There were no shortage of characters worthy of finger-point when it comes to the Jets 23-22 loss to the Bengals yesterday.
- Ryan Fitzpatrick completed just 54% of his passes, despite a game plan that was nearly entire dink-and-dunk (he averaged 10 yards per completion).
- Darrelle Revis was torched by A.J. Green repeatedly, to the tune of (by one count) 10 receptions on 10 targets for 152 yards and a touchdown.
- Nick Folk missed an extra point and had a 22-yard field goal attempt blocked. The latter error was just the second missed field goal from inside the 5-yard line since 2013. Obviously those missed points came back to haunt the Jets.
- Brandon Marshall had just 3 receptions for 37 yards, and failed to haul in/dropped what could have been a game-saving catch on the final drive.
But it’s hard not to also focus on three management blunders Todd Bowles made in the 4th quarter of the game. And when I say it’s hard, I mean specifically for me, because I turned to my brother in anger as all three were unfolding, only to watch the situation play out exactly as I feared. I get a lot of things wrong, so I need to make sure I at least credit myself when I’m right! Some of this may sound like Monday morning coaching, but I can assure you these were my immediate thoughts.
Kicking a Field Goal on 4th-and-Goal from the 2-yard line, 11:28 remaining in 4th quarter, Trailing 20-16
You should very, very rarely kick a field goal from inside the 2-yard line, and the Jets were actually inside of the 2-yard line here. This one is taught on the first day of class in 4th Down 101: you go for it every time in this situation and with so much time left in the game. Making matters worse, the Jets offense had been struggling to make big plays, but was able to move the ball moderately well on Cincinnati: getting into field goal range was a lot easier for the team than scoring touchdowns, and the Jets were never going to be so close from the end zone. Coaches make these blunders all the time, of course, but it feels particularly sad when trailing by 4 points in the 4th quarter and given that context.
Not Playing A 2-For-1
With about 7:30 left in the game, the Jets were at the Bengals 42-yard line, with 1st-and-10, trailing by 1 point. In this situation, the offense really needs to think about making sure they either milk the clock (unrealistic, with so much time remaining) or move the ball quickly so that the offense has another chance after the other team has their next possession.
The Jets did the worst thing possible: they took four minutes and kicked a field goal (more on this in a minute), allowing the Bengals to take over — in a four down mindset, trailing by just 2 — with 3:25 remaining. With 7:30 left, I made the comment that the Jets needed to hurry up on offense to make sure they scored with about 5 minutes left. And while the argument could be made that the Jets should just try to score and then let their defense do that work, that ignores two things:
- The defense rarely does the work in today’s NFL, especially when an offense has 4 downs to score.
- If the defense *is* going to do the work, then it doesn’t really matter! If you score quickly, and then the defense stops them, your odds of winning are great! The only way you get bitten is if you score quickly, the other team fails quickly, you can’t run out the clock, and then the other team scores on a 4th possession. That’s pretty unlikely.
So this isn’t about not having faith in your defense: it’s more like buying insurance. Don’t think of going into hurry-up mode as an indictment on the other side of the ball, but rather giving yourself an out if your defense fails (and if your defense doesn’t fail, great!). What did the Jets actually do? A first down run, followed 40 seconds later by a 2nd-down run, followed 45 seconds later by a completion, followed 43 seconds later by a run, followed 41 seconds later by a completion out of bounds, and then another run and another 39 seconds off the clock!
Horrible. When the Jets scored with 3:25 remaining, it felt like they had managed the situation as poorly as possible. And they did.
Kicking a FG on on 4th-and-1 from the 6-yard line, 3:25 remaining in 4th quarter, Trailing 20-19
Bowles loved him some short field goals on Sunday: this was the third Folk attempt from inside the 6-yard line! And it was the most costly.
If you go for it and fail, the Bengals are pinned back and likely choose to play conservatively. That means Cincinnati probably punts after a couple of minutes, and the Jets get the ball back with about 90 seconds left, leaving them in perfect position to have a short drive for a game-winning field goal. *That’s* when you kick the field goal.
If you are worried that if you fail you may never see the ball again, well let me break some news to you: if you don’t think your defense can stop Cincinnati from gaining a few first downs, that’s all the more reason to go for it! Because a 2-point lead against a team that can easily pick up first downs is really, really bad.
A 2-point lead with 3 minutes left was not what the Jets should have played for: Bowles wanted to take the lead, but it’s about winning when the game is over, not with 3 minutes left.
This mistake was compounded by the earlier mistake, but with 7:30 left, the Jets should have been focused on not kicking a field goal and giving the Bengals the ball with 3:30 left. And yet that’s exactly what they did.