In this week's BGA, I analyze Week 17 performances by Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bilal Powell, Quincy Enunwa, Darrelle Revis and Muhammad Wilkerson among others...
Bent: Like a pebble in your shoe that you can't get rid of, Ryan Fitzpatrick returned to the starting line-up for his final appearance as a Jet. He ends his Jets career on a positive note, with 210 yards, two touchdown passes and a quarterback rating of 109.0.
In many ways, it was the quintessential good Fitzpatrick performance insofar as he put up numbers and had good success, but only achieved this through taking risks. On another day, three or four of his passes could have been intercepted. When your quarterback's success depends so greatly on the playmaking abilities or otherwise of the opposing secondary, that's not really a recipe for sustainable success.
Despite getting lucky a few times, Fitzpatrick's made some good throws, including two accurate passes in the red zone for touchdowns. He has his moments. Not many of them, but he does have them.
He missed a lot of throws though, including one where it looked like he easily could have run for a first down to keep the drive alive.
I must applaud the Jets for making a plan and actually sticking to it for once. They decided when they drafted him that Christian Hackenberg wouldn't play as a rookie and they didn't deviate from that. I don't even care if it's the right decision. It's the principle of the thing. If this organization could adopt a more single-minded approach towards some of their other intentions, that will be a net positive in the long run.
It's unclear whether Hackenberg would have seen an opportunity if he'd shown better progress on the practice field or if that was irrelevant and they were resolutely determined to stick to the existing timetable. Whether the approach will be successful remains to be seen and is something we will get into more during the offseason.
Bent: Bilal Powell had another terrific performance, with 122 rushing yards and three catches including a short touchdown. The Jets really seemed to screw up their running back situation by overusing Matt Forté early in the year and then only giving Powell a bigger workload once Forté was injured so there was nobody established to platoon him with. They make it so difficult sometimes.
It could have been a much bigger game for Powell, though. He gained 25 yards on the first play of the second half, giving him 98 on 12 carries at that time, along with three catches for 15 yards and a score. However, he carried just 10 times for 24 yards over the remainder of the second half. In the end, he was only 92 yards away from being the Jets' leading rusher, but he ends up with a team-high 1,110 yards from scrimmage.
Brandon Wilds saw some action off the bench again. Wilds got off to a rough start when he fumbled the hand-off on his first play but contributed 29 yards on six touches including a 12-yard gain on a dump-off and a five-yard run that saw him push the pile. He appeared to be responsible for the only sack surrendered by the Jets on the day, though, as he went to the wrong side in pass protection. Of course, that might be on the quarterback or center for setting the protection incorrectly, though.
Fellow rookie Brandon Burks made his NFL debut and was given two carries after the Jets began a fourth quarter drive on the Bills' three-yard line. After gaining a yard on his first carry, he was blown up in the backfield for a big loss and the Jets ended up having to settle for a field goal. Both Wilds and Burks will be long-shots to make the rotation next year, but it can't hurt to have some young bodies to compete for time.
Khiry Robinson is also under contract for next season, but after suffering a broken leg for the third time in just over a year, it seems unlikely he'll be a factor next year.
Bent: Brandon Marshall was announced as inactive before the game, which provided the remaining crop of pass catchers with an interesting test. If they could still be able to produce without Marshall in the game, that would bode well for the future with Marshall potentially departing after the season.
Each of the young receivers had some good moments and contributed to one of Fitzpatrick's better games of the year. It wasn't a perfect display from a group that has contributed to the team leading the NFL in dropped passes this year, but they made some tough catches and extended a few drives by getting to the marker after the catch.
Quincy Enunwa led the way with 81 yards on five catches. These included a 51-yard gain on a long bomb which perhaps could have been a touchdown if not slightly underthrown. He also had two plays where he caught a short pass and turned it into a first down; once by hurdling the defender and the other by spinning away from a tackler and stumbling backwards to the line to gain. He must get out of the habit of holding the ball in one hand as he tries to break tackles though.
Enunwa finished up the year with a team-leading 857 yards and four touchdowns on 58 catches as he was clearly the most improved player on the roster. He ended up tied with Powell, just one catch behind Marshall for the team lead.
Robby Anderson bounced back quite well from being shut out last week, catching four passes for 43 yards. However, he also false started and should really have been flagged twice for pushing off. It's good to see the slender Anderson being more physical, but he needs to be careful that this doesn't become a habit. He proved on a nice back shoulder throw that he can create separation without doing that.
Both Anderson and Enunwa have shown that they could potentially be productive enough to be thousand yard receivers if Marshall and/or Eric Decker don't return in 2017. However, they both need to work on their consistency and focus as each had a really bad drop yesterday as well.
