There’s a MetLife Stadium tenant that is at a crossroad, in the midst of an upheaval, and seemingly rudderless — and it’s not the team that many thought it’d be heading into this season.
While the New York Giants are undergoing “wholesale changes,” as team owner John Mara decried, the New York Jets are still competing and no longer have the look of the more dysfunctional outfit of the two franchises.
Long thought to be the black sheep of the New York football family, the Jets (5-7) have rightfully snatched the title of best team in the Tri-State area — at least for this season. And while they’ll definitely have to win the remainder of their games just to have a sniff of a Wild Card playoff spot, it still doesn’t take away from the fact that Jets are a legitimate squad, with legitimate leadership — which allows the Gang Green faithful and the players themselves to believe anything is possible.
After all, if the Giants can suddenly implode and look like they’ve switched roles with the Jets in some weird real-life Freaky Friday scenario, anything is indeed possible.
“I think we all believe,” quarterback Josh McCown said of the team’s playoff aspirations following Sunday’s thrilling 38-31 upset win over the Kansas City Chiefs. “That’s the mindset that we have. From Day 1 … there is a lot of belief among one another and we believe we can do it. That is the only way you can approach these final four games. But you have to take one game at a time. Don’t stop believing.”
Head coach Todd Bowles is always overly-apprehensive when it comes to making any public declarations, so it was typical of him to reiterate the old “one game at a time” cliché. The once-embattled head coach refused to get ahead of himself, knowing how tenuous job security is in this league.
“We’re just trying to beat Denver next week,” reasoned Bowles. “We’re going to try and win all of our games. Then, we’ll look up at the end of the year and see where we’re at.”
It’s that type of focus that has endeared Bowles to his team and a big reason why — unlike the Giants — the Jets are able to keep a tight ship and have players and fans alike still believing. Bowles has shown he can keep his guys in check, with Sunday’s teachable moments being used as Exhibit A. The coach made former first-round pick Darron Lee a healthy scratch and even benched star defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson for most of the first quarter, with tardiness as the reasons — the linebacker Lee was late to a practice, while Wilkerson was late to a meeting last week.
Players, particularly the veterans, have loved what they’re seeing from the man in charge.
“He [Bowles] has held everybody accountable week in and week out. Nobody gets a pass. There’s no favoritism,” said offensive lineman Kelvin Beachum. “He says what he says, he does what he does, and it’s consistent. When you show that and when you have instances as a coach where you have to hold somebody accountable and you do it, that shows that you’re living up to your word. And as a man and as a player, I love him. I’d run through a wall for him, and I’ve only been here a year. I love everything about him.”
“I’m here for a long time, and I hope he’s here for a long time because when you have coaches like that you believe in, that you trust, it’s important,” Beachum continued. “Control what we control, do what we do. It’s about the New York Jets and nobody else.”
To his credit, Bowles stood by his disciplinarian decisions but added that both Lee and Wilkerson will be active again on Sunday against the Broncos, barring no further mishaps by the players.
He stood firm on what it takes to build a winning culture and said there are never any regrets on his end for the way he deals with his players because despite working for a franchise that’s been notoriously flaky, Bowles said high standards should always be upheld.
“You treat everybody like grown men, which they are. There are consequences and repercussions for everything that we do here. We have rules that we go by and you treat them like men,” he said. “I don’t believe in beating around the bush. I don’t want nobody to beat around the bush with me.”
The Jets’ players are not beating around the bush when it comes to their own expectations for the remainder of the season. Gang Green is 5-5 in its last 10 games and hasn’t lost a single game by more than eight points since that Week 2 debacle in Oakland.
Bowles’s tough love, coupled with this season’s ascension, has the players believing that the “Jest” label will be no more, and that being a Jet will soon enough be a cool thing to boast.
“As a group, when you believe in each other and what you’re trying to accomplish, it doesn’t matter what everybody else thinks,” noted McCown. “The only thing that matters is the guys in the locker room and the coaches in that building.”
The players in Bowles’s locker room believe. The coach may quietly believe – even though he’ll never publicly admit it. And the fans are starting to believe, judging by the raucous atmosphere on Sunday. And those factors are what make this season all the more remarkable, considering the expectation levels of both MetLife tenants had entering this season.