New York Jets: It’s time to give Todd Bowles another shot at head coaching

If the NFL is going to continue to hire retreads, former New York Jets boss Todd Bowles undoubtedly deserves another opportunity.

The NFL is full of unusual phenomena. For example, fans rue the creation of the fumble/touchback rule seen in Sunday’s AFC Divisional playoff action. A team based in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex partakes in the NFC East competition.

But perhaps the NFL’s most bizarre trend is trying to force a square peg into a round hole and trying to make the same few names work in different places.

The New York Jets recently went through this trend with Adam Gase, hiring him in 2019 after a modest tenure with Miami. Despite Gase’s losing record (23-25 and one forgettable playoff appearance) and a propensity for his pupils to succeed elsewhere (Ryan Tannehill, Kenyan Drake), the Jets were convinced that he was the missing ingredient and perfect overseer of Sam Darnold’s developmental years. Two years and nine wins later, Gase is gone and the Jets are in even more dire straits.

This time around, the Jets opted for a fresh face in former San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, whose hiring was announced last week. But while they opted for a new face, some of their NFL brethren didn’t seem to get the message. Jason Garrett rewrote the definition of football mediocrity in Dallas but that didn’t stop the Los Angeles Chargers from granting him an interview. Before Saleh’s hire, the Jets interviewed Marvin Lewis, owner of the most inexplicable 16-year head coaching tenure in NFL history. The Dallas Cowboys gave Mike McCarthy control of their future after the former Packers foreman reached a mere single Super Bowl with Aaron Rodgers in tow. Though the concept appears to be slowly dying off, it’s particularly frustrating to see some claim that Eric Bieniemy doesn’t “interview well” while Bill O’Brien did. Sure, sometimes a change in the narrative is possible, but for every Pete Carroll, there are multiple Hue Jacksons.

If the retread trend is going to continue, those who deserve redemption should get another shot. Former Jets boss Todd Bowles has more than earned the right. The owner of a Super Bowl ring from his endeavors with Washington, Bowles is now a win away from earning a return trip as the defensive coordinator of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. His unit will have their work cut out for them as they face Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in Sunday’s NFC title game (3:05 p.m. ET, Fox).

Obviously, Bowles’ next head coaching opportunity won’t come in a New York reunion, but rumors have surfaced that he will interview for the Philadelphia Eagles’ vacancy this week. Like Saleh, Bowles’ modern hiring was a risk with the Jets back in 2015 and it’s a risk today with the modern NFL’s worship of a deity known as fantasy football. But in this world where the “over” is routinely hit and goal-to-go situations can be created through merely breathing on a receiver, Bowles is doing anything he can to prove that defense still wins championships. So far, he’s succeeding.

Tampa Bay’s late surge, winners of six in a row after health protocols, has coincided with Bowles’ defense coming up with big plays. They’ve forced multiple turnovers in three of their last four games and have let up less than 300 passing yards in each of that quartet. The magnum opus was Sunday’s NFL Divisional playoff tilt in New Orleans, when the Buccaneers forced four game-changing turnovers in a 30-20 win. In a game headlined by Drew Brees and Tom Brady, Bowles made sure that the true difference-makers were Devin White and Antonie Winfield Jr.

Those four steals perhaps weren’t even the most impressive turnovers of the evening, but rather the growth that Bowles’ unit made from their last tilt with New Orleans. In a nationally televised visit to Cigar City, the Saints tallied 38 points and 420 yards in a one-sided victory. Tampa Bay let up only 294 yards and 20 points on Sunday, with two of the New Orleans scoring drives netting less than 50 yards.

“I think the No. 1 thing is (that) Todd Bowles said we were going to be feisty,” White, he of 11 tackles, an interception, and the recovery of Winfield’s forced fumble on Sunday, said in a report from Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times. “We were going to challenge those guys. He’s said he’s going to take us over them. I know we might be young, but we can get after it when we get our mindset to it. Everybody was saying, where’s the Tampa Bay defense from the Green Bay game? We were really feisty and challenging them at the line of scrimmage and really getting after the quarterback, and we had the same mentality.”

White’s reference to Tampa’s conference title game opponent stemmed from a stellar showing at home back in October. Tampa defenders earned five sacks of Rodgers and limited Green Bay to 201 yards in a 38-10 blowout victory.

Bowles’ success in his Tampa Bay role, having joined Bruce Arians’ staff in 2019, could well be a case of being a brilliant coordinator whose skills as a head coach fall short. We’ve seen it throughout recent history in examples like Steve Spagnuolo, Wade Phillips, and Josh McDaniels, among others. After their respective rough patches at the helm, they have each established themselves as championship coordinators, and there’s no shame in that. But for his role in shutting down some of the more potent offenses in football, a task rendered brutal by the love of offense in today’s league, Bowles deserves a chance to prove he can go beyond coordination.

If Bowles’ on-field performance isn’t an indicator of why he’s so worthy of a second chance, it’s the love his players have bestowed upon him. If a team is looking for a new head coach, it usually means there are some raw feelings flowing through the organization. A unifier like Bowles could be just the antidote to quell these feelings, if only for a short while.

Sure, Bowles’ tenure seems only sweet in the lens of a New York retrospect because the Gase era was so brutal. The Jets went 24-40 in four seasons under his supervision and even the one season of progress…his 2015 debut…is remembered best for one of the most heartwrenching memories in recent New York memory, the ugly Week 17 loss in Buffalo that cost the team a rare playoff spot. But there was no denying that Bowles was beloved by his players, who lauded him with accolades upon receiving news of his exit.

“I hate to see the news,” linebacker Avery Williamson, traded to Pittsburgh in 2020, said in the aftermath. “He’s a great person, great coach. I feel like he definitely helped get my game up to another level this year. He definitely taught me a whole lot of plays.”

