Sunday’s 31-28 meltdown in Miami will be tough for the New York Jets to process. There were many positive takeaways from this game. But little of that matters after the most gut-wrenching defeat in recent Jets history.
Week 3’s Fish Fry was an event far in this team’s past. Gang Green knew they had to go for the jugular in Miami and sweep their division foes. That did not happen.
The Jets’ derided offense scored 28 points, and it was still not enough. They had a two touchdown lead with less than 12 minutes to go. That’s two straight weeks this team had two-touchdown leads yet ending up losing. Gang Green hadn’t lost a game up 14 points in 22 years, since the Rich Kotite error. Where was that killer instinct Bowles likes to talk about?
It was beyond upsetting to watch that pass-rush pressure subside as soon as Jordan Jenkins cracked Jay Cutler‘s ribs, and career backup Matt Moore stepped under center. With no Moore pass rush, he picked apart this heat-stroked defense. Is that symptomatic of the beleaguered D-line, or the coaching staff bafflingly changing the scheme?
For three quarters, the Jets looked like a relevant football club. A win was in the bag, But the defense let a two-TD lead evaporate, and the QB had a Joe Pisarcik-like brain-freeze. This team is not good enough to overcome mistakes (a mind-boggling 12 penalties for 125 yards, including seven in the decisive fourth quarter). It’s time to wake up and smell the Gatorade: The Jets are not playoff-bound. They’re last place in the league’s weakest division.
The biggest concern for the Jets moving forward is that their inability to close out games is a terrible trait that is not easily fixable. The players have changed, but what all three Bowles Jets team have shared is mental softness, lacking in week-to-week focus and consistency.
There are plenty of red flags regarding this franchise moving forward. What’s worst about this absolutely killer loss is that we’re not talking about all the great young players’ accomplishments. Here’s five reasons (named for 1980s Rolling Stones classics) to see light at the end of the tunnel.
Next: 5. Beast of Burden
5. Beast of Burden
The Jets defensive plan going into Miami was a repeat of Week 3 at MetLife: Shut down Jay Ajayi. In the previous matchup, the Boise State bruiser got held to a measly 16 yards on 11 carries. He finished this game with 23 carries for 51 yards.
Bowles tries to shield his unproductive players, in this case, the defensive line. Coach is correct that the D-line makes a lot of plays that don’t make the stat sheet. Like Muhammad Wilkerson‘s early second quarter hurry of Cutler that resulted in a failed pass to an open receiver. Or the passing lane established by Leonard Williams that paved the way for outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins‘ Cutler-crushing sack before halftime.
Mo had his best game of 2017, ringing in his 28th b-day, by leading the takedown of Ajayi. He also celebrated his second career INT, off a Jamal Adams deflection that he ran back to within three feet of the Dolphins end zone — culminating in Josh McCown‘s gutsy QB sneak to hush Hard Rock Stadium before halftime.
Mo and Leo still have a combined zero sacks. They say they’re unconcerned, and remain focused on wins. Jenkins thinks the Jets’ pass rush is simply not good enough. Former NFL star offensive lineman Brian Baldinger, a neutral observer who breaks down tape on every NFL game, said last week, “Wilkerson is not interested in playing.” Bowles even admitted he has toyed with shelving the $86 Million Man.
You’d think Coach Bowles would know by now that no imaginative blitz packages can succeed if the D-linemen can’t get off their blocks to fill the gaps and/or collapse the pocket. An example of that came on a Moore-to-Kenny Stills TD pass with 11:21 to go. Give any pro QB five or six seconds to throw downfield, and he’ll shred your defense. That’s what happened in this contest.
Darron Lee had a mixed game. He led the team in tackles. But he also had two costly calls against him in the first half. Roughing the passer and facemask penalties kept two Dolphins drives alive to make the game 14-14 before halftime. And in his coverage of Ajayi and TE Julius Thomas, Lee was playing five yards off his man, which is not proper technique to stop a runaway train.
The secondary has been relatively effective. Former Cowboy Morris Claiborne, in his first injury-free season, has been a real leader for this entire defense. Jamal Adams has ambitious plans to change the safety position with his predatory play. He and Marcus Maye were flying all over the field, and Maye’s monster INT (the second of his young career) derailed a Dolphins momentum shift. But none of this matters now, as Buster Skrine got beaten like a drum with another pitiful afternoon, leading a penalty-prone secondary that broke down in coverage far too many times.
Next: 4. Shattered
McCown is a decent NFL gunslinger, who acts cool under pressure. He ran an almost perfect opening drive — 5 plays 75-yards, taking just 2:05 off the clock — and looked elite-level after a late third quarter heave to Austin Seferian-Jenkins that put the Jets ahead seemingly for good at 28-14. The Jets seemed unconcerned that McCown threw the ball 53 times against New England. So it was hardly surprising to watch him air it out against the swampy Fins secondary.
But he’s also getting exposed as the 38-year-old journeyman that he is, with too many rookie-like misfires. In the fourth-quarter, he failed on third down conversions, running outside the pocket to take a critical sack, and then failing to take a timeout on an ill-advised formation that caused another sack.
Then there was that unthinkable INT with 90 seconds left that handed the game to Miami, where he stared down a receiver, misreading a zone defense. Such a pass cannot happen from a veteran QB. It was one of the worst INTs you will see in football. Bad decision and poor execution. Do you still believe he’s light years better than young Bryce Petty?
The Jets offensive game plan was to re-establish their geriatric running game with the return of Matt Forte and Bilal Powell, and for a blossoming of Josh McCown‘s more than passing affair with Robby Anderson. How did that work out? Good but not great.
Sure, the offense went three-and-out most of the second half. But whose big idea was it to play “prevent offense” at the end of this game? Ground control to offensive coordinator John Morton?
There were still way too many back-breaking penalties. Seferian-Jenkins had a holding call that killed a big drive before halftime. And there was a third quarter drive with three calls against the offensive line, including a pointless personal foul against Wesley Johnson, downfield after the whistle. One good sign was on the offensive line, where Brandon Shell left the field with a first quarter neck injury, and Brent Qvale did an impressive job under relentless Pro Bowl pressure.
ASJ, who had that nice TD snag, is coming into his own. He handled the New England “fumble” fiasco in a classy manner, and despite being suspended the first two games, is on target for a 75-catch year. ASJ is an inspirational story of overcoming adversity; from an immature punk to a leader of men. He’s someone to feel good about this season.
Next: 3. Respectable
The Jets special teams are on the verge of becoming pretty darn special themselves. It’s a much more palatable situation than last year or the year before that.
Aussie punter Lachlan Edwards continues to improve dramatically. 2016’s NFL lowest-ranked booter is now No. 8 in the league, the top ranking for a Jet since 2006. That’s impressive progress for the second-year former seventh-rounder.
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Before halftime, the Jets needed a big punt to pin Miami deep in their own territory. He responded with a 50-yarder that dropped on the 5-yard-line, his 13th punt inside the 20 this season. But in the fourth quarter — with a full-house rush against a critical punt from his end zone — Edwards wobbled a boot that got returned to the Jets 42-yard-line — resulting in a momentum-changing Dolphins TD.
Chandler Catanzaro blasts all his kickoffs into the end zone, and nails all his PATs. He repeated that pattern in Miami. Are you still pining for veteran kicker Nick Folk, about to get the boot from the Buccaneers?
Ar’Darius Stewart is no star returner. He did make a nice 16-yard return on a dangerous kick that stopped at the five-yard line. But then he brainlocked on a late-quarter return. Not sure why they’re over-working the rookie, and not putting out there sure-handed burner Travaris Cadet. ST Coach Brant Boyer must not like something he’s seeing.
The return of Jeremy Kerley has stabilized the punt return game. Too bad he got run out of town by ex-offensive coordinator Chan Gailey. Kerley’s success is also a bad sign for Jalin Marshall, last season’s training camp sensation, who flopped in the regular season with key drops as a return-man, and then sat the first four games over a failed P.E.D. test. The undrafted Ohio State dropout is hanging on for his NFL life, having passed through waivers, and relegated to the practice squad.
Next: 2. Start Me Up
2. Start Me Up
A good way to judge a team’s strength is its practice squad depth. Last season, the Jets’ PS was by far the NFL’s weakest.
Mike Maccagnan has improved that situation, stocking a ten-man unit of NFL-ready talent chock full of adrenaline and attitude. Third-year cornerback Robert Nelson had 20 tackles and an INT in 11 games for the 2016 Texans. Jalin Marshall and Deon Simon have Green-and-White experience.
There’s been talk about Trader Mike’s productive late roster additions being a net negative because his three drafts have yielded mixed results (though 2017’s draft class looks solid). But that’s no way to judge roster improvement. A great GM employs every tool in the shed, so it shouldn’t matter whether he cherrypicked Jamal Adams, discovered Elijah McGuire, traded for Jermaine Kearse or signed Kony Ealy off the scrap heap. By any means necessary indeed.
Things go both ways: Fifth-round TE Jordan Leggett was supposed to be a major contributor, instead, he’s only once stepped on the field due to a knee injury, and after a flare-up with swelling, seems destined to join five other promising Maccagnan draft picks on Injured Reserve.
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This week’s promising practice squad addition is Harold Jones-Quartey — an explosive 24-year-old overachiever from Columbus, Ohio via Ghana — who started 12 games at free safety for the Bears last year (ranked #66 of 90 by Pro Football Focus). The Findlay University grad with two career INTs could easily rise up the depth chart, and contribute by season’s end.
Next: 1. Tattoo You
1. Tattoo You
This recent loss in Miami is the type of meltdown that gets coaches fired. Nobody knows that better than Bowles. The real question is, does this coach possess the intestinal fortitude to turn this situation around before the player’s mutiny or this whole thing crashes and burns?
Atlanta (3-3) will be a good test for this reeling, rebuilding franchise. These opponents possess a high-powered offense fueled by Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman, a championship-level defense with a ferocious pass rush, and a solid special teams unit.
Each of the Jets’ AFC East rivals in Buffalo, Miami, and New England fleeced the Falcons this year. So you know they’ll be motivated to not suffer the ignominy of getting shut out for the season by the league’s least imposing division. It feels like one of those games where the Jets will play hard but fall short, grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory. How’s that for a dose of reality?
Sure, Falcons coach Dan Quinn kinda choked in last year’s Super Bowl. And it seems like his team has yet to recover. In this week’s loss to the Pats, he looked tight and desperate. But the Jersey kid badly wanted the job ultimately given to Bowles. So there’s a storyline behind this MetLife contest. Imagine how different things might’ve been had Woody Johnson not been so impatient.
It’s been suggested that this may be is the worst type of NFL purgatory, for the Jets to get off to a feel-good start and now to be irrelevant. But then again, what would you have said this summer if I told you that after seven games, this team would be 3-4? I think you would’ve gladly taken it.