worst for last.  Gailey better than anyone should’ve known that cold and windy games are best-suited for running the ball and short passes. But in all fairness, all season long the offense has moved away from their stout running game and that passing game has worked out great.  However, as good as they were throwing the ball, at times they threw too much — like in this crucial game.

Something was up with Chris Ivory.  Yes he was nicked-up and has a propensity to fumble, but he deserved more than six carries in a must-win game, especially after his dynamic 58-yard third-quarter run from scrimmage.  The game started with Stevan Ridley, in surely his final game with the Jets, strangely playing Ivory’s power-back role.

Despite everything, the Jets could’ve and should’ve won in Buffalo.  It’s difficult to think that this team would get taken to the woodshed by a Rex Ryan team playing for pride.  It’s something the organization’s members can stew over until training camp.

Next: 2. Master of Reality

Dec 6, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan before a game against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

2. Master of Reality

New general manager Mike Maccagnan did a tremendous job this season, under some very trying circumstances.  But Season Two will present even greater challenges.

Maccagnan excelled in both trades and free agency.  Not just his low-risk acquisitions of Fitzpatrick and Marshall and his high-profile spending of former general manager John Idzik’s nest-egg on Revis, Antonio Cromartie, Buster Skrine, Marcus Gilchrist and James Carpenter, but all his under-the-radar 2015 contributors like Kellen Davis, Erin Henderson, Kenbrell Thompkins or even the November acquisition of kicker Randy Bullock, who excelled during that five-game late-season winning streak.

Maccagnan’s first draft rates an Incomplete.  The #6 pick in the draft Leonard Williams has not yet become that dominant game-changing defensive line terror projected by draft prognosticators.  Lorenzo Mauldin will become another important Jets player of the future, but the strong-side linebacker can’t be their only outside pass-rushing force.

Wide receiver Devin Smith suffered through a lost season of major injuries and rookie issues.  Long-term projects quarterback Bryce Petty, guard Jarvis Harrison and defensive tackle Deon Simon never got on the field.  The team is also high on undrafted free agents like linebackers Taiwan Jones and Deion Barnes, and British athletic freak/offensive lineman Lawrence Okoye.

Decisions must be made about current players going into free agency.  Veteran tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson was allegedly horrified by the Concussion movie, but he probably will not walk away from his $14.1 million salary cap figure, and will renegotiate a lesser contract.  A successful renegotiation will help determine the Jets’ degree of salary cap flexibility going into free agency.

Such an agreement will particularly impact their ability to hold on to their defense’s quiet force nose tackle Damon “Snacks” Harrison.  But would it really be a wise decision to open up the wallet and sign inside linebacker Demario Davis long-term?

You gotta feel terrible for Muhammad Wilkerson, getting carted off the field and requiring surgery for a badly broken leg before signing his big free-agency-year contract.  But while the man definitely deserves a fat contract, has he really been “dissed” with his $7 million paid this season — plus his $15-16 million for 2016 once he gets slapped with the “transitional tag?”  The Jets are playing by the very rules agreed to with the player’s union.  What could be fairer than that?

Jan 3, 2016; Orchard Park, NY, USA; New York Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson (96) is helped off the field as head coach Todd Bowles looks on during the second half against the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Bills beat the Jets 22-17. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

The Jets went into the season wanting to establish a “ground and pound” game based around their strong rushing stable.  But suddenly, that running back situation is up in the air.  Ivory looked like a keeper half-way through the season, but he broke down by year’s end, and his inability to stay on the field in the biggest game of the season, couple with his general inability to hold on to the ball, may have just punched his ticket out-of-town.

Same for the explosive Bilal Powell, who had a few very nice games down the stretch, but in general slogged through a disappointing season wrecked by ankle injuries. Who knows what to expect next season?  An argument can be made that this was a win-now team with a veteran core.

The Jets will have to make major strides in terms of roster talent if they plan to taste playoff success in 2016, but the fanbase should have confidence that Maccagnan is just the man for that job.

Next: 1. Never Say Die!

Jan 3, 2016; Orchard Park, NY, USA; New York Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) throws a pass during the second half against the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Bills beat the Jets 22 to 17. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

1. Never Say Die! The Jets organization can hold their heads high.  This is no longer the national laughingstock of The Buttfumble era.  Other franchises do not want to face this team. They narrowly missed the playoffs in their rookie coach’s first year.  If you told anyone this time last year that 10-6 would be in the cards for 2015, after going a dismal 4-12 in 2014, no Jets fan would’ve looked that gift horse in the mouth.

The players had a taste of success and should come back hungry and focused.  The roster possesses a good nucleus, and this core should gel after another year in this system.   The team also realized that they were able to win games without Revis but not able to win without “The Louisville Slugger,” strong safety Calvin Pryor.

Critics point out that the Jets had an easy schedule and endured few injuries.  And there’s certainly no reason to expect repeat career years out of Fitzpatrick and Marshall.  That’s why Sunday was such a killer loss. To come out flat in Week 17 is very difficulty to comprehend.  It was such a frustrating loss because they simply did not take care of business.

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There will plenty of changes to come. Expect 15-20 new players including draft picks, free agents and UDFAs (undrafted free agents).  Bowles and Maccagnan realize that they must make many smart personnel choices moving forward, and clear the roster of past Idzik-era mistakes.  Expect an emphasis on one or two bruising lineman, a ferocious edge pass rusher, more secondary help, a tight end and a young running back.  But that’s all for next season.

This time last week, the playoffs were in sight.  And everyone felt things were going right. But they lost in Buffalo with barely a fight.  Now the Jets season is over, and to all a good night.

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