The New York Jets (4-6) are likely now out of the playoff picture after an inexcusably frustrating 15-10 road loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Here are the top five thoughts as Gang Green go into their bye week to lick their wounds, reflect on how far they have come, and how far they still have to go.
Prognosticators focused on the reeling Tampa Bay Buccaneers against the rising New York Jets. But this game was about the juicy matchup between ex-Jet Ryan Fitzpatrick and ex-Buc Josh McCown — in a battle of geriatric, journeymen gunslingers, a combined 73 years old, and 15 NFL teams. It was time to toss all predictions out the window.
Fitz tactfully referred to his first start against his former employers as very ironic. But this dream matchup was down-right karmic. The Jets needed to fly down there and dominate. If there was such a thing as Jets justice, it was a romp in the Tampa Bay swamp. Clearly, there is no such thing as Jets justice.
Unbelievably, this team came out flat, and they’ve got nobody to blame but themselves. They lost in all phases of the game. This was not the effort Jets fans expected. Gang Green was not on top of their game. Even Todd Bowles knows that his team did not show up. After their finest showing against Buffalo, they responded with one of their worst efforts of the season. The Jets clearly do not rate as a post-season squad.
It was logical to worry about a Gang Green letdown, between the players exuding confidence this week from practice, to Bowles troubling track record of inconsistency, and of course, the ghost of Fitzmagic past. In the end, McCown endured his worst Jets performance because he got battered by untouched blitzers up the middle (enduring six sacks and 14 hits), and his teammates got outmatched by the Bucs under-productive front seven. In the preseason, we heard chatter about the 2017 Jets offense being the worst in NFL history. We saw flashes of that ineptitude in this game. But at the same time, they played without offensive cogs Matt Forte and Jeremy Kerley.
The offense needed to help out the defense with sustained drives. But Tampa Bay’s linebackers had no fear of McCown’s passes, and sat back in coverage, covering up the holes. They stacked the box with seven, eight, nine players in the box. The Jets needed to spread out the offense. But they couldn’t because they simply could not run the ball. Between the sacks and the missed blocks, it all came down to an offensive line meltdown.
The Jets endured another penalty fest (8-77). Going into this game they were the NFL’s second most penalized team, with 73. Forty seconds into the game, they had two penalties; and ten minutes before halftime, they had another six that killed offensive, defensive and special teams stands. Yes, some second-half calls against the secondary were iffy, but they’re part of a pattern. The coaching staff contributed to this morass with an inability to adjust game plans.
This week’s big story was wide receiver/punt returner Jeremy Kerley‘s anticipated four-game P.E.D. suspension — and how it creates opportunities for rookies ArDarius Stewart, Chad Hansen and Elijah McGuire. But let’s be clear: the seven-year vet out of TCU deserves no free pass. Despite his protestations, it’s implausible to accidentally ingest an anabolic steroid like Turinabol.
So if it’s time to sit back and reflect, let’s do so to a cerebral soundtrack. Here are five Pink Floyd songs that embody the Jets’ bye-week ruminations.
Next: 5. Welcome to the Machine
5. Welcome to the Machine
This game was supposed to be a statement for the Jets’ ascending defense. Considering the disappointing results, the unit did not fully disappoint. There’s much to be excited about on the defensive side of the ball.
Gang Green took on a last place team without their star QB (the injured Jameis Winston) and elite WR (the suspended Mike Evans). And after two seasons in NFL purgatory with Fitzpatrick, this Jets’ staff knew every dark secret about “The Amish Rifle.” But Gang Green’s braintrust were also keenly aware of his solid production (95.7 QB Rating) in limited play off the Bucs bench.
The Jets front seven had to contain Tampa Bay’s running game led by Doug Martin and Jacquizz Rodgers. But they’d shut down LeSean McCoy, Jay Ajayi (twice) and Leonard Fournette this season, so there was no excuse here. Such production was particularly impressive, considering the stunning admission that Mo Wilkerson has been playing on a broken toe — making his resurgent efforts all the more impressive.
So the game plan all came down to the defensive line applying relentless pressure in Fitzpatrick’s grill. And for the young secondary to both protect the back end against ballers like veteran LeSean Jackson and rookie O.J. Howard and take advantage of Fitz’s famed history of self-imploding INTs.
