FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Despite all the positivity surrounding the Jets this season, Sunday’s 26-6 loss to the Patriots at Gillette Stadium laid bare the uncertainty for this franchise as its rebuild churns forward.
Two days after giving head coach Todd Bowles and general manager Mike Maccagnan two-year extensions, the Jets finished the duo’s third season at 5-11. They lost eight of their final 10 games and went 1-7 on the road. Bowles is now 20-28 in his three years at the helm. And perhaps most importantly, he’s still searching for a long-term answer at quarterback.
Still, after braving the frigid elements in New England, Bowles and his players voiced encouragement as they entered a crucial offseason. Bowles even referred to this year as a “building block.”
“Record-wise, we are far away,” Bowles said. “But chemistry-wise, we are there.”
Bryce Petty made his third straight start in Sunday’s season finale and looked very much the same as he did the previous two weeks – inaccurate, inconsistent and unproductive.
Petty completed 18 of 36 passes for 232 yards, 46 of which came on one throw in the fourth quarter. He played the entire game while former second-round pick Christian Hackenberg, wearing a green overcoat, looked on from the sideline.
Thanks to some subtle hints from Bowles this week, there was speculation Hackenberg would make his NFL debut Sunday. He did not. Now the 22-year-old has gone two full seasons without taking a regular-season snap. If Hackenberg can’t get on the field in a meaningless blowout, when will he?
Bowles revealed after the game he never had any intention of playing Hackenberg.
“Bryce was our starter. Bryce was going to play,” Bowles said. “That’s about the end of it.”
Hackenberg is now one of three quarterbacks since 1967 to be drafted in the first two rounds and not take a snap in his first two NFL seasons.
“It wasn’t his time yet,” Bowles said.
Tom Brady was uncharacteristically imprecise in the freezing temperatures – the thermometer read 12 degrees with a minus-2-degree wind chill at kick off. The future Hall of Famer went 18-of-37 passing for 190 yards and two touchdowns before he was replaced in the fourth quarter by backup Brian Hoyer.
Brady’s touchdown passes came on back-to-back drives in the final five minutes of the first half – one to wide receiver Brandin Cooks (five catches, 79 yards) and one to running back Dion Lewis (133 total yards), both from five yards out.
The Patriots entered halftime with a 21-3 lead. The Jets, who didn’t pass 200 total yards until late in the fourth quarter, simply couldn’t compete offensively. They failed to covert a third down in 12 tries. The offense scored three touchdowns in the final four games of the season, all losses.
“We’re 5-11, and that’s what it is,” wide receiver Jermaine Kearse said. “So we got to be better. We got to attack this offseason with a championship mindset and be serious about it.”
The Jets committed nine penalties for 84 yards Sunday. Cornerback Juston Burris gifted the Patriots two first downs on each of the touchdown drives at the end of the first half, both on third-down holds. Safety Marcus Maye, who left in the game with a sprained ankle, was also called for a 39-yard pass interference on the first of the two series.
“Those penalties hurt us in crucial times,” safety Jamal Adams said. “Especially in an away game, it’s very tough to bounce back from those things. A guy like that, Tom Brady, he’s going to capitalize.”
The truth is, the Jets overachieved this season. In the the spring and summer, many fans and pundits predicated a historically bad campaign. There was talk of 0-16 and a potential No. 1 overall pick.
That didn’t happen, and that’s why Jets players are looking ahead with enthusiasm. They were competitive in all but three games this year – Sunday was one of them – and battled commendably with some of the top teams in the NFL.
“We weren’t supposed to do anything. We were supposed to be the terrible team. Everyone said we were tanking,” linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. “We came out and fought. With every team this year, we came out and played hard. …We got young guys who matured together this season, and we feel like we changed the culture. We feel like we’re headed in the right direction.”
They say there are no moral victories in professional football, but this Jets team begs to differ.
“It starts somewhere,” Adams said. “Everybody goes through this phase, and we’re just going to bounce back and get ready for next year.”