Compared to the de facto restrained jubilation in the wake of Gase’s departure, Bowles’ ousting a solemn occasion in New York. The firing was flipping to a new chapter that no one wanted to turn to.

“To come up short and to hear the news that Coach Bowles wasn’t going to be here anymore, it (stinks),” quarterback Sam Darnold added. “I think Coach Bowles, his type of leadership, he showed me that you can just be you and people will respect that. as long as you come in and be the same person day in and day out. He showed me how to lead and that it’s possible to lead that way.”

Much as we, the football-loving public, will continue to turn to the NFL to get our professional fix, it will continue to do things and make moves that shock and perplex us. The powers that be should make sure that Todd Bowles being denied a second opportunity at head coaching, one granted to countless others, isn’t one.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: Robert Saleh is a risky, but affordable choice

New York Jets, Robert Saleh

Opting for a defensive-minded boss is risky in today’s NFL landscape, but the New York Jets are in prime position to pull the trigger.

Arguing with Paul “Bear” Bryant might be ground for dismissal from any football-related conversations for the foreseeable future. But his time-honored axiom of “defense wins championships” has been put to the test over recent seasons.

The modern NFL has come to worship a deity known as fantasy football. Scoring is at an all-time high, as the average NFL team scored 24.8 points per game this season. It was a year that teams routinely reach the 20s and 30s in scoring…and still lose. For the Cleveland Browns, 42 points weren’t enough for them to steal a win from Baltimore during Week 14’s action. Penalties against quarterbacks and receivers serve as defensive death sentences. NFL Red Zone was created as a means of informing fans when offensive happenings were occurring or nearby.

So, of course, when searching for the 20th head coach in the franchise history to lead them into the high-voltage 2020s, the New York Jets went out and hired…a defensive guru?

Ten days after Adam Gase’s firing, the Jets have brought in Robert Saleh to oversee the latest chapter of their perpetual rebuild. Saleh’s resume is one of endless defense. All but two of his prior postings have included words “defense” or “defensive”, the exceptions being his role as a linebacker supervisor in Houston (2009-10) and Jacksonville (2014-16). Saleh has overseen the San Francisco 49ers defense for the past four seasons, the penultimate of which ended with an appearance in Super Bowl LIV.

Ironically, Saleh has also earned football’s finest prize at MetLife Stadium of all places, earning a ring with the Seattle Seahawks as a defensive quality control coach during their dismantling of Denver in 2014.

Choosing a defensive guru is risky from a New York standpoint in the sense that the Jets are at a bit of a crossroads with their offense. For the umpteenth time, they may be searching for the long-term franchise quarterback denied to them since Joe Namath disappeared into the Miami night after his legendary victory at the Orange Bowl over a half-century prior. Whether their quarterback come Week 1 is Sam Darnold, Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, Deshaun Watson, or an unknown party yet to reveal himself, the Jets also need to surround him with weapons and protection. General manager Joe Douglas appeared to start the process with the respective acquisitions of Mekhi Becton and Denzel Mims. Surely an experienced offensive name…a Greg Roman, Brian Daboll, or Arthur Smith…would’ve been something to kickstart an offense that’s going to have to counter whatever Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs put up in Buffalo for the foreseeable future.

There’s a slight sense of deja vu with the Jets’ attempt to bend the curve, to defy the new football order where offense is king. That’s what made the Adam Gase hire so different: the Jets had been trying to buck a decade-long trend of smashmouth defense-first football that, frankly, had appeared to run its course. Rex Ryan’s bold and brash philosophies netted the Jets consecutive conference title game appearances with Mark Sanchez under center, but his schtick wore thin once his tactic proved unsustainable. Todd Bowles, another accomplished defensive mind, was well-liked by his players but it only translated to the most heartbreaking 10-win season in NFL history. Going the defensive route yet again seems counterproductive, especially with the Jets ill-equipped to handle shootouts. Last season, the Jets failed to break 30 points in any of their 16 contests, one of only two teams reach such dire straits (the other being Philadelphia).

But Saleh is a risk the Jets can well-afford to take.

For one thing, the Jets are a team that can use any form of good vibrations right now. Cleveland and Tampa Bay’s ongoing playoff treks only serve as reminders that New York now owns the longest playoff drought in the league by far at 10 years and their lone winning season in that span was the star-crossed 2015 season that ended in Buffalo heartbreak. Too many coaching candidates would’ve brought unnecessary baggage to let the good times flow. With the team stuck in a perpetual rebuild, they need as little distraction as possible. Gase, with his spotty Miami track record and uncanny clause of having his former pupils rise to stardom elsewhere (Ryan Tannehill, Kenyan Drake) wasn’t going to bring that aura of peace. Doug Pederson had the connections with Douglas but would undoubtedly have to deal with questions about his supposed tossing of the Week 17 contest against Washington during his Philadelphia finale. Smith just had to watch his Tannehill-led offense get stymied by Baltimore in a home playoff game.

Saleh, however, emerges with a mostly clean resume. San Francisco struggled in the final season of his era, but it was little fault of the defense, that ranked fifth in the league in yards surrendered and fourth in first downs allowed. Their spot in the statistical penthouses was secure despite several key defensive contributors (Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, Solomon Thomas, and Jimmie Ward) missing a majority of the season.

The Gase-hire was met with a sense of wariness, his lone endorsement coming from Peyton Manning. While the accomplished Manning posted the best numbers of his career under Gase, there was a general sense that the staff from The Waterboy could’ve handled Manning during his early Denver days. Saleh, ironically one of those who helped solve Gase’s offense during the 43-8 destruction of the Broncos at MetLife Stadium, was endorsed by Richard Sherman himself. Unlike Manning, Sherman was never saddled with high expectations, more or less an afterthought when the Seahawks chose him 154th overall in the 2011 draft. But under Saleh, Sherman not only turned himself into a household name in the NFL but he also recovered from a lull in his career when he joined up with the 49ers in 2018. Sherman took to Twitter to extend his congratulations to the Jets upon learning of Saleh’s hiring.

Long before the Jets’ head coaching slot officially opened, Sherman endorsed Saleh for such a role, namely the one in Detroit after the Lions bid Matt Patricia farewell.

“You’ve got to give Robert Saleh an abundance of credit. You have to give him an unusual amount of credit, and I don’t think he’s getting enough credit not only here but in the league, in general,” Sherman said of Saleh after San Francisco’s 23-20 win over the Los Angeles Rams in November, per video provided by the 49ers. “I expect him to be a head coach next year, because of what he’s able to do,” Sherman said. “He’s able to rally men. He’s a leader of men, and that goes a long way.”

In that game, Sherman’s clutch interception of Jared Goff helped push the 49ers to the first win for a SoFi Stadium history. Los Angeles earned 308 yards and tallied only a dozen first downs in the triumph. Sherman would later tell Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer that Saleh “had” to get the Detroit job.

“He’s a great leader of men. And he’s not stubborn,” Sherman said. “He doesn’t just think he has all the answers. He comes up with a great plan and evolves it with his players.”

Sherman might not have gotten his de facto wish of Saleh in Detroit but he seems happy for him nonetheless. He wasn’t the only one celebrating his New York arrival, with Quinnen Williams likewise joining the chorus. The Gase hire seemed to be appreciated only by the hot take artists like Colin Cowherd (who infamously demanded AFC title game tickets), with players mostly keeping to themselves. Some of Gase’s most vital constituents (i.e. Robby Anderson) wound up fleeing. With Saleh being welcomed with apparent open arms, it’s a swift, welcome departure and change of pace for the organization. From at least the outlook, the Jets are a destination that doesn’t seem so garish in the ultimate long run.

The Jets are in dire need of any positivity flowing in the organization. At least in the infantile going, Saleh is providing the best surge in a long, long time.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: Breaking down 3 confirmed head coaching candidates (part 3)

New York Jets, Joe Brady

With the New York Jets now preparing for their second batch of interviews where they will condense the field to bring them into Florham Park. With that said, I broke down the Jets three defensive coordinator candidates, three offensive coordinator candidates, and now today is the mixed bag group. A former head coach, a rising secondary coach, and a young offensive coordinator drawing comps to Sean McVay.

Marvin Lewis (Former Bengals Head Coach)

Marvin Lewis began working as a graduate assistant and then later a linebacker’s coach for Idaho State. From there he parlayed his success there into gigs at Long Beach State, University of New Mexico and University of Pittsburgh. He had considerable success and within just eight years he received enough attention as a linebackers coach that he was brought up to the pro ranks. While at his first stop, the Steelers, he worked as a linebackers coach for three years. Then, Lewis received his shot with the Ravens as a defensive coordinator for five years, winning a Super Bowl during that time, before joining the Football Team in the same role for a season.

Despite his background, from 2003-2018, Marvin Lewis is best known for his resurrection of the Cincinnati Bengals franchise. In his 15 years he led the team to the playoffs seven times with a record of 131-122-3 but an 0-7 playoff record. Lewis was undoubtedly a capable and competent leader, but he failed to close when it mattered most on the biggest stage. The losses on the biggest stage ultimately led to the team, letting him go. Lewis, at 62 years old, is still trying to get back to coaching in the pros as he has been helping former Jets coach Herm Edwards in Arizona State, first as a consultant and now as a co-defensive coordinator.

Looking forward, Lewis is a leader and has proven that in his career. One has to wonder if maybe the time off benefited him by giving him time to reevaluate. I think Lewis has a shot of getting a hire in this cycle for a couple of reasons. The first being that he has proven capabilities of turning around a franchise. The other is that his years of connections give him a shot of assembling a talented staff. If a team is looking to rebuild and they want someone to see it through, Lewis is a strong candidate. If you want someone to take your team to that next step though, Lewis has not proven he can do that. The other flaw is his age, and how much longer he even wants to coach, this continues to further my belief that he is a transitional coaching candidate.

Joe Brady (Panthers Offensive Coordinator)

Joe Brady is someone I have highlighted in great lengths during this coaching search and it’s lead up. Brady is known as the 31-year-old offensive wiz kid from Carolina. The former college wide receiver began his coaching career at his alma mater, Willian & Marry. After rising to a linebackers coach position there, Brady received a shot to be a graduate assistant at Penn State. He then received a massive opportunity to receive the tutelage of Sean Payton as an offensive assistant for the New Orleans Saints where he was able to learn first hand how to conduct the offense. Then, he made a decision that Sean Payton at the time told him was a massive mistake, he bolted from New Orleans to head to nearby LSU as the passing game coordinator and receiver’s coach. That decision was not a mistake, but rather, the reason he is a candidate for a head coaching gig.

At LSU, en route to a national championship, Brady architected one of the top offenses in college football history. He took Joe Burrow and brought him from an average college quarterback that likely would be a late round draft pick to, a Heisman campaign, where he had a 76.3 completion percentage and produced a line of 5,671 yds, 60 TDs, and 6 INTs. Burrow took a massive leap and became the first overall selection in the draft. Brady also allowed guys like JaMarr Chase and Justin Jefferson to go from household names to one being a top 15 prospect in this draft class, Chase and one being labeled by some as the next star receiver in the NFL, in Jefferson. Now, since leaving LSU, the team and specifically offense was a shell of themselves and Brady’s exit has been widely attributed to why.

Joe Brady left LSU and took the jump to Carolina to coach under Matt Rhule as his offensive coordinator. The offense was not the most spectacular, but if you look at the jump that players took under his guidance that is indicative of success. Mike Davis filled in masterfully for Christian McCaffery being able to jump into his role to an extent and keep the train moving. Guys like Curtis Samuel, Robby Anderson and Ian Thomas all took massive leaps and proved themselves as legitimate offensive weapons under Joe Brady as well. Brady was able to adapt consistently, instilling a game plan for former XFL star PJ Walker’s first career start on Thursday Night Football that played off his strengths.

Brady has proven to be moldable, adaptable and innovative in his brief but impressive coaching career. He has drawn comparisons to Sean McVay leading many to think he is the next star coach. I have qualms with how he would build a staff based on his minimal coaching experience and I wonder about his leadership based on his youth. With that said though, it sounds like if Terry Fontenot, a New Orleans Saints executive, lands the Atlanta Falcons general manager position, Brady will likely follow him. The Jets were reportedly impressed by him and he was in the select few of candidates they believe could get a second interview. Ultimately, it sounds as though Atlanta is the likeliest home though.

Aaron Glenn (Saints Secondary Coach)

Aaron Glenn is an intriguing coaching candidate. The former New York Jets defensive back is a former All American and has been inducted into the Texas A&M sports hall of fame before being drafted by Gang green with the 12th selection in the 1994 draft. Glenn played for the organization for seven years before being taken by the Houston Texans in the expansion draft. He then played for the Texans, Cowboys, Jaguars and Saints before retiring in 2008. He then spent some time in various capacities, including time away from the game, before taking a general manager position with the Houston Stallions of the Lonestar Football League. He spent a year there before joining the Jets as a scout. Then, Glenn began his coaching career.

The former pro bowler received an opportunity to work as the assistant defensive backs coach for two seasons in Cleveland. The Browns provided him a shot at coaching and launched his career. The Saints then brought Glenn on in the 2016 season as a defensive backs coach, and he’s done wonders for the secondary in his time there. Glenn has been able to elevate the level of play of guys like Marcus Williams and Ken Crawley among others. Glenn has been able to be a hands on teacher and he’s learned from a great in Bill Parcells.

Glenn is a leader and a well-connected coach. His former playing days give him extensive ties for a potential staff. However, he has minimal coaching experience running a system or implementing a scheme. Glenn deserves defensive coordinator looks, but the premise of hiring Glenn before he even gets to control a side of the football does not instill me with the most confidence. He is a smart football mind, making him a dark horse for the job. However, if the Jets go with a young offensive mind, hiring Glenn as a DC would be a home run.

New York Jets: HC candidate Matt Campbell likely staying in school

New York Jets

The New York Jets were reportedly interested in talking with Campbell, but he’s set to stay with Iowa State.

Matt Campbell is apparently sticking with Ames over East Rutherford and the other NFL markets.

The Iowa State head football coach strongly hinted that he’s staying with the Cyclones despite reported interest from several NFL camps, including the New York Jets’. Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports originally reported that the Jets were expected to speak with Campbell, but Bruce Feldman of The Athletic has shot the notion down. Campbell’s tweet appears to have confirmed such a departure.

“So grateful for the commitment of so many to continue to want to build our program together,” Campbell said in his tweet. “Our foundation has been built on Loyalty and Faithfulness and it will continue to be our guiding light. Humbled and Grateful to continue to lead to be different.”

Campbell’s celebration of unity stems from his ISU program welcoming back all but two starters on offense and defense from what’s likely the most prolific season in team history. The Cyclones tied a program-record with nine wins and made their first appearance in the Big 12 Championship Game. Though they fell to Oklahoma 27-21, ISU was ranked 10th in the final College Football Playoff poll and earned a postseason victory at the Fiesta Bowl, topping Pac-12 champion Oregon 34-17.

The Cyclones have qualified for a bowl game in each of the last four seasons under Campbell’s watch, setting yet another program-best. Their future fortunes received a strong turn in the right direction when All-American tight end and All-Big 12 safety Greg Eisworth each confirmed that they would likewise return to Ames, eschewing the 2021 NFL Draft.

Despite the apparent loss of Campbell, the Jets’ coaching search continued throughout the weekend. The team confirmed they held interviews with several candidates including playoff-contending coordinators like Brian Daboll, Brandon Staley, Matt Eberflus, and Arthur Smith.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Philadelphia’s folly vindicates New York Jets’ late season victories

After the Eagles’ embarrassing display on Sunday night, no one should fault the New York Jets for their pair of December victories.

The NFL playoffs are set to get underway this coming weekend and there is no shortage of storylines amongst the 14 participants. But the national conversation is focused on the four-win Philadelphia Eagles and their Sunday night excursion against the Washington Football Team.

Over the first 30 minutes of the 256th and final game of the NFL regular season, Philadelphia made it difficult for Washington to clinch their first division title since 2015. They even held a 14-10 lead until the final 20 seconds. The Eagles’ scoring was handled through the legs of Jalen Hurts, a rookie quarterback taking full advantage of relatively consequence-free football. His passing stats were nothing to write home about (7-for-20, 72 yards, and an interception), With two rushing touchdowns, Hurts was potentially on his way to an early signature moment: ending a division rival’s Super Bowl dreams, fantasies that would transfer over to the New York Giants upon a Washington loss. With the Eagles reportedly clashing with franchise face Carson Wentz, Hurts was in a position to get gameday experience and the joy of an NFL victory along the way.

But, to the bewilderment of the football-loving public and his own on-field constituents, Pederson pulled some of his starters…those who weren’t on the pregame injury list…headlined by switching subbing Hurts for Nate Sudfeld. A career journeyman more likely to appear in the third version of the XFL instead of the NFL in 2022, Sudfeld lost the ball on each of his first two drives. A stagnant Washington offense mustered only three points over the latter half-hour, but they still clinched the NFC East with a 20-14 victory thanks to an Eagle offense that only moved backward with Sudfeld in tow. It will be Washington, not the Giants, that will host Tom Brady and the Buccaneers in the last game of Saturday’s playoff festivities (8:15 p.m. ET, NBC).

Pederson’s gambit of defeatism has drawn the ire of not only the Giants (who only have themselves to blame for missing out on a playoff berth offered to them solely through divisional technicalities), but his own team. Lipreaders claimed that a visibly upset Hurts declared “it’s not right” as he watched Sudfeld (whose last NFL pass came in December 2018) take over. Running back Miles Sanders, one of the aforementioned injury departees, claimed that “nobody liked the decision” to pull Hurts. Jeff McLane of The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that two defensive players had to be held back when confronting Pederson about the decision.

The Eagles’ ultimate prize for the essential forfeit? The right to choose sixth in April’s NFL Draft in Cleveland, avoiding the three-slot drop a win would’ve obtained. Even with such valuable draft capital, a turbulent offseason awaits in The City of Brotherly Love. Wentz and his massive contract have to be moved, and he’ll likely be one of several staples from the team that made the victorious trek to Super Bowl LII.

Say what you will about the 2020 New York Jets…they didn’t do that.

Hurts’ benching swiped center stage in Week 17 compilation of football follies from the Jets, who finally bid farewell to Adam Gase after a listless 28-14 defeat at the hands of the New England Patriots earlier in the day. The meaningless visit to Foxboro was hardly the most football sin of Gase’s tenure but served as an appropriate end to a two-year term that produced only nine wins.

The Jets’ fortunes were among the most trivial of New York concerns in 2020, but it was still tough to bear from a football fan standpoint. Much like a doomed blockbuster, things went haywire right from the start. Some calamities were completely understandable in the wake of the ongoing health crisis, with linebacker C.J. Mosley opting out before the first snap of training camp. The cancellation of the preseason hurt the Jets more than most teams, denying a team with completely revamped blocking and receiving corps. Elsewhere, the climax of the Jamal Adams saga yielded two first-round from Seattle at the price of an All-Pro-sized hole in the secondary. Second-round deep threat Denzel Mims, among others, were lost to training camp injuries. Even before Le’Veon Bell’s unceremonious release in October, the most casual football observer could tell it was going to be a tough season for the Jets.

Sure enough, the Jets’ were more or less eliminated from the playoff conversation before the Yankees…maybe even the Mets as well. Once the season got underway, the promises of brutality became nightmarish realities. Bell’s departure only opened the floodgates for a veteran exodus, with the New York careers of Steve McLendon, Avery Williamson, Pierre Desir, and Gregg Williams all ending throughout the course of the season. The brutal start saw the Jets fall in each of their first 13 games…a number so garish even Rich Kotite’s doomed bunch manage to avoid it.

Yet…pulling a “Pederson” never seemed to be under consideration.

Indeed, there were plenty of times where the Jets fulfilled Adams’ most damning departing declaration…that the Jets “didn’t want to win”. Any 2-14 season is one for the football hall of shame and the Jets lost half of their games by at least three possessions. But any gameday decision was made with a win in mind. Granted, some decisions were questionable at best…the 37-year-old Frank Gore’s run tally perhaps at the forefront…but the modern Jets were never interested in a reward that some of them might never get to see.

“There’s been a lot of adversity,” Gase admitted to Andy Vazquez of NorthJersey.com after the first of two wins, a 23-20 triumph over the Los Angeles Rams. “The fact that it’s this late in the season, the way that they kept fighting, the way that they stuck together and found a way to play a good game in all three phases was something that our guys should have been excited about.”

That was obvious as the season went on and the Jets inched closer to 16-game imperfection. Observers tried to tell the team that losing, however, was good for them. Inclusion amongst the likes of the 2008 Lions and 2017 Browns was a small price to pay to be at the top of the draft board. All the Jets had to do was take a few losses toward the end of the year…something that, on paper, shouldn’t have been hard to do. Following their Week 10 bye, the Jets battled teams either in the thick of the playoff picture or finding their footing in tough times. The epitome of brutality came in when Adams and the Seahawks dominated the Jets to the tune of a 40-3 shellacking in the Pacific Northwest.

All the while, professional and amateur pundits alike, perhaps partly fueled by the theory that the concept of “LOL Jets” gets clicks, encouraged the team to complete the 16-game goose egg in the win column. Such an “accomplishment” would’ve allowed them to outright clinch a spot at the top of the 2021 draft board. Their lone competition, the Jacksonville Jaguars, appeared to embrace the Pederson method when they benched Gardner Minshew’s potential for the journeyman efforts Mike Glennon. The Jaguars perhaps only avoided such calls for tanking through a 15-game losing streak after kickoff weekend and the theory that prime Joe Montana himself could take over under center in Duval County and still struggle to win ball games.

The Jets’ participants still refused to justify the mere notion. Following the embarrassment at Seattle, they knocked off a pair of playoff-bound teams, the Los Angeles Rams and Cleveland Browns. These Christmas gifts were met with only disdain from the fanbase and observers, who torched the Jets for the sin of winning a game when a date with destiny in the form of Trevor Lawrence awaited. The woebegone Jaguars “took care” of business, headlined by their Glennon gambit, losing their final games in anticipated one-sided fashion. 

It didn’t matter to the Jets.

Already a ludicrous notion from the outset…asking professionals to intentionally toss contests in pursuit of an award they’ll never sow…players went for the jugular when it came to those who called for tanking.

“If you wanted us to lose, you’re not a real fan, honestly,” first-round rookie Mekhi Becton told SNY’s Jeane Coakley after the 23-20 win in Los Angeles. “We wanted the win and we got it. That’s our goal right now. We want to go get another win.”

That mission was accomplished the following weekend, as the Jets prevented their equally star-crossed brothers from the midwest from clinching a playoff spot, topping the Cleveland Browns 23-16. Cleveland was

Simply put, one (rightfully) thrashing the Eagles is a hypocritical move if they also criticized the Jets for going all-out in their final hours.

