By Jason Keidel
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Surely, with one year under his belt and a growing synergy with his all-world wideouts, Fitzpatrick would nudge the Jets just one more game over the top and spill into the mayhem of playoff football, where, we have learned, wild things and wild cards happen.
But we can no longer hide behind last year’s stat sheet. And those of us who clung to Fitzpatrick’s jersey like Lawrence Taylor’s, preaching the virtues of his 2015, and saw prorated glory in 2016 look very foolish.
Let’s compare the two QBs playing at Heinz Field on Sunday. Over his last two games, Ben Roethlisberger has completed nearly 76 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns and zero interceptions. Over his last three games, Fitzpatrick has completed 55 percent of his passes, thrown two TDs and nine picks.
Fitzpatrick wasn’t the reason the Jets lost, though his TD pass to Brandon Marshall was a gift, with Marshall plucking a ball that sailed right into the defender’s chest.
Blame can spread like butter across the field. The Steelers plowed through the Jets’ supposedly savage defense. Their secondary made Sammie Coates look like Lynn Swann. We don’t know if the Jets are a running team or a passing team. But they clearly aren’t a winning team.
Everyone was supposed to be a year better and wiser. Coach Todd Bowles bowled us over in his maiden campaign, strolling the sidelines with complete control of the team and the cool mien of Tom Landry.
Yet Bowles made the head-scratching move of the young season when he decided to punt late in the fourth quarter, in Steelers’ territory, with two yards needed for a first down and the Jets trailing by 11 points.
Bowles was also guilty of some dubious clock management in the final few minutes, but the game was all but over by then. The Jets didn’t lose because of Bowles, or any one play or player, but these are the kinds of plays and games that were only supposed to happen last year, when the team was congealing.
The Jets seem to have forgotten that they were 10-6 last season — a foul fourth quarter in Buffalo from making the playoffs — or that they are allegedly better this year, with Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte added to the offense.
We all winced when the 2016 regular-season schedule was unfurled. We said if the Jets could tiptoe out of their first six games with three wins, they would finally bask in blue football skies. Now they are 60 faulty minutes from 1-5.
The good news is the Chiefs started 1-5 last season, then ripped through the rest of the season, winning 10 straight games and making the playoffs as the hottest team in the sport.
Forget it. Gang Green doesn’t have the skill or the will to make this happen. Not only are they 1-4, they’re likely to be 1-5 in a week, after they play another road game against a 2015 playoff team. Their next opponent, the Arizona Cardinals, are 2-3, and just as desperate as the Jets to snake their way back into contention.
According to PhillyVoice.com, the Jets have the 21st-oldest roster in the NFL, with an average age of 26.23. That’s slightly better than last year, when they were 27th, but you wonder where the Jets go from here.
They are reaching AARP levels at some very important positions. Fitzpatrick turns 34 next month, Matt Forte turns 31 in December, Brandon Marshall is 32, and Eric Decker will be 30 next season. And Revis Island now has so many tenants he may as well toss the velvet rope. (The formerly flawless cornerback is also on he wrong side of 30.)
But as with all NFL teams, their long-term play pivots off their QB play.
If Fitzpatrick isn’t the answer this year, then he surely isn’t next year, which means they either have to get quite lucky in the 2017 draft — they haven’t drafted a great QB in 50 years — or pick from a most unholy trinity of Geno Smith, Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg.
Even if you disagree that the Jets are done for the season, they are surely playing for it this weekend. Then their schedule softens a bit. But they still have five games against teams currently with winning records — the Ravens, Rams, Bills and Patriots twice.
The Pats would love to grind their elitist boot in Gang Green’s neck. You get the sense Tom Brady is on one of those maniacal runs, like 2007, when Spygate rendered him rather ornery and accurate.
If you need to see the Jets stumble in the Arizona desert to dessert the team, then have at it. But I, for one, admit I was wildly wrong about Fitzpatrick’s acumen, accuracy and leadership. And some of us don’t need one more loss to brand the season lost.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel