By MICHAEL FAIRLIE //
I have been a fervent, and sometimes ferocious, fan of the New York Jets since I was a young lad, back in the late 1970’s, in the days of the Kelly green and white uniforms, with the awesome green helmet and white ‘Jets’ logo.
The incredibly maddening Richard Todd led the way back then, with fans yearning for their savior, Pat Ryan, to take over signal-calling duties. The infamous “Mud Bowl” in January of 1983 is only the first of several seemingly infinite, imminent, terrible and tragic disappointments that would follow at an alarming, ever-escalating rate over the years.
Game after game, season after season, draft after draft, and so on, the list of heartbreaking, traumatic moments suffered at the hands of the New York Jets is far too plentiful to even begin to list in anything shorter than an enormous encyclopedia of cataclysm.
When does it get to the point where you just go numb to it and refuse to get sucked back into the typhoon of torment that this franchise consistently inflicts upon their loyal legion of fans? I know I have been asking myself this question for at least 35 of the close to 40 years I have been dealing with this atrocious affliction known as New York Jets’ Fandom. I still have not found the answer, which is exactly why I continue along in this catastrophic cyclone.
Owners change, General Managers change, Head Coaches change, Assistant Coaches change, Players change, Scouts change, Flight Crew changes, equipment staff changes, stadium vendors change … Need I go on?
You know what doesn’t change? The incredible agony that this team puts us through repeatedly and relentlessly, due to incompetence at all levels of the organization, is always present. When the poor coaching decisions made in the areas of clock management, play calling, and schematic adjustments do not do the trick, the players make up for it with undisciplined penalties and baffling mistakes of all degrees of severity.
Something else that does not change: the Jets lack of a long-term solution at quarterback since the days of Joe Namath.
Kenny O’Brien was probably the closest thing this organization has had in the past four-plus decades. Never giving Mr. O’Brien the proper protection or supporting cast, the Jets fumbled that one too as he became a human tackling dummy who lost all his confidence.
There have certainly been some gutty performances by Jets’ quarterbacks since then, led by Vinny Testaverde’s phenomenal 1998 season. But, of course, after a heartbreaking loss in the AFC Championship Game and the optimism of going further the next year, Vinny T tore his Achilles tendon in the opening game of the 1999 season and never came back to form.
There was also the improbable emergence of Ray Lucas in ’99, which was a nice story with another bad ending. He was thrust in the role due to the desperation of a 2-6 team searching for something from the quarterback position, only to lead the Jets to a 6-2 record the rest of the way. 8-8 was unfortunately not enough to get them in the playoffs and Lucas never got another chance after that.
Love him or hate him, Chad Pennington had some good games and seasons too, when he was healthy enough to be on the field. Injuries and the suspect arm strength he possessed led to his unraveling.
Even Mark Sanchez had a few clutch performances in fourth quarters and big playoff games during his first two seasons. Not that he was ever even close to a franchise quarterback, but I am still not sure what happened to him after his second year in the league. All the potential he showed quickly went to waste and he put forth some of the worst quarterback play I have ever witnessed in the years to follow.
Ryan Fitzpatrick also gave us some fantastic performances during a record-setting 2015 season, only to fall apart in the most important game of the year. Then after an incredibly long contract impasse that lasted the entirety of the offseason, he has completely burst into flames this season, rivaling some of the miserably memorable performances of the Stupendous Sanchez.
Simply put, none of the Jets’ signal-callers fleeting moments of glory has lasted for more than an instant. On top of that, from one regime to the next, the development of young QB’s on the roster has led to nothing but disaster. To name some names: Browning Nagle, Jeff Blake (who finally saw some success when he left the Jets), Glenn Foley, Brooks Bollinger, Mark Sanchez, Greg McElroy and Geno Smith.
However, I would still like to see Bryce Petty get some playing time, amounting to more than one game against an incredibly tough defense, before I add him to the list of failed experiments, as so many already seem to be doing. The kid certainly has the size, arm strength and touch needed to be successful in the NFL. It just remains to be seen how much he has developed instinctually and how well he can adjust to the increased speed of this level in game situations.
