The crumbling New York Jets had their backs against the wall going into their game against a reeling Kansas City Chiefs. Coach Todd Bowles delivered with one of the best-coached games of his career. The 38-31 victory leaves Gang Green (5-7) two games out of the playoff picture with four Sundays to go.
The Kansas City Chiefs were a dead team walking into MetLife Stadium. After a strong start to 2017, their season was on the line. Alex Smith was fighting to keep rookie Patrick Mahomes II on the bench. Charcandrick West led a laundry list of injured stars. The game’s back-story was the return of future Ring of Honor inductee Darrelle Revis, who said that he had nothing to prove. That’s true; because Gang Green are paying the new Chief $7 Million to not to play for them this year. And Revis, as if on cue, played dreadfully; too slow to cover and too over-it to tackle.
The Jets, with their faint playoff hopes on the line after a pelting by the Panthers, needed to address their soul-crushing fourth-quarter collapses. This contest had real consequences, for many reasons. Then hours before game time, Bowles suspended starters Muhammad Wilkerson and Darron Lee over their tardiness for Saturday walk-throughs. Lee’s absence resulted in a rough afternoon for Marcus Maye against Chiefs’ star tight end Travis Kelce (4-94, 2 TDs). Thankfully, in this game, KC beat NY in the battle of late-game brain-freeze.
There’s much to feel good about after this contest. This was a fun, lively victory all around, and you could tell that this team is really building something. Bowles laid down the law; offensive coordinator John Morton excelled in situational football; Josh McCown had his finest game, maybe ever; Jermaine Kearse and Robby Anderson looked outstanding, and the Jets didn’t endure another brutal collapse.
The songs of early Aerosmith provide a killer soundtrack for this rockin’ Jets season. Here are five titles that reflect accurately on Gang Green 2017 as they play out the string with faint playoff hopes.
Next: 5. Back in the Saddle
5. Back in the Saddle
The defense was at once this team’s strength and its Achilles’ Heel. Numerous question marks remain, not just for this season’s final four games, but for 2018 and beyond.
For instance, no NFL team has good answers for covering large tight ends over the middle. But Gang Green’s rookie safeties Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye, and ascending inside linebackers Darron Lee and Demario Davis, are leaving behind the stench of 2016, 2015 and years prior. Lee’s replacement, Wagner grad Julian Stanford, did not go unnoticed, by the coaching staff or the Staten Island faithful.
Shutdown corner Morris Claiborne has proven himself as the anti-Revis. But boy, did the former Cowboy get burned on Tyreek Hill’s fourth-quarter TD that briefly gave KC the lead. Backup Juston Burris got his bell rung last week against the Panthers and sat out due to concussion protocol. This team expected big things from last season’s fourth-round pick. But the Jets activate four CBs every game, and Burris has fallen to the fourth option. His stand-in recently acquired 49er Rashard Robinson, got torched on another Hill six-pointer.
Muhammad Wilkerson has likely worn out his welcome in Florham Park. After yet another excuse for yet another suspension related to a lack of commitment to his craft — his third such demerit in three straight seasons — the former All-Pro has now given this organization nearly $50 million reasons to opt out on his $86 million deal. Big Mo has proven he is neither a leader of men nor the over-achieving workout warrior deserved of such riches. Darron Lee gets no free pass either. But he’s very young and kinda clueless and has earned a chance to learn from this teaching moment.
Next: 4. Get the Lead Out
4. Get the Lead Out
Second-year UDFA Robby Anderson is another Jets man-child. But the Temple product is becoming a star receiver before our eyes. Robby (eight receptions for 107 yards) and former Seahawk Jermaine Kearse (9-157) have matured into a dynamic duo. That, plus 2018’s return of Quincy Enunwa, and developing rookies Chad Hansen and ArDarius Stewart. give this team a solid WR unit going into next year. Hanson looked impressive on Sunday with two receptions for 25 yards. The higher-drafted Stewart broke slow on creative end-arounds (3 carries for five yards).
Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins (2-7) is an enigma wrapped in a riddle. The 6’6″ behemoth has the size and tools. But he needs to look in the mirror over all the dropped passes, missed blocks, brain-locked penalties and overturned TD calls. ASJ’s substitute Eric Tomlinson is a road-grading lead blocker with six career catches, and significant upside. Signing the burly Texas-El Paso Miner off the Texans’ practice squad last November was another quality under-the-radar front office move. Third-stringer Neal Sterling — an early-season acquisition, straight outta Monmouth — also went un-targeted for passes, but really helped move the pile versus the Chiefs. And give mad props to the beleaguered O-line, who amassed 488 total yards, including an impressive 157 yards on the ground.
Josh McCown (26-31, 331 yards) must return to Florham Park next year. Not as a 16-game starter, but as a bridge to whoever next steps under center. The way this young roster has rallied around the 37-year-old’s veteran leadership can help one overlook those three or four brutal losses squarely on his shoulders. Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg may never see the field this season. That may seem unfair, but it’s not like they’ve proven it at practice. Expect at least two new Jets QBs in 2018.
Next: 3. Draw the Line
3. Draw the Line
Jets special teams coach Brant Boyer and punter Lachlan Edwards focused all week on neutralizing the league’s most lethal kick returner, Tyreek Hill. Everyone on the ST squad knew what they’d be facing. But on his first return, the Olympic-level sprinter burned Gang Green up the middle for 24 yards. Edwards, the NFL’s No. 7-ranked punter boomed that kick over 60 yards; and nailed his only other one inside the 20; his 24th of the season.
JoJo Natson has beaten the odds and will return all Jets kicks for the near future — at least till Lucky Whitehead recovers from his broken foot or Jeremy Kerley returns from his P.E.D. suspension. But what does the job security of this 5’7″, 153-lb. Akron Zip say about the skill set of early season starter Kalif Raymond, cut by Gang Green and now bobbling punts for the last-place rudderless-less Giants?
Chandler Catanzaro has done what’s been expected of him. In this game, he and McCown led the Jets in scoring with 12 points each. The Jets’ ol’ QB had two TD power rushes, while CC delivered on three FGs and three PATs. In the offseason, the front office got ripped for replacing Nick Folk with the fired Cardinals placekicker. But now the decision looks genius. Face it, the less one hears about the punter and the kicker, the better they’re doing.
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The Jets can feel at ease moving forward with some blend of Edwards and Catanzaro. But they need to identify that electrifying return-man if they are to affect positional football in 2018 and beyond.
Next: 2. Seasons of Wither
2. Seasons of Wither
Do both the head coach and GM deserve to return? That’s a difficult question. But the answers are becoming self-evident.
The verdict is still out on coach Todd Bowles, but he made a strong statement with this Chiefs win. Jets fans have historically blasted on the poor on-field adjustments of head coaches like Herm Edwards and Rex Ryan. But Bowles makes ’em all seem Belichick-ian in comparison. The players really go all-out for their coach, although not all of the time. His lack of emphasis on drilling the basics has resulted in intolerable penalties and meat-headed blunders.
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The coach and GM were not hired together, and both report separately to ownership. So it’s not right to intertwine their fates. Replacing the GM requires a total front office overhaul, and Maccagnan, while hardly perfect, is growing into the job. A GM’s got little to do with the rudimentary miscues and late-game meltdowns. He’s got everything to do with rebuilding this roster with young hungry talent.
Trader Mike keeps tweaking with minor moves. One move that may pay off was this week’s addition of WR Tre McBride, waived by the beat-down Bears after his heated Halas Hall feud with coach John Fox‘s favorite Josh Bellamy. The third-year pro from William & Mary was fast becoming a key target for young Mitch Trubisky, and he could find his way onto the active roster before the end of the year. Even if things don’t pan out, the move cost relatively little.
Another intriguing practice squad addition was the Jets’ third Stephen F. Austin Lumberjack (joining Josh McCown and Lach Edwards). Similar to their recent trial with small-college star QB-turned-TE Jason Vander Laan — now contributing to the Colts — Gang Green inked All-Southland Conference QB-now-TE Zach Conque, son of SFA coach Clint Conque. The rookie had a terrific training camp with the Texans before badly pulling a hamstring. Conque has the makings of a future NFL contributor.
Less than 24 hours before kickoff, the Jaguars quietly cut Jets 2014 first-rounder Calvin Pryor. Mike Maccagnan should serve hard time for robbery after his preseason trade with the hapless Browns of “The Louisville Slugger” for 2017’s defensive leader, inside linebacker Demario Davis. It’s a damning indictment that ex-GM John Idzik, now a Jags front office pencil-pusher — who took Pryor over All-Pros Deone Bucannon and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix! — couldn’t save the volatile safety from himself.
The Jets have a sizable $80 million in salary cap space going into free agency. NJ.com’s Connor Hughes explained how they can increase that absurd amount to over $102 million. With such a hefty war chest, feel confident that Florham Park’s tape-room rat GM can deliver for 2018 and beyond.
Next: 1. Same Old Song and Dance
1. Same Old Song and Dance
Next week the Jets fly to Denver to take on the bumbling Broncos (3-9) — losers of eight in a row, including Sunday’s 35-9 Mile High humiliation to the Dolphins. The home team is ravaged by injuries and illness. But they have found a stud running back in Devontae Booker and No. 2 receiver in Cody Latimer. Regardless of the outcome, don’t expect grace and beauty.
Are you old enough to remember the bad old’ days under coach Rich Kotite? There was a particularly painful 47-10 drubbing before a Monday Night Football audience on October 1, 1995. Kotite started rookie Colorado star QB Vance Joseph at CB opposite future Pro Football Hall of Fame WR Tim Brown. Jets QB Boomer Esiason said after that game in an article written by Gerald Eskenazi for the New York Times: “I’ve never felt so utterly embarrassed in my football career.”
Well, that Vance Joseph is currently in over his head as coach of a once-proud Denver franchise. Sure, Joseph has not well handled the team’s lousy QB situation. But how awful must be Brock Osweiler, who can’t beat out Trevor Simian (19-41, 3.8 yards per pass, 30.5 QBR vs. Miami) or the injured Paxton Lynch? And how can rookie bad-boy Chad Kelly be an any worse? How can this young coach succeed with a QB crew that couldn’t beat out Bryce Petty?
These Jets are at a crossroads. The players and the coaches will never throw in the towel. But what about that elusive goal of drafting a franchise quarterback? Can Gang Green build a winning culture without a QB available in the top ten picks? Can they play meaningful games this December yet strike pay-dirt with a lower-rated gunslinger like Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph, Washington State’s Luke Faulk or Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham? Remember, Trader Mike, who’ll make that QB call, saw second-round greatness in Christian Hackenberg. Recent mock drafts show Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield going unpicked until the late-first or even second round, due to his 6’1″, 209 lb. frame. But that’s what they said about Brett Favre or Drew Brees. This writer sees Mayfield as Namath-esque.
A team’s weekly inactive list generally reflect its roster weakness. 2017 Jets healthy scratches are always at QB, CB, OLBs, O-linemen, and return-men. Expect the front office to aggressively address such issues in the offseason. Despite even more darkness, there is light at the end of this tunnel.