EAST RUTHERFORD — The Jets are 3-5 at this rebuilding season’s midpoint, with the second half of the season, plus the tipping-point month of November, fast approaching.
After Sunday’s 25-20 loss to the Falcons — the Jets’ third straight defeat, following three straight wins — they host the Bills on Thursday night. This is a particularly tough short-turnaround game for a young Jets team.
Lose again, and the season will really start to spiral on coach Todd Bowles. It is heading in that direction already, with the Jets surrendering leads in prolific fashion the past three weeks.
“This is a must win — period, point blank,” cornerback Morris Claiborne said of Thursday’s game against the Bills. “We have to win this game if we want to turn this around. The way the records are in the league right now, everybody is pretty much right there together. We have to win next week. We have to turn this around to where we’re in the conversation.”
The realistic conversation with this team was never going to be about challenging for a playoff spot. This season is more about young players developing, and about the Jets perhaps winning enough games to save Bowles’ job. Will five do it? Six?
However you slice it, the Jets won’t win many (any?) more games this season if they continue to collapse in the fourth quarter and blow leads.
The Jets did both again Sunday. They led 17-16 entering the fourth quarter. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Josh McCown took a sack for a loss of 7 yards. Next play: Chandler Catanzaro missed a 48-yard field goal. Next play: Tevin Coleman ran for 52 yards, sparking a touchdown drive that put the Falcons up 22-17. They led for the rest of the game.
A week earlier, in Miami, the Jets led 28-14 entering the fourth quarter and lost 31-28. And a week before that, the Jets led the Patriots 14-0 in the second quarter, but lost 24-17.
“We just have to stop taking body blows and start delivering them,” Bowles said.
If not, Bowles could find himself looking for a new job next offseason.
Veteran receiver Jeremy Kerley thinks he knows why the Jets are struggling with learning how to win and close out opponents.
“It’s a young team,” Kerley said. “We’ve got a lot of guys coming from college and having their first game in the NFL, and it’s different. They’ll come along. It’ll pick up.”
The Jets better grow up quickly this week, because while 3-6 in the NFL is just one win different from 4-5, the records feel vastly different at the nine-game mark. That’s why splitting the season series with the Bills — who beat the Jets in Week 1 — is so critical on Thursday night. (And they might not have Claiborne, who hurt, but didn’t break, his foot against Atlanta.)
“I wouldn’t say [we are] desperate, but I would say a little against the wall,” said defensive end Leonard Williams. “But I like being against the wall.”
Receiver Jermaine Kearse, another veteran, is trying to maintain a big-picture outlook.
“I look at us, and we’re not far,” he said. “Once we correct that [mistake] stuff, I really, truly believe we can flourish. We’re still learning as we go. And that’s no excuse. I hate to say it, because at the end of the day, we want to win football games. But as I look at us, we’re still in the process of just learning how to win, learning how to finish. It’s things that go way behind the Xs and Os that we’re handling. It’s a process.
“And as bad as we want to be winning during this process, we’ve just got to keep our eyes forward. We’ve got the right guys here to win football games, to be phenomenal. It’s frustrating because we’re not winning right now, but it’s a process.”
Learning how to finish wins — and stumbling along the way — looked ugly for the Jets on Sunday, as they left far too many points on the field.
In the first half, the Jets started drives at the Falcons’ 20- and 34-yard lines, after fumble recoveries. One ended in settling for a field goal. The other ended in a missed field goal.
In the third quarter, the Jets opened a drive at the Falcons’ 47, lost 4 yards on the possession, and punted. In the fourth quarter, they drove to the Atlanta 22 and missed a field goal (Catanzaro’s 48-yarder). On the Jets’ next drive, they reached the Atlanta 28, but settled for a field goal. This is difference-making stuff in a game you lose by five points.
It is also a recipe for losing, and the losses will continue to pile up if the Jets don’t cash in these chances. The Jets on Sunday were outscored 12-3 in the second half and 9-3 in the fourth quarter. The Jets were out-gained Sunday in the fourth quarter, 123 yards to 77.
“You don’t just finish in the fourth quarter,” said left tackle Kelvin Beachum. “You have chances earlier on in the game to put a team away. And we didn’t execute when we had those chances.”