By Ernie Palladino
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Todd Bowles laid down the law Monday. But by Tuesday morning, the discipline he has tried to instill on the Jets’ practice field outside vaporized inside the locker room.

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Bowles will just have to face the facts. He can, in his own quiet way, punish his team with three gassers in the middle of practice, offering a stern message that on-field laxness will not be tolerated. But he can’t control everything, especially when two of his players decide to get into what he termed a “childish” argument in the locker room which bore severe consequences.

Now he loses Geno Smith for six to 10 weeks because his anointed starting quarterback wound up on the bad end of a locker room beef with IK Enemkpali. The second-year linebacker wound up sucker-punching Smith, breaking his jaw and necessitating surgery.

Keep in mind, this was not Broncos linebacker Bill Romanowski clocking Panthers quarterback Kerry Collins with a helmet-to-helmet hit in the 1997 preseason. This was two teammates getting into it in the locker room, a thoroughly needless affair that Bowles maintained started over something “that sixth-graders could have talked about.”

The incident will now cost the third-year Smith at least the start of his most important season to date, the year he was supposed to prove Bowles’ faith that Smith is not the joke the football world has made him out to be.

It cost Enemkpali even more. He lost his job.

Even Bowles may pay a price over this one. The incident completely undermines the kind of quiet discipline Bowles is trying to instill in a team still reeling from the end of the free-wheeling Rex Ryan era. Until Tuesday morning, he seemed well on the way to doing that.

Just two days ago, he interrupted a lackadaisical workout and ordered three punishment gassers, minus the heated rhetoric that usually accompanies such events.

In fact, he sounded downright matter-of-fact about the whole thing. That’s his style. He’s not a yeller.

That doesn’t mean he hasn’t tried to keep an iron grip on his players’ actions and attitudes. Bowles obviously can’t control what a player does off the field. There will always be the Sheldon Richardsons who can’t just say “No” or feel some need to prove that those white road signs with the big black numbers really do define speed limits. Even ultra disciplinarian Tom Coughlin couldn’t prevent his star pass rusher from nearly blowing off his hand on the Fourth of July.

But Smith and Enemkpali did this on Bowles’ clock. His time.

Somehow, those two reached critical mass despite Bowles’ efforts to keep his team’s emotional lid locked down tight. He had issued an edict that fisticuffs during practice are verboten. With the league’s new emphasis on ejections and fines for fighting, Bowles is aiming to keep all his players in the game. And that, as far as he’s concerned, starts with controlling one’s emotions during drills.

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You fight, you run. Do it again, and maybe Bowles takes some money out of your wallet.

Not surprisingly, Jets camp had been peaceful until Tuesday’s disaster. Offense and defense may not have been throwing a love fest, but at least everyone was keeping his hands to himself.

It remains to be seen if the reactions to a defender breaking the jaw of the starting quarterback in the locker room boil over to drills.

Bowles’ stern but quiet ways had also capped any outlandish verbal antics off the practice field. Aside from a flow of optimism — from Brandon Marshall praising Smith to Darrelle Revis assuring the populace that his new/old team will eventually win a Super Bowl — the locker room sounded rather bland.

That was before the Jets reported for work Tuesday morning, of course. Now, one must wonder if another Santonio Holmes number lurks if the season goes horribly downhill.

He had even made the right move by handing the starting job to Smith. Like Smith or not, Bowles eliminating the circus that surrounds quarterback competitions — see Mark Sanchez vs. Tim Tebow in 2012 — brought potential stability and peace to an offense that dearly needs some of that. He had even said that Smith would take all the first-team snaps in Thursday’s preseason opener in Detroit, leaving backup Ryan Fitzpatrick to wait until next Friday against Atlanta for his chance with all the toys.

Replacing Smith won’t be a chore. Fitzpatrick steps up a notch now. And in the end, the Harvard product may prove to be the better choice, anyway. If the first three to seven games go well enough for the new starter, Smith may never see the light of day, even when fully healed.

That would disappoint no one; not even Bowles.

But that is the future. In the short-term, this latest crazy, whacky incident that only the Jets could conjure u has placed Bowles at a leadership crossroads. He must now redouble his efforts to grab control of his team.

At the same time, it makes the viewing public wonder if 2015 won’t quickly become a repeat of the circus Ryan ring-mastered over the last four seasons.

It all has to do with Bowles’ personality. He doesn’t say much. What he does say, he says in matter-of-fact manner.

He is not Rex Ryan.

That could be the best thing about him in the long run.

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But Tuesday’s incident set back his authority as much as it did the team.