You lose two games in embarrassing fashion, you show no inkling that things are going to get better any time soon, and then you start to fracture from within. It’s how things have worked for years in professional sports, and it’s what may be starting to happen with the Jets.
No, safety Bradley McDougald insisted he wasn’t pointing the finger at coaches for lackadaisical practices leading up to Sunday’s 31-13 loss to the 49ers. But the former Seahawks defensive back, acquired in the Jamal Adams trade, did acknowledge that the practices were not what they should have been. And, while he said everyone is accountable for that, the fact that he said it reflects poorly on a coaching staff that is already under fire.
Adam Gase is 18 games into his Jets career, and at four games under .500 in that span, there is little to suggest that he’s ready to turn this team around any time soon.
And what happens next? You know what happens next: A mild rebuke from a respected veteran player like McDougald turns into more grumbling from other players if the losing continues. And the coach tries to put out the fire. And the losing continues. And on and on we go, until there is no choice but to remove the coach and try again with someone else.
"I didn’t feel like I disrespected anybody or came at anybody," McDougald said.
He didn’t. At least not explicitly. But when you admit that you’re not practicing as well as you should, or with as much energy as it requires, well, that’s on the coaches. It’s defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ responsibility on the defensive side, while Gase handles the offense.
But it’s ultimately on Gase to set the agenda for his team. Discipline and preparation are on the head coach, and so far this season, the Jets have failed miserably on both counts. They were thoroughly beaten in Buffalo in the opener and then humiliated at home on Sunday. The 49ers scored an 80-yard rushing touchdown on their first play from scrimmage, and it was more of the same the rest of the way – even when injuries forced them to go with backups at quarterback and running back.
"We’ve yet to have one complete dominating week of practice," McDougald told SNY’s Jeane Coakley after the game. "Until we can dominate in practice Wednesday, Thursday, Friday … Sunday is going to be a toss-up."
McDougald took ownership of his criticism, directing it mostly at the players. But when coaches are effective and impactful, sluggish practices are simply unacceptable. And if coaches can’t determine that those practices are not up to par, then it’s on them to make sure the tempo improves.
It is an awkward arrangement among the Jets’ coaches, with Gase rarely addressing the strong-willed Williams’ defense and instead concentrating almost exclusively on offense. It’s not to say you can’t win like that – the great Bears teams of the 1980’s had a similar dynamic with Mike Ditka staying completely away from Buddy Ryan’s defense. But these Jets can only dream of having the talent of the ’85 Bears, arguably the greatest single-season team in NFL history.
The Jets are in full rebuild mode, and they are talent-starved at far too many positions. That’s why coaching is even more important; when you don’t have good enough players, they need to be better prepared and better conditioned to compete. But if there isn’t sufficient effort in practice – I mean, how can that be this early in the season? – then there’s a problem.
A big problem.
The Jets have plenty of time to straighten things out, starting with Sunday’s game at Indianapolis and then the following Thursday at home against the Broncos. Winning is the great deodorant, and that’s exactly what the Jets need right now.
If the poor play and the losing continue, then this week’s kerfuffle might eventually erupt into a full-blown mutiny, which ultimately translates into what the Jets can least afford: more coaching instability.
But if the season continues to slip away this early, there will be no choice.