The season began with plenty of optimism inside the Jets’ locker room, with players harboring what they considered legitimate dreams of a playoff run. After a near-miss in 2015, ruined by a season-ending loss to the Bills that kept the Jets out of the playoffs, the return of Ryan Fitzpatrick and re-signing of Muhammad Wilkerson created a widespread belief among the players that this could be a special season. Maybe even one that ended with a chase for pro football’s greatest prize.
But here we are, only a month into the season, and it feels as if things are unraveling. At 1-3 and with road games against the Steelers and Cardinals up next, this already feels like a season run amok.
Three more Fitzpatrick interceptions and another abysmal performance by the defense contributed to another dispiriting loss that provides further proof that these Jets simply aren’t good enough to hang with the NFL’s elite.
Of course, no one in the room was saying as much after this latest implosion, Sunday’s 27-17 home loss to the Seahawks, who are very much in the Super Bowl conversation.
“We lost, but the season’s not over,” coach Todd Bowles said. “It’s 1-3, we’ve got to grind. We’ve got to get better. We’re going to correct our mistakes from today and we’re going to get ready for Pittsburgh.”
Bowles and his players are in the business of spewing out the one-week-at-a-time answers, because that’s what coaches and players do.
Yet two-thirds of the way through a brutal season-opening six-game stretch that features five games against 2015 playoff teams, the Jets are proving quite decisively that they’re not worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as the teams that will be playing into January.
There certainly is plenty of time to make a run, and the competition gets decidedly easier. Then again, there are two games against a Patriots team that will have Tom Brady back in action. So it’s too early to make any definitive judgments about what comes next, other than to say this team is going nowhere unless it starts playing and coaching significantly better.
That starts with Fitzpatrick, who has 10 interceptions through four games after throwing 15 in the entire 2015 season.
He was decent in the first half, getting the Jets to within 14-10 at intermission. But after three more picks in the fourth quarter, giving him seven in the final period in the last two weeks, the questions won’t stop about whether Bowles is considering a move with his quarterback.
The coach said it’s not happening, that he believes in Fitzpatrick as much now as he did before the season started. Fitzpatrick’s go-to receiver, Brandon Marshall, offered a spirited defense of his quarterback.
“I’m standing [in] this ship with him,” Marshall said. “At the end of the day, I’m going down with the ship with him.”
Fitzpatrick and Marshall still haven’t reached the playoffs, and this year might result in another empty January.
Marshall’s loyalty is crucial at such a perilous time, because nothing is gained through a fractured locker room, especially not when it concerns the quarterback.
Then again, Bowles knows he must weigh the risks of sticking with Fitzpatrick if the interceptions continue to come in bunches. The coach could end up walking a fine line if the losses keep piling up. He also knows that despite a stretch of four losses in five games last season, the Jets still got into position to make the playoffs.
As big a disappointment as Fitzpatrick has been, Bowles’ defense has been equally culpable. With a talent-laden lineup featuring some of the most highly rated — and highly paid — defensive linemen, the Jets have been utterly unremarkable in the first month. Despite being hobbled by knee and ankle ailments, Russell Wilson undressed the Jets’ defense Sunday, throwing for 309 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
The Jets’ defense has only three takeaways in four games, a damning stat for a unit that last year produced 10 in the first two games and 15 through the first five. But it was fool’s gold last year, because the Jets were fattening up against many of the NFL’s bottom-dwellers. Against the big boys on this year’s schedule, the defense has been mostly mediocre and sometimes downright awful.
There is time to fix things, yes, but only with dramatically improved play and at least one win in the next two weeks to reinvigorate a team that shows no indication of emerging from its early-season swoon.
Marshall says he’s ready to go down with the ship. Unfortunately for the Jets, this ship looks as if it’s ready to go kerplunk sooner rather than later.