Dear New York Jets Fans,
Take a deep breath. Relax. It’s just a game.
That said, Thursday’s loss to Cleveland warrants a talk. It’s brutal, it’s devastating, but most importantly it has implications on this franchise’s future.
The Jets are sitting for the first time in recent history with a blue-chip quarterback prospect. Sam Darnold is going to, barring a complete disaster, become a good football player. In the early part of this season, he’s proved the spotlight is not too big for him. Sure, he’s got a tendency to gamble and turn the ball over, but this early career tenderizing over the fires of this 2018 season will prove to be invaluable in the long run. Darnold has already shown glimpses of his true potential, and he’s by far the youngest quarterback in the NFL (21 years and 100+ days).
Beyond the fans that still are clamoring to un-do the trade sending Teddy Bridgewater to New Orleans for valuable draft capital, of which the Jets will need this offseason, I think most Jets fans and beat writers understand this. The real questions rest on the shoulders of this coaching staff.
When Todd Bowles was introduced as head coach in 2015 after winning Assistant Coach of the Year in 2014, there was hope that he would stabilize the franchise after the tumult of the Rex Ryan era. The 2015 season was a strong 10-6 effort, but it was littered with some inclinations about Todd’s ability to adapt in game. Whether it was losing to T.J. Yates in Houston, forcing Tom Brady to pass 52 times on the team and still losing, or the calamity that was week 17’s demoralizing loss in Buffalo that cost the team a playoff shot, there were cracks in the glimmer of hope.
In the years following, there were excusable miscues that followed the team, especially it seems in the biggest of games, that have aggregated to a concerning degree. We saw the team torched by Andrew Luck at home on Monday night, squander close first halves in Pittsburgh, in Miami, and against New England, blow leads against Atlanta or Carolina, and then, to cap it off, Thursday night's piece-de-resistance gave Cleveland its first win in 635 days. It seems that there’s always been something that dampens what are usually competitively coached football teams. Penalties, missed opportunities, punting on fourth down, more penalties, blown coverages. These, over the few victories and steps forward the team has made, have come to define Todd Bowles as a head football coach.
Todd is a capable head coach and admirable person. He was raised by a single mother who worked two jobs and learned to become even and level headed at a young age. His career as a defensive back was solid, and his close relationship with Bill Parcells has given him coaching networks that allowed him to become a strong assistant. His signature is his stone-faced demeanor, one that generally is good for a franchise that has seen catastrophic low after catastrophic low.
“Todd may be quiet, but he sure as hell ain’t passive”, says his old teammate at Temple and former NFL running back Paul Palmer. His lifelong friend Rodney Carter adds: “In all my time knowing him, nothing’s ever really gotten to Todd. He was always in control. You know that commercial, ‘Never let them see you sweat’? That’s him.”
And on this note, I think that wherever Todd Bowles winds up after he gets fired from the New York Jets will be lucky to have him. I don’t think his tenure with the Jets necessarily defines him, and I still think that Todd has the best of his career ahead of him. To be very fair to him, he hasn’t had it easy in his tenure with New York, where the majority of what will now be three seasons has been spent rebuilding the team whilst his job security has remained in question. If I had to guess, he becomes the next head coach in Dallas where the job security of Jason Garrett is suspended by dental floss.
But the New York Jets as they currently are need a coaching staff that’s going to elevate them to the next level, that will energize the team in big situations. If there’s a criticism about Todd, its that he coaches every game the same. The feistiness that you hear of behind closed doors never permeates on to the field for more than a quarter or two of football.
And some games are bigger than others. Some games require more creativity, more passion, and more energy than the next. Todd’s stoicism and conservatism, his instinct to coach to hold a lead and not to win the game, is costing these New York Jets. It isn’t just costing them games, it’s costing them growth. He’s costing them the growth that comes out of winning close and pivotal games.
Now that they have a quarterback who takes risks and makes plays, they need a coach to match him. In that loss to Cleveland, its very clear that Bowles was coaching to not lose the game and instructed offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates to protect Darnold, but when you protect someone you’re often not doing them a service to their growth. I understand that he’s been coaching for his job since 2016, but I think there’s a reason Maccagnan is hesitant to confirm his long-term stability. It’s because the results for Todd simply don’t align with his aura: he’s 21-30 as a Jets coach and looks on his way to another season at 5-7 wins.
The case of Chuck Pagano comes to mind when discussing Bowles. Indianapolis essentially wasted the first 6 years of Andrew Luck’s career on a coach who was, similarly to Bowles, a great coordinator and a likeable guy but a coach dragged by his quarterback for 6 years. Burdening 21-year-old Sam Darnold with carrying this franchise, in New York, is psychotic. There’s concerns with giving Darnold a new playbook in his first two years and there’s a concern that such a move sets the time frame of this team a year back. Ultimately, if this team continues to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, that doesn’t matter.
New York Jets fans: this team is close. There’s been a taste of dominance in the last few years. But after the debacle in Cleveland, I think it’s time to pass the torch.
ANTWAN is a longtime JetsFixer and Chatzy regular. In addition to being a talented radio presenter and podcaster who has covered Pitt football over the past few years, he is also the originator of the Jawline Durability Theory, now commonly referred to as Milliner's Law...