FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Standing in front of his team Monday morning for the final time this season, Todd Bowles made his message very clear: No more excuses.
The Jets finished their season Sunday with a 26-6 loss to the Patriots, and it wasn’t so much their record that anybody cared about, it was how they got there that was important.
In a second consecutive 5-11 finish under Bowles, the roster churned from veterans to young players, and with 16 unrestricted free agents on the roster, more changes are coming.
Bowles didn’t want to use the excuse that he didn’t have his starting quarterback, Josh McCown, for the final three games because of a broken left hand. He didn’t point out that running back Matt Forte was on injured reserve Sunday with knee discomfort. And he didn’t mention missing one of his best pass rushers and his highest-paid player, defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson, who wasn’t on the field for the last three weeks because of “coach’s decisions” tied to behavior and attitude.
Bowles, secure with a two-year contract extension given to him by CEO/chairman Christopher Johnson on Friday, decided there will be no more pity parties.
“This is just a no-excuse business. Either you win games or you don’t,” Bowles said. “It’s not 5-11, but we played a couple of games close. It’s not so-and-so got hurt or so-and-so wasn’t here. You win in spite of; that’s the only thing I was trying to convey on them for the offseason.”
Bowles’ speech impressed his players.
“A great message,” linebacker Demario Davis said.
“You got to feel it,” safety Rontez Miles said. “He’s a very straightforward guy. When he says something, he means it. It’s a message everybody should have felt. He stressed it. No excuses.”
The preseason projections were that the Jets were supposed to win two, maybe three games. Instead, they won five, and in three defeats they lost a double-digit lead, including two 14-point edges in the fourth quarter. But there also were bad losses at Tampa and Denver and a 1-7 road record for the first time since 2007.
Bowles didn’t want his players to feel proud or satisfied, because he wanted so much more.
“It almost kind of feels like a pat on the back, but it’s a false reality,” wide receiver Jermaine Kearse said. “It’s a false sense of confidence. We are 5-11, and that’s not going to cut it in this league.”
Defensive lineman Steve McLendon told his teammates they need to watch the playoff games this weekend as motivation for 2018.
Bowles sees something else.
“Guys weren’t happy at all. We know we could play better,” he said. “We should be angry in the offseason and we should be angry looking at playoff games, and we will be.”
McLendon said the team should be a playoff contender in 2018 just because of the chemistry it developed.
“I most definitely feel like we’re a playoff team,” he said. “We understand it’s a business, and this locker room will not look the same any year. You can win a Super Bowl and there are still going to be changes. We have to take it with a grain of salt and keep working.”
Bowles’ message also was meant for any player who doesn’t understand how difficult it is to win in the NFL. The Jets had 30 players with fewer than three years’ experience. They had only three 30 or older, compared to 12 in 2016.
“I thought his message was right on point,” Kearse said. “It’s either we’re going to be serious about this or we’re going to pretend, and I’m not in the field of being a pretender.”