The NFL is at the midway point of a very topsy-turvy campaign, which means top-flight teams, players, and coaches are beginning to separate themselves from the rest of the pack.
And while New York Jets head coach Todd Bowles likely won’t win Coach of the Year, he definitely deserves praise for doing what no one thought — keeping Gang Green competitive and a threat in almost every game.
The Jets (4-5) are technically in last place in the AFC East, sitting a half-game behind the Miami Dolphins (4-4), but the fact Gang Green is even still in contention this late in the season and have had some highly-competitive games against both of last season’s Super Bowl participants, shows the kind of progress Bowles has made with a team seemingly too young to realize they should’ve been a trainwreck this season.
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The commencement of this campaign had a few storylines that most respected pundits predicted, likely including one that said the Jets were one of the few residents of Tankville and the season would be an abject failure for Bowles. Many even went as far as to predict that Bowles would likely be dismissed sometime next offseason. And, honestly, such expectations should’ve been the consensus, considering general manager Mike Maccagnan purged the roster of the team’s high-priced and over-used veteran talent.
It’s Maccagnan’s vision, but it’s been up to Bowles to execute said vision, and he’s done so stealthy. The once-embattled coach was destined to be one of the first to be fired – either during the season or immediately after – but certainly bought himself more time. Coming off their 34-21 win over the Buffalo Bills (5-3) in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated, the Jets are still in contention for a Wild Card playoff spot. The Jets destroyed a Bills team that is ascending and thought to be one of the few teams in recent years to actually give the New England Patriots (6-2) a run for the division crown. But it was the Jets who jumped out to a surprising 24-7 lead after three quarters before cruising to the finish line. Buffalo was never really a threat, and that’s a bright light that should be cast on Bowles’s preparation and leadership.
It’s easy for young guys to buy into a coach’s program and philosophy, but when veterans — some who have been hardened by losing and can become jaded — buy-in, that says a lot about the coach.
“He told us what type of year this was going to be [and] he told us what we needed to do to be successful,” said right tackle Kelvin Beachum, who knows all about being on a rudderless team after coming to New York after one season as a Jacksonville Jaguar. “He [Bowles] made us believe all year. He’s told us what we needed to do to be successful and win … We didn’t know how, we didn’t know when, we didn’t where, but these guys are determined, hungry, and understand the task at hand. Coach Bowles has instilled that type of mindset into this team.”
Second-year linebacker Jordan Jenkins bought in immediately.
“We proved that we’re some fighters [and] we can be dominant if we want to,” boasted Jenkins.
That’s a bold statement, but par for the course within the Jets’ locker room.
The Jets are surely not a Super Bowl contender just yet, and maybe not even a playoff team this season, but they’re at least way ahead of schedule and are beginning to look like a real team — and that’s mostly due to its head coach, who was once persona non grata here in the Tri-State area.