The vote of confidence from ownership has been delivered. The three-game winning streak that ensued went a long way toward taking the heat off. And Sam Darnold’s recovery from a midseason cratering can’t be ignored.
No, Adam Gase is not going anywhere. But the referendum on the Jets’ first-year coach continues, and no amount of job security decreed by CEO Christopher Johnson can undo the skepticism harbored by a sizable portion of Jets fans about Gase.
If the Jets had not embarrassed themselves by losing to the 0-11 Bengals last week, perhaps this would be a conversation for another day. But the fact that Gase has now authored his own piece of Jets history by becoming the first coach in NFL history to lose twice in the same season to winless teams with an 0-7 record or worse, he cannot escape the scrutiny that goes with a 4-8 record by a team that should be much better.
Gase is not about to be fired, but as far as his standing among the paying customers at MetLife Stadium and the millions more who call themselves Jets fans, he is very much in the line of fire.
The Jets managed to breathe some life into their season with three straight wins after a 1-7 start, and Darnold exhibited the kind of play that you’d expect from a quarterback working with a coach with a reputation as a quarterback whisperer. But after some highly questionable play-calling from Gase in a 22-6 loss last Sunday in Cincinnati, the coach has done himself no favors in terms of winning over the non-believers.
Gase seemed more preoccupied with proving he could win through the air than accepting the obvious: that the Jets’ easiest path to victory went through running back Le’Veon Bell. The Bengals entered the game with the NFL’s worst run defense, allowing a hideous 166 yards per game. But Bell, who cost the Jets $52.5 million over four years, including $35 million in guaranteed salary, had only 10 carries for 32 yards. Darnold, meanwhile, was 28-for-48 for 239 yards and no touchdowns and was sacked four times.
Gase did nothing to rewrite the narrative that he didn’t want Bell in the first place, chafing against former general manager Mike Maccagnan’s insistence that the former Steelers running back would be a good addition to the Jets’ offense. If that’s the way you’re going to deploy a player who eats up that much space on your salary cap, it seems clear that Bell does not figure into Gase’s long-range vision of what will make the Jets a winning team.
It’s hard to argue with the calls to get something of value in a trade for Bell, because if you’re not going to use him the way a big-time back should be used, then it’s time to move on. The bigger issue is why Gase would ignore the obvious and not attack the Bengals’ biggest defensive weakness. A much larger dose of Bell might have salvaged a win over the team with the NFL’s worst record; instead, the Jets succumbed to the epically bad Bengals.
Because of illness, Bell will not play Sunday against the Dolphins at MetLife Stadium in a rematch of last month’s 26-18 clunker in Miami, and this time the Dolphins come in with renewed confidence after an 0-7 start. They have won three of their last five under first-year coach Brian Flores, who inherited Gase’s old team and has soldiered on despite a roster deconstruction to collect draft picks for the future. Among those sent elsewhere: quarterback Ryan Tannehill, left tackle Laremy Tunsil, wide receiver Kenny Stills and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick.
But the Dolphins have been a plucky bunch, with former Jet Ryan Fitzpatrick holding the fort at quarterback and the team responding to Flores, the former Patriots defensive coordinator.
“We’ve got a good group, and they’ve handled adversity well,” Flores said. “When you have some success and a win or two, it creates a different kind of energy.”
Flores already has shown a willingness to be bold. In last week’s 38-31 upset win over the Eagles, Flores called for a fake field goal — the “Mountaineer shot” was the name of the play — and the Dolphins executed it to perfection for a touchdown. After lining up for a chip-shot field goal from the Eagles’ 1-yard line, the Dolphins broke into a split formation, with punter/holder Matt Haack taking the snap and throwing a touchdown pass to kicker Jason Sanders. It was the first touchdown reception by a kicker since 1977.
“You want to call a trick play when you feel like it’s going to work,” Flores said. “It’s a momentum play, but it’s something we felt like was a good play at the time.”
If Flores gets the best of Gase again Sunday, it will only increase the pressure on the Jets’ coach. The Jets need a win to regain some of the momentum they created with the three-game winning streak, but this will be no small task. Not only are the Dolphins a more confident team as a result of their recent run of success, but the Jets are riddled with injuries and illness. Bell and several other players missed practice time this week because of the flu, and it’s unlikely that star safety Jamal Adams will be in the lineup because of an ankle injury suffered against the Bengals.
Gase confidently proclaimed in March that the Jets would be playing — would be, not should be — meaningful games in December, but that won’t be the case. An opening-game loss to the Bills, the diagnosis of Darnold’s mononucleosis, the Jets’ inability to weather his three-game absence and then a midseason swoon have been too much to overcome. But there still is a month’s worth of football for Gase to test his mettle.
“Nobody is more disappointed than we are, I know that,” he said. “Things didn’t work out for us this year. We couldn’t get things rolling in the right direction. We lose our quarterback for three games, it set us back. We just could never keep a core group of guys healthy long enough to gain that chemistry. We just have to find a way to keep getting better these last four weeks and do the right thing, prepare the right way, practice the right way, execute on Sunday, try to put one good game together so we can win this week.”
Although the Jets won’t be playing into January, Gase isn’t coaching for his job. But he is coaching for his reputation, and there still is a lot to prove. Another loss to the Dolphins, and that reputation will be damaged further.