Their curt replies and exasperated scowls said it all, painting a disturbing picture of a stunted team that can’t get out of its way.
One by one, New York Jets players shouldered the blame for yet another loss on Sunday, trying in vain to explain how they squandered another opportunity, this time a must-win matchup against their longtime divisional rivals, the Miami Dolphins.
It was the type of devastating defeat that, in hindsight, can be the reason a coach gets fired.
And Todd Bowles is running out of time.
This 2018 season was about one thing: the development of Sam Darnold, the 21-year-old quarterback whom they paid an expensive price to draft No. 3 overall seven months ago.
And, right now, the baby-faced leader of this erratic team isn’t reading defenses properly, appears to have lost his confidence in the pocket and is reverting to the carelessness he displayed at times in college.
The Jets’ offensive performance in Sunday’s 13-6 loss to the Dolphins – save for Quincy Enunwa’s relentless, tackle-breaking efforts – was inept. The coaching staff’s decision not to change up the blocking schemes or the play-calling or the offensive line personnel? Questionable at best. Meanwhile, the Jets’ defense played well, limiting Miami to 104 passing yards and 64 rushing yards.
But a loss is a loss. And it falls on all of them.
“I understand the emphasis on restructure, rebuild, but I think everybody’s tired of that,” third-year receiver Robby Anderson said. “I think that’s an excuse. We got to challenge ourselves and improve and make it happen.”
Win-loss records are how we evaluate head coaches. Just ask the recently fired Hue Jackson. But these 16 games were about something bigger for the Jets, something far more critical.
The most damning thing about this loss wasn’t the pathetic final score, or the fact New York has now dropped to 3-6 overall and 0-2 in the AFC East division. It’s that the Jets – an organization that has spent decades searching for a legitimate, lasting face for its franchise – finally might have a long-term option in Darnold. And this coaching staff is finding new ways to impede his development.
Nine games into his rookie season, Darnold is regressing. The rookie leads the league with 14 interceptions, and has seven sacks, seven interceptions and only two touchdowns over the past three games.
And that’s a big problem for a defensive coach who is 13-27 (with no playoff appearances) over the past three years.
In the aftermath of this seven-point defeat, irritated players offered blunt assessments for their individual and collective failings. A dismayed veteran center, apologizing for not being able to properly snap a football due to a finger injury that has plagued him for three weeks. Darnold lamenting his wildly inaccurate throws, including a career-high four interceptions. And a pissed-off second-year safety who insisted his defense didn’t do enough to create turnovers.
“It’s the same, same, same stuff. … I’m sick of losing,” said 23-year-old defensive leader Jamal Adams. “Enough is enough.”
“First of all, I think it starts with me,” said a dejected Darnold. “I think I’ve just got to be sharper. … I’ve just got to have a better plan.”
At the center of this debacle was Bowles, whose postgame comments offered no explanation for the lack of urgency his team has consistently displayed over his past four years; the absence of halftime, in-game or any-time adjustments each week; and, worse, a practical reason for Spencer Long – and his dislocated middle finger – to be in the game after launching repeated shotgun snaps out of the reach of his 6-foot-3 rookie quarterback.
“I go by whatever they think is best for me and this team,” Long said. “If they think we have a better chance with me in there, then I’m playing.”
The players all admitted they should have been better on Sunday. But the one person who didn’t was the man responsible for developing Darnold and configuring a coaching staff that can improve a 29th-ranked offense.
Asked if his defense was “a bright spot” on an otherwise bleak afternoon, Bowles inexplicably said: “Still got to get turnovers. You don’t play well when you lose ballgames, so we got to get turnovers and do a little more.”
Asked if he gave any thought to taking out Long before he re-injured his dislocated finger, Bowles stunningly said: “No, I didn’t. We were fine. We didn’t play well on offense, period. This is not the thing. We didn’t execute anything.”
I’m sorry – What???
Bowles, ever so deadpan, went on to explain that this season is not slipping away, that the Jets – losers of three straight – are, in fact, not spiraling out of control.
“It’s not a spiral thing,” he said. “It was a tough loss and we’ll go back to the drawing board and fight. Our team is together and we understand where we are and we just got to get back to work tomorrow.”
Hopefully, someone will show Bowles the footage from his postgame locker room. His players are furious and frustrated, and in need of answers and direction. And they need more than mere reminders to “execute better” and “create turnovers.”
The Jets are in danger of damaging the young quarterback they worked so hard to secure so early in this year’s draft. And if Bowles isn’t careful, he won’t just be on the hot seat.
He’ll be out of a job.
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