By Abraham Gutierrez
In one of the most disappointing ways possible, the New York Jets playoff hopes came to an end, and while it’s going to take some time for Gang Green Nation to recover, there’s plenty to smile about going forward. The Jets finished the year with a 10-6 record, which was good enough for second place in the AFC East, but just short of a Wild Card berth.
With one year under his belt, head coach Todd Bowles is ready to put this season behind him and look to what is sure to be a bright future. That said, this one’s going to sting well into the offseason, but in the end, Bowles believes his team will benefit from the experience attained.
“I know it should help us propel into next year understanding what we’ve got to do to work harder and win more games,” he said. “10-6 on the surface is an okay record, but it’s not enough to get in. Obviously, our goal is to get in the playoffs and win a Super Bowl, but we didn’t get that accomplished. We’ve got a lot of things to grow off of and learn from and we’ll go from there.”
Fitzpatrick has proven to be dynamic
Building on what they accomplished this season will be one of the key factors for this team going forward. For starters, the biggest achievement this year was the fact that there’s no more quarterback controversy in the Big Apple, thanks to the play of journeyman quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick.
“I hope so,” he said when asked about returning to the Jets next season. “I don’t want to live with hypotheticals, but I had a lot of fun this year. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had in a season, with the guys in this locker room and the run we had in December. Hopefully, I can be back and can continue to build on that.”
While many people will choose to crucify the Harvard product for the way he closed out the season – throwing three fourth-quarter picks against the Bills – Bowles wasn’t shy about his desire to have him back. As a matter of fact, the Jets head coach not only considers him an integral part of this team’s success going forward, but has already promised him a starting spot in 2016.
“Obviously, it’s a pretty high priority,” Bowles said of Fitzpatrick, who will become a free agent this offseason. “He’s the quarterback. He had a great year for us. We want him back. If he comes back, he’ll be the starter.”
The 33-year-old from Gilbert, Arizona, is coming off a year in which he completed 60 percent of his passes, going 335-for-562 for 3905 yards, 31 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions for a quarterback rating of 88.0. Fitzpatrick also showcased his wheels in his first season as a Jet, rushing for 270 yards on 60 carries and two scores.
How’s the rest of the team looking, moving forward?
Another player that’s scheduled to become a free agent this offseason is running back, Chris Ivory. The Tiffin University product is coming off his best season as an NFL pro, rushing for 1070 yards on 247 carries and seven touchdowns. The bruising back also proved to be a reliable check-down option, catching 30 passes for 217 yards and a score.
As far as the Jets receiving unit is concerned, the fact that they decided to rework Brandon Marshall’s contract now seems like a brilliant move. Coming off his second best season in the NFL, the former Central Florida standout finished the season with 1502 yards (seven yards shy of a career best) on 109 receptions and 14 touchdowns.
The team’s second-leading receiver, Eric Decker, will also be returning next season to continue what was a sensational year. Despite battling injuries seemingly all year, the Minnesota standout registered 1027 yards on 80 grabs and 12 touchdowns.
Finally, the engine that made the Jets go was the defense, and for the most part, this unit is expected to remain intact. The heart and soul of the Jets defense, Darrelle Revis (39 tackles, five interceptions), has shown no signs of slowing down despite playing in his ninth NFL campaign.
One player that everyone will be keeping a close eye on, as he will become an unrestricted free agent this offseason, is defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson. The Temple product, who closed out the year by leading the team in sacks (12), suffered a fractured right fibula in the season finale against the Bills and is expected to have surgery during the offseason.
All indications are that the Jets will use their franchise tag on Wilkerson, but that could lead to them losing nose tackle Damon Harrison to free agency. The 27-year-old out of William Penn was sixth on the team in tackles with 72, so the Jets will have some decisions to make this offseason.
“He had a great year,” Bowles said of Harrison’s contributions. “It’s something we have to figure out in the offseason. There will be some tricky parts on our doing, guys wanting to come back and working it all out.”
Abe Gutierrez’s (Twitter: @GutierrezAbe) passion led him to ditch law school journey in order to launch his own publishing company. His expertise make him a valued addition to Examiner.com, AXS.com and the CBS-Sports family. Some of his work can be found on CBS-Miami (Dolphins), CBS-LosAngeles (Chargers), CBS-BayArea (Raiders), CBS-NewYork (NY Jets), CBS-TampaBay (Buccaneers), AXS.com, Examiner.com and other online publications.