New York Jets  

 

Ryan Fitzpatrick's foibles front and center as N.Y. Jets flounder

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Bill Parcells was an early mentor to New York Jets coach Todd Bowles, and after each game last season, Bowles received a text message from his old boss. One of them, after the Jets lost four of five games midway through the season to put their 2015 campaign in peril, reminded Bowles that nobody remembers midseason losses, only how a team finishes.

After the Jets' 27-17 defeat to Seattle on Sunday, though, a Parcells standard might be a better fit.

"You are what your records says you are," Parcells famously used to say, and that tough-love sentiment applies not only to the 1-3 Jets but, more critically, to specific parts of Bowles' team. To quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has thrown nine interceptions in the last two weeks, an astounding seven of them in the fourth quarter. To the vaunted defense, which allowed a hobbled Russell Wilson, playing behind a previously porous Seahawks offensive line, to stay on his spot with little pressure and to hit one big play after another -- five of his passes went for more than 20 yards -- for a total of 309 yards and three touchdowns. To a running game that lacks both explosiveness and consistency, and which provided just 58 yards on 20 runs Sunday.

If Parcells is right, and the only thing that matters is how a team finishes, then the Jets are getting to their personal finish line awfully early this season. They are already two games behind the New England Patriots, who just killed the clock on Tom Brady's four-game suspension with a 3-1 record, in the AFC East, and the Jets now face consecutive road games at Pittsburgh and Arizona.

"We lost these kinds of games last year," Bowles said Sunday. "We lost three out of four in the middle of the season. We won some and we lost some. We lost some this time."

It is probably worth a gentle reminder that while the Jets did finish with a very respectable 10 victories in 2015, they also failed to reach the playoffs.

If this season is not already on the brink of ruin, it is just a few steps away from the precipice, with no obvious safety net in sight. While the play of the defense is alarming -- Bowles signaled that lineup changes could be coming if the long pass plays don't stop -- it is Fitzpatrick on whom the harshest spotlight will shine.

The Jets waited all offseason for Fitzpatrick to return to the fold, but at the same time, they indicated their level of faith in him with a contract that was for below market value and for just one year. The final-game meltdown from 2015 is casting quite a shadow now, not just on Fitzpatrick's bank account, but on the Jets' memory bank. Fitzpatrick's record, after all, says what he is, too: an inconsistency-prone quarterback who can string together enough fine performances to raise hopes, only to toss in devastating clunkers. Last season, he had 31 touchdown passes and just 15 interceptions. He is at four and 10 through the first quarter of this season.

Last week, Bowles expressed his confidence in Fitzpatrick by noting that he could not play any worse than he did against the Chiefs, when the six-interception debacle raised alarms. He was right, but just barely.

"He started out playing decent," Bowles said Sunday. "He played better than he played last week."

That is cold comfort to the Jets, who have nowhere to turn. Their willingness to wait for Fitzpatrick until the last moment this summer told us everything we need to know about how badly they do not want to put this team in Geno Smith's hands. The offensive failings are not entirely Fitzpatrick's fault. Losing receiver Eric Decker, potentially for the season, with a partially torn rotator cuff is a crushing blow to what was previously one of the league's best red-zone offenses. The running game offered no support Sunday to relieve any of the pressure on Fitzpatrick. To turn to Smith now would not fix that and, after just one month, would be folly anyway. But if the Jets sink to 1-5 before they return home, no benchings can be off the table.

"For me, that's been my whole career," Fitzpatrick said of using the ups and downs of last season to help now. "It's not anything new for me. I just have to continue to prepare and try to be the best guy I can be every Sunday, whether that's coming off a good game or a bad game."

This is two bad games in a row. Receiver Brandon Marshall, who caught his first touchdown pass of the season against Seattle, seems at a loss to explain what is going wrong.

"I am shocked," he said. "I expect more out of our offense. Every year is different. It's a little deflating. You think you're really close, and right when you think it's going to be easy, whether in sport or life, you get slapped in the face and humbled. It's disappointing, but that's just the story of life. It's never easy. This is hard. Football is hard, and it's not for the weary."

It is clear the losing is wearing on the Jets, who scattered quickly from their locker room and now must acknowledge that the brutal start to their schedule is close to taking exactly the toll everyone feared it would.

Fitzpatrick said he still has confidence, but the real question is how much longer there will be confidence in him. A terrible start will render even the strongest finish meaningless -- in terms of both the playoffs and Fitzpatrick's viability as the starter.

"At the end of the day, I'm going down with the ship with him," Marshall said. "I don't like how any of us are playing. Myself, all of the starters."

"I am going down in the boat with Ryan Fitzpatrick," Marshall repeated, when he was pressed about whether the Jets have to reassess their quarterbacks. "OK? You got it? So can you not ask me any more questions about that? I am going down in the boat with No. 14."

The Jets have to hope the ship is not already sinking.

Follow Judy Battista on Twitter @judybattista.

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