But the combination of lack of sustained pass rush — witness Hobart’s Ali Marpet neutralizing the No. 1 talent in the 2015 draft Leonard Williams — and the foot re-injury to shutdown corner Morris Claiborne, energized Fitzpatrick to drive the Bucs down the field at will. The Harvard hurler absolutely crushed the Jets on third down conversions. When Buster Skrine limped off the field, they had to bring in safety Rontez Miles and shift Marcus Maye to nickel. Fitzpatrick picked on Maye for the remainder of the game. This bye week couldn’t come quickly enough.
The team’s most disruptive D-lineman continues to be Kony Ealy, who whiffed a few times on stuffing Fitz but batted down his league-leading ninth pass. The second coming of DeMario Davis (third in the NFL in tackles) has been this team’s most important offseason defensive acquisition; in this game, the ILB blew up two Fitz passes. So there’s something to believe in.
Next: 4. Learning to Fly
4. Learning to Fly
Josh McCown (23-39, 263 yards) has brought energy to this locker room. The NFL nomad projects an enthusiasm for the game. He competes, displays poise in the pocket, and gives them a chance to win each week, which is all one can ask for. Sure McCown can’t throw the ball outside the numbers and still makes rookie mistakes. But could you imagine this team with one of the backups starting?
Case in point: Gang Green’s first six possessions registered five punts and a turnover, with no third-down conversions. Then the 38-year old put together an impressive drive before halftime that tied the score 3-3 at halftime. What stood out was after a blind-side hit which nearly destroyed McCown and seemingly put the Jets out of field goal range, the veteran QB completed a laser to Jermaine Kearse (4-35), who had his most inconsistent game in Green and White, between penalties and dropped passes. There was also a stellar 4th-and-21 fourth-quarter completion to Austin Seferian-Jenkins (6-67).
Robby Anderson (4-85, one TD) needed to excel and had mixed results. He dropped a big catch, and then he slowed down on a Brent Grimes INT returned to the Jets 31. Luckily, Darryl Roberts‘ INT on the next play saved the day. Anderson made an impressive late-game TD catch but could not get both feet in-bounds. Then with 28 seconds left, his tightrope nab resulted in a six-pointer in his fourth straight game. TE Neal Sterling was not heard from after dropping two targeted passes. But rookie Chad Hansen (3-33) looked professional in his first sustained field time.
Little was expected of this offensive line, and over the first nine games, the results were far better than expected. But this contest was a different matter. Converted center Wesley Johnson left no one pining for the shell of Nick Mangold. James Carpenter and Brian Winters stated their case as the league’s top guard tandem. Kelvin Beachum got the job done at left tackle, as had Brandon Shell spelled by Brent Qvale on the right side. Tight end Eric Tomlinson had been the unit’s most punishing blocker of all. Receiving threat Seferian-Jenkins should be a better pile-mover for his size, and he’s a proven penalty machine. In this game, every one of these players disappointed.
The Jets have a bounty of 2018 draft picks and cap space. The front office would be wise to expend those funds on offensive upgrades. The chasm between this offensive unit and that of top teams like New England and Philadelphia is absolutely cavernous.
Next: 3. Coming Back to Life
3. Coming Back to Life
The Jets’ special teams have been a mixed bag. There has bee a marked improvement since last season. But there is still a serious need for an upgrade.
Second-year punter Lach Edwards (50.6-yard average) continues to excel. Going into Tampa Bay, the Aussie outta Sam Houston State is the NFL’s ninth-ranked booter. In this game, he blasted two punts for 50 yards and nailed yet another inside the 20. But on a key third-quarter boot, he shanked a punt that somehow rolled 37 yards. And Bernard Reedy‘s 41-yard return a punt for 41 yards was in large part his responsibility.
Chandler Catanzaro rated the No. 24 kicker in the 32-team league, is an upgrade over Nick Folk. While his 78.9 field goal percentage is lower than his predecessor’s previous four seasons, Chandler’s misses were all over 40 yards, in not exactly ideal weather conditions. And every one of his kickoffs boom out of the end zone. So that’s why this game in balmy Tampa Bay was an ideal acid test for where these special teams truly stand. When the chips were down in a rainy road game, he nailed a clutch 47-yarder that tied the score going into halftime.
The return game is another matter. Sure-handed Jeremy Kerley muffed two big punts this year, and his returns amassed an anemic 5.3 yards per. That makes his stats slightly better than the departed Kalif Raymond (three fumbles, 7.6 per). Visions of Raymond surely danced in the heads of Jets fans, when practice squadder JoJo Natson, a 5’7″ 150 lb. player outta Akron, wearing Kalif’s old “87” jersey, stood back to return punts in Kerley’s place.
