The 2015 Jets had gotten to the brink of a playoff spot in a very un-Jets-like way. They were ranked in the top ten in scoring for the first time since 2008, and in the top ten in yardage for the first time since 1998. The franchise has experienced so much quarterback drama in recent memory, but their accidental starter, Ryan Fitzpatrick, had been putting together one of the best seasons in team history. And during a five-game winning streak stretching from late November through all of December, they even showed a flair for the dramatic, winning three times in either the final minute or overtime.
By now you know what happened next: With a chance to clinch a postseason berth with a victory yesterday, the Jets lost to Rex Ryan and the Bills, of all teams. And coupled with Pittsburgh’s win over Cleveland, the Jets missed out on the postseason for the fifth straight year. Over the next few days, you’ll be hearing a lot of the phrase “same old Jets,” or some variation thereof. After all, as much fun as the wins over the Giants and Patriots were last month, with their season on the line, the Jets came up short as they so often have in the past.
But that phrase carries with it the stigma of a franchise dysfunction that is largely absent right now. The Jets improved by six wins in Todd Bowles’s first season as head coach. Under new offensive coordinator Chan Gailey, they jumped from 22nd to 10th in total offense. And their defense remained a strength, finishing the season fourth in yards allowed per game.
This isn’t to say that the Jets didn’t revert to some old ways yesterday — specifically, the way their offense, which had been a legitimate strength this season, often looked lost. Jets fans won’t soon forget the interceptions Fitzpatrick threw on the team’s final three drives of the game, each one painful for a different reason: One came in the red zone with the Jets down by just two points; the next came with the Jets driving near midfield just after the two-minute warning; and the third came during a last-gasp drive that ended New York’s chances once and for all.
But unlike their Meadowlands co-tenant, the Jets don’t need a staff upheaval during this off-season. We now know that the punch that cost Geno Smith his starting job didn’t portend another circus of a season. Bowles’s first year in New York may have ended with a disappointing loss, but taken as a whole, 2015 was a step forward for a franchise that had been trending in the wrong direction since their back-to-back conference title game appearances under Ryan. Assuming Fitzpatrick returns next season, there’s no guarantee he’ll be able to repeat his strong performance from 2015. But the Jets are at least in a better place now than they were a year ago, and that’s progress.