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Jets’ first loss exposes lack of depth

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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — The honeymoon lasted two weeks for the new-look New York Jets.

Some familiar issues bubbled to the surface Sunday, when the Jets never led in a 24-17 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated.

In pursuing the fifth 3-0 start in franchise history and their first three-game winning streak since 2011, the Jets were instead reminded how far away they are from being an elite team.

Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who cemented his grip on the starting job by throwing for four touchdown passes in the Jets’ first two wins, reverted back to journeyman form by going 35 of 58 for 283 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. It wasn’t all Fitzpatrick’s fault, but his struggles without a No. 1 back (Chris Ivory was active but didn’t play after battling quad and groin injuries the last two weeks) and No. 2 wide receiver (Eric Decker was out with a knee injury) amplified how tough it is to win in the NFL with an offense predicated on ball control.

“Circumstances kind of made us throw more,” Fitzpatrick said. “But the winning formula for us is not going to be turning the ball over and throwing it 58 times. I think we know that.”

The Jets also committed costly mistakes on defense, where linebacker Demario Davis let running back Ryan Mathews get free on a wheel route that turned into a 23-yard touchdown, and specials teams, where Eagles running back Darren Sproles eluded five tackles on his way to returning a punt 89 yards for a touchdown.

“We played hard but just didn’t play smart at times,” head coach Todd Bowles said following his first loss. “We didn’t make enough plays, but it’s a long season.

“We’re going to correct mistakes, figure it out this week and move on.”

In doing so, they’ll lament an opportunity to build momentum and make an authoritative statement that this season could be different than the final four years of Rex Ryan’s reign. Instead, the loss Sunday – the fifth straight time the Jets have lost following a Monday night game – proved to be a telling sign of a talent-deficient team that hasn’t yet broken a long cycle of mediocrity.

“The 2-0 start, just being at home, having the crowd in it, you could kind of feel the buzz and the excitement pregame,” Fitzpatrick said. “To come out and disappoint them, it’s tough. Now we know that we’re not going to go undefeated this year with the loss and we’ve just got to continue to put our head down and work and work and don’t let this affect us in a negative way.”

REPORT CARD VS. EAGLES

–PASSING OFFENSE: D. QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (35-for-58, 283 yards, two touchdowns, three interceptions) offered up a reminder that the best thing about him is he isn’t Geno Smith. Fitