By Jeff Capellini
It shouldn’t matter that we’re only entering Week 2. If the Jets can’t beat the mess that is the Buffalo Bills on Thursday night, they won’t deserve the benefit of the doubt going forward. It’s that simple.
Failing yet again against Rex Ryan will leave the Jets in worse shape in the court of public opinion than they are right now. And that would be saying something, considering the wrath they have been subject to since bumbling their way to that forgettable season-opening loss to visiting Cincinnati on Sunday.
Todd Bowles’ team managed to pull the rug out from underneath its always anxiety-ridden fan base and for once the all-out backlash on a Monday morning was justified.
The Jets failed in epic Jet-like fashion. Sure, they did do some good things against the Bengals, things that will probably serve them well in several capacities going forward. But the NFL is a bottom-line business, and what we saw in the second half of the opener was a team that didn’t seem to fully understand that the regular season had started.
Sunday’s outcome was destined for the annals of this franchise’s storied failures the second the Jets were unable to punch the ball into the end zone with less than four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
One of the best red zone teams in the NFL last season, the Jets, despite actually having a better offense now on paper, settled for a field goal — half of the points they managed in the second half — and sent their defense back out on the field with only a two-point lead, instead of a five-, six- or seven-point advantage, assuming they would have rightly gone for two.
Regardless of the scenario, protecting a lead at home given this team’s apparent prowess on the defensive side of the ball shouldn’t have been a problem, right? After all, this unit is apparently elite.
Sure it is.
Yes, Nick Folk is a major goat right now. His blocked chip-shot field goal and missed PAT went a long way toward giving the Jets a smaller margin for error, but this defense has to stop the Bengals on that final drive. That’s what great defenses do. The Jets are supposed to have a great defense, remember?
They sure didn’t.
So with the Week 1 loss seared into their souls for all eternity, the Jets move on to Buffalo, where their playoff aspirations last season ended in Week 17. Though the Jets defied many odds in going 10-6, two of their losses came against the Bills, a mediocre team if there ever was one.
Despite having every reason in the world to smack Ryan around, the Jets came up small each time, much like they did Sunday inside a stadium that was pumped up with pride following a rousing Sept. 11 remembrance ceremony.
Much like the Jets seem to always do. All too often they fail to rise to the occasion. It’s uncanny how certain situations scream big victory only to have fans end up walking out of MetLife or stadiums they have planned their vacation schedules around visiting, wondering how the hell this team did it to them again.
That’s what it felt like last year against the Bills. A pair of 22-17 losses that featured Ryan Fitzpatrick playing about as bad as a quarterback can play. You can make the argument that if the Bills were taken off the schedule and replaced by most any other team, Fitz’s full body of work would have received even better grades.
Here’s why. Fitzpatrick completed nearly 60 percent of his passes for almost 4,000 yards last season, and threw only 15 interceptions. The problem was in the two games against the Bills, he completed just 46 percent of his throws (31-for-67) for 387 yards and five picks.
While the Jets had by all accounts a very encouraging 2015 season, considering they went into it fresh off firing the entire coaching staff, cleaning out the front office and overturning the roster dramatically, they needed 11 wins to end their four-year drought without a postseason appearance.
Fitzpatrick wasn’t the only culprit in those two losses to the Bills, but he was easily the biggest one. And while Jets fans know all too well how good of a defensive mind Ryan has, it’s not that good. His Bills from last year and this year, at least so far, do not resemble in any way the great defense the Baltimore Ravens had when he was an assistant prior to being hired by the Jets. Heck, the Bills’ defenses aren’t as good as what the Jets had during Rex’s first two seasons.
Now, people are tired of hearing about the first six games on the 2016 schedule. They get it. It’s a difficult stretch. But can we all agree the Bills are by far the weakest team on paper among a group that includes the Bengals, Chiefs, Seahawks, Steelers and Cardinals? Isn’t it fair to say a loss Thursday would create a nightmare scenario that could easily send the Jets off into a tailspin they may not be able to recover from given that they play six of their first nine games on the road?
The Jets couldn’t ask for a better opponent this week except for the fact that it is the Bills. Buffalo is coming off a 13-7 loss in Baltimore on Sunday in which quarterback Tyrod Taylor managed just 111 yards passing and the LeSean McCoy-led running game had just 65 yards on 24 carries. Part of that should be attributed to the Ravens turning back the clock a bit defensively, but I’m certainly not convinced they are anything close to vintage.
Compounding the Bills’ problems on offense is the status of Sammy Watkins, who is dealing with discomfort in his surgically repaired foot. The star wide receiver said Monday he will “definitely” play Thursday, but just how much of a factor he will be is anybody’s guess.
At this point, that’s just the type of news Darrelle Revis needs to hear. He was awful during his showdown with the Bengals’ A.J. Green on Sunday, an effort that pretty much confirmed that Revis Island is a thing of the past and that last year’s struggles really shouldn’t have been blamed on his wrist problems.
Fitzpatrick and Brandon Marshall also owe the fans one after they looked nothing like the dynamic duo that drove defenses crazy throughout the 2015 season. Fitzpatrick played like he missed a lot of the offseason as his timing appeared off on several throws on his way to just 189 yards, while Marshall had a big drop late to go along with his paltry three catches and 32 yards.
Because if Revis, Fitzpatrick and Marshall show up, not to mention the return of the monster that is defensive end Sheldon Richardson, the Jets will handle the Bills, with ease. If they don’t, more standout efforts like the ones we saw Sunday from Matt Forte, Quincy Enunwa and Steve McLendon will again be lost in the underachieving confusion.
Get it together already, guys.
Read more columns by Jeff Capellini and follow him on Twitter at @GreenLanternJet