Jets coach Todd Bowles made headlines on Wednesday for removing the last two coaching holdovers from the Rex Ryan era, special teams assistant Steve Hagen and offensive line assistant Ron Heller. But while he’s still making great decisions for the most part, Bowles still has our stomachs continuing to turn following his squad’s abysmal Week 17 performance with a playoff spot in their immediate grasp.
Let’s step back and appreciate the roller coaster season that was Bowles’ first with the Jets after a dominating tenure as defensive coordinator of the powerhouse Arizona Cardinals. After a 4-1 start, the Jets seemed destined to make the postseason. In typical narrative fashion, the team then lost four of five games to fall back into AFC purgatory. However, it was a loss to Houston in late November (a shellacking, actually) that sparked a passionate post-game, in-house speech from Todd Bowles to his players. While video evidence is lacking, a few players came out to spill the juicy details. Per Newsday..
“Coach was like: ‘I’m not a loser. Ya’ll aren’t losers, either,’ ” nickel cornerback Buster Skrine said. “‘Let’s get it done.’ ”
“It’s not like a yell, it’s like a stern talking to. Like, you know he means business,” defensive lineman Stephen Bowen said.
“I don’t think the players had really seen him like that,” defensive lineman Leger Douzable said. “Him getting after us a little bit, I think that woke everybody up.”
“He just told everybody to look themselves in the mirror and understand that you’re playing for a purpose,” safety Calvin Pryor said.
“That was the turning point, man,” said Bowen, a Hofstra alum. “If we wanted to stay in it, we knew we were in one-game playoffs every week. We had to come with it.”
And turning point it was, as the Jets went on to win three straight games for the first time since 2011 (at 8-5) before winning two more and then crumbling apart at the hands of Rex Ryan’s Buffalo Bills in Week 17’s win-and-Jets-are-in game. It was certainly an up and down season in the rookie coach’s first year, but he did make a ton of solid moves that we did not forget..
Despite Chan Gailey having been out of football for the two previous seasons, Bowles took a first-move flyer on the offensive coordinator – Gailey’s previous experience with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick only helping the cause. Naturally with the addition of Brandon Marshall, this unit was a pile of clay ready to be professionally molded.
Next was his overall decisiveness and team-first approach. Two examples of this were benching Muhammad Wilkerson against the Giants after he was late to a meeting and cutting useless former first-round pick Quinton Coples (who can now join fellow linebacker bust Vernon Gholston in surfacing at the most random NFL tryouts). Clearly the player-first approach Rex was running isn’t optimal for long-haul success – no shit? Thus, props to our man Bowles for drawing an unmistakeable line.
And lastly, sticking with Ivy Leaguer Ryan Fitzpatrick. Bowles never gave up on Fitzpatrick, even after he tore a ligament in his throwing thumb against the Raiders or threw two picks for two straight weeks during a 1-4 tumble. Fitz held it down, inspired his team, brought fire and won football games. He’s not the future, but he is more than qualified and awesome enough to warm the present.
On the flip side, Bowles did several things wrong. His clock management effectiveness was up there with Eli Manning (see the Jets’ 30-23 loss to New England). His special teams were also horrendous, though as detailed previously he’s already taken action on that. Lastly was his use of substitutions. I’m far from a scheming genius, but it seemed as though aggressive and potentially revolutionary moves (in someone’s head at least) turned out to be atrocious. For instance, playing backup cornerback Marcus Williams at safety while Calvin Pryor was hurt was an interesting one where we got burned repeatedly. Letting Demario Davis continue to cover running backs when he was consistently tarnished by faster catchers was also a mystery. In other words, most were good, some were strange, all was a learning experience for next year.. when Todd Bowles expects his team to “come back hungrier.” In the meantime, you can find Jets faithful here..
In the end it was a solid 10-6 season, holistically at least. A week 17 heartbreak is really what still has me grieving. While effort didn’t seem up to speed, I’m far more disgusted with the coaching staff’s game plan – starting Steven Ridley over Chris Ivory, safe and questionable play calls all day, and, most significantly, no change to covering Sammy Watkins! At some point you have to roll someone over the top so Darrelle Revis can play underneath on him, considering the Bills’ top target (a stud in only his second season, I might add) hogged 54 percent of Tyrod Taylor’s targets.
But hey, we’ve been through worse Jets fans. It’s all a learning experience as we prepare for Year 2 under Todd Bowles. Time to read up on those mock drafts..