The mood around the Jets’ facility was predictably somber, a mix of disappointment and disbelief after another brutal loss.
New York blew a 16-0 lead at Tennessee on Sunday before falling to the Titans 26-22, the team’s sixth straight defeat in what has spiraled into another lost season. New York is 3-9 with a game at AFC East-rival Buffalo next Sunday, and this latest loss hung like a dark cloud for everyone involved.
“Frustration, obviously. (Ticked) off, obviously,” coach Todd Bowles said during a conference call Monday. “It’s one of them games you’ll remember for the rest of your life, as a player or a coach, and you’ll never forget about it. It can propel you to be better at your job or it can make you go in a shell. I don’t think we have those kinds of guys, but of course everybody’s frustrated and (ticked) off.”
Bowles has come under heavy criticism in his fourth season as the losses have piled. While management has not commented on the coach’s future, it seems unlikely Bowles will return after this season. He has a 23-37 record and will fail to reach the playoffs in any of his seasons.
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It appeared the Jets might get a surprising win on the road Sunday, controlling most of the game against the Titans. But Marcus Mariota and Tennessee whittled away at New York’s lead before connecting with Corey Davis for an 11-yard go-ahead touchdown with 36 seconds left.
The Jets had a chance — albeit unlikely — to answer back, but Josh McCown was intercepted by Malcolm Butler to end it.
“Like I said, this game will stick with me for the rest of my life,” Bowles said. “I’ve been in about three of them, and this will go right up there with them games. You’re at your wits’ end for a second and then you come back — How can we get better? What do we’ve got to do? How can we improve? — and you go X, Y, Z and you keep on moving, keep grinding.”
A few Jets players were relayed Bowles’ comments, and they echoed the sentiments of their embattled coach.
“Guys are really sick,” nose tackle Steve McLendon said. “Like Coach Bowles said, it’s one of those games that’s really going to stick like glue for the rest of your career. Not just the rest of your career, but the rest of your life.”
McLendon added that as professional athletes, he and his teammates will try to use the adversity as something to adjust to and move forward from.
“Are we going to have the right attitude, or are we just going to give up and let adversity get the best of us?” he said. “I think for these next couple of weeks, it most definitely defines the character, the player, the man, the drive, the focus, the want-to, the will, the determination, the commitment. These next couple of weeks are really going to show what kind of man we are through adversity. … We have to hate losing more than we love winning.”
Gloomy Monday mornings have been all too common for the Jets the past few seasons, and their current skid has been perhaps the biggest test for the team to stick together.
Several players, including safety Jamal Adams and wide receiver Quincy Enunwa, have defended Bowles and stressed that it’s on the players to act like professionals and not make so many mistakes and commit penalties. Against the Titans, the Jets were flagged 11 times for 96 yards, including three times on the Titans’ final drive.
New York’s special teams unit had a solid game, with Jason Myers kicking five field goals, Andre Roberts breaking off a few long returns, and the Jets blocking an extra point and a punt.
But, Jeremy Bates’ offense struggled to get anything going consistently, finishing with just 280 total yards and going 3 for 14 on third-down situations. The Jets have scored just one touchdown or less in each of the past five games.
The defense also wilted late, allowing Tennessee to crawl back into the game — and win.
“It’s everything when you struggle in any area,” Bowles said. “Offensively, you can say we can call better plays, you can say we can play better as players and it’s all the above and it’s all inclusive. It’s frustrating and it’s not from a lack of trying or everybody trying.
“It just hasn’t happened and it’s extremely frustrating that we can’t get touchdowns instead of field goals.”
The search for solutions has been an ongoing theme for Bowles and his staff, and they’re running out of time.
“You never run out of answers as a coach because you might as well retire,” Bowles said. “You can be at your wits’ end and be (ticked) off and frustrated and not sleep at night, and you still have to wake up the next day. It’s my job to lead them into games the next week and to correct the mistakes and be a leader.”