By Steve Lichtenstein
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The coroner has called the time of death at 4:27 p.m. Eastern on Sunday.
We can finally lay this debacle of a Jets season to rest.
Jets coach Todd Bowles intimated (colorfully) Friday that the Jets needed to run the table starting with Sunday’s home affair against Carolina in order to stay alive in the playoff chase. A 35-27 loss that dropped Gang Green’s record to 4-7 has now ended those faint hopes.
In his postgame news conference, Bowles labeled the proximate cause as “self-inflicted wounds,” which, coincidentally, should also be the title of the Jets’ 2017 season video.
Though this mess started with the organizational decision to play this season out on the cheap, garish mistakes — from a game-changing turnover to costly penalties to inept special teams to coaching blunders — doomed the Jets on Sunday to their seventh consecutive premature demise.
In the end, Bowles took his team off life support. The Jets had one last gasp when they took over with 21 seconds remaining, needing to go 75 yards with no timeouts. But there were no Hail Marys. Just a couple of short throws so quarterback Josh McCown could go out with dignity with a completion percentage above 50 percent for the day.
There wasn’t even a sense of urgency in their previous offensive possession when, down by two touchdowns, the Jets used nearly 4½ minutes before McCown’s 3-yard touchdown toss to Jermaine Kearse. Even when they should be at their most desperate, time is rarely of the Jets’ essence.
That’s because Bowles, as he has done throughout his three-season tenure, put his faith in his defense to get the ball back in short order.
I guess it could have worked reasonably well had nose tackle Mike Pennel held up before shoving Panthers quarterback Cam Newton to the ground after his third-down pass fell incomplete with 2:12 left. Instead, the roughing-the-passer penalty gave the Panthers a new set of downs to run down the clock further and put them in field goal range.
Of course, the Jets wouldn’t have been in such a precarious position if not for two plays that will haunt them until, well, they do something similarly stupid next week.
The game turned early in the fourth quarter when McCown dropped back on a second-and-11 from his own 45-yard line. He sensed the rush, but he couldn’t decide whether to throw the ball away or tuck it in while taking a sack.
In typical Jets fashion, McCown lost control of the ball as he was grabbed around the waist by Panthers lineman Wes Horton. The fumble was scooped up by Carolina’s star linebacker, Luke Kuechly, who dashed 34 yards for the touchdown that put the Panthers up 26-20.
Just add this one to the follies tape between the “Shovel Pass” and the “Butt Fumble.”
The Jets went three-and-out on their next drive, and then Kaelin Clay returned the ensuing punt 60 yards for another score.
Quick, but far from painless.
Such boneheaded plays have been staples of the Jets’ diet all season. When the games are young, you can overcome gaffes like the end zone drop by tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins on the Jets’ opening drive or linebacker Jordan Jenkins jumping offsides on a third-quarter Carolina fourth-and-2.
But egregious mistakes in fourth quarters? They tend to be fatal.
They reflect most poorly on the brains of the operation — Bowles, of whom some have prematurely elevated into a mad genius for having beaten four other flawed teams earlier this season. Just because the Jets haven’t thrown in the towel like the Giants have in certain games doesn’t mean we can automatically dismiss Bowles’ failings.
The Jets can let the season play out before making any rash decisions, but what does it say about a coach’s culture when his team is this undisciplined and this fragile in crucial moments? When a team gets flagged for such tragically comic fouls as having too many men on the field immediately after a TV injury timeout? Where a player can campaign for the Pro Bowl to the television camera in the middle of the game? I can’t imagine that ever happening on a Patriots sideline.
This season was on life support when management sent this woefully inadequate roster into battle in Week 1. It should have ended with the Jets holding a prime slot in the 2018 draft, but they took a bit of a detour by playing more competitively than many anticipated.
That didn’t make the Jets long for this world. All these close losses in five of their last six games didn’t mean they were close to being good.
It was quite the opposite: Bad teams find ways to lose.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1