The NFL is a fickle temptress. The proverbial economic pie has become so big that owners are willing to swing that Black Monday Axe earlier in their quest to find their franchise’s Bill Parcells or (despite what happened Sunday), Bill Belichick. The stink of losing has become so great that most owners look to distance themselves as far as possible from the prior regime; If the former Head Coach was a defensive specialist, you can bet the next one will be an offensive guru; if the last Head Coach was a loud, boisterous braggart, then the next one will be serving the team and the fan base a healthy portion of humble pie.
So when Woody Johnson made the decision to part ways with his good friend, Rex Ryan, the man who brought swagger back to an organization and to the doorstep of the Super Bowl in his first two years, the feeling was that the organization would attempt to go in a different direction. Most Jets fans assumed (or at least hoped) that the next “HC NYJ” would have an offensive background and know how to assess and develop talent on the side of the ball that had been neglected for so many years.
However, unlike previous Head Coaching searches the organization has conducted under Woody Johnson, the Florham Park think tank enlisted the help of actual football people instead of “white shoe” corporate head hunting firms. Thus, guided by the sage wisdom of football lifers, Charley Casserly and Ron Wolf, the Jets organization was saved from falling into the all-too-familiar trap of making the “reactionary” hire. No longer were the Jets trying to compete with their hated division rivals by picking the low-hanging fruit off of their coaching tree nor did they feel the need to wrest the back pages of the local tabloids from the Giants by hiring a “bigger than life” personality to serve as the de facto mascot.
This time around the only focus was to build a foundation for sustained success. Focus on building a winner from the ground up; no more half measures and hangers on who somehow were able to continue to collect a paycheck from One Jets Drive despite being a central figure in the demise of prior regimes.
In tapping Todd Bowles to be the guy, Woody Johnson and his football brain trust opted to go right to the source, the man who planted the seeds of success for their two biggest rivals, the NFL’s “Giving Tree”, Bill Parcells. In NFL circles, an endorsement from Parcells is equivalent to divine ordination and thus it was no surprise that Bowles, a disciple of the Big Tuna, was given the “keys to the kingdom.” However, because Rex the person (as opposed to Rex the coach) was such a hit with the fans and media alike, the mild mannered Bowles was left with sizable shoes to fill.
It was obvious right away that if nothing else, the Todd Bowles Jets were going to be a resilient bunch. I know our esteemed Editor In Chief went in depth about the alchemy that is trying to identify a “season-defining moment” but I would argue the moment that will come to define the 2015 New York Jets will be one that happened Week 1. Gang Green found themselves down 7-0. After getting the ball back with 11 minutes left in the second quarter, Ryan Fitzpatrick was intercepted on a criminally under thrown ball to Brandon Marshall and what happened next would set the tone for the rest of the season.
Instead of simply trying to tackle the defensive back and send the defense out of on the field for another series, Marshall fought for that ball like a man possessed, as if his life depended on it, and ripped out of the defenders hands, turning what would have been a costly turnover into a 1st and Goal that would set up the eventual game-tying score en route to a 31-10 drubbing.
Although we didn’t realize at the time, Marshall’s heads-up play has become a microcosm for this season and embodies what has become the signature of this Todd Bowles: unfailing resilience. There have been plenty of opportunities where this team could have folded in the face of adversity but much like Marshall, this team has refused to allow anyone to simply take the proverbial ball from their hands. What’s more, this Jets teams has taken on the personality of their coach, a quiet confidence and humility that has kept them from getting complacent.
Whether the team’s recent success is a function of superior coaching or a by-product of greater organizational stability that comes with a thorough house cleaning is still up for debate. But you would be hard-pressed to convince me that Rex Ryan would be capable of rallying this team and winning games the way this team has this year. Fifteen games isn’t an ideal sample size and some may argue that much of the “adversity” that this team has overcome was self-inflicted, a product of some flat starts and costly mistakes.
However, the big difference between a Rex Ryan-coached team and a Todd Bowles coached-team is that although Bowles teams have a tendency to start slow, they always find a to make a game of it whereas Ryan teams have games where they don’t show up at all, usually after a big win. Even in his two best seasons with the organization, Ryan’s Jet teams delivered some pretty memorable no-show clunkers in big spots, including a 45-3 debacle against New England.
Perhaps the one area where Bowles has distanced himself the most from Ryan, aside from his demeanor with the press, is his ability to coach and manage both sides of the football. I am very curious as to the extent of Bowles’ involvement with the offense but the results are undeniable: Ryan Fitzpatrick is set to break the franchise single-season touchdown record, courtesy of Brandon Marshall setting all sorts of records of his own. We could be seeing the result of a perfect storm set in motion by Maccagnan’s decision to acquire a legitimate play-making receiver and a savvy veteran QB.
Bowles was confronted with adversity in regards to his offense almost immediately. Despite the fact that it was a moment that had the potential to reignite the “Jets Circus” narrative, perhaps the most important moment of this season was IK Enkempali’s infamous right hook to Geno Smith’s jaw. People may forget that at the time, Bowles was set on Smith the starter and given how hopeless he looked during his first two seasons with the team, who knows what kind of debacles would await.
Tongue in cheek jabs at Geno Smith aside, we are all left to wonder whether the tenor of this article would be dramatically different if it were not for Smith’s immaturity and Enkempali’s quick temper. Even in the face of such a potentially catastrophic event for a Rookie Head Coach with a dubious Quarterback situation, Bowles was able to handle the moment with poise.
Not only is this offense competent, it is arguably the best unit on this team. Ryan’s teams were so defense-centric that his offenses were built in such a way that they would be just good enough not to lose the game for the defense, a strategy we saw backfire time and again. So it’s pretty ironic that Ryan’s best unit on his disappointing Buffalo squad is his offense, which is probably more of a testament to how underwhelming his supposedly vaunted defense has been as opposed to an acknowledgment of the Bills offensive prowess.
Obviously the jury is still very much out on the young coach but one thing is for certain, with this turn-around highlighted by the win over the Patriots, Bowles has put his stamp on this team. It’s only fitting that the one obstacle standing in between him finishing off a potentially tenure-defining run that would end the Jets’ four-year playoff drought is a date with Rex Ryan. Everybody knows that nothing gets Rex more riled up than a good ole fashioned vendetta game. Maybe it’s fate or a cruel joke by the Football Gods but this will be a classic battle of wills: old vs. new, brashness vs. humility, style vs. substance; a game that represents not just a chance to make the playoffs but an opportunity create a legacy and prove once and for all that actions speak much louder than words.
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