I guess you could say some of the same things about Hackenberg as well, although I have not seen enough out of him to give me the same optimism I have with Petty. Either way, there is a serious need to at least see what they have with one or both quarterbacks that will actually be on the team’s roster next year. And if Petty is to be given a legitimate shot at starting next year, it would behoove the Jets to get him some valuable experience while the getting is good, due to the hopeless 3-8 start to the season.
The Jets’ problems stem far beyond the quarterback position, which is quite obvious to anyone who has been paying attention, but it would be a nice place to start. Some consistency and competence behind center would go a long way towards at least beginning to fix this franchise. I’m not asking for Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. It would just be nice to have someone we can believe in, who can provide stability along with the possibility of improvement going forward.
As for the large, looming list of other changes that need to be made throughout this organization, there is no denying that there is much work to be done to turn this team into a true contender. It is obvious that they need serious help on the offensive line and some major retooling in the defensive secondary as well as a legitimate and consistent outside pass rusher. And the list does not end there.
There have been a lot of people calling for the head of Todd Bowles due to his stubbornness at the quarterback spot along with the horrendous halftime adjustments and questionable general in-game decision making skills he has often displayed, among other reasons. As incredibly disappointed in him as I have been, I am not completely ready to give the green light to his departure.
There is no way to deny the similarities between Rex Ryan’s insistence of continuing to throw Sanchez out there despite his grotesque incompetence and Todd Bowles’ refusal to bench Ryan Fitzpatrick for the same reason. It is absolutely infuriating. The fact that the team has appeared to go away from everything that has been working in the first half of games and totally outthinking themselves is also far beyond frustrating.
Yet, I do not think it is time to make a change merely for the sake of change. It is not often that a Head Coach fully “gets it” in his first season or two and just like in anything else, there are growing pains along the way. The question becomes, is the HC intelligent, mature and humble enough to learn from his mistakes? With Todd Bowles, I believe that answer to that question is yes.
Now I understand that this can come across as some sort of blind faith, and I cannot sit here and tell you that I have complete confidence in this assessment, but what are the alternatives? Do you want to grab the next hot head-coaching candidate who will likely go through the same growing pains with the hopes that they eventually “get it” or give Bowles one more year to get his shit together?
The only way that I would advocate giving up on him so soon is if an experienced, winning Head Coach magically appeared from out of nowhere to bring this team to the promised land or if Bowles refuses to make some serious changes on his coaching staff, as the pieces are not fitting the puzzle.
Chan Gailey appears to be trapped somewhere in the 90’s and Kacy Rodgers seems as if he has done everything possible to make an enormously talented, potential Top-5 Defense look like a bunch of replacement players.
I will be the first to admit that I expected a lot more out of this team in 2016 and I am massively disappointed in the entire organization. I thought that Ryan Fitzpatrick would at least look like the FitzMagic we got last year and would even possibly take the next step in big games. As you can see, that did not work out according to plan.
As I have sat and watched the defense, that I believed could be a new version of the ’86 Bears, get torched on big play after big play, I have seethed inside almost to the point of implosion. Darrelle Revis, who I imagined coming back rejuvenated and ready to return to form, has appeared to be a shell of his former self.
From shock, to suffering, to grief, I have sat and watched this season of hope quickly crumble into a complete disaster and it has certainly not been easy to endure. I was right in saying that Quincy Enunwa would truly emerge in this offense, but there is little comfort to be taken in that during this debacle.
Why do I keep coming back for more? I wish I knew. I guess I have just bled green for so long that it is engrained in my soul. Or maybe I just have some form of Stockholm Syndrome? Either way, all I or anyone else trapped in this sinking ship can do is to hold on and hope for better days to come.
As horrified and disappointed as I am at the current moment, I do believe that there is a solid core of young talent on this team that can be built around if the right decisions are made in the process. With guys like Enunwa, Anderson, Peake, J. Marshall and maybe even Devin Smith at receiver and the combination of Williams, Richardson, Lee, Jenkins, Mauldin, Burris and Pryor on defense, there is at least some hope for the future.
The Jets have undoubtedly dropped the ball before when building up a young group of players, but I am going to attempt to remain optimistic this time around. What else can I do or we do?