ORCHARD PARK, N.Y.
Todd Bowles did not intend to do it, and he certainly was not thinking such thoughts at the time, but there he was Sunday, falling right into the conundrum that is the 2017 Jets season on its very first day.
As you might have heard, fans are conflicted between the short-term goal of watching their team win and the long-term goal of having their team lose to improve its future through the draft — with the latter the higher priority for most.
So when Bowles made an inexplicable coaching decision with four minutes remaining against the Bills on Sunday, he opened himself up to sardonic accusations from fans that he might actually be on their side in throwing the season.
He is not, of course. We think. But why else would he opt to punt with his team trailing by two scores, 21-12, with a fourth-and-8 at the Jets’ 44-yard line?
Bowles said that with three timeouts left, he thought the Jets had enough time to improve their field position, stop the Bills and score the necessary points, none of which made sense unless recovering an onside kick figured in the plan.
It did not work and the 21-12 score went final at New Era Field as the Jets took a one-game lead over the Bills, also expected to be among the NFL’s weakest teams, in the race for the No. 1 overall pick in next spring’s draft.
Such is the weirdness of this season, and nothing that occurred in the opener altered the perception that the Jets are the early favorite to secure that pick and perhaps a new young quarterback.
In addition to their coach’s head-scratcher, the offense was as weak as advertised, with Josh McCown producing a 56.2 passer rating with two interceptions and no touchdowns and the running game contributing 38 yards on 15 carries.
Overall, the Jets had 11 first downs, 214 yards and one touchdown.
“We have to get back and go to the drawing board and figure out how to move the ball,” running back Matt Forte said after rushing six times for 16 yards.
More alarming was what happened on defense, expected to be the less-bad side of the ball for the Jets.
The Bills repeatedly ran free, led by a vintage display of slipperiness from LeSean McCoy. He rushed 22 times for 110 yards, with a long of 27.
“He looks for a hole and if the hole is there, he’s going to hit it,” defensive lineman Steve McLendon said, “and that’s exactly what happened.”
Said cornerback Morris Claiborne: “He’s never down. He’s never in a bad situation. He can run backward and run back out and get a first down. He’s just that kind of guy.”
Six Bills had at least one gain of more than 20 yards and Buffalo had eight such plays overall, including a 47-yard reception by Jordan Matthews and a 35-yarder by Charles Clay.
For comic relief, the defense had a play in the first quarter on which it initially was penalized for having too many men on the field, until officials realized the Jet running off the field actually was their 11th man, not their 12th. There is no penalty for that, other than embarrassment.
Claiborne dismissed the notion that the team’s youth is in part to blame for all of the above.
“At the end of the day, youth doesn’t matter,” he said. “You’re out there. You’re a football player. You’re in the NFL. The youth goes out the window.”
Bowles stated the obvious when he said: “If we can’t run the ball and can’t stop the run, we’re going to have a problem.”
The Jets are contractually obligated to play their remaining 15 games, and it would be an insult to Bowles and his players to expect them to do anything other than try to win every one.
It is more likely that they will lose every one, however. Judging from the opener, fans rooting for that to happen can rest assured that the coaches and players are fully capable of doing so without resorting to doing so on purpose.
Bowles said his postgame message to the team was that “0-1 doesn’t define us.” For today, it does. The question is whether 0-16 will.