No one preached patience more than Todd Bowles did. The Jets’ coach was unflappable in good times and in bad, and he consistently reiterated that his team should focus on building toward the future rather than get caught up in game-to-game results.
But whatever the future holds for the Jets and their rookie quarterback Sam Darnold, it appears that it will not involve Bowles. Multiple reports indicated that the Jets entered their season finale on Sunday planning to fire Bowles regardless of what happened in the game, and a 38-3 loss to the New England Patriots is unlikely to alter those plans.
A subdued Bowles did not try to make any excuses for the loss, or for the poor season, at his postgame news conference. He said he would meet with team executives, just as he does every week, but did not speculate on his future.
“I don’t talk about my job,” he said. “That’s been consistent since I’ve been here.”
The actual result of Sunday’s game was not surprising: After all, a rookie quarterback has never beaten Bill Belichick’s Patriots in Foxborough. But the blowout did allow the Patriots to clinch a first-round bye early in the day, and they could still earn home-field advantage throughout the A.F.C. playoffs depending on results later in the day.
For the Jets, it was just another learning experience in four years of them. Darnold had shown improvement in recent weeks, but he had a day to forget on Sunday, looking especially inept on a strip-sack fumble that was returned for a touchdown in the third quarter. Darnold completed 16 of 28 passes for 167 yards and was thoroughly outplayed by Tom Brady, who at 41 years old finished his 19th regular season by completing 24 of 33 passes for 250 yards and four touchdowns.
In what qualified as the most notable highlight of the game, Brady completed the 6,000th pass of his career, joining Drew Brees, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning as the only quarterbacks to reach that milestone.
Darnold did not get much help from the Jets’ running game, which generated just 76 yards beyond a 28-yard run by Darnold in the first half, or from its defense, which did not get a turnover and gave up an average of 6 yards per play to the Patriots.
For Bowles, who still has two years left on his contract, the loss dropped his career record with the team to 24-40, making it hard to remember the promising start he had back in 2015.
Bowles came to the Jets with the unenviable task of trying to clean up after the Rex Ryan era. He inherited a team that had gone 4-12 the previous season, and had his first training camp marred by one of his players breaking the jaw of his presumptive starting quarterback, Geno Smith.
Bowles switched to Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback, and the team surprised many by winning its first two games, an accomplishment Bowles summed up at the time by saying, “This just tells us we can be 2-14 right now.”
The Jets wrapped up that season with a 10-6 record, but Bowles’s efforts to tamp down expectations proved prescient, as things proceeded to bottom out with consecutive 5-11 seasons before this year’s 4-12 effort.
On Sunday, Bowles argued that the team should be evaluated on more than just its record.
“I wouldn’t say we didn’t show progress,” he said. “We didn’t win games to show progress, but there’s a lot of guys and a lot of people that showed progress in their own right.”
Bowles arrived with a reputation for improving shoddy defenses, but the Jets’ ranking in yards allowed per game fell from 4th in 2015 to 11th in 2016, to 25th in 2017 and was down to 26th coming into Sunday’s game.
That is not to say, however, that there is no promise for the future. Darnold, despite Sunday’s poor effort, has looked like a potential franchise quarterback, and several pieces are in place for the team to blossom with the right leadership. Now the Jets players and fans will just have to wait to see who that leader might be when next season opens.