PITTSBURGH -- Welcome to New York, Todd Bowles!
Now is when you earn your money and reputation — assuming you survive — not in a honeymoon season like 2015 in which the Jets began 4-1, never fell below .500, got a career year from a so-so quarterback and nearly made the playoffs.
Let’s see you wriggle out of a 1-4 start, three consecutive double-digit losses and a 31-13 flop against the Steelers at Heinz Field on Sunday that will be remembered among other ridiculous moments for one particularly ridiculous coaching move.
At least Bowles is owning his predicament. “I take all the blame,” he said. “I’m the head coach. We’ll go where I go. We’re at 1-4. That falls on me. As I lead, they follow . . . You can put it all on me.”
OK, so about that coaching move . . .
The Jets already had passed up three chances to go for it on fourth down and short. Each decision was debatable, and two resulted in made field goals. Conservative? Yes, but certainly defensible.
Then, with the Steelers leading 24-13, the Jets’ defense reeling and 7:36 left, Bowles opted to punt on fourth-and-2 from his 46-yard line. Pittsburgh took over, sopped up 5:43 on the clock in 12 plays and scored the clinching touchdown with 1:46 left.
Would the Jets have won even if they had gone for and made that first down? Probably not. But the punt was a convenient illustration of a team with its collective head spinning.
Why in the world did Bowles kick the ball away there?
“There was enough time left on the clock and we figured we’d be able to pen them down there,” he said.
In retrospect, did he think it was a mistake? “Any time something doesn’t work in life, it’s a mistake,’’ he said. “I don’t think it was a mistake. We were getting three-and-outs before that.”
Would he make the same call if he had it to do over again? “If it was the same situation, I’d probably punt . . . It’s all hypothetical when you lose a ballgame.”
If that had been Sunday’s only maddening moment, it would be one thing. How about this: With 1:51 left, the score still 24-13 and the clock stopped because the Steelers had gone out of bounds at the Jets’ 5-yard line, the Jets called a timeout.
Why? Bowles said they had 12 men on the field. So it turned out that the timeout was not as idiotic as it appeared to be, but that the deployment of personnel was.
The Jets could not figure out how to pressure Ben Roethlisberger and didn’t try much in the way of blitzes. The secondary — Bowles’ position when he played in the NFL — continued to leave people open early and often.
The Jets left Sammie Coates wide open at the goal line late in the second quarter, and he dropped the pass.
No worries. On the very next play, they left Jesse James even more wide open, and he caught the pass that gave the Steelers a 14-13 halftime lead.
Back to that head-scratcher of a punt: Did Ryan Fitzpatrick think it was too conservative?
“It ended up not working out,” he said. “As offensive guys, you want to go for it on fourth down, but it’s not necessarily the smart thing all the time.”
It was this time. Fitzpatrick sought to spread the blame by saying he was more upset about missing Brandon Marshall with a third-and-2 pass that preceded the punt than he was about Bowles’ decision.
“I know we all have faith and confidence in Todd,” he said. “And he has faith and confidence in us. That goes both ways. I always respect the calls that he makes. I was kicking myself more for the play before that.”
Come midnight next Monday in Arizona, we should have a better idea how much faith and confidence the Jets have in one another, and how up to this task Mr. Bowles is.