JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Back in the Yankees’ bad, old days, when George Steinbrenner used to change managers more regularly than he would his blue blazers, there was one skipper who was nice enough to do the heavy lifting for him.
That was Bucky Dent, erstwhile franchise hero, who by 1990 was an embattled manager but still a popular pinstriped figure. The Yankees were lousy then, and Steinbrenner really wanted them to turn things around on Dent’s watch. But Bucky made it hard.
“What can I say?” he said one day in early June, after his team had lost another one-run game. “I’ve never seen anything like our luck in close games.”
A few nights later — in Boston, of all places — as the record fell to 18-31, Dent slumped behind his desk, looking weary and defeated, and said, “What can I say? I don’t know what else I can do.”
And that was as good as signing his letter of resignation, and not just because Dent happened to work for a demanding Boss. There are certain things a manager or a coach can never say publicly, much as they may want to shout them to the sky.
“I don’t know what else I can do,” is one of those things.
Which brings us to Todd Bowles, 28 years later, pondering the pounding his Jets absorbed on the turf of TIAA Bank Field across three unsightly hours Sunday afternoon, a 31-12 shellacking that would have been far worse except the Jaguars refused to step on their necks most of the afternoon (well, until Doug Marrone did that late with the two-point conversion card; more on that in a bit).
It was hard to identify a single thing the Jets did with any degree of competence. The defense was deplorable, allowing the Jags one wide-open look after another, mostly on crossing patterns, allowing Blake Bortles to look like a poor-man’s Joe Montana for much of the game (when, at his very best, Bortles is usually a destitute-man’s Montana).
The offensive line put Sam Darnold in perpetual danger all day with its matador gameplan, and on those rare occasions when Darnold had more than two-Mississippi to throw, he was erratic with his distance. Even the normally reliable and even-keel receiver Quincy Enunwa was flagged for spiking a ball after making half the Jags miss tackles on a 42-yard catch-and-run early in the fourth, one of the few green-tinted highlights all day.
It was an A-to-Z fiasco.
How do you figure that, Coach Bowles?
“I wish I could sit here and explain it because we weren’t very good,” he said.
Um … OK, about all those wide-open Jags receivers galloping gallantly (and uncovered) all across the secondary … ?
“I don’t know why,” he said. “We ran that all week and we knew it was coming.”
“I don’t know why we didn’t play well,” he said.
No. This is not a good look. And it is a terrible soundtrack. If you closed your eyes and just listened to the words, it was hard to decipher Bowles’ words from Dent’s, one lost coaching soul to another, connected through the fog of time and the shared tissue of failure.
Bowles is clearly unable to solve the problems befalling his football team (which happens to the best of coaches and managers; just look at Buck Showalter this year), but, worse, he is seemingly unable to identify them, either.
And when that happens …
Well, let’s just say that it is Bowles’ great good fortune that he works for Christopher Johnson right now and not for George Steinbrenner, because Johnson is Steinbrenner’s polar opposite in almost every way. So he is going to be given at least one more opportunity to straighten this calamitous mess across the final three-quarters of this season.
“He’s the coach that’s best for us,” safety Jamal Adams insisted, and if that’s so, there are a lot of guys in that room who need to prove it, and fast. We always knew this was going to be a season heavily graded on a curve for everyone: quarterback, coach, everyone else. But that only works if the bar continues to tilt north. And if the man in charge can figure out how to recalibrate that.
Bowles is a good man; when given the similar chance to run it up on the Lions in Week 1 that Marrone delighted in doing Sunday, he passed and took a knee. But this is the NFL. There are no sportsmanship trophies available. Nobody plays for the Lady Byng. You’d better show results. Short of that, at least prove you have some answers.