By Jeff Capellini
There’s little doubt that Jamal Adams is on track to be an All-Pro safety some day.
The Jets, however, need him to be more than that.
You may think that an unfair ask, but if there’s one thing this franchise has lacked in addition to a franchise quarterback over the last God knows how many years, it has been true leadership.
That’s not to say the Jets haven’t had players who have commanded respect in the locker room, guys that could keep order and make life easier for the coaching staff. They just haven’t had an emotional centerpiece that sets the tone each and every week.
Adams can and should be that guy. He’s already tried to assume the role as team spokesman, in addition to being the one who sets the example every week with his play on the field. He’s the player who makes no excuses, ever, and answers every last question following a win or a loss.
All that said, the Jets (3-4) have reached a critical juncture in their season and they need Adams the star and vocal leader now more than ever. They are coming off a bad loss to a good team and will play four of their next six games away from MetLife Stadium, including four division games.
Similar scenarios have spelled doom for the Jets in the past. Take last year for instance. They started 3-2, but then dropped back-to-back tight division games to the Patriots and Dolphins, respectively, and never recovered. The 2017 season ended 5-11, just the like the season before.
“We went down to Miami, we were 3-3 and we ended up losing that game,” Adams said. “Then we came back and lost the next game. So you just have to stay positive and understand we played against a good football team. They made more plays than we did. We have to do the little things right and preach them. We have to be more consistent at it.”
What we’ve learned during Todd Bowles’ tenure as head coach is when the Jets have started to go south, there has been little that has stopped them. But the sign of any young team turning the corner is not allowing one loss to turn into several.
Only in Bowles’ first season, back in 2015, was the collapse delayed. The Jets won five in a row heading into the season finale at Buffalo, only to lose in epic green-and-white fashion and end up missing the playoffs despite a 10-6 record.
And that season was just another example in a long history of the Jets letting a good thing get away from them. I mean, how many times have they started 9-4 or 8-5 only to crash just short of the playoff runway? There are literally too many to count.
It’s likely not going to be the same type of scenario this season, but the mentality needed to stay the course is no different.
Fans and members of the media have often pointed to a lack of talent or subpar coaching as the primary factors for the Jets failing to make the postseason, but one has to wonder how much leadership played a role in those collapses as well.
The Jets haven’t had a natural-born front-man like Adams in a very long time. I’m actually struggling to think of anyone who has come close during their current seven-plus year playoff drought. Regardless, he’s the guy right now — and he must convince his teammates to take this game as seriously as he does.
It looks like he’s trying.
Following the 37-17 loss to the Vikings on Sunday, Adams stepped up and said there’s no way another Jets season will spiral out of control, not on his watch.
“Not going to happen,” a defiant Adams said. “I’m not going to let that happen. Plain and simple.”
The schedule isn’t terrible the rest of the way. After next week’s game at the Bears, which will be a serious test for the Jets because they have yet to show any consistency on the road, they play the lowly Bills twice, and the Dolphins and Titans, who are both beatable. But they also have to play the Patriots twice, the first-place Texans and the Packers.
Could the Jets go on a run and actually be in the wild card conversation come December? Maybe, but their youth and inexperience at key positions will likely hold them back. It’s probably more realistic to look at this group as maybe finishing .500, which would mark a major improvement over the previous two seasons. Neither scenario is really out of the realm of possibility.
In addition to the line play on both sides of the ball and the coaching by Bowles, play-calling by offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates and schemes deployed by defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers, the Jets are going to need guys like Adams to continue to plant seeds of belief in the minds of each of the other 52 players on the roster.
The Jets will eventually get healthy. They’ll get cornerbacks Trumaine Johnson and Buster Skrine, safety Marcus Maye and go-to wide receiver Quincy Enunwa back. They are clearly a better team with those four, but without them for the most part they still managed to have a successful three-game homestand.
It’s that kind of thought process that must continue. You play and fight with who you have and never make excuses.
“When adversity hits, we have to attack it. Next man up,” Adams said. “Obviously we play a tough sport. Injuries do happen, but at the same time, we have to go out there and continue to play our ball. Be disciplined, knowing our jobs as individuals, part of that 11-man defense.
“As long as do we that and we’re consistent at it, we’ll be fine.”
Adams is nothing if not confident. While most observers view the Jets as still a good year away from being a team that could do some things, the hard-hitting safety isn’t willing to make that concession.
“I think we’re there,” he told reporters on Sunday before pausing and gathering himself. “I think we’re close. This team is a great team. We have a 53-man roster full of a lot of talent, let’s just put it like that. And there’s no waiting for next year, we’re rebuilding … there’s none of that. At the end of the day, I think this team right here can be special, as long as we continue to do the little things.
“We have to finish the ballgame.”
Sounds about right.
Read more columns by Jeff Capellini and follow him on Twitter at @JCapGLJ