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TAMPA — It was a cute story while it lasted, the talk about the playoffs and the New York Jets. Stop it now, please. They aren’t worthy of calling themselves a postseason contender, not after what unfolded on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.

In a battle of aging, journeyman quarterbacks — “battle” might be overstating it — the Jets played their worst offensive game of the season and fell to Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 15-10.

This came 10 days after the Jets danced their way to a dominating win over the Buffalo Bills. They forgot to pack their intensity on the trip to Tampa, and it showed throughout the game — the mark of a young team that doesn’t have the talent to overcome such lulls. They under-estimated the Bucs (3-6), plain and simple. They went from dancing under the stars to stumbling across the dance floor.

“You have to show up every week in this league or you get it handed to you,” coach Todd Bowles said. “We didn’t show up today.”
Josh McCown was sacked six times in Sunday’s loss to the Buccaneers. Julio Aguilar/Getty Images
Bowles used a boxing analogy, saying they “lost a unanimous decision in a 12-round fight.” They fought defensively, showing no aggression on offense. The Jets had more punts (seven) than points for the first 59 minutes, before Robby Anderson scored on a 38-yard reception with 28 seconds left. Until then, they demonstrated the kind of offensive ineptitude everybody expected in August.

That they lost to Fitzpatrick, their former starter, only made it feel worse. That they lost to a dysfunctional team without its two stars, quarterback Jameis Winston and wide receiver Mike Evans, made it gut-wrenching.

“I don’t think we were over-confident,” nose tackle Steve McLendon said. “They came out and they threw more punches than we did, and they finished. It seemed like they wanted it more than we did.”

The Jets dropped to 4-6, and now they have the bye week to reset before the stretch run. They have one of the toughest remaining schedules in the league, starting with back-to-back home games against the Carolina Panthers and Kansas City Chiefs, so any talk of a wild-card berth is pure folly.

It’s too bad, because they had a chance to extend the feel-good story, but they couldn’t figure out a way to beat the Bucs’ 28th-ranked defense. Offensive coordinator John Morton called a conservative game, and the result was sloppy execution.

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Josh McCown (23-for-39, 263 yards) was out of sync from the outset, as he failed for the first time to hit the 60 percent completion mark. The Jets allowed six sacks and couldn’t handle Tampa Bay’s speed in the front seven, which also foiled the rushing attack. Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who began the day with a team-high 33 receptions, had no catches for the first 54 minutes in his much-anticipated return to Tampa.

“As a unit, I felt like that was our worst game,” right guard Brian Winters said of the offensive line, which surrendered an astounding 14 quarterback hits.

It’s a minor miracle that McCown was able to walk out of the stadium.

The Jets failed to make a big play until the game was nearly over. And, of course, they hurt themselves with the usual array of penalties, eight for 77 yards.

Incredibly, the Jets had only one real scoring opportunity, but they settled for a field goal after driving to the Bucs’ 12-yard line. The next three plays: incomplete pass (a near interception), a sack allowed by right tackle Brandon Shell and a holding penalty on Seferian-Jenkins.
Both teams should burn the tape of this game.

The graybeard quarterbacks, with a combined 28 years of experience, acted their age. They threw consecutive interceptions in the first half and each came close to throwing multiple picks. The 34-year-old Fitzpatrick (17-for-34, 187 yards) will head back to the bench when Winston is healthy.

The 38-year-old McCown’s job security will be questioned now that the team is out of contention, but replacing him would be a mistake at this point. The Jets have bigger problems than the quarterback position. In their biggest game of the season, the offense was a no-show.

What a stinging indictment.

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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — New York Jets wide receiver Quincy Enunwa has a bulging disk in his neck and will have season-ending surgery — a significant setback to the team’s already thin receiving corps.

Enunwa, injured in a noncontact drill on Saturday night at MetLife Stadium, faces a six- to nine-month rehab. The Jets don’t consider it career-threatening.

“[The doctors] said it wasn’t,” coach Todd Bowles said Monday after practice. “Going forward, we’ll see. They said he should come out of it OK.”

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Quincy Enunwa’s injury underscores major problem for Jets
A Jets receiving corps that already was depleted lost its only potential weapon in Quincy Enunwa, leaving the QBs to essentially fend for themselves.
Enunwa, the only receiver on the Jets’ roster with 1,000 career receiving yards (1,172), missed minicamp in June because of a similar injury. The condition was “treatable” at the time, according to Bowles, who said Enunwa was deemed healthy at the start of training camp.

“He was doing fine,” Bowles said. “When he fell the other night, it flared up.”

On Saturday night, Enunwa dropped a pass from Christian Hackenberg during 7-on-7 drills when he took a step and fell to the turf face-first despite being untouched. He got up slowly, then crumpled to the ground and stayed down for several minutes.
Quincy Enunwa was slated to be the Jets’ No. 1 receiver. Vincent Carchietta/USA TODAY Sports
His injury leaves the Jets in a precarious position, as they released their two starting receivers — Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall — during a massive roster overhaul in the offseason.

They were counting on Enunwa to be their No. 1 receiver. Now Robby Anderson will move into that role, with Jalin Marshall and Charone Peake the next two in the pecking order. Marshall faces a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy.

Statistically, the most accomplished receiver on the roster is Marquess Wilson (777 career yards), but he’s considered on the bubble.

“Obviously, they have to get some experience and get some reps, but they’re talented,” Bowles said of his young receivers. “They just have to learn and get caught up to speed.”

Bowles said the Jets haven’t decided if they will add a veteran to the current group.

“We’ve got a lot of young guys we’re trying to develop,” he said. “If there’s something out there that catches our eye, we’ll sign him. If not, we’ll stay with the guys we’ve got. All options are open.”

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A look at what’s happening around the New York Jets:

1. Rare winning streak? There are crazy stats, and there are really crazy stats. This falls into the latter category.

On Sunday, quarterback Josh McCown will try to win back-to-back starts (in consecutive weeks) for the first time since 2004. Starting for the Arizona Cardinals that year, he beat the Miami Dolphins and New York Giants on Nov. 7 and 14, respectively. And that was the one and only two-game winning streak of his career.

Since then, he’s 0-8 the week after victories and 14-37 overall. Granted, McCown hasn’t been an every-week starter in his long and circuitous career, but we’re still talking about 2004. Heck, that was the year Facebook was launched. McCown’s slump is old enough to see PG-13 movies.

Maybe it ends against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

2. Quick on the draw: McCown is playing better than anyone expected, and one of the reasons is because he’s getting rid of the ball quickly. From snap to ball release, his average time is 2.25 seconds, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The only quarterback with a quicker release is Derek Carr (2.04).

This represents a significant change for McCown, never known for a quick release. From 2014 to 2016, he ranked 28th in the league at 2.60 seconds. He cited three reasons for the improvement, including a conscious effort on his part to quicken his delivery. He also credited quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates, who has streamlined his mechanics. The last reason is the system, a West Coast scheme predicated on short drops and quick throws.

“It’s where we’re putting guys and getting guys open, and that all ties into preparation — from walk-throughs to practice to the game,” he said. “It’s the different looks that the coaches are giving us and the way they keep us prepared, so when we get out there Sunday, when you know where to go with the football, you get it out faster.”

3. ShoulderGate: Muhammad Wilkerson violated team protocol this week by revealing the exact nature of his shoulder injury — a Grade 1 AC joint sprain. That didn’t sit well with Todd Bowles, who, like most coaches, is a control freak when it comes to that stuff. Was it an innocent mistake by Wilkerson or was there an ulterior motive? He and the organization weren’t on the same page last season as he dealt with the residual effects of his surgically repaired ankle, so perhaps he put it out there thinking it would minimize potential criticism for lackluster play. We’ll never know for sure.

