FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Locker room bickering and lingering resentment derailed what the Jets had hoped would be a special season.
Instead of preparing for a playoff run, they were busy stuffing their belongings into black garbage bags Monday morning and lamenting their missed opportunities and maturity issues.
The infighting began as early as Week 3, when a blowout loss in Kansas City featured six Ryan Fitzpatrick interceptions, sideline squabbling and a locker room blowup between Brandon Marshall and Sheldon Richardson. The tension between the two never subsided, and it helped to erode a tenuous team dynamic.
“It didn’t help us,” receiver Quincy Enunwa said of the discord. “When you look at our record, it really hindered our play.”
If there’s a silver lining to be found in the Jets’ 5-11 record, it is this, Enunwa said. The locker room “can be fixed and we know what we need to do. Hindsight is 20/20. Looking at it now, we know, coach Bowles knows. It’s going to be a lot of changes, and, I think, it’s going to be for the better.”
Those changes likely will include a staff shake-up and plenty of roster moves. Richardson and Marshall could be gone after this offseason. Their ongoing issues became public fodder as the losses piled up.
“In retrospect, I could work on my timing,” said Marshall, 32, whose leadership style annoyed some teammates, “but I’m totally fine with my approach this year . . . My only motive is to win ballgames.
“I’m tired of going home right after the season,” added Marshall, who hasn’t made the playoffs in his 11 seasons. “I’m tired of watching the playoffs on my couch. It’s just a frustrating year. It’s been a frustrating career.”
Todd Bowles downplayed the personality clashes, adding that his 1987 Redskins team argued every day, even after wins, and still won a Super Bowl. But his Jets weren’t able to rise above the friction.
Enunwa admitted he “got really frustrated” as the season progressed and even stopped practicing on the JUGS machine and working on his footwork after practice.
“It can be [hard to remain focused],” he said. “A big reason for that is when you see bad things going on, you kind of feel like, ‘Wow.’ You almost lose your purpose, I think. You go into the season and you don’t want to play for self, you want to play for team. But when the team doesn’t feel like a team, then you’ve got to start playing for self. And you’ve got to realize what are you doing this for? What’s your purpose? And you’ve got to play better. And I’ve got to make sure, regardless of what’s going on, that I’m always doing what I can to help the team.”
Injuries exacerbated matters. Eric Decker’s shoulder injury in that pivotal Chiefs game led to his placement on injured reserve. Seventeen more players would follow, including key offensive players Ryan Clady, Nick Mangold, Brian Win ters and Matt Forte. And while the Jets dealt with constant roster flux, players kept waiting for that “spark” to jump-start a winning streak.
“I was just telling myself, we did it last year, we’ll come back, we’ll jump out of this lull that we’re in,” said linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin, who missed the final five games because of a high ankle sprain and a partially torn ankle ligament. “After a while it was just . . . we don’t have that same spark that we did last [season].”
The Jets finished 10-6 in 2015, winning five in a row before their playoff hopes were dashed by a Week 17 loss at Buffalo. Failing to clinch a postseason berth stung, but they expressed optimism about their future under Bowles.
A year later, however, players were forced to answer for their shortcomings, collectively and as individuals.
“We didn’t fight like we did last year,” Mauldin said. “Everything just fell apart. We gave it our all, but it just wasn’t enough.”
“For everybody in this locker room, losing takes its toll,” said Fitzpatrick, who is not expected to be re-signed after throwing 17 interceptions and 12 touchdown passes.
The benchings of Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson for lateness, Richardson’s Snap chat incident, the ongoing feud between him and Marshall and the constant questioning of teammates’ effort highlighted the Jets’ lack of chemistry. But the fault for their wayward season rests primarily on the players, Enun wa said, not the coach.
“I applauded coach Bowles’ effort,” he said. “He did what he was supposed to do, what we needed to do, but we also have to be able to police the locker room.”