Muhammad Wilkerson’s words apparently fell on deaf ears.
The Jets defensive end said he felt compelled to speak to his teammates before facing the Patriots on Saturday. The odds were against the Jets, especially on the road. But Wilkerson nonetheless had urged them to play better, not only for themselves but for coach Todd Bowles, who flew to New England on Saturday morning after an overnight stay in the hospital necessitated by kidney stones and gallstones.
“I feel like we should play for each other like we always do,” Wilkerson later told reporters at Gillette Stadium, “but just play a little more hard for Coach.”
The Jets, however, did everything but. On the same day they praised Bowles for showing strength and dedication to his team, their woeful performance in a 41-3 loss provided even more ammunition for those calling for Bowles’ firing.
The Jets (4-11) committed four turnovers, including three interceptions thrown by Bryce Petty and Ryan Fitzpatrick. They scored no touchdowns and allowed Tom Brady to throw three touchdown passes en route to a 124.6 quarterback rating. Their only points came on a late 29-yard field goal by Nick Folk, who missed a 34-yarder in the second quarter with the Patriots leading 13-0.
In the aftermath of another embarrassing blowout loss to their most hated rival, Bowles’ players were left searching for answers to their ongoing struggles.
Do the Jets have an issue with effort? Do they have too little talent? Or are their constant calamities the byproduct of poor preparation?
Well, it depends on whom you ask in the locker room, and the explanations do not bode well for Bowles.
“Guys just weren’t ready to play,” defensive end Leonard Williams told ESPN.com. “We didn’t really play with a lot of passion, a lot of enthusiasm. It seemed like we were out there going through the motions.
“Me, personally, I play hard every game. I know a lot of other guys on this team do. But some people are probably looking past the season, thinking that it’s over and stuff like that.”
Linebacker David Harris, in his 10th season with the Jets, blamed execution. “There was never a lack of effort,” he said. “Guys played hard out there, just didn’t play smart.”
Wilkerson, however, hinted that effort might be an issue for some players.
“The whole team should be embarrassed,” he said after recording seven tackles and a sack. “Nothing we did today was right. Turnovers. Defense giving up scores. Big plays. It was terrible.
“I can’t speak for every individual,” added Wilkerson, who was benched by Bowles for one quarter against the Giants last season and for a quarter in Week 9 against the Dolphins this year because of lateness. “Me personally, as a leader, I’m going to try to do my best to keep guys motivated and playing hard, giving it their all. I think that’s all I can really do.
“I give it my all each and every week.”