This week, the greatest challenge that faces New York Jets head coach Todd Bowles will not be the Philadelphia Eagles but rather his own team. Sometime after 4 p.m. this Sunday afternoon, we'll know exactly what type of head coach Bowles has the potential to be.
Can he manage expectations? Can he get a team that has tasted such little success over the past four years to not be drunk from the oh-so-heady experience of two wins to start the season?
The Jets are 2-0 for the first time since 2011, giving a jolt of enthusiasm – and hope – to a franchise that has suffered so much for so long. It is just two wins, but already you can hear Jets fans getting the ticker tape ready for the team's march down the 'Canyon of Heroes.' His own locker room hasn't experienced consecutive wins since the end of the 2013 season and with Monday night's 20-7 win over the Indianapolis Colts a measuring stick and a confidence booster, the Jets have every reason to be flying high.
That is precisely why this team must be careful not just of the Eagles on Sunday but themselves.
Now on paper, the Eagles don't seem like a real danger to the Jets, who have forced a league-high 10 turnovers in just two games. They're 0-2 and struggling to move the ball, their locker room is visibly splitting apart and their head coach might well be coaching Rutgers next year. But the Jets are on the opposite spectrum of the optimism scale and therein lies their vulnerability.
The Eagles will be desperate on Sunday, a team already in must-win mode. These suddenly surging Jets will have to guard against the antipode of those emotions emanating from Philadelphia. Complacency will be Bowles biggest opponent this week.
Can Bowles reign in a locker room, replete with confidence and perhaps even too much cockiness? They dominated their first game, sending their fans streaming out of MetLife Stadium early in the fourth quarter of a blowout win, something that hasn't happened around these parts much lately. And they went on the road into a tough atmosphere against a team one game removed from the Super Bowl and got a win. That win before a national audience showed that the Jets are closer to competing than rebuilding, but it also might build them up too much.
Enter the team's first-year head coach. If there is anyone who can keep this team's mentality check, it is Bowles.
This was a man who grew up in Elizabeth, New Jersey, a working class area with a rough reputation, bordering the even tougher streets of Newark. He was under-recruited in high school, ending up at a Temple program that was pretty bad at the time.
From there, he went undrafted and signed as a free agent with the Washington Redskins. What followed was a Super Bowl ring and eventually a coaching career that included early stops in places like Morehouse and Grambling before scratching and clawing his way into the league.
His teammates in college, in the NFL, will tell you that he was the consummate hard worker, that he took his playing career seriously. He was the first one in the gym and the last one to leave. He spent extra time studying film. As an assistant coach, his light was one of the last ones turned off in stops that included the Jets as well as the Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, Miami Dolphins, the Eagles and the Arizona Cardinals before being named the Jets head coach this offseason.
His NFL career, his Super Bowl ring and even his coaching career were born from doing the right thing, every day and always, always bringing his lunch pail to work. He never underestimated an opponent at any time, never took a moment off to enjoy the view.
The temptation will be there for this Jets team to look at the standings after Week 2, look-up the stats and see a top-rated defense and an offense that is top 10. They'll hear the sports radio talk yakking about their progress. Someone out there will say that "this Jets team is for real."
It will all seem so easy.
But this is where the team will need to sit in their lockers and listen to Bowles, quietly and warning of the dangers of overconfidence, telling them to simply keep their heads on their shoulders, their emotions at an even keel. Yet more than listen, his team will look at the career and the life of a man who never for one moment stopped to take a break, to wipe the sweat off his brow.
A lesson he will need to give out to 53 players ahead of Week 3. A lesson that Todd Bowles has lived.