Despite a loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday, the New York Jets are still the surprise of the NFL. Don’t let Sunday’s loss discourage Jets fans from realizing that the future is brighter than most had hoped.
An offseason spent cutting big names and bigger contracts. A supposed lack of talent, arguably worst in the league some critics said. A head coach as well as a general manager on the hot seat heading into Week 1. And yet with all this swirling around them, the New York Jets are 3-3 and showing amazing resolve.
The kind of resolve and resilience that is synonymous with their head coach, Todd Bowles. For this Jets team, filled with rejects and castoffs, is the mirror image of their head coach.
They didn’t let an opponent that has owned them the past five years intimidate them. The gleam off the Patriots last Vince Lombardi Trophy a year ago get to them. And a terrible fumble call on the goal line that resulted in a touchback meant that these Jets responded with a defensive stand.
On Sunday, the Jets showed that they aren’t afraid. A team in clear rebuild mode only to happy to fight and scratch their way to respectability.
The Jets are a team without superstars or big names, a franchise in rebuild mode that has gone all-in on young talent. But much like Bowles did as a player and then as a coach, this team is exceeding expectations.
They do so through will, heart and character. Just like Bowles.
Out of high school in Elizabeth, N.J., Bowles was a lightly recruited player who went to lowly Temple. Four years at the program and Bowles earned a reputation as a hard worker, as a gym rat and a quiet but fiery team leader. Teammates remember him for always outworking everyone. He was a model player in practice, someone who gave his all every game, no matter the score.
He went unrecognized at the NFL Draft in 1986, signing with the Washington Redskins as an undrafted rookie free agent. Eight years in the league and with a Super Bowl ring, Bowles then transitioned into coaching, working his way up the ladder after stops at small colleges and working a bevy of assistant jobs in the NFL.
Even a stint in 2011 as interim head coach of the Miami Dolphins where his team closed out the year 3-1 wasn’t enough to get him a head coaching job.
Undeterred by all the talk around him that he wasn’t fit enough to be a head coach, Bowles simply kept working.
It is the same moxie and devotion to the game that his team showed on Sunday at the Cleveland Browns to rattle off their third straight win.
Like Bowles, these Jets aren’t stars. Instead, he has a collection of no-names, hard workers and scrappy players who were overlooked by the league. They heard the talk about a winless season, of how the Jets might be the worst team in the league.
They responded with integrity and conviction. They leveled big hits, they blocked well. The Jets have paid attention to detail and take pride in being a physical team. It is a team that has taken on the persona of a head coach who, throughout training camp, bristled at questions that his team wasn’t good enough to compete.
There were plenty of questions and criticism about the Jets coming into this season and for good reason.
This offseason, the Jets eschewed nearly every big name on their roster for the sake of a much-needed rebuild. They completed this action in preseason when they traded away defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson.
And while they were, on paper, the least-talented team in the league, the Jets didn’t listen to all the sniping going on around them. A team that used to be a circus on and off the field is now shedding that label.
These Jets are throwbacks to an era filled with players like their head coach. In Bowles, the Jets have a model of how to perform and practice, a path they’ve very much taken to heart this year.
It is a surprising season that has defied conventional wisdom. A year that has been built on the life and model of their head coach, a man who never stopped working to get to his ultimate goal.
An ultimate goal he now has in his hands with a team that is filled with players, not unlike himself. A team of players who haven’t quit, even as the rest of the world gave them zero chance this year.