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Jets' inability to close out games a recurring theme

Questionable defensive strategy played a role in inability to hold lead against Texans on Saturday.

Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins makes a catch

Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins makes a catch to score the game-winning touchdown against Jets cornerback Morris Claiborne during the fourth quarter at MetLife Stadium on Saturday. Photo Credit: Getty Images/Steven Ryan

Jets cornerback Morris Claiborne was adamant that he didn’t commit a holding penalty on the Texans’ critical late-game drive Saturday, and even said it’s the kind of call that can cost him money in free agency.

Replays, however, showed that Claiborne had a hold of DeAndre Hopkins’ jersey. The call was correct and just another Jets infraction at an inopportune time that has littered so many losses in the Todd Bowles era.

The Jets’ 29-22 loss to the Texans wasn’t because of that call, but it was the latest defeat that highlighted their inability to close games.

“It’s frustrating,” Bowles said during a Sunday morning conference call. “But we had other chances to put the game away and try to win a ballgame. It just didn’t come down to the last drive or anything else. We had penalties earlier in the game that set us back from doing some things. We had some missed opportunities. They’re all relative.”

There were back-to-back illegal-block penalties — one of which negated a first down — before a fumble by Elijah McGuire in the second quarter. That led to a 45-yard touchdown pass from Deshaun Watson to Hopkins. But those early-game mistakes  often are overlooked when the game ends the way it did.

Quarterback Sam Darnold played perhaps his best game of the season. He looked smooth and poised against J.J. Watt and a strong Texans defense.

After Darnold led the offense on its third touchdown drive in five series, the Jets led 22-19 with five minutes left, but the defense couldn’t finish the game.  The third-down penalty on Claiborne was crushing, and Hopkins’ terrific 14-yard touchdown catch with Claiborne covering him like a blanket proved lethal.

Bowles said he has no regrets about the way the Jets dealt with Hopkins. They decided not to double him on the fateful series. Throughout the game, Bowles chose not to have No. 1 cornerback Trumaine Johnson, whom the Jets signed to a $72-million contract in free agency, cover Hopkins.  Instead, he played “sides” with Johnson and Claiborne.

Hopkins feasted on his side of the Jets’ secondary, finishing with 170 receiving yards and two touchdowns.

“They move him around quite a bit,” Bowles said. “It’s not just DeAndre, it’s the matchups all over the field. We were doing fine left and right. Mo makes his share of plays as well, and we have all the confidence in the world in him. DeAndre just made some plays.”

But it was the sort of letdown that has become all too familiar over the last four seasons and why Bowles is expected to be let go after the Jets end their season Dec. 30 in New England.

Bowles repeated Sunday what he said after the game, that there are no moral victories. But the Jets are playing hard for him, as if they’re trying to save his job.

A win over the Texans (10-4) might have helped him. But with the Jets 4-10, making it three straight years of double-digit losses, and with the inability to finish games a regular event, it would be surprising if Bowles is back.

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