FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Jets offensive coordinator John Morton holds up four fingers during practice. Josh McCown goes into the huddle encouraging his teammates as if they were playing in the fourth quarter.
One of the biggest problems for the Jets is finishing in the fourth quarter — they’ve been outscored, 113-47, for the season and 66-33 over the last six games. It’s a big reason why they’ve lost five of their last six to fall out of the playoff race.
Morton along with the rest of the coaches decided this week to break up the four practice periods into game-like situations. And when that last period comes up, put up four fingers or make a fist.
“What I’ve been liking is guys are really getting competitive,” defensive end Leonard Williams said after Thursday’s practice. “They get angry if they don’t make the play and get real excited when they do make the play. Even though it’s just practice, they’re showing that edge that we need in the fourth quarter and in situations where we need to finish.”
Penalties, turnovers and the inability to finish plays are the main reasons for the fourth-quarter problems.
In practices, the Jets worked on finishing whether it’s during two minute or one-on-one drills. The Jets even allowed the first-team offense to face the first-team defense in practices to increase competition, something that rarely happens during the season. Mostly, first-team offenses face a scout team defense, but with the fourth-quarter issues, the Jets’ coaches are trying something different.
“I’m doing it, coaches are yelling it, we’ve been yelling four,” Morton said. “Josh has been doing it and communicating it in the huddle. It’s just a mindset. You call certain plays, goal line, short-yardage situations, it’s a mindset. Now it’s the fourth quarter, let’s finish the game.”
The Jets allowed 17 fourth-quarter points in the loss to the Panthers last week. It was a winnable game for a Jets team that has little room for error. The Jets led 20-18 in the early stages of the fourth quarter before things fell apart.
McCown fumbled as he was getting sacked, leading to Luke Kuechly picking up the ball and going 34 yards for the go-ahead score. McCown said he felt sick about the fumble.
The Jets punted on their next possession and then allowed a 60-yard punt return from Kaelin Clay for a score that put them behind, 32-20. Special teams coach Brent Boyer said his group let down in that fourth quarter and took responsibility for the miscue.
The Jets were able to cut into the lead, 32-27, when McCown threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Jermaine Kearse with 5:37 left. As the Panthers were trying to run out the clock, they faced a third-and-11 from the Jets 48 when Cam Newton threw an incomplete pass. Jets defensive tackle Mike Pennel was penalized for roughing the passer extending the drive with 2:17 left which eventually sealed the game.
Todd Bowles said he yelled at his team in film sessions the day after about a lack of poise in key situations.
“We’ve tried everything,” the coach said. “We’re working on it. We changed practice and make sure we finish certain periods.”
Whether or not it works is uncertain given the inconsistent nature of the Jets’ season. Bowles said his team needs to learn how to win.
After 12 weeks, it might be too late.
“It’s not something we’re not accustomed to doing,” running back Matt Forte said. “I think that part comes down to any of the other problems that you struggle with. If you struggle in the red zone or you struggle on third down, it comes down to execution.”
The Jets have already allowed more points in the fourth quarter — 113 — than in any full season since 2007, when they gave up 124 points in the quarter. Their scoring by quarters this season:
1st 2nd 3rd 4th OT Total