The Jets are entering a critical stage of their season, whether they want to admit it or not. After dismissing the tank narrative by forging three victories in the first five games, they lost their last two by blowing 14-point leads.
Keeping this team together so it won’t implode is imperative. The Jets have preached that this group is much different from last season’s bunch, which turned into a locker-room mess thanks to immaturity by some veterans.
“Losing is always going to [expletive],” defensive end Leonard Williams said Monday. “It’s hard, and especially knowing we had a [14-point] lead in the fourth quarter and gave it up. We have a 24-hour rule we go by with the Jets, whether it’s a win or loss. We watch film on Monday and get over it, and by Tuesday be ready for the next opponent. That’s how we have to treat this game as well.”
But the way the Jets lost, 31-28, to the Dolphins on Sunday left such a sour taste.
In meetings and film sessions Monday, the Jets had to discuss moving on after a disheartening loss in which they committed a season-high 12 penalties for 124 yards. Todd Bowles had to speak with receiver Robby Anderson, who tossed his helmet to the ground with eight seconds to play, resulting in an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty.
You could go on for days about what hurt the Jets down the stretch, including why Josh McCown threw an interception on first down from his 15-yard line with 47 seconds left that set up the winning field goal.
After the game, two Jets spoke out to defuse any possible conflicts. Muhammad Wilkerson told teammates to stay together and not let the season slip away, and Steve McLendon reiterated that message. And while the Jets want to remain on point, it doesn’t dismiss how they feel.
Speaking of the previous 24 hours, McCown said: “Well, they’re not fun. You just reprocess the game and look through things you can do better. Then you get to work and you look at the tape, but it’s the best 24 hours when you win and it’s the worst when you lose. It happens to half the teams in the league every week, one way or the other, so it’s how we respond that’s going to be the key.”
The Jets’ next opponent, Atlanta (3-3), also is in a slump, having lost three in a row. The Falcons are averaging 21.3 points, way down from last season, when they scored a league-high 33.8 per game. They average 372.5 yards, more than 40 fewer than in 2016.
“We just talk about the next game,’’ Bowles said. “We don’t talk about the next few weeks. You can’t go past one week, and you try not to worry about what the opponent’s going through. We try to correct our mistakes and move on from there.”
An 0-2 start raised talk about tanking. Then a three-game winning streak halted discussions about No. 1 picks, and the new narrative was that this was a different Jets team. But blowing a 14-point first-half lead against the Patriots cost them a chance to move into sole possession of first in the AFC East, and on Sunday, the Dolphins scored 17 points in the fourth quarter to erase a 28-14 deficit.
Anderson’s helmet incident didn’t turn into a full-scale controversy. Bowles also quickly dismissed the possibility of benching cornerback Buster Skrine, who gave up a touchdown pass and was penalized three times.
It appears that despite back-to-back losses, these Jets are not on the verge of a collapse.
“Everyone is a lot more together,” guard Brian Winters said. “We win together, we lose together, everyone has the same mentality. There isn’t much conflict in the locker room, which is great. Everyone is on the same page, so that helps.”