By Jeff Capellini
If the season ended today, smart money would be on Todd Bowles looking for work tomorrow.
The Jets have thus far not shown enough to convince anyone that there should be a fifth year of this head coach’s regime.
And while I do understand that this team has been minus a good portion of its top talent throughout the season’s first nine weeks due to injuries, it just doesn’t feel like things would be noticeably better if all the key pieces had stayed healthy.
Again, in the NFL injuries are just an excuse. Teams more banged up than the Jets have fired their head coach for less. Let’s not forget, since blowing a playoff berth in Buffalo to end the 2015 season, the Jets are just 13-26. That’s a .333 winning percentage.
Despite the commitment to the youth movement and better leadership this season, the Jets still resemble disastrous teams this franchise has fielded in the past. They remain an embarrassment on the road, winning just two of their last 13 games. Their 29th-ranked offense (310.6 yards per game) shows not an ounce of creativity, using in some cases formations that just beg to get their quarterback killed. The defense, last week’s solid performance against a well below-average Miami offense aside, has yet to really show it can string together consistent 60-minute performances.
“People are obviously a little upset, a little disappointed, coming off three straight losses,” defensive lineman Leonard Williams lamented, following the brutal 13-6 loss to the Dolphins. “We definitely needed this one. It was a division game and we talked all week about how important it was for us to get this win.”
I’ve said this many times: This season should not be judged on the Jets’ record as long as rookie quarterback Sam Darnold shows clear signs of development and the team is at the very least competitive on a weekly basis.
The last few weeks have probably given many a moment or two of pause on both fronts, but I remain confident that Darnold was the right choice in the draft, and that the trade the Jets made to move up to No. 3 to select him was the prudent decision.
But all that said, I’m having a really difficult time imagining Darnold flourishing under this head coach. Right now he seems to be rising and falling based on his own abilities and shortcomings. There’s simply no evidence to suggest that Bowles and offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates will actually teach this kid what he needs to know to take his game to the next level.
Native ability only takes a player so far in the NFL. Sooner or later, someone who has been there and done that and has the résumé to prove it needs to step in and take the training wheels off of a prospect, show him some occasional tough love and be innovative enough to help him get to where everybody thinks he should go.
I just don’t get the impression Bowles and Bates are capable of instilling in Darnold all the knowledge he needs to ultimately be the savior the Jets and their fans have been in search of for the better part of the last 40 years.
Now, with this discussion comes one indisputable fact. The Jets still have seven games to play. And while I don’t think they’ll win more of them than they’ll lose, there is a window for Bowles and the rest of his staff to at least attempt to silence their many, many critics.
If we’re being honest here, the Jets could win out, finish 10-6 and get in the playoffs and there would still be a ton of people who would not want Bowles back. But they are not the ones he needs to worry about. Interim owner Christopher Johnson, on the other hand, sure is.
And nothing would make Johnson more upset than to see his Jets go out and spit the bit Sunday against the visiting Buffalo Bills (2-7), who on paper are not his team’s equal.
And that’s with 39-year-old Josh McCown starting at quarterback, which may very well happen due to the foot injury that had Darnold gimping around in a walking boot at practice on Wednesday.
Regardless of the starter, the Jets need a win in the worst way, and they need their offense to be the catalyst. Bowles talked himself into a pickle after last week’s loss to the Dolphins by having the temerity to criticize his defense, which didn’t allow an offensive touchdown and gave up just 168 yards. I understand he did it to take some of the pressure off of Darnold and an offensive line that is up and down more than the stock market these days, but it was the last thing the Jets needed considering the relative harmony they’ve experienced in the locker room this season, despite all the losing.
“Winning takes care of a lot problems and a lot of issues. It’s important for us to win the next ball game,” Bowles said Monday.
The Bills are 29th in the NFL in points allowed, giving up 241, but are third in total defense, allowing just 313 yards per game. What that tells me is their offense is horrendous and puts their defense in many a precarious position. In other words, when the Bills have the ball, they’re just a turnover waiting to happen.
In fact, their three quarterbacks this season, Josh Allen, Derek Anderson and Nathan Peterman, each of whom are not better than McCown, let alone Darnold, have combined for 16 interceptions and just three touchdown passes.
With defense and special teams, Buffalo is averaging just 10.7 points per game, by far the worst in the NFL, is 31st in total offense (248.3 yards per game) and 32nd in passing offense (151 yards), this in a league that lives and dies with the pass.
If the Jets can’t find a way to beat this team in front of their own fans, Johnson should fire everyone seconds after the final whistle.
That would be, to me, the final straw.
For real, this time.
“It’s a new week. It’s a new opportunity. So we’re looking forward to it,” safety Jamal Adams said Wednesday.
Yeah, we’ll see.
Read more columns by Jeff Capellini and follow him on Twitter at @JCapGLJ