The bigger story is that Wilkerson is off to another slow start — eight tackles, no sacks, no quarterback hits, no tackles-for-loss. The odds of returning next season fade with each game he fails to dominate. His cap charge in 2018 is $20 million, third-highest among non-quarterbacks. That includes a $16.75 million salary that becomes guaranteed on the third day of the league year in March. There’s no way he will see that money, barring an epic turnaround.

Wilkerson, a Pro Bowl player in 2015, has produced only two sacks in his last 11 games — and one of them came in garbage time in the Christmas Eve debacle in New England. The organization is troubled by his falloff, especially after giving him a five-year, $86 million contract in 2016. Is the shoulder a factor? The Jets apparently don’t think so. On Friday, Bowles said, “It doesn’t impact him at all.” A Grade 1 sprain is considered very mild.

Wilkerson’s new reality is this: If he doesn’t start playing better — a lot better — he’ll join the list of former first-round picks booted out of the building over the last few months.

What you need to know in the NFL

• Statistics
• Scoreboard
• 2017 schedule, results
• Standings
4. Memo to the pro-tanking crowd: Let the Jaguars serve as a cautionary tale that highly-drafted quarterbacks don’t always grow up to be franchise saviors. They picked Blake Bortles third overall in 2014, and he hasn’t come close to expectations. He’s 12-35 as a starter, with 53 interceptions. Said one NFC scout: “I’m shocked he’s still on the team.”

5. Two-way Thomas: Defensive end Lawrence Thomas made history last week — kind of. He became the first player in Jets history wearing a number in the 90s to catch a pass, according to Randy Lange of the team’s official website. Sorry, Mark Gastineau fans.

It wasn’t Thomas’s first offensive rodeo. As a freshman at Michigan State (2012), he played fullback and caught seven passes for 78 yards.

This won’t be a regular gig for him, according to Bowles, who said they “may sprinkle him over there” from time to time.

6. Big Ben watch: We’re still a month away from the trading deadline, but one player to watch is backup left tackle Ben Ijalana. He’s only 28 and has starting experience, which could appeal to a tackle-needy team. He’s sitting on the bench even though he’s making starter’s money ($5.5 million). That’s an awfully expensive insurance policy.

7. Bayou backs: The Jets have a thing for running backs with ties to the New Orleans Saints and the state of Louisiana. This week, they signed former Saint Travaris Cadet. Their practice squad includes Marcus Murphy, another ex-Saint. In the past, they’ve had Chris Ivory and Khiry Robinson, both of whom played in the Big Easy. Let’s not forget about Louisiana natives Matt Forte (Tulane) and Elijah McGuire (Louisiana-Lafayette). If you want to go back a few years, they had the late Joe McKnight, a New Orleans high-school legend. What’s it all mean? Nothing, really. Just thought it was interesting.
8. From Hit Man to Invisible Man: To me, this is one of the most stunning stats of the young season: Former Jets linebacker David Harris has played only seven defensive snaps for the New England Patriots — seven! After getting unceremoniously sacked by the Jets, he joined forces with Bill Belichick thinking he’d have a significant job. He’s making $2.75 million this year, which indicates they envisioned more than a bench-warmer role for him. Seven snaps? Like I said, stunning.

9. Double-D speaks up: Demario Davis, whom the Jets re-acquired to replace Harris at middle linebacker, has emerged quickly as a leader. In the team meeting on the eve of last week’s game, when Bowles and the players discussed their plans for the national anthem, Davis was one of the most vocal players in the room, I’m told. They’ve long needed a vocal leader on defense.

10. The ring’s the thing: At halftime, Kevin Mawae will be 18th player inducted into the Jets’ Ring of Honor. Who will be No. 19? If you ask me, tackle Marvin Powell (five Pro Bowls) and linebacker Mo Lewis (three) should headline the next group of candidates.

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There could be some tinkering this week, but the New York Jets’ 53-man roster is essentially set. I could spew a lot of opinions, but I’ll limit it to one takeaway:

Eight of the 53 have spent a week or less on the team. When there’s that much turnover this close to the opener, it sends a clear message: rebuilding.

Serious rebuilding.

Quarterback (3): Josh McCown, Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg

McCown was 2-20 as a starter from 2014 to 2016, Petty was 1-3 last year and Hackenberg has yet to play. Get the picture? By the way, Petty deserves to be the No. 2, if healthy. It’s not even a debate.

 

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Running back (4): Matt Forte, Bilal Powell, Julian Howsare, Elijah McGuire

Advice to Forte and Powell: Eat your Wheaties every Sunday morning because you’ll be carrying the entire offense. On Sunday, they waived Marcus Murphy, a return specialist.

Wide receiver (7): Robby Anderson, Jermaine Kearse, ArDarius Stewart, Chad Hansen, Charone Peake, Kalif Raymond, Damore’ea Stringfellow

Seven receivers? That’s a lot, considering this isn’t a four-receiver offense, as it was the last two years under former coordinator Chan Gailey. Clearly, player development is a big part of the thought process. New arrivals Kearse, Raymond and Stringfellow still haven’t practiced with the team. Raymond, picked up on waivers, will be the return specialist.

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Tight end (3): Eric Tomlinson, Will Tye, Jordan Leggett

Much like Kearse at receiver, Tye — another late waiver acquisition — immediately becomes the most accomplished player at his position. Seferian-Jenkins returns in Week 3 from his suspension. On Sunday, they waived Jason Vander Laan, who showed promise in camp.

Offensive line (9): Kelvin Beachum, James Carpenter, Wesley Johnson, Brian Winters, Brandon Shell, Ben Ijalana, Brent Qvale, Jonotthan Harrison, Dakota Dozier.

Presumably, the first five will comprise the starting lineup. There will be a lot of pressure on the big fellas because they will see a steady diet of eight-man fronts.

Defensive line (6): Leonard Williams, Steve McLendon, Muhammad Wilkerson, Kony Ealy, Mike Pennel, Claude Pelon

The coaches no longer have to worry about finding ways to get Williams, Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson on the field at the same time. Frankly, the trio wasn’t that imposing last year — only six sacks in 513 snaps as a threesome, per ESPN Stats & Information. Pelon, a first-year free agent, is the biggest surprise on the roster. Prediction: Ealy will record more sacks than Richardson, now with the Seattle Seahawks.

Linebacker (8): Darron Lee, Demario Davis, Jordan Jenkins, Josh Martin, Lorenzo Mauldin, Dylan Donahue, Julian Stanford, Edmond Robinson

Mauldin (back) was thought to be a candidate for injured reserve. If he remains on the 53, he probably won’t be ready for opening day because he missed nearly the entire camp. That would leave Martin and Donahue, a rookie, as the rush linebackers. Bruce Carter lost his roster spot to Robinson, who was claimed on Sunday.

Cornerback (6): Morris Claiborne, Buster Skrine, Juston Burris, Darryl Roberts, Marcus Williams, Derrick Jones
Williams was on the bubble, but he managed to stick around. The Jets really need Claiborne (shoulder) to get healthy and stay healthy. Otherwise, it might be a long year for the defense, which leans heavily on its corners.

Safety (4): Jamal Adams, Marcus Maye, Rontez Miles, Terrence Brooks

The development of Adams and Maye — both rookies — will be fun to watch. Brooks, a late addition, is the only healthy backup. Miles is recovering from a significant eye laceration.

Specialists (3): PK Chandler Catanzaro, P Lachlan Edwards and LS Thomas Hennessy

Catanzaro over Ross Martin was the most puzzling roster decision. Catanzaro was better than Martin on kickoffs, but his field-goal accuracy was inconsistent on a day-to-day basis in camp. They’re also taking a chance with Hennessy, a rookie. He replaces Tanner Purdum, who went seven years without botching a snap. He had a couple of hiccups in training camp, but how ’bout cutting some slack for a proven veteran?