Charone Peake has made contributions here and there throughout the season. His two catches included a tough first down after which held on despite being flipped over onto his head. He also contributed a good downfield block. Peake is another player who could make strides next year.
The other rookie, Jalin Marshall, made his return to the line-up and caught his second touchdown of the season. He also had a nice low grab for a first down. I'd eventually like to see the Jets experiment with Marshall in a more multi-faceted role, including some snaps in the backfield. Consider Percy Harvin as the blueprint.
Finally, Devin Smith saw more action this week, but wasn't targeted. He ends up the year with just one catch. He'll get a fresh start next offseason, but - like Dee Milliner before him - it doesn't seem like the status of being a high draft pick has compelled the team to place any kind of priority on developing him into a contributor.
NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport reported yesterday that the Jets' next offensive coordinator will be someone who values the tight end position, but that seems unfair on Chan Gailey who got good production out of Scott Chandler in the past and probably only neglected the position with the Jets because of a lack of talent. Maybe it's the front office who need to value that position.
Eric Tomlinson has been a nice pick-up though, albeit not one who contributes as a pass catcher. He has been impressive in the running game since his midseason arrival. While he hasn't been flawless, he's generally had more positive contributions that negatives and that's while the team has actively tried to run behind him more than they ever did with the likes of Kellen Davis or Jeff Cumberland. That has been a boost to a running game which you would have expected to go downhill due to all the losses on the offensive line.
By contrast, Brandon Bostick continues to be let down by his inconsistency as a blocker. On one short yardage play in particular, everyone else controlled their blocks at the point of attack but he was driven back into the backfield, bottling up the runner. He made a nifty one-handed grab for a short gain, but that was just his eighth catch of the year, which isn't enough to make up for his inconsistent blocking.
Bent: Other than Fitzpatrick, James Carpenter was the only other opening day starter still standing so, when you consider that Fitzpatrick has been benched a few times, Carpenter was basically out there with the second-string. He therefore deserves extra praise because he had an excellent performance with flawless pass protection and a series of impact blocks in the running game.
The Jets had a number of runs that "popped" including the first play from scrimmage which went for 23 as three separate combo blocks were executed to perfection. There were also a perfectly-timed trio of pad-popping blocks, one after the other, on another good run. That's the kind of chemistry and cohesion that had eluded the running game for most of the year, but the second unit evidently has benefited from playing and practicing together more than the starters were able to.
Carpenter only had a couple of negatives, although one was similar to the Bostick play mentioned above as he was driven into the backfield on an otherwise well-blocked short yardage play. The Jets' short yardage running was their biggest weakness on the day, as they struggled in the red zone and failed on two 4th-and-short runs. Brandon Shell had a bad missed block on one of those, which also saw Ben Ijalana stood up at the line.
Shell held his own again and looks likely to get a long look at a possible starting role for next year. He was half-beaten three times in pass protection but avoided giving up any clean pressure by being strong enough to push outside rushes upfield at the last moment on each occasion. In the running game, he had some bad missed blocks, but he did have some good driving blocks and the team certainly had plenty of success running over the right side.
Dakota Dozier was a big part of that success in the first half but he regressed into a scruffy-looking second half display. Early on, he made some excellent blocks on the move, but he struggled to hold up at the point of attack and against bull rushes in the second half. He was also called for a holding penalty, which -as the announcers noted - seemed unnecessary.
Ijalana actually settled down over the last month and had a pretty consistent performance down the stretch. He didn't make as many contributions in the running game, but only got beaten a few times in pass protection, giving up one quarterback hit.
Wesley Johnson also held his own once again at center. He allowed some pressure, including a couple of hits up the middle and twice let his man shed his block to stuff a run, but otherwise made some good contributions in the running game and looks certain to be starting somewhere next year based on his performance this year. It remains to be seen if that will be with the Jets.
Finally, Brent Qvale and Craig Watts saw action as extra linemen. Qvale has somewhat established himself as a versatile reserve type, but Watts hasn't had much of a chance to impress yet.
Bent: Notable from this week's game was the performance of Muhammad Wilkerson, who had easily his most disruptive game of the year. Constantly double-teamed throughout, Wilkerson was holding his ground and even getting penetration in a return to the kind of disruptiveness he'd provided on a consistent basis over the previous four seasons.
Wilkerson had a sack, a tackle for loss, a goal-line stuff and plenty of penetration into the backfield in the running game and when pass rushing. While this still falls short of what he's capable of, as he was still handled at the point of attack a few times, it was really good to see him posing a big problem for the opposition again. And for anyone questioning his effort, it was encouraging to see him hustling to lay a block on Cardale Jones on the fourth quarter interception. I knew there was more to him than money.
