In a very Jet-like way, their 31-28 win in Cleveland Sunday helped them and hurt them, was encouraging and discouraging. It's great that they won to keep hope alive for 2016, but it seems clear at this point that 2017 should matter more.
Meanwhile, a win is a win, but after an ugly first half and barely squeaking by the winless Browns, how much can this win really mean? The answer to that is still to be determined by at least what the Jets do over the next two weeks, and maybe even beyond that.
All they care about at the moment is that they still have their dream of being 5-5 at the bye, and returning for a potentially important game against the Patriots in Week 12. Is that dream realistic? And the way they played on Sunday, does it really matter? Shouldn't they be looking towards next year already instead? All good questions, which hopefully will at least be partially answered in my five takeaways from the Jets' hideous-looking win over the 0-8 Browns:
1.) Their running game was humming
Disclaimer: The Browns' defense stinks, and that goes double for their run defense. But if you ignore that for a moment, this is the way the Jets' offense was supposed to work. They got a heavy dose of Matt Forte (25 carries, 82 yards, 2 touchdowns) and some Bilal Powell (6-76-1) and they pounded away to the tune of 171 yards on 35 carries. That opened things up for Ryan Fitzpatrick eventually, and it's a big part of why his disastrous start (3 of 14 for 30 yards) became an OK game (16 for 34, 228 yards).
Ideally they'd get Powell involved a little more and both of them would be more involved in the passing attack (they combined for three catches for 19 yards on six targets). But especially with WR Eric Decker out and with Fitzpatrick still looking shaky, the running game is the Jets' key to success. Even when it's not working they have to keep trying. It gives them a much better chance than putting the ball in Fitzpatrick's hands.
2.) Quincy Enunwa can be dangerous, if Fitzpatrick can get him the ball
He had a nice game -- four catches for 93 yards, including a touchdown and a 57-yard catch. The only issue is those weren't a lot of catches for someone who was targeted 11 times. Not all of that was Enunwa's issue. Fitzpatrick targeted Enunwa and Brandon Marshall a total of 20 times and they only combined to catch eight passes. They were very well covered during much of the game, and especially early, Fitzpatrick was under pressure and many of his throws were rushed.
Yes, Enunwa needs to do a better job of getting consistently open. But when he does, he's a weapon. Not a Decker-like weapon, but a decent No. 2 and boy would he have made a terrific No. 3 receiver if Decker were still healthy. Maybe that's something to think about next season if Decker is back, or if the Jets can get another big target to flank Marshall on the outside.
3.) Sticking with FitzMagic was the right call
Yes, it's obvious in hindsight since it all worked out, but Todd Bowles was correct not to panic when his quarterback was 3 of 14 for 30 yards in the first half. That's because it really wasn't Fitzpatrick's fault. Marshall had a big drop. His receivers weren't getting open. And his offensive line was so bad, most of his throws were rushed. Feel free to put some of that on Fitzpatrick if you want, but it still wouldn't have been a good situation for Bryce Petty to come in and get his first NFL snaps. Never mind that he's only been practicing for three weeks since missing six with a shoulder injury, but he had split reps during the week with rookie Christian Hackenberg. To throw him in to this mess would've been a desperate search for a spark.
It was much better to see if Fitzpatrick could turn things around. Like him or not, he gives the Jets the best chance to win right now and the Jets have to ride him as long as there's life left in their season. As soon as there's not -- which may come at the next loss -- it's Petty time, because then it's all about next year.
4.) I still don't know what's happened to the Jets' defense
I know they played better in the second half, but the Browns are so bad I just don't care. I'm blown away by how the winless Browns blew through them on two of the first three drives, and then again at the end of the game. I'm also continually shocked at how everyone -- yes, me included -- so badly overestimated this unit. They were supposed to be one of the best defenses in the NFL. But it's much closer to the worst -- and against the pass, it is the worst, which is also stunning considering how often they've been behind.
The pass rush, against a banged up offensive line, was again wildly inconsistent and held to just one Muhammad Wilkerson sack. The secondary continues to be an adventure. And the way Darrelle Revis was abused by Terrelle Pryor -- six catches for 101 yards in the first half, almost all with Revis in coverage -- was shameful. The rest of the secondary isn't much better, which at this point may be the only thing keeping him from a full-time move to safety. Maybe the talent was never really there. Although if the Jets think it is, then at some point they've got to consider replacing defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers.
5.) The Jets' playoff chances really are a longshot
It's good to dream, and if the Jets can get to 5-5 at the bye so their Week 12 Sunday night game against New England matters, at least they'll have salvaged some fun out of this season. But their situation still remains bleak. It hurts them that the team they're chasing in their division is probably the best team in football (the 7-1 Patriots). But if the season ended right now, the Wild Card teams in the AFC would be the defending champion Denver Broncos (6-2) and the Kansas City Chiefs (5-2), who have already beaten the Jets.
Yeah, I suppose the Jets could always run the table, but with two games against the Patriots still to come and a few other chances to stumble, it's hard to imagine even their most optimistic supporters think anything more than 8-8 or 9-7 is possible. For that to be enough, they'd need the Broncos and Chiefs (or maybe the Raiders instead) to basically collapse in the second half and none of the other six teams in front of them in the standings to make a run. So is it possible? Sure, anything's possible. But they may need to go 7-1 the rest of the way to do it. It means their margin for error is basically gone.