The era of Gase is one that many Jets would like to eradicate from their memories, Men in Black-style. But it was never one where the Jets outright sacrificed a shot at victory. It’s shameful that it’s something to be proud of these days, but Week 17’s action produced a green aura of defeatism on Sunday…this time, the Jets weren’t involved.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets waive veteran K Sam Ficken prior to finale

The well-traveled Ficken got off to a hot start in 2020, but his New York Jets career appears to be over after two seasons.

The New York Jets have announced several roster moves leading into their season finale against the New England Patriots (1 p.m. ET, CBS). Their most consequential moves may be the release of kicker Sam Ficken and the activation of starting blocker Greg Van Roten off of injured reserve.

Ficken, 28, sees his Jets career end after two seasons, continuing the Jason Myers saga on a sour note. He began the year on a strong note, converting his first nine field goal attempts and all six of his extra point opportunities through Week 6 action. A groin injury sidelined him for the next three games before he briefly returned for the Week 11 tilt against the Los Angeles Chargers, missing two extra points in the 34-28 defeat. In yet another visit to Los Angeles, this one coming against the Rams, Ficken score 11 of the Jets’ 23 points in their first win of the season, but he missed two, an extra point and field goal each, in last week’s victory over Cleveland at home.

The Jets (2-13) will use Chase McLaughlin as their kicker in New England. McLaughlin entered the league in 2019 and has spent time with eight different organizations in some capacity. This season, he was originally cut by Indianapolis after training camp before joining Minnesota’s practice squad. He later served as the Jacksonville Jaguars’ kicker for three weeks, converting all four field goal attempts, before the Jets picked him up in December. McLaughlin will become the fourth different kicker to appear in a regular season game for the Jets since the Pro Bowler Myers departed for Seattle after the 2018 campaign.

Van Roten partook in every offensive snap over the Jets’ first 11 games before leaving their Week 13 contest against Las Vegas with a toe injury. Ironically, the 30-year-old Van Roten was also paced in IR with a toe injury last season during his final year with the Carolina Panthers. Signed to a one-year deal over the offseason, Van Roten has been one of the Jets’ more consistent offensive line.

In addition to Van Roten and McLaughlin, a quartet of other Jets will make their debut on the active roster this week. Linebackers Noah Dawkins and Brady Sheldon were promoted from the practice squad, while another linebacker, Sharif Finch, and a defensive lineman, Tanzel Smart, were picked up and moved to the 53-man ledger.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: The complicated legacy of Frank Gore

New York Jets fans constantly complained about Frank Gore’s usage. But the experienced rusher left a lasting impact on his young teammates.

When 2020 denied us sports, America talked about…well, sports.

The major professional sports leagues made their return amidst the ongoing health crisis (with varying degrees of success). But, in the interim, we, the sports-loving public, amused ourselves with icebreaker-like games on social media. One such pastime, played in a tongue-in-cheek manner, named “legends” from countless sports…but facetiously remembered them for their most obscure seasons and uniforms. Local examples included “Giants legend Kurt Warner” and “Knicks legend Tracy McGrady”. A reverse example would include Orlando Magic legend Patrick Ewing.

Frank Gore’s name could be a popular name when that game is inevitably played again. The running back is best known for his decade in San Francisco but has since embarked on a gridiron sabbatical that has taken him to Indianapolis, Miami, Buffalo, and the New York metropolitan area over the past six seasons.

Gore’s final NFL snaps could well come with the New York Jets, with whom he signed a one-year deal in March. This single season ended on Sunday in East Rutherford against Cleveland, as Gore will not play the Jets’ 2020-21 finale against New England on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS) due to a lung contusion. Prior to departing, Gore made NFL history in a Jets uniform, joining Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton as the only members of the NFL’s 16,000-yard club. His entry was a bright spot in an otherwise bleak season for New York football, as the Jets’ 13-loss tally is their worst since 1996. Gore did manage to score a touchdown and earn a crucial catch in the Jets’ first win of the season, a 23-20 triumph over the Los Angeles Rams on December 20. 

Save for that memorable landmark, Gore, 37, has struggled to leave a true on-field landmark in a New York uniform. He was ostensibly seen as a spell option for Le’Veon Bell but was pressed into service upon the former’s release in October. Gore tallied 653 yards on 187 carries, two of which went for scores. He improved on yardage (up from 599 with the Bills last season) but the 3.5 average was the lowest of his career. 

The Miami alum has been mum about his future but seemed to hint that retirement was on the horizon following the Jets’ 34-28 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers in November. It was their tenth loss in a row to open the season. 

“We’re thinking about (0-16) every day,” Gore said, per Rich Cimini of ESPN. “We’ve got to get one. You don’t want to go 0-16, especially (since) this might be my last year. I can’t go out like that.”

One could hardly blame Gore for walking away. Sunday’s trip to New England will mark only the third NFL weekend over the past decade that won’t feature a dressed Gore. An elusive Super Bowl aside, he’s accomplished plenty at the NFL level, including five Pro Bowl invitations, a spot on the league’s All-Decade Team for the 2010s, and the 2016 Art Rooney Award for sportsmanship. Even if Gore sticks it out for another year, there’s no use in delaying the discussion on his legacy.

With his resume, Gore is likely on his way to football immortality in Canton. He’s likely well on his way to a one-day contract in San Francisco so he can retire a 49er. The team will likely retire his No. 21 when fans are allowed to visit Levi’s Stadium again. His previous employers during his traveling days are inching toward completed rebuilds, but the Jets are set to complete one of the most brutal seasons in their already star-crossed history. With Gore possibly set to move on before the renovations are completed, it’s fair to see what role he’ll be eventually remembered for in this latest chapter of change, especially with his name etched all over this year of toil and drudgery.

 Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

In the eyes of some observers, Gore will be seen only as a hindrance. It was clear at several points this season that he was no longer capable of a primary rusher’s workload. Signed with the intentions of being a spell back, it was clear Gore was meant to be a temporary solution, not part of the Jets’ plans beyond the start of the new decade. When the situation became increasingly dire, the Jets had an opportunity to take advantage of free research and development. Instead, Gore continued to receive a majority of the New York carries over La’Mical Perine, Ty Johnson, and Josh Adams.

An opportunity was there for the Jets to cross an item off their offseason shopping list, a chance to audition someone like the fourth-round rookie Perine or Johnson, the first Jet to reach triple digits in yardage in a single game in over two full calendar years after Gore was hurt in a December loss to Las Vegas. Gore got his retirement tour, though, perhaps stemming from the relationship he previously built with head coach Adam Gase in Miami.

Yet, Gore has a chance to leave a positive impact on One Jets Drive, especially if the words of his teammates are to be believed.

If anyone knows about rising from the depths of the football underworld, it’s Gore. He first did so on a personal level, recovering from a devastating ACL tear at the University of Miami in 2002 (where he beat out future NFL starter Willis McGahee for starter’s reps in his sophomore season) to become a third-round pick of the 49ers in the 2005 draft. If retirement is truly on the way, Gore’s career is bookended by some truly garish times on the turf. It took him seven seasons to just to experience a winning record in the pros, as he and other homegrown San Francisco talents (Alex Smith, Patrick Willis, Vernon Davis, NaVorro Bowman, Colin Kaepernick, and Joe Staley among them) eventually built them into Super Bowl contenders.

If there’s any voice the players of this developing team needed to hear, it was that of the resilient Gore.

“The young guys including myself and all the guys on the team look at him and you just want to embody everything that he shows on a day-to-day basis,” Jets quarterback Sam Darnold said of Gore, per Andy Vazquez of NorthJersey.com “It’s so consistent, and that’s why he’s had such a long career, that’s why he’s had the career that he’s had, because of how consistent he is day-to-day, regardless of circumstance. He isn’t a “rah-rah” guy, but you know when he has something to say, people listen and it’s important. He’s a great leader for this team and one of the best ones to ever do it. I’m super happy to have played with him and very grateful to play with him this year.”

“Frank, man, he’s like no other,” wide receiver Breshad Perriman, a rare veteran in the Jets’ organization, said of Gore in a training camp report from Rich Cimini of ESPN. “If you know Frank, if you see him work, especially in the offseason, he grinds so hard. He works like he’s young, you know what I’m saying? Like he’s young, like he hasn’t accomplished anything. He’s still got that hunger, that drive, and you see it every time he works. You have to respect that.”

For a player like Perine, a third-day choice looking to prove why he belongs at the NFL level, Gore was a welcoming prescience, a bright light to turn to.

“We come in every week and meet one-on-one to go over the plays, every Wednesday. He’s a guy I look up to, Perine told team reporter Jack Bell in October. “I’m trying to find my routine, and he has a good routine. I just hope I can last as long as he has. He’s a great leader on and off the field. I just try to learn from him.”

At the end of the day, Gore’s Jets career, seemingly set to last only 15 games, won’t be fondly remembered by metropolitan football fans, at least not in the present day. If his words and experiences can even lead to even one unexpected victory, they’ll come to appreciate his brief time in green, even if it comes in an unwitting fashion.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

BREAKING: New York Jets RB La’Mical Perine tests positive for COVID-19

New York Jets

The rookie rusher is the Jets’ first player to have a confirmed positive test. Contact tracing is underway.

Per multiple sources, New York Jets running back La’Mical Perine has tested positive for COVID-19 and will be placed on the reserve list. SNY’s Ralph Vacchiano has stated that contact tracing is underway and Gase isn’t sure how many in the organization will be affected. Perine has yet to comment and will be held out of Sunday’s season finale against the New England Patriots (1 p.m. ET, CBS).

Perine’s first season ends with 232 yards on 64 carries, two of which went for touchdowns (tying for the team lead in rushing scores). His best output was a 40-yard showing against Buffalo in October, which featured his first career NFL score. He was chosen in the fourth round (120th overall) out of Florida in the fourth round of April’s draft.

[UPDATE: 1:50 p.m. ET]: Per notes from the Jets, head coach Adam Gase (who announced that Perine had tested positive earlier on Wednesday) mentioned that players have mostly been away from the facility due to health regulations, but that contact tracing is underway. Gase also confirmed that Ty Johnson and Josh Adam will be the top running backs for their season finale.

“I don’t think those two guys would be affected by this,” Gase said of Johnson and Adams. “The majority of the guys, I mean the only guys that have been in the building are any guys that have really been injured or doing any kind of rehab and stuff like that.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: RB Frank Gore to miss finale in New England

After making history on Sunday, top rusher Frank Gore will miss the New York Jets’ season finale against New England.

Frank Gore’s season, and potentially his NFL career, has come to an end after making history.

The veteran rusher will not play in the New York Jets’ season finale on Sunday against the New England Patriots (1 p.m. ET, CBS). His season in green ends with 653 yards on 187 carries, two of which went for scores. Gore took on a larger workload this season following the release of Le’Veon Bell, starting the past 14 games.

Gore left last weekend’s win over Cleveland with what was initially reported to be a chest injury. Head coach Adam Gase later revealed that Gore had instead suffered a lung contusion.

“That’s going to be one of those ones where he will not be available for a few weeks, which obviously with one game left, he won’t be able to finish that last game,” Gase said, per notes from the Jets. As for Gore’s NFL future, Gase remarked that he hasn’t had those types of conversations with the running back yet. “I think Frank’s always going to kind of worry about that when the time comes and if he wants to play again, he may try to do it.”

