By Steve Lichtenstein
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I’m already dreading the headlines.
“Same Old Jets”
That’s the easy route the media will likely take after the Jets’ 24-17 home loss to Philadelphia on Sunday.
The other talking point will be that the Jets fell for a “trap game.” You know, because the result served as both the Jets’ first defeat and the Eagles’ first victory of the three-week season.
Except that it was hardly unforeseen.
The Eagles may have looked disorganized in losing their first two games, but they’re a talented group that can give slower-paced teams like the Jets fits. The matchup between Eagles running backs Darren Sproles and Ryan Matthews versus the Jets’ linebackers gave me nightmares all week.
The Jets were what, two-point favorites at home? Against a team they had never beaten in the history of their franchise? If this was a trap, it should have been seen for miles.
Nor was it the Same Old Jets Syndrome. I know the emphasis will be on how the Jets looked prosperity in the eye and gagged. Just like they always do — yuk, yuk.
But even with their impressive start, no one figured this team would go undefeated. The modest winning streak did not alter anyone’s expectations. This was one game in a four-month marathon. Judgments should be reserved until there is a sufficient body of work.
The past is irrelevant to this team as far as Jets fans are concerned. It’s a new era with a new regime in coach Todd Bowles and general manager Mike Maccagnan.
Besides, last year’s squad would have taken the 24-7 halftime deficit and coasted to something like a 34-10 defeat. These Jets fought back, thanks mostly to their defensive adjustments, and had chances to steal it.
The Eagles simply needed this game more and played like it. It didn’t matter that DeMarco Murray, the 2014 NFL rushing leader, and tackling machine Kiko Alonso were inactive.
The Jets, on the other hand, could not match the production of their own wounded soldiers. You see, I don’t think it was the prosperity that got into the Jets’ head. It was more likely the adversity.
Watching the game, we kept hearing how the Jets desperately missed wide receiver Eric Decker, who sat out with a knee sprain. And that the Jets’ running game tanked because Chris Ivory was on the sidelines resting his strained quadriceps instead of bulldozing defenders on the field.
(As an aside, why was Ivory even activated when Bowles evidently had no plans to use him? What was he, a decoy?)
If the absences of a No. 2 receiver (reserve Chris Owusu, who caught four passes for 55 yards over the first two weeks, also didn’t dress) and a lead running back — which I hate to say has become a rather disposable position in the league — are the reasons the Jets’ offense underperformed on Sunday, then it’s gonna be another rough year for Gang Green.
There really is no excuse, as Bowles emphasized in his postgame press conference. Then again, that’s his job.
It’s also his job to win football games, and his two-week honeymoon is now officially over.
Wait until Bowles gets a closer look at these films. The sheer volume of malodorous decisions and executions from every possible corner of the organization on Sunday was enough to make even the most sober Jets fan hurl.
From Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick constantly chucking the ball up for grabs; to the four missed tackles on Sproles’ 89-yard punt return; to Brandon Marshall’s dumb lateral attempt that led to the Eagles’ third touchdown of the first half (and let’s not forget Marshall’s role in another crucial turnover when he went up with alligator arms to receive a pass, which he tipped into the grateful paws of Eagles defensive back Walter Thurmond with 3:33 left in the game); all the way to the final meaningful play of the day, when Jets linebacker Quinton Coples was called for illegal hands to the face with 1:14 remaining. Instead of forcing a Philadelphia punt, the Jets were denied the opportunity to get the ball back with a chance for a miraculous finish.
Not that they deserved it.
The Eagles dominated both sides of the line of scrimmage, outrushing the Jets, 123-47. After two weeks of feasting on opponent turnovers, the Jets lost Sunday’s takeaway battle, 4-1. The Eagles built a big enough lead (24-0 late in the second quarter) that Fitzpatrick was forced to air it out for most of the second half. The Jets aren’t winning many games when their quarterback drops back to throw 60 times. That’s why they’re sitting at 2-1 and not 3-0 on Monday morning.
The Jets’ offensive line, which took a hit when starting guard Willie Colon left the game in the third quarter with what appeared to be a serious knee injury, has to be better. Fitzpatrick has to be better at going through his progressions in lieu of forcing the ball downfield into tight coverages. Chan Gailey, who has more faith in Fitzpatrick’s arm than anyone has a right to, needs to rejigger his game plan to account for the changes in his personnel.
On defense, covering running backs and tight ends remains a challenge for the Jets’ slower linebackers. Demario Davis was burned multiple times on simple wheel routes.
Next week’s game in London against the Dolphins could be pivotal. I’m anxious to see if the Jets have the fortitude to stem the tide and get back on the track that was successful in the first two weeks.
The Jets received a lot of breaks in those games — from bounces of the ball to referee calls to their relatively good health — and they deserved credit for taking advantage of them. The challenge has now become how to survive when things don’t break their way.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.