Kickoff returns have been de-emphasized by the concussion-conscious league, which is a net positive for the Jets. The good news is they’ve yet to suffer any disastrous fumbles. The bad news is ArDarius Stewart leads the team with nine returns for just 19.2 per. Natson must’ve suffered a brain freeze on a fourth-quarter kickoff that resulted in a paltry ten-yard return. Does he deserve another shot, averaging just 18 yards on three kick returns, and one punt return for -2 yards?
The game’s feel-good story was Patrick Murray, a Mahwah, NJ kid outta Fordham via Don Bosco Prep. The Bucs new kicker — replacing Folk, on IR for two of the past three seasons — got the job done. Against the Jets, he nailed three FGs, including a 51-yarder that gave the Bucs the lead for good.
Next: 2. Another Brick in the Wall
2. Another Brick in the Wall
In terms of personnel, the results are rolling in on Mike Maccagnan‘s drafts. ESPN’s Rich Cimini broke down the 2017 draft as: two perfect picks (in Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye), two average (Dylan Donahue and Elijah McGuire), two below average (ArDarius Stewart and Chad Hansen), and three incompletes (the injured Jordan Leggett and Jeremy Clark, and the redshirted Derrick Jones).
Last year’s draft is starting to bear fruit, especially on the defensive side, between the rise of first-round ILB Darron Lee and third-round OLB Jordan Jenkins. The latter went into this game named AFC Defensive Player of the Week after he ravaged Tyrod Taylor for two sacks, two hits, and three tackles, two for losses. Jenkins isn’t incorrect in his belief that this can be an elite defense. Too bad the unit could not deliver with the cards on the table in Tampa Bay.
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Of Maccagnan’s first draft, Leonard Williams is solid but not quite a foundational player. All that remains from 2015 are one benchwarmer (Bryce Petty), two on Injured Reserve (decimated Devin Smith and underachieving Lorenzo Mauldin), and one on his final year of Practice Squad eligibility (Deon Simon). The conclusion of this analysis is that the GM is slowly growing into his position.
Jets legend Chad Pennington is correct in calling for the 2018 return of McCown. Last post this writer proposed for this franchise to pursue Chiefs QB Alex Smith in the offseason. Either move requires Trader Mike to select Gang Green’s future under center. He didn’t exactly get it right drafting Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg. So for the GM, is it third time’s a charm or three strikes and you’re out? Go with the former, not the latter.
With a positive season and a first-round draft pick in the 10-20 range, they still can nab a high-octane leader of men like personal favorite, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield. His critics point to a questionable NFL skill set, and rate him a mid-round value. Besides, the Jets already have a productive spread offense Big 12 Conference QB in Baylor product Bryce Petty. If the Jets keep disappointing, they’ll get a shot at tantalizing young guns like Wyoming’s Josh Allen or Louisville’s Lamar Jackson. But one thing’s for certain: this franchise’s future field general is not on this roster.
Next: 1. Us and Them
1. Us and Them
There’s much to consider over the bye week. Sure, Gang Green deserved better fates in losses to New England and Atlanta. But they deserved this loss. In fact, the score was far closer than the game indicated. On one hand, there’s a sense of relief with the understanding that this sub-par team will likely miss the playoffs. On the other hand, is there anything to play for in the remaining six games? Will this season become an extended training camp for the 2018 roster spots?
The next two games will be a good test for this team moving forward, with home contests against the Carolina Panthers and Kansas City Chiefs. A split would be deemed a success. Then comes three road games in Denver, New Orleans and New England, and a homer against a resurgent LA Chargers. So don’t expect these young hungry players to throw in the towel. They certainly did not cower when the “experts” laughed them off as a 0-16 “Suck for Sam” job.
So now it seems like the front office knew what they were doing after all when they “tanked” their own histrionic circus of Brandon Marshall, Sheldon Richardson, Geno Smith, et al. A cancerous locker-room has been fumigated. Whatever these new Jets lack in credentials, they make up for in effort and attitude. Even if they don’t always show it, these players really buy into Bowles — and Bowles has embraced his leadership role. Sure, the coach needs to work on consistency and in-game adjustments. This may all be about building towards the future, but there’s plenty of good football to look forward to after the bye week.