During Week 16’s win over Cleveland, Gore, 37, hit the 16,000-yard mark for his career, joining Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton as the only rushers in NFL history to reach that plateau. Gore holds the NFL record for most games played as an NFL running back (241) and Sunday’s finale will mark only the third time since 2011 that he has had to miss due to injury.

Speaking about his future to ESPN’s Rich Cimini, Gore said “I’ve got to be real with myself, how teams think about my age. They might not want a 38-year-old running back on the team”.

Gase has faced criticism for increasing the aging Gore’s role in the offense, often at the expense of ignoring younger rushers like La’Mical Perine, Ty Johnson, and Josh Adams. Gore’s 187 carries are his most since 2017 but his average of 3.5 yards per carry is a new career-low.

Nonetheless, Gase praised Gore for his veteran leadership and the calming effect he has had on some of the younger players.

“I think as far as what he’s done this year, helped keep these guys together, showing guys the right way to do things,” Gase said. “I think he’s been great for that running back room, with the amount of young players we have in there.”

“I think the young players just in general on the whole team, seen him working day in and day out, understanding no matter what your record is, how you’re supposed to come to work, how you’re supposed to go through practice, how you’re supposed to play the game, I can’t say enough as far as what he’s done leading by example.”

Gore entered the league as a third-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers in 2005, one of seven active picks remaining from those selections. He has also spent time with Indianapolis, Miami, and Buffalo. Gore’s finest performance as a Jets likely came against the Los Angeles Rams earlier this month, when he capped off a 59-yard day with a touchdown that proved to be a major role in the winning margin and a fourth-quarter reception that helped the Jets (2-13) seal the deal.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Buffalo Bills’ 2021 opponents finalized after Week 16 action

The Buffalo Bills’ 2021 was finalized during Sunday’s action, as the outliers are shown to be fellow division champions.

While the Buffalo Bills are doing their best to make 2020 tolerable, it’s hard not to join the rest of the nation and look toward next year, especially with December 31 mercifully approaching.

Through a series of scenarios, the Bills’ 2021 list of opponents was finalized, primarily through the crowing of fellow division champions. The Bills are also set to face competition from the AFC South and NFC South, as well as their yearly pair against AFC East divisional competition.

ESM looks ahead at the Bills’ 2021 slate below…

Atlanta (Home)

The Bills and Falcons don’t meet often, but it’s often dramatic when they do. Five of the six most recent meetings have been one-possession games, including Atlanta’s overtime victory when they last visited Orchard Park in 2013.

Carolina (Home)

Buffalo will welcome Carolina to Bills Stadium for the second edition of the de facto Sean McDermott Bowl. McDermott’s former employers gave him a rude welcome to head coaching in the first meet-up in 2017, when the Panthers prevailed in a 9-3 win in Charlotte.

Houston (Home)

Houston’s visit will be their first since 2015, a 30-21 Bills victory. This will also be the first get-together between the teams since their instant classic wild-card showdown back in Janaury, won by the Texans in a 22-19 final.

Indianapolis (Home)

This former AFC East rivalry will mark the first time the Colts come to visit since their snow battle in December 2017. Indianapolis took home a 37-5 triumph in 2018 at home in the interim.

Jacksonville (Away)

The Bills will visit Duval County for the first time since making their playoff return in January 2018, falling 10-3 in a wild-card slugfest to a Jaguars team destined for the AFC title game. While the presumed addition of Trevor Lawrence should generate headlines, this game will also be the first showdown between Bills quarterback Josh Allen and Jaguars pass rusher Josh Allen.

Kansas City (Away)

Could this be an AFC title game rematch come next season? Time will only tell, but hopefully, there will be less drama around its staging. The 2020 matchup between the Bills and Chiefs was initially scheduled for Fox and NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football package, but had to be shifted due to complications with the ongoing health crisis.

Miami (Home/Away)

The Dolphins are one of two opponents remaining on the Bills’ ongoing slate, as the team will square off in the Week 17 finale. Buffalo will be going for its second straight sweep of Miami, a feat they haven’t accomplished since 2006-07.

New England (Home/Away)

Another opportunity for a divisional sweep comes on Monday night, as the Bills have a chance to truly cement their status as the new kings of the AFC East with a sweep of the eliminated Patriots (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN/ABC). Buffalo’s last sweep of the Patriots came in 1999, the final year before Bill Belichick’s Foxboro-based reign of terror began.

New Orleans (Away)

The Bills have ended countless dubious streaks this season, but will have to wait until next year to conquer a demon that has been anything but The Big Easy. Buffalo has not beaten New Orleans since 1998, with the Saints winning all five meetings since.

NY Jets (Home/Away)

Will this meeting feature a new quarterback adversary for Allen instead of his offseason buddy Sam Darnold? Either way, the Bills have taken control of the rivalry, winning four of the past six meetings, including their first season sweep since 2015.

Pittsburgh (Home)

Victories over the Steelers that set off big celebrations are becoming a bit of a tradition in Western New York. The Bills clinched a playoff spot with a win in Pittsburgh in 2019 and NBC’s Sunday Night Football cameras made their first trek to Bills Stadium since 2007 to document the team’s 26-15 triumph earlier this month.

Tampa Bay (Away)

The Tom Brady nightmare isn’t over quite yet, or at least Buccaneer fans hope it won’t be. Buffalo has been one of the biggest victims of Brady’s dominance, as the arguable GOAT owns a 32-3 record against the Bills.

Tennessee (Away)

It was the delay in the Tennessee visit that caused the aforementioned rescheduling of the Bills’ meeting with the defending champion Chiefs. This will mark the fourth consecutive season to feature a showdown between the Bills and Titans, whose most recent tilt had the honor of being the NFL’s first Tuesday game in almost a decade.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags