No one expects Todd Bowles to lead the Jets to the playoffs. Heck, most fans do not even want him to lead the Jets to the fringes of playoff contention, lest their 2018 draft position be damaged.
Still, the third-year coach has plenty at stake this season, and plenty to prove, if he wants to be around when the Jets begin the next half-century of their quest to return to the Super Bowl.
Bowles will be judged not as much on wins and losses but on how he keeps peace and positivity, how he develops the team’s young talent and how he handles the things that are within his control.
The last thing on that list was the first thing that came to mind after Sunday’s 21-12 season-opening loss to the Bills, a mess of a game that was capped by a curious decision by Bowles.
The fact that he ordered a punt with four minutes remaining, facing a nine-point deficit on fourth-and-8 with the ball at his 44-yard line, almost certainly did not cost the Jets the game.
But it did not reflect well on Bowles, even more so because he made a similar decision last October in Pittsburgh.
If anything, the Jets’ lack of established talent and low public expectations should give him the freedom to take more risks, not fewer.
His predecessor, Rex Ryan, also was a lifelong defensive guy who trusted his defense to a fault at times, only Ryan in most seasons had a defense that deserved that trust, unlike Bowles.
Bowles said Monday that he might have gone for the first down had there been fewer than eight yards needed, but that he still considered the decision one that did not call for much debate.
Hmm. Well perhaps he at least will consider being more aggressive in the future? “I feel like I was fine [Sunday],” he said.
It was in Buffalo that it all started going wrong for Bowles, when after a 10-5 start in 2015 the Jets suffered a season-destroying, playoff-preventing, soul-crushing 22-17 loss to the Bills.
Since then it mostly has been losses, locker room discord, losses, dumping veteran players, and losses. Now he must try to turn it all around minus a roster of talented and/or experienced players.
Hence his small margin for error. But his problems go beyond that.
Bowles’ flat-line public persona does neither him nor the team any favors. There is nothing inherently wrong with being less-than-voluble around reporters and the public. That does not necessarily indicate a lack of passion, leadership or competence.
Still, being an NFL head coach means being the public face of an organization, and signs of life are a nice touch, especially on a bad team.
After Sunday’s game, Bowles failed to shed light on a variety of topics, as usual, including the backup quarterback situation, and was not much more forthcoming on Monday.
It was difficult not to notice the contrast with Josh McCown, the 38-year-old quarterback / quasi-assistant coach, who after the game Sunday sounded fired up by the challenges ahead, and about the youth around him.
“I can’t wait to start working on Oakland to teach these young guys as we continue to grow together,” he said. “It’s fun.”
He went on from there, at one point noting how “cool” it was to walk into the locker room and see teammates studying playbooks, singling out rookie receiver ArDarius Stewart in particular.
Sure, it’s just talk, but sometimes it is nice to hear that kind of thing from the boss if you are a fan looking for a future to latch on to, or a reason to care in the present.
Fifteen games to go. Loosen up, Coach Bowles. You have nothing to lose but your job.