It comes down to this. Todd Bowles must lead his New York Jets to two more wins if he wants any chance of sneaking into the AFC Playoffs.
By Jeff Jarboe
It wasn’t pretty, but the New York Jets found a way to extend their winning streak to four games this past week with a victory over the Dallas Cowboys and remain alive in the race for an AFC Wild Card spot.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that both Kansas City and Pittsburgh—the two teams who are ahead of New York for the Wild Card—won on Sunday. With two games remaining, the only way the Jets can make the playoffs is if they win out and one of Kansas City or Pittsburgh loses one of their final two games.
With the odds completely stacked against his team, Todd Bowles now faces his greatest test in his first year as head coach—winning out against two division rivals (New England and Buffalo) to keep his team’s playoff chances alive.
If the Jets lose these games, their future is still very bright. I don’t think anybody can deny that. Todd Bowles has already established a quality reputation for himself around the league and within the Jets organization, as a no-nonsense head coach who only cares about winning.
But what he has yet to prove is whether his team can win the games they have to win.
Bowles lost his first game against Belichick in Foxborough earlier this season, thanks to a combination of injuries on both sides of the ball and a heavy dose of Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. At the time, New England was 5-0 and the Jets were 4-1.
The Jets had a chance to deliver a blow in the division early on and they failed. They lost three out of their next four games, including a 22-17 loss to Rex’s Bills in his return to Metlife and a road loss to Houston, both of which were must-wins for AFC Wild Card purposes.
Up until that point, Bowles had failed to prove that his team was capable of winning must-win games. But he stayed true to his “one game at a time” philosophy, urging his players not to think about the playoffs and to focus on the task at hand. They won four games in a row, albeit against a few terrible teams (Miami, Tennessee, Dallas), and Bowles now has a chance at redemption with two games remaining against New England and Buffalo.
Their playoff fate still hinges on Kansas City and Pittsburgh, because without a loss from one of those teams the Jets don’t get in. But in order for them to even have a chance at passing either team, they need to win their final two games.
Based on the way that they’re playing and the remaining opponents on their respective schedules, it’s unlikely that the Chiefs (Wk. 16 vs. CLE, Wk. 17 vs. OAK) or the Steelers (Wk. 16 @ BAL, Wk. 17 @ CLE) lose in the next two weeks. In which case the New York Jets would miss out on the playoffs at 11-5, and Jet Nation would be devastated.
But Bowles would have passed the test.
Playoffs or not, if Bowles leads the New York Jets past New England and Buffalo, and is able to keep his team alive in the AFC playoff race until the very end with a six-game winning streak, it will speak volumes to his legitimacy as a head coach in this league and his team’s legitimacy as a future contender in the AFC because they won when they had to win.
It would show that when it came down to it, the Jets got the job done. They bounced back from their mid-season slump, and won the games that they needed to win in the second half of the season.
Belichick is similar to Bowles in that all he cares about is winning, which is why I don’t expect to see Julian Edelman or Danny Amendola suit up on Sunday. That leaves a banged up Rob Gronkowski and the shifty James White as Brady’s only legitimate weapons against a Jet defense that has forced eight turnovers in the last four weeks.
The Patriots defense has vastly improved since the last time these two teams met, but so has the Jets offense, which now ranks 10th in the league in total offense. Chris Ivory may not be in the top five in rushing anymore, but Bilal Powell has emerged as a playmaking third down back with three scores in the last three games. Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker continue to pass Jet greats in the record books, proving they’re one of the league’s top wide receiver tandems.
They have the personnel to match-up with New England on both sides of the ball, and this time around it’s the Patriots’ players who are banged up. They’re riding a four-game winning streak and have everything to lose, while New England has already clinched a first-round bye.
Point being—this is a winnable game for the New York Jets and the momentum is on their side. They may not make the playoffs in the end, but the New York Jets have an opportunity to make a statement to the rest of the NFL in the next two weeks and it starts with beating Tom Brady.
That statement? That the New York Jets are the real deal, and so is their head coach.