The Jets had a chance to establish themselves as contenders during this two-week stretch, to show they're ahead of their own rebuilding schedule. All they had to do was beat two very beatable teams.
Instead, on Sunday in Miami, they blew it. Again. Given an opportunity to take a positive step towards playoff contention, they were no-shows - again -- in a very big spot.
And that was an all-too-familiar sight for this team under Jets coach Todd Bowles.
That's why, instead of a playoff chase, the rest of this season has now become a referendum on Bowles and whether he should return in 2019. It's more about him than GM Mike Maccagnan, because Jets ownership seems to have bought into Maccagnan's three-year plan to build a contender by next season. He'll almost certainly get to remain at least until then.
Bowles' job, however, just doesn't feel nearly as secure.
And at this point, it shouldn't be. It's true that most of his players love him and a coaching change wouldn't be welcomed news in the locker room. But he's 23-34 now in his 3 1/2 years with the Jets, and he's leading a franchise that feels like it's regressing, not progressing.
And the players have had it, too.
"I'm pissed off," second-year safety Jamal Adams said on Sunday after the Jets' lifeless, 13-6 loss in Miami. "I'm sick of losing. Enough is enough. I'm fed up with losing. I don't know what else to say."
Actually, Adams did have something else to say. He insisted "It's not Coach Bowles' fault."
"It's not Coach Bowles' fault. He takes a lot of … things, but it's not his fault."
And he's right. Bowles has been dealt a bad hand with this thin roster, weak offensive line, no true No. 1 receiver and now a slew of damaging injuries. And he has to survive that with a rookie quarterback whose struggles he has to endure for the good of the future of the franchise.
But if this is all about the future - and it definitely is - the Jets need to decide if Bowles is really the man to lead them where they want to go. And perhaps more importantly, they need to answer this question: Is the 54-year-old, long-time defensive coach the right man to get the most out of Sam Darnold?
In an era of offensive explosions around the NFL, with young, offensive whiz-kids popping up all over the league, that's an increasingly difficult argument to make.
That's why the regression of Darnold the last three weeks - in which he has a passer rating of 43.3 -- was, at the very least, alarming. It happens to rookie quarterbacks. There's a good chance this is just a small blip on his radar - nothing more than an extended set of growing pains. But they still need someone to lead him out of this mess - the way that Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay helped their quarterback, Jared Goff, after he struggled as a rookie under old-school coach Jeff Fisher.
There are many other indictments of Bowles, of course. His teams commit too many penalties. They've always been undisciplined. His clock management is often suspect. And for a defensive guru, it's odd how they've never been able to generate a consistent pass rush. His teams have also never been able to handle any kind of success, nor do they usually rise to the occasion in big moments - the latest being Sunday afternoon.
That matters, but not nearly as much as what's best for Darnold, because he is the future of the franchise and he'll be here long after Bowles is gone. The only question is whether that should be sooner or later. Should they give Bowles a shot with presumably more weapons next season? Or do they make a run at the next offensive whiz kid - someone like Vikings offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, perhaps?
What happens next matters. The Jets have seven games left. Barring a miracle, they're not making the playoffs, but they need to come out of this three-game tailspin and not turn December into another death march played in a mostly empty stadium filled with fans of the opposing team and a few angry Jets fans chanting for Bowles to go. They need to show fight, pick up some wins - including some they're not expected to get -- and rediscover their offense. Darnold needs to reverse course and start showing some progress.
And they all need to finish on a strong note to make everyone believe there really is hope for 2019.
Otherwise, it will be time to make a change, and there's no way to avoid that. These Jets have to prove they can and will respond to Bowles now, otherwise next season they'll have to respond to somebody else.