The loudest performance of the day came from Sheldon Richardson, who took advantage of Wilkerson being double-teamed to blow up three runs in the backfield, including one which forced a fumble that he was able to recover. He also dropped into coverage to break up a pass. Richardson penetrated the pocket a few times, but his only quarterback hit was negated by offsetting penalties.
That Richardson's most productive performance of the year should come on a day where Wilkerson was back to something near his best is no coincidence. Wilkerson's struggles this year have had a knock-on effect on everyone else. It also underlines what a huge difference it would make if Wilkerson is back to his best next year. Obviously Richardson being a beneficiary of that will depend if he's back but we'll be getting into the various keep-or-dump dilemmas over the next few weeks.
By contrast, Leonard Williams having deservedly been named team MVP earlier in the week, saw his season end with a comparative whimper. Obviously he played his part in holding the Bills to 2.4 yards per carry, but he ended up with just two tackles and one pressure. The exciting thing here is that he's only just started to scratch the surface in terms of his capabilities.
Deon Simon is another young player on the rise and he made some good contributions yesterday, including a goal line stuff and a sack. He was also in on a couple of other run stops and made a good open field tackle on a quarterback scramble after having dropped into coverage. The team didn't seem to lose much with Simon in for the injured Steve McLendon over the last month or so.
Finally, Anthony Johnson was credited with three tackles but overpursued on one play, leading to a big run. He didn't do much to distinguish himself in rotational work after Jarvis Jenkins was released.
Bent: Rookie Jordan Jenkins finished the year on a high as he made some good plays against the run and generated some good pressure. His performance was highlighted by his sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery.
Recent addition Corey Lemonier also laid a big hit on that play, causing the fumble, although Jenkins got official credit. He was also a handful on a few other pass rushes. It sums up how disappointing the Jets outside linebacker play has been that a guy could come in cold having not been able to keep his job on the Browns and provide an immediate upgrade.
Freddie Bishop made some good plays against the run, including two tackles in the backfield, but he was badly caught on the inside on one outside run and didn't generate any pressure as a pass rusher. Bishop has played over 150 snaps over the last four weeks but had just three pressures and no quarterback hits.
Darron Lee had five tackles and a quarterback hit, but he was blocked out of a couple of plays and there were two short yardage plays where he met the runner in the hole but couldn't prevent the first down. This is probably the first time that his lack of size was a major factor in his performance, although once again that perhaps had more to do with him getting there a split second too late to square up to and stop the runner in his tracks.
The one major breakdown Lee had saw him drop into coverage and allow a receiver to drop in behind him all alone. EJ Manuel missed the throw, which should have been an easy touchdown.
Was it his fault though? He initially dropped with the defender and then passed him off assuming someone was behind him. Buster Skrine had run with his receiver on a post route despite the fact the safety was right there. On the other side of the field, everyone appeared to be in zone coverage. It's always hard to tell - and perhaps even if it was Skrine's fault, Lee should have realized and adjusted accordingly.
David Harris once again led the team in tackles, including one in the backfield. He gave up a first down on a short pass and was caught inside on one run though.
Finally, Bruce Carter hasn't played much this season, but he got a chance at some playing time yesterday and responded well. He had a run stuff, a pass break-up and a pressure.
Bent: Darrelle Revis had a memorable day in what could have been his last game as a Jet. Having been selected as a team captain, Revis almost wrapped up his day with a touchdown after intercepting his first pass in over a year and returning it all the way back to the three-yard line.
Revis gave up a couple of first downs, including a long one that saw him pushed to the ground by the receiver running deep. He was also temporarily knocked out of the game on a play where he missed a tackle - not exactly a glowing recommendation for his potential conversion to safety.
Naming him a captain was unexpected and a bit weird in light of his recent comments. Was this a nod to Revis' past, an act of "class" designed to give Revis exactly what he asked for before unceremoniously dumping him? Of course Revis believes the Jets should still pay him a top level salary based on past performance, even while conceding he's not the man he once was. I don't know where he gets his delusions.
Ultimately, this will be one of the biggest decisions of the offseason and I'm not convinced they've made up their minds yet. It's hard to imagine a satisfactory conclusion to the Revis/Jets saga. The Jets just never should have sent him away. That's where they lost him.
Calvin Pryor was responsible for the Revis interception, stepping in front of a defender to deflect the ball into the air. Pryor had an active performance as he was also in on a couple of stops near the line of scrimmage, but his roughing the passer penalty gave the Bills a second bite on fourth down.
Rontez Miles had a quieter day, although he made a touchdown saving tackle on the big pass play in the fourth quarter. He was also in good position on an incompletion.
Darryl Roberts made an unexpected return to the main rotation this week and he broke up a couple of passes, although he was somewhat fortunate on one of those because he didn't know too much about it having initially been beaten. Roberts was beaten twice for first downs and one other time on a pass that was dropped.
Skrine also broke up a couple of passes and was in good position on a couple of other plays. He was beaten for one first down. As noted earlier, Skrine may have been responsible for a coverage breakdown that almost led to a touchdown. Over the course of the season I've noticed that he's been potentially at fault in several such plays, although he's arguably been one of the most consistent defensive backs in coverage. Moreso than anyone else, I wonder how a change of secondary coach would affect him.
After some recent encouraging signs, rookie cornerback Juston Burris did not play on defense and neither did Dexter McDougle, who ended up playing just six snaps all year. Doug Middleton and Marcus Williams played just three snaps between them with Williams giving up a first down in coverage.
Bent: The low-key highlight of the game on special teams was a meaningless fourth quarter punt which actually ended up being a decent return for the Bills. On the play, Peake overpursued and Carter and Bostick lost contain. However, what you perhaps didn't notice was Harris busting his rear end to be the next man down and forcing the return man to redirect at the point of the catch.
A tenth-year veteran probably shouldn't even be playing special teams at this stage of his career, but Harris wasn't going through the motions, even on such a meaningless play in such a meaningless game. What a fantastic example to set to his young teammates. If this proves to be Harris' last game as a Jet then I'll remember him as someone who gave his all to the last. However, on a team that desperately craves leadership, that's the kind of moment that should make everyone think twice about even considering cutting him loose.
Nick Folk had a solid finish to his year (and potentially his Jets career?) by nailing three field goals. One of his kick-offs was a squib kick that led to a long return due to overpursuit from Johnson and Marcus Williams, but he made up for it with his 70-yard onside kick that was recovered for a hilarious touchdown by Middleton.
One day after Alabama scored their 15th non-offensive touchdown of the season, Middleton's score represented the first non-offensive touchdown for a Jets players since Antonio Allen's blocked punt return in December 2013. After a season where the Jets have often gifted their opponents big plays with dumb mistakes, it seemed oddly fitting that this should be the last touchdown they scored all season. Could you imagine that happening in an actual meaningful game?
Also, in kick coverage, McDougle had a couple of tackles. Unfortunately one of them was on Jalin Marshall, who had a couple of nice runbacks as he returned to that role with Nick Marshall out. Ronald Martin and Josh Martin also both made good plays to slow up the return man for McDougle and Lee to make the stop. Bryson Keeton added a special teams tackle in his first NFL game.
Finally, rookie punter Lac Edwards had a couple of good punts in this game, but also put one into the end zone for a touchback from near midfield. He's been a big disappointment all year. You would expect to have the position sorted for the foreseeable future after spending a draft pick, but he'll struggle to beat out any competition next year unless he makes significant improvements.
Bent: The Jets completely outplayed the Bills in yesterday's game and the 30-10 score didn't even flatter them because they should have scored more having been in the red zone several times. I'd like to be able to suggest that maybe the Jets aren't such a bad team after all. However, the Bills had nothing to play for as well as the upheaval caused by the coaching change and the downgrade produced by putting Manuel in for Tyrod Taylor cannot be ignored.
It's true that when the pressure is lifted, players can perform well at the end of the season, with the most obvious recent example being Geno Smith and his "perfect game" a few years ago. The Jets displayed defensive playmaking ability to create three turnovers, got some really fortunate bounces and had a couple of individual performances which defied recent history. After a performance like this, you're left wondering where that was all season.
After a 10-6 campaign last year, optimism was high that the Jets could go from strength to strength in 2016 despite what looked like a more difficult schedule, but I knew the Jets were going to struggle this season. Somehow, I've always known.
Let's not beat around the bush. 2016 was a terrible year, filled with far too many devastating losses to take. Whether the loss that affected you worst was an artistic pioneer, an intergalactic treasure or something more personal and closer to home, we all suffered in 2016 and we only got through it by supporting one another.
There's good news, though. Mercifully, it's all over now. Let's put 2016 in the rear-view mirror. We can finally start to look ahead, fight back and rebuild. This might be a low point, but the only way is up from here.
Draft picks, cap-clearing moves, coaching changes and opportunities for young players to step up and make a name for themselves are on the way. At last, we can start to have the one thing that eluded us throughout the year: