Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted in 2005.
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - The question of the day was unanswerable, but we asked it anyway as the Jets held their final meetings and cleaned out their lockers Monday.
Was their season a success or wasn’t it?
There was that six-victory improvement from 2014 and a late five-game winning streak and a rare victory over the Giants and feel-good stories galore and . . . well, it was tons of fun.
And then there was Sunday, one of the most awful regular-season losses for a franchise famous for awful regular-season losses. Net result: A 47th consecutive season without a Super Bowl appearance, let alone a ring.
“You can look at it a lot of different ways,” said cornerback Darrelle Revis, who addressed reporters Monday after declining to do so after Sunday’s 22-17 loss to the Bills.
True. Here’s one way:
The most important thing that happened this season is that the Jets seemed to identify a leadership team capable of success and stability in general manager Mike Maccagnan and coach Todd Bowles.
No guarantees, obviously. Bowles’ three non-Super Bowl-winning predecessors, Rex Ryan, Eric Mangini and Herm Edwards, each reached the playoffs in his first season, and Bowles was not even able to do that much.
But still. Pretty darn good. Will Bowles learn from his mistakes, win the Lombardi Trophy a couple of times and last a dozen years, like Tom Coughlin? Stranger things have happened.
Alas, there is more to winning a Lombardi Trophy than merely having in place a qualified GM and head coach. And No. 1 on that list is having a championship-caliber quarterback.
Which Ryan Fitzpatrick . . . isn’t.
Not that that makes him a bad guy; in fact, he seems to be a wonderful all-around fellow. And not that that makes him a bad quarterback. Kudos to him for putting together his best season at 33 with a new team and after taking the reins under strange circumstances.
But that goes only so far. He said Monday, “I feel like I’m a better football player now than I’ve been at any point in my career,” which is great for him and good for the Jets if they re-sign him. But how much is that really saying?
And Fitzpatrick is not the only issue with painting this season as the start of a building process for the team’s core group. The two starting cornerbacks, the two most famous offensive linemen and the star receiver all are 30 or older, too.
(Bowles said Monday the team does not necessarily have to get younger, but he said it needs to get faster. Those often are related.)
So let’s play an unrealistic game and assume every single Jet on the current roster returns healthy and signed for next season. Could they go 10-6 again, especially with a season of familiarity under their belts, and this time squeeze out a playoff berth for deserving old pros such as Fitzpatrick and Brandon Marshall?
Sure, if everything falls into place the way it did this season. But even with some good young talent in the fold, the guts of the Jets’ first championship team since the 1968 season are not currently here, including at quarterback.
That is for management and the coach to figure out in the coming years. The headline here is that Maccagnan and Bowles just might have the stuff to get that done.
And if that happens, those who were part of this season can and should take pride in having been there at the start of it all.
So let’s close this less-than-entirely-cheerful column with a happy thought befitting a mostly happy season, one not regularly heard about the Jets during the past several decades.
Take it away, Brandon Marshall: “There was a perception around this building [when he arrived], but I have to tell you, this is the best locker room, the best team I’ve ever been on as far as a management standpoint.
“It’s first-class from top to bottom, and I’m just honored and proud to be a part of it.”