Viewpoint | Jeff Jacobs Bowles’ demise in Foxborough befitting
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The Jets’ year ended dismally Sunday, a third successive season with double-digit losses. And as the sun set both on Gillette Stadium and Todd Bowles’ Jets coaching career, the temptation is not to pile on Bowles nor count the ways the Patriots can find their path back to the Super Bowl.
Rather it is to look ahead, toward the day when a new sun will rise on the AFC East. Believe it. Those days will come, eventually, inevitably, inexorably. Unless Tom Brady’s fitness guru Alex Guerrero comes up with a kale and avocado Fountain of Youth elixir distilled and stored inside the bladder of deflated footballs, Brady and Bill Belichick cannot live forever. Cannot. Will not. At least we don’t believe so.
That’s why the next hire for Jets’ coach is so vital.
The playing field so unlevel during the past decade in the AFC East is going to level over the next five years — the projected lifespan of the coach presumed to replace Bowles. The Jets, Bills and Dolphins will have their chance, as Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe likes to write, to stop being “tomato cans.”
Will the Jets have an answer for their possibilities?
For weeks, if not months, Bowles’ job has been in jeopardy. And in the hours leading up to the Patriots’ coldly efficient, nearly heatless, 38-3 rout of the Jets, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported that the Jets planned to fire Bowles. According to Rapoport, former Packers coach Mike McCarthy and former Colts coach Jim Caldwell will be among the candidates to replace Bowles. They are the obvious candidates. NFL coordinators and assistants, college coaches, ex-NFL coaches, there figure to be others.
“I don’t talk about my job,” Bowles said when asked if he expected to be let go. “That’s been consistent since I have been here.”
Everybody else is talking and, really, nobody expects him back. Keep an eye on your social media timeline.
Last week, the Patriots clinched their 10th successive AFC East title. This week, they clinched the AFC No. 2 seed and a playoff bye for the ninth straight year. Thanks in no small part to Elijah McGuire’s fumble, forced by Trey Flowers, recovered by Devin McCourty, the Patriots already had a 21-3 lead at halftime. That lead would balloon as Adam Butler hit quarterback Sam Darnold’s arm before he could attempt a pass and Kyle Van Noy scooped up the fumble for a 46-yard touchdown return.
“It’s embarrassing to go out here and lose 38-3,” Darnold said.
“We didn’t make a lot of mistakes,” Belichick said.
After Bowles’ 10-6 start in 2015 that saw a playoff berth dissolve with three fourth-quarter interceptions by Ryan Fitzpatrick in the finale, there were more than a few Jets fans who saw his hiring as a mistake. That’s what succeeding seasons of 5-11, 5-11 and 4-12 will do to a coach’s résumé. That’s what the fool’s gold of an opening win against Detroit that ends with nine losses in the final 10 games will do.
This outcome certainly was humiliating, but the Jets hadn’t quit on Bowles. The players seemed to genuinely respect and like him. They respected his straight-forward approach. They just didn’t win for him. This is a cold business. The W’s and L’s, in the end, mean more to job security than the character of the man. A man, who truthfully, was put on this earth to be a NFL defensive coordinator and not a NFL head coach.
“Todd Bowles is my favorite coach since I’ve played this game and I hate to see him go down like that — which will probably happen,” a tearful Pro-Bowl safety Jamal Adams told reporters in the visiting locker room. “But you live and learn, man, this world is crazy. At the end of the day, I know T. Bowles is going to do phenomenal wherever he ends up. I believe in karma. I always do.”
Brady, who followed up a weak performance against the Bills with his 29th four-touchdown game, is 41. The Patriots may have won 10 AFC East titles in a row, but they will not win 10 more in a row. The Dolphins won the AFC East in 2008. The Patriots have won 15 of 16 divisional titles dating to the Jets winning the division in 2002. They will not win 15 of the next 16.
The Jets have Darnold. General manager Mike Maccagnan, the Trinity guy who reportedly will hang onto his job, has a cornerstone. Maccagnan is two years into a rebuild, one that started after the 2016 season. The Jets have to get a pass rush. Good grief, where have you heard that before? They need to run and run-block much better. Improved personnel are the answers to those questions and Maccagnan’s answers will demonstrate whether Jets ownership only got it half-right by firing Bowles.
For his part, Adams talked about needing more players and “dogs,” meaning fierce competitors: “Since the rumors have come out that it’s been his fault, I’ve said what I’ve said, ‘It’s not (Bowles’) fault.’ If that answers your question.”
Bowles said he had no regrets. In the face of Morris Claiborne’s injuries, he reportedly benched the other starting cornerback Trumaine Johnson for showing up late to practice this past week. Same reportedly for safety Darryl Roberts.
“I told (the team) we showed a lot of fight, we show a lot of fight every week,” Bowles said “We had a good effort (against New England). Not a smart effort all the time, but had good effort.”
Belichick and Brady have been to eight Super Bowls together and they generally follow a similar formula. Get a bye. Get homefield advantage. Don’t leave home until the Super Bowl. All five of their Super Bowl titles have been from a top 2 seed. They’re also 8-0 at home this season. The Chief better hold serve.
You look at the four years Bowles coached the Jets. The Patriots were 50-14 (.781 winning percentage) and 19-5 (.791) in the AFC East. The difference was negligible. They beat the league equally, and we could extend those numbers back for years. Yet when you’re always losing to the Patriots (save the Dolphins in Florida), the numbers scream failure for the other teams. So maybe it was fitting for Bowles, 24-40 overall and 1-5 against the Patriots, to meet his ultimate demise in Foxborough.
When asked his New Year’s resolution after the game, Brady smiled and said, “Less interceptions. More touchdowns.” Champions can afford to be so engaging. The Great One just shouldn’t look over his shoulder. He’s 41. The AFC East will be gaining. The question is when? And what will the Jets’ answers be?