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.