Games against the New York Jets used to offer the most entertaining stage in the NFL, even if the Patriots always managed to win. Players will take cues from their head coaches on how to behave and the Jets used to bring the circus to town (the Zero Ring circus has moved on to Buffalo).
There's a new head coach with the Jets and it's clear that the team is buying into what he's selling. The bravado is limited. It's a calm focus on improving every single week and not looking too far ahead. It's a nuanced understanding of when to say the team did a good job out there and I'm proud of them and we still need to be better.
Todd Bowles has made the Jets a bearable team and I don't know what to do.
Todd, how would you compare your performance to the Patriots?
"They played better situational football than we did. We will watch the film, correct the mistakes and move on." That seems like a measured approach.
Okay, but what about why your defense let Rob Gronkowski dominate the game?
"We had him covered sometimes. He made some good plays. He's a great football player. We tried to limit the yards after catch and I thought we did that some in the first half and didn't do it as well in the second half." Well, yeah, I guess that's true.
How did the Patriots manage to stop Chris Ivory and the rushing attack?
"They did a good job of stopping him. You've got to give those guys credit. They get paid, too. He was in the game, and he was healthy. We were coming off the ball some. They had schemed some fronts and schemed some things they had seen, so they did a good job preparing." Ivory was clearly injured and you didn't use that as an excuse?!
You have to be annoyed with the outcome, right?
"It's frustrating because we lost. Nobody wants to lose- especially us. We've got to look at the film. We've got to get over it. It's one game. We are 4-2. We've got to get ready for Oakland next week. We can't hang our hat on it too much...we should be upset with a loss. You show me a good loser, I'll show you a loser, so we are going to stew over it for a night and get ready for Oakland." This is an intelligent way to handle a loss.
The way that Bowles handles his team shows that he understands the team management aspect of coaching; that he isn't just there to pump up his players- adults need to understand when they're in the wrong, too. All of the players seem to understand that dynamic, too.
"We can't really take any moral victories from [losing]," starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said after the game. "A loss is a loss, but I still love coming to play with these guys on Sunday."
"I am [angry], because I feel like we had them," right guard Willie Colon explained about how the Jets tried to dictate the game. "I feel like we were the better team out there but obviously we were not. We just have to move on and get ready for Oakland. They beat us fair and square and that is the bottom line."
"Can't look forward, can't think about what you did this previous game," cornerback Antonio Cromartie said about what this game meant for the team. "Our main focus will have to be on Oakland and go from there."
"Give them credit," wide receiver Eric Decker said about the Jets needing better drives. "They're a good football team and they came up with some plays in situations."
"Give them credit," outside linebacker Calvin Pace echoed. "We just didn't make enough plays. Bottom line is that we didn't get it done. They made a play and we didn't."
"It's just a week seven game," cornerback Darrelle Revis said.
It's the mark of a good coach if they can get all of their players- and all of these quotes are from key veterans- to buy into a single message. Bowles was telling his players that this is just one week of a very long season. He gave credit to the Patriots for making plays, but reasserted a need to see what happened and to get better.
Jets teams of old would have fallen off the rails at this point in the season (as some plane flights from London can attest). This is a new team with new leadership that seems to understand the NFL on a weekly basis, and what it takes to improve over the course of the season.
Bowles doesn't seem like a ticking time bomb squeezed in a turtleneck. He has a plan that doesn't include dedicating an entire career to chasing Bill Belichick. And because of the even-keel of Bowles, I think the Patriots and Jets might have two more chances to play each other this season.