Here’s the predicament:
The Jets have lost three straight games after a stunning 48-17 season-opening win over the Lions in Detroit, but more disconcerting than the three losses since then is the way they’ve played. Disorganized. Disinterested. Dysfunctional.
It’s been more of a mess each week, and all of the good feelings created by rookie quarterback Sam Darnold’s debut have been replaced by disappointment and disillusionment.
Not that the 1-3 Jets could have expected an instant turnaround after last year’s 5-11 season. You knew there would be growing pains with Darnold’s development, and you knew there would be adjustments for a defense in Year 2 of a drastic makeover. Starting the season with three games in an 11-day span and three of the first four games on the road was even more daunting.
But for Todd Bowles to continue presiding over a rebuilding team that finally has a blue-chip quarterback with legitimate promise, he’ll have to find a way to get his team playing winning football again.
He must do it now.
The Broncos at home on Sunday.
The Colts at home next Sunday.
The Vikings at home a week after that.
Win all three, and confidence will have been restored to a team in desperate need of it.
Win two of three, and there’s at least some reason for hope.
Win one or none, and this season most likely will careen out of control and result in significant changes, up to and including the end of the Bowles era.
Bowles certainly isn’t worried about his long-term security and won’t bother obsessing over 2019 and beyond. But he is mindful of what’s at stake in the near term and knows a turnaround must happen quickly.
“You want to defend home turf, first of all,” he said. “I mean, you don’t want nobody walking into your stadium and beating you. It’s important to get on a winning streak, one at a time, that can get us back in the season, so it’s very important.”
The Jets face three beatable opponents, none of whom has a winning record. The Broncos are 2-2 after the Chiefs put together a dramatic second-half comeback win at Mile High, so they clearly are vulnerable after such a difficult loss.
“We came into that game last week, and the energy was crazy,” Broncos pass rusher extraordinaire Von Miller said. “That’s what I’ve been preaching to my teammates. Let’s keep the same energy, let’s reload and let’s go out and do it again. Let’s keep the same energy.”
The Jets have other reasons for winning, namely to wipe some of the embarrassment away from last week’s no-show in Jacksonville, where the Jaguars hung 503 yards of offense against an overmatched defense. It was the first time the Jets had given up more than 500 yards since 2008 against the Patriots. But at least in that 2008 game, they were facing the greatest quarterback in NFL history. Last week, they were humiliated by Blake Bortles.
“I know they’re tough and mentally tough and we understand the mistakes we can’t have happen,” Bowles said of his defense. “They have a point of pride all over the place.”
That pride had better show against the Broncos, who had to settle for Case Keenum as the consolation prize for losing out on free-agent quarterback Kirk Cousins. Keenum enjoyed a career year with the Vikings in 2017, leading Minnesota to the NFC Championship Game after replacing the injured Sam Bradford. But Keenum hardly is a big-time quarterback, and if the Jets can’t contain him, there’s little chance that Darnold can win a shootout. Not with Miller and rookie pass rusher Bradley Chubb threatening to pressure him at any moment.
Darnold knows there is little margin for error as he attempts to balance learning his position as a rookie starter with trying to win now. But he believes the Jets are in a good position to turn the season around with a strong showing the next three weeks.
“It’s really cool to be able to come back and know that for the next three games, we are playing in front of our fans,” he said. “It’s always such a pleasure to be able to come out there and know that the fans got our backs and we are just going to continue to play our ball, but it’s awesome to be able to do it at home.”
But it cuts both ways. Winning at home is great, but losing will only compound their problems. That’s why it’s urgently important for the Jets to get something out of this three-game homestand.
If they fail here, it will be a lost season.