It’s nearly two weeks since the final action of the New York Jets’ 2015 season and although the dust has settled, the pain has only slightly dulled. Especially considering the performances of some AFC colleagues in the wildcard round, it’s still hard to accept the sudden way that the Jets’ forward momentum was halted. I certainly overlooked how difficult the ‘win’ part of ‘win and we’re in’ was going to be. Despite that fact that not making the playoffs could be seen as failure in the context of what all teams are trying to achieve, it’s hard to write off 2015 as such. Across social and wider media, there has been a level of optimism from fans and analysts not seen in recent ‘failed’ years. With that in mind, what are some key positives that the Jets can take from this season into the next?
A solid regime
The appointments of both Todd Bowles and Mike Maccagnan have proved to be good ones. A solid draft and free agency by a GM who did not shy away from spending and risk taking provided the new head coach with a strong roster to play with. Maccagnan could surely be considered in the race for Executive of the Year, not least for plugging the many gaps in a roster that had more holes than a sinking ship. Aside from making arguably the best trade of the season by nabbing Brandon Marshall, many other additions had impact across the season; Skrine, Carpenter and of course Revis. The acquisition of Leonard Williams was more luck than judgement, but both he and Lorenzo Maudlin look likely to play big roles going forward.
Although Todd Bowles has a ways to go in some areas of game management, he has largely succeeded in galvanizing what was a tumultuous locker room. His calm and measured manner with the team and the media, treating triumph and adversity equally, meant the Jets for once quietly made their way through the season. He doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to discipline but it’s clear that this team came together under Bowles. The consistency that this will provide heading into the off-season is critical.
For the first time in a few years the Jets are not facing a full blown off-season crisis over the quarterback position. Although they are far from an outstanding, long term solution, Ryan Fitzpatrick has already been named starter for next year if he wants it as long as a financial agreement can be reached. Fitz certainly feels at home with the Jets and understandably so, considering he found a level of success he has not achieved for any of the other teams he has bounced between. Breaking franchise records and winning AFC offensive player of the week are rare occurrences for Jets’ trigger men and as a result of his play, Fitz crept up quarterback rankings in the latter part of the season. Obviously he was far from perfect, but to have a QB making plays and building a great relationship with his receivers is something fans could scarcely have imagined last off season.
Brandon Marshall quickly became a key asset on the offense in 2015 with 1,502 yards, breaking Don Maynard’s 1967 single season receiving record. With 14 touchdowns he recorded his own season’s best performance. Eric Decker broke the 1,000 yard barrier for the third time in his career and recorded his second best touchdown total with 12. However, it is the combination of the two, something which the Jets have lacked for many years, which is most noteworthy. To have a duo breaking franchise records is one thing, but to break a record held since 1998 by Randy Moss and Cris Carter (for most touchdown catches in the same game) shows that Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker are the real deal. The Jets are 7-2 when both receivers score touchdowns in the same game, illustrating their importance.
Last year the defensive line was one of very few positives. In 2015 the whole defense, aided by a rejuvenated secondary, made a huge difference in some key situations. Calvin Pryor, in his more comfortable playing position, stood out by making big plays when needed, unlike during his poor rookie season. In early games, when the offense was not clicking, the defense were instrumental in ensuring scores didn’t run away. Stopping 19 consecutive third downs in September and October was the longest Jets streak since 2010 and in the entire league since 2012. Finishing fourth for overall defense and second for rushing shows that this unit is a huge asset; the only one of the top five defenses to not make the playoffs. Personnel changes are sure to be on the cards in the offseason, but a list of Jets’ positives wouldn’t be complete without mentioning this group.
It’s now time to start looking forward to 2016 and how these and other positives can be built upon to hopefully deliver the success which was sadly just out of reach in 2015. Obviously there will be changes for financial reasons and otherwise but the aim is to maintain these strengths and focus on developing the weaker elements. However, with the playoffs in full swing and ‘what could have been’ still dangling before our tear-stained eyes, it doesn’t hurt to celebrate what went well. I for one am proud of what the 2015 Jets achieved considering what came before, so roll on next season.
Photo Credit: NewYorkJets.com