The Jets once dreamed about going into their bye week with a .500 record. The reality: When they come out of that bye week, they won’t be playing for much.
“Each other,” left tackle Kelvin Beachum said.
Playing for pride is all that’s left for the 3-7 Jets, who will return to work Monday and begin preparing to face the two-time defending AFC champion Patriots. The Jets are free-falling toward an eighth straight season of missing the playoffs.
Their high hopes were squashed by back-to-back losses to AFC East rivals Miami and Buffalo. Those defeats — and particularly the 31-point drubbing by the Bills at MetLife Stadium — essentially have put Todd Bowles’ future with the team in jeopardy.
The season’s not over, though. Here are five pressing matters facing the Jets:
1. Bowles’ future
If the Jets win out, maybe they can save his job. That’s a huge maybe and an even bigger if.
Who really believes the Jets will win out? The way they’ve played this season, the lack of urgency and discipline they’ve shown make it hard to fathom them finishing better than 5-11 — their record each of the previous two seasons under Bowles. That’s not showing progress, which was the only edict from Jets chairman Christopher Johnson.
All of the Jets players say they support Bowles and love playing for him, but they sure didn’t rally around their embattled coach with their 41-10 loss to the Bills. They weren’t playing for their coach. It was the kind of performance that gets coaches fired.
Let’s see if they can rally around Bowles now. They will have to next Sunday at home against the Patriots to quiet angry fans who seem to want Bowles gone already.
2. Darnold’s development
Rookie quarterback Sam Darnold was praised for the way he bounced back from throwing a pick-6 on his very first NFL pass. That was so long ago, though. His poise and unflappability are great traits, but Darnold seems to have regressed.
Now he’s dealing with a foot issue that sidelined him against Buffalo, and he admitted second-guessing himself the last time he played. Darnold threw four interceptions in Miami that day. He leads the NFL with 14 picks, seven coming in his last three games, a span in which he completed only 52 of 110 passes (47.3 percent).
Injuries have played a part in Darnold’s development, as receivers Quincy Enunwa, Robby Anderson and Jermaine Kearse have missed time. But when Darnold is healthy, his development has to be an even greater focal point.
3. Fix the offense
Like Bowles, offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates doesn’t seem long for his job. If or when the Jets make a coaching change, they’re expected to hire an offensive guy to run the team.
The Jets have one of the NFL’s worst offenses. They rank 29th out of 32 teams in yards per game (299.4) and are last in third-down conversion percentage (28.8), including 15.4 percent the last three games. In that time, they have scored two touchdowns and 26 points total.
They have a rookie quarterback and a center who has had snapping issues, and they lack dynamic skills players. General manager Mike Maccagnan deserves some criticism for that, but there is very little diversity to the offense.
When Darnold has struggled, Bates hasn’t tried short passes to the running backs to try to get chunk yardage. The Jets also haven’t taken many shots down the field when Anderson has been healthy.
The defensive-minded Bowles said he would evaluate everything during the bye. Maybe a call to his old friend Bruce Arians for some advice would help the Jets’ offense.
4. Shake things up
It’s unlikely that Bowles, who is trying to win to save his job and raise his value for his next one, will play young players for development’s sake. But Bowles gave a very telling quote the last time he spoke to the media: “We’ll see who wants to play.”
There have been so many mistakes and breakdowns and miscommunications from veterans. Maybe Bowles will hold players more accountable the rest of the way and send some much-needed messages by sitting them for plays or series if they’re not doing their jobs.
Either way, running back Elijah McGuire should be among the young players who get more of a look the rest of the way. Isaiah Crowell has had some big games and runs, but he’s not a part of the future. McGuire could be, and he could be a sparkplug for the stagnant offense.
On the defensive side of the ball, Frankie Luvu, Parry Nickerson and Nathan Shepard are rookies who could get more of a shot if they’re deserving.
5. Division and subtraction
Everyone, most notably outspoken safety Jamal Adams, has said the locker room won’t splinter like some previous Jets teams have. Adams swears it’s not going to happen and that he won’t let it happen.
We’ll see how this plays out because the locker room is filled with frustrated people who want to win, want their touches, want the offense to be more aggressive and want their teammates to work harder and communicate more. There are a lot of dynamics at play here.
Cornerback Morris Claiborne said the Jets “laid down” against Buffalo. Several of his teammates didn’t agree, but you can’t debate how it looked. Adams said last year’s issues — a losing culture and guys doing the bare minimum — haven’t changed. He also said that if management asked him, he would give his advice on who should stay and who should go.
Can finger-pointing and fracturing be far behind? Keeping this team together may be Bowles’ toughest job the remainder of this season.