TAMPA, Fla. — Ten games in, we can draw some conclusions about the Jets’ near future. Notably: They have a promising core of young talent — better than most expected two months ago — and they still need a long-term solution at quarterback.
But when it comes to one important element of the operation, their bye week arrives with more uncertainty than ever.
Had the Jets been as god-awful as predicted and were, say, 0-10, Todd Bowles would be on thin ice. Had they beaten the Buccaneers Sunday and improved to 5-5, he would be in the NFL Coach of the Year discussion.
Instead, they laid a poorly timed egg, losing, 15-10, at Raymond James Stadium to a team that had lost five games in a row and started its backup quarterback — former Jet Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Some of the words the Jets uttered afterward did not help, as when Bowles was asked about the offense’s belly flop, 10 days after a 34-21 rout of the Bills and after a week of promises there would be no letdown or overconfidence.
“You have to show up every week and play or you’ll get it handed to you,” he said. “We didn’t show up today.” Yikes!
Later, Bowles insisted the team was properly prepared and played with effort. But the part about not showing up reflects poorly on everyone, the head coach prominent among them.
“When you lose it’s everybody,” Bowles said. “It’s not just players. It’s coaches, too, and it starts with me and it starts with the rest of the staff and it starts with players.”
One area in particular seems fair to pin on the coach, because it speaks to preparedness and discipline: penalties.
The Jets have hurt themselves with ill-timed flags all season, and Sunday was no exception. There were eight for 77 yards, but Bowles correctly observed that it seemed like more than that, thanks to how damaging they were.
“They keep setting us back, and we have to find a way to fix it,” he said.
It began with three in the first five minutes. It continued in the third quarter when Marcus Maye was called for illegal contact, erasing his interception and extending a drive that resulted in a Tampa field goal.
And perhaps worst of all was a pass interference call on Darryl Roberts on a third-and-10 incompletion in the fourth quarter that extended the Bucs’ lone touchdown drive.
“I feel like we have that on us so we just have to find a way to get it off,” Maye said. “We’re playing aggressively, but we just have to find a way to play clean and keep the penalties off.”
What did he think of the call against him? “I guess you put a finger on somebody five yards too far and it’s a flag,” he said.
Said defensive lineman Steve McLendon, “When you’re a physical team you have to understand that some things are going to come with that, but you have to learn to play a little bit smarter.”
Quarterback Josh McCown said Bowles “is doing everything he can to hold us accountable [for penalties] in different ways in practice. We have to make up our mind as a group . . . It’s still popping up and we have to nip it in the bud.”
Bowles, whose contract runs through 2018, has two weeks to figure out how to deal with that specific mess, and with the larger mess the Jets made of their season with Sunday’s loss.
Their remaining six games are a minefield that includes the Panthers, Chiefs, Saints and Patriots.
They are not going to make the playoffs. But they are going to tell us a lot between now and New Year’s Eve about how they feel about their coach, and he is going to tell us a lot about how we — and Jets management — should feel about him.