The beard is here to stay. In fact, Todd Bowles hopes he won’t be shaving for the rest of the season.
The Jets’ coach hasn’t shaved since the week after the Jets fell to 1-5. After two straight wins against the Ravens and Browns, Bowles has put away his razor.
“It got a little cold outside and I got lazy last week before we played the Ravens,” Bowles told Newsday as he walked from the locker room to the team bus after Sunday’s 31-28 win over the Browns. “I ain’t got no hair , so I’m changing it up a little bit. We won two in a row, and I’m superstitious at times, so I can’t change it too much right now. I’m going to go with it for a little while.”
At this point, whatever works for the second-year coach, whose season nearly went off the rails after a 1-5 start that prompted Ryan Fitzpatrick’s benching. Even Sunday’s game against the winless Browns was harrowing until Bowles, among others, laced into the team at halftime with the Jets trailing 20-7.
Bowles is under no illusions about his team being ready to make a playoff run, not after two wins against an injury-ravaged Ravens team and the Browns, who fell to 0-8 under first-year coach Hue Jackson. But he will not underestimate the potential importance of how his team responded after a miserable first-half performance.
Before Sunday, when trailing by 13 or more points at halftime on the road, the Jets were 0-71.
“You need character games, because you don’t know how are going to react when they get down in certain games,” Bowles said. “If you don’t pull a couple of them out per year — even the good teams, 15-1 teams, have to do it. It’s just a matter of us making plays when we’re down to win the games to give us more confidence moving forward.”
The Jets were abysmal at the outset on Sunday, letting Browns quarterback Josh McCown look more like Tom Brady as Cleveland scored two touchdowns, kicked two field goals and gained 274 total yards in the first half. And Fitzpatrick was a woeful 3-for-14 for 30 yards, making you wonder if this finally was the end for the 33-year-old quarterback. Even Joe Namath, who still follows the team, urged Bowles on Twitter to bench Fitzpatrick and get a look at Bryce Petty.
The thought never entered Bowles’ mind.
“Our whole team was playing bad, and Fitz didn’t have much of a chance,” he said in explaining his thinking at halftime. “We didn’t give him many opportunities. We weren’t running the ball and we weren’t on the field long enough. It wasn’t a matter of changing quarterbacks. It was a matter of us staying on the field and getting in sync and running some plays and having some production. It wasn’t like was spraying the ball all over the place and was terrible. We just weren’t on the field long enough, and the situations didn’t present themselves.”
As far as a quarterback change was concerned, Bowles said: “There wasn’t even a question about it.”
But Bowles did have some choice words for his team in the locker room.
“I was off and understanding we didn’t play any ball in the first half,” he said. “I’m like, ‘Damn, give yourselves a chance. Play some ball and then see what happens.”
Bowles put it this way to reporters at his postgame news conference: “You’ve got to have a attitude when you’re getting your kicked. We needed an attitude check.”
It was about as angry as the Jets had ever seen their coach at halftime. “It’s up there, put it that way,” linebacker David Harris said.
The Jets were a completely different team in the second half, outscoring the Browns 24-0 before Cleveland responded with a touchdown with 12 seconds to play. After his dismal first half, Fitzpatrick was 13-for-20 for 198 yards and a touchdown pass.
The Jets still are far from a playoff-caliber team, and 3-5 still is a long way from the playoffs, especially with two games to play against the Patriots. But even though they beat a team they were supposed to beat and had to rally from an awful first half, Bowles heeds the advice of his mentor, Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells, who said you never apologize for winning. No matter how it happens and no matter whom it’s against.
“You don’t squeak by a winless team,” he said. “When you win, you win. When you lose, you lose. We won’t complain when we lose, and we ain’t going to bitch about it when we win.”