The New York Jets entered the 2016 NFL season on a high horse, thanks to their prized off-season resigning of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. In 2015, Fitzpatrick was able to coax a $12 million one-year contract from the Jets’ front office. At the time, this seemed like it would be the answer to all of Gang Green’s quarterback woes from seasons past. However, halfway through the current NFL season, Fitzpatrick looks more like a con artist, given that his play has dramatically regressed since his big payday.
In the first game of the season, the Jets were pitted against their rival, the Cincinnati Bengals, in a tough in-conference matchup. Gang Green was neck and neck with the Bengals, trailing by a single-point heading into the final drive of the game. Fitzpatrick cemented his spot at the helm of the Jets’ offense by keeping the team in the game despite the defense being torched by Bengals’ star receiver A.J. Green. Yet, with just 54 seconds left in the game and the Jets in search of a come-from-behind win, Fitzpatrick threw the game away, forfeiting the drive at the fingertips of Cincinnati cornerback Josh Shaw. While disappointed, fans were nevertheless impressed by Fitzpatrick’s play throughout the game, considering that this was only the first game of the season.
In the coming weeks, fans would soon realize that this was just the beginning of the team’s offensive disparities. Despite the sloppy offense pulling out a win against the Buffalo Bills in Week 2, the offensive turmoil reached its peak against the Kansas City Chiefs the following Sunday. Fitzpatrick quickly became the laughing-stock at Arrowhead Stadium, throwing six interceptions before taking a b-line to the sidelines. The team tacked on another two more turnovers, totaling eight overall, as an embarrassing 24-3 score was posted at the final whistle.
At Week 5, Jets faithfuls were starting to hold their breath, realizing their post-season hopes were being further compromised every passing Sunday. But, Gang Green was not done yet. In what seemed to be an encore of their Week 3 melee, the offense was beat into submission by a stout Arizona Cardinals defense.
After driving the team down the field in its longest drive of the game, Fitzpatrick proceeded to throw a red-zone interception, the final nail in number 14’s coffin. Fitzpatrick was benched thereafter, as head coach Todd Bowles announced that backup Geno Smith would henceforth manage the offense.
Smith took the field for the first time against the Baltimore Ravens, looking to make his case as the team’s permanent quarterback. But in a deflating turn of events, Smith took an awkward hit early in the game and made his way to the sidelines. Smith tore his ACL after getting his feet caught under him, ending his season before it ever really started. By default, Fitzpatrick was once again the Jets’ starting quarterback.
To Fizpatrick’s merit, he was able to pull out a win against the Ravens, finishing with 120 passing yards and a touchdown to give the Jets a slim 8-point advantage. In the post-game conference, Fitzpatrick spoke very highly of himself, saying that he was his own biggest fan, despite the team’s front office giving up on him. Last week against the Browns, Fitzpatrick further advanced his case by racking up another win against the rivals, albeit being only a 3-point advantage over an underwhelming Cleveland team.
Now sitting at 3-5, the Jets’ season is not officially over, although they will need a miracle from the division in order to make a post-season appearance. Gang Green is four games behind the New England Patriots, who sit atop the AFC East thanks to the dominant play of future first ballot Hall-of-Fame quarterback Tom Brady. It is highly unlikely that the Patriots will loosen their grip on the division, meaning the Jets’ best bet for the offseason will be via the wild card. But even the wild card will be a long shot if the Jets cannot put together a significant number of wins during the remainder of the season. Working against them is the fact that the Jets have yet to take on New England in their two mandatory divisional matchups.
The Jets’ best chance to turn their fortune is to re-establish themselves as a run-first offense. Prized offseason acquisition Matt Forte had been underworked, as the team consistently finds itself abandoning the rushing game when trailing early. Another glaring inefficiency is consistent drops by the Jets’ receivers. Veteran Brandon Marshall has often missed easy completion opportunities during key situations, which has led to numerous stalled drives. Quincy Enunwa has been a bright spot in the offense, catching many tough passes over the middle of the field with defenders draped on his back. However, Enunwa must become more involved in the Jets’ passing game, especially with Eric Decker on injured reserve and Marshall showing signs of decline.
The Jets travel to Miami in Week 9 to take on the Dolphins in another divisional matchup.