Sunday marks the merciful finale of a Jets’ season that will go down in the annals as one of the worst in franchise history.
It would’ve been almost fitting, though, had old friend Rex Ryan been allowed to coach out the string and go against his former team one last time in a battle of coaches on the hot seat. But Ryan was axed by Sunday’s opponent, the Buffalo Bills (7-8), so this tilt will only feature one head coach whose job status is tenuous. Gang Green’s lead man, Todd Bowles, is seemingly on the brink of unemployment, but a win would at least be a positive way to end the season.
There are some reports stating that Bowles’s job is actually safe at least for another season. But Jets’ management has proven to be volatile and impatient, so it’s very plausible that the coaching staff could get an overhaul if the team has an awful showing in front of an already apathetic fanbase.
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One way to avoid a poor showing is to not allow second-round rookie quarterback Christian Hackenberg to see the field – a move that Bowles has already deemed in play. Hackenberg is very raw and reports all season were about the accuracy deficiencies and the skittish pocket play. But the only way to improve and truly work on such poor provisions is to see real live action. Unfortunately for the rookie – and Jets’ fans already frustrated with the other quarterbacking options – 2016 will be a wasted year for the neophyte.
Bryce Petty was placed on injured reserve with a torn labrum in his left shoulder, meaning Ryan Fitzpatrick will get the start -- one last hurrah for the journeyman quarterback who will undoubtedly play his last game for Gang Green. Fitzpatrick will be a free agent following this season and he’s already resigned himself to permanently dissolving the relationship between himself and the club.
“There’s probably a reality to that,” Fitzpatrick said when asked if this looks to be his final game in a Jets’ uni. “I think there’s probably an obvious reality the way the year is going to come to a close for me.”
For many Jets’ fans, the long suffering ones who have seen it all, this season was as torturous as any – which is saying a lot. And not just because of all the losing and humiliating defeats to the likes of the Indianapolis Colts (41-10) and New England Patriots (41-3) – but because the way the team seemed to have mailed it in lately, despite some talented players on the roster.
Fitzpatrick addressed that concern during one of his final meetings with the New York media as a Jet.
“Yeah, it is especially difficult. I don’t think any of us expected this. I don’t know outside looking in what people expected, but it’s tough. The way that it’s gone and for me, especially my playing and things I could’ve done better, that’s what makes this so hard,” said Fitzpatrick, adding of all the losing seasons he’s endured, this year is among the tops. “I would say this has been the most difficult just in terms of the expectations I had for myself, for the team, for all of those things. For me to not meet some of that stuff definitely has been difficult.”
The Bearded One isn’t alone in season-long futility, as the offensive line play was spotty at best, the wideouts didn’t do the quarterbacks many favors, the running game was largely ignored at times, special teams was an albatross, and the defense – a Bowles’s specialty – was borderline atrocious at times.
Other than that, though, the season was a success.
Metro takes a look at other key storylines to follow, as the Jets hope to close out the season on a high note (CBS, 1 p.m.).
What to Watch:
1. Running back help, inquire within – Both star running backs Matt Forte (knee) and Bilal Powell (knee) are dealing with injuries. Capable replacement Khiry Robinson (broken leg) was recently placed on season-ending injured reserve (IR), and even the backup’s backup, Brandon Wilds (hamstring) has been banged up, so there’s no telling who will line up behind Fitzpatrick. When Robinson was placed on IR earlier this week, the Jets promoted Brandon Burks from the practice squad. Burks was the only healthy running back at Thursday’s practice, so Jets’ fans may see a lot of the unknown back. It might do the Jets good to sit Forte and Powell, considering there’s nothing left to play for, as Gang Green might as well get a good look at the fill-ins.
2. Ready and waiting – Hackenberg has been saying all the right things regarding Bowles’s decision to not play him. But should Fitzpatrick, 34, go down – or the game “gets out of hand,” as Bowles noted -- Jets’ fans will get their first real look at the rookie. Fitzpatrick has had the worst year of his career, throwing 17 interceptions and 10 touchdowns with a 2-8 record as a starter, so the latter scenario is definitely in play. Hackenberg, who will be the backup on Sunday, has been inactive all season, and judging by the reaction of veteran players and coaches, they sound as if they wished he’d be in street clothes against the Bills.
Offensive coordinator Chan Gailey wasn’t doling out verbal bouquets.
“I don’t think anybody can answer that,” Gailey said when asked how ready Hackenberg would be if his number is called. “He hasn't had enough reps to go out there and tell you exactly how he’s going to go out there and play in an actual game.”
3. Something new – These teams haven’t met since Week 2, which was a primetime blowout win for the Jets, and a lot has changed since then. The Jets had the look of an offensive juggernaut, while the Bills still had Ryan as head coach and Tyrod Taylor as the starting quarterback. Ryan was replaced by interim Anthony Lynn, the team’s offensive coordinator, while Taylor was sacked by upper management and placed in bubble wrap to avoid seeing him injured and guaranteeing upwards of $30 million to him. The Bills are going with E.J. Manuel instead, who hasn’t started a game since Oct. 2015. It’s a golden opportunity for Manuel to show the coaching staff that he’s developed, especially since the end of his contract is coming to an end and could be a free agent in March. The way the Jets’ secondary has performed this season, it’s quite possible that Manuel could use this film as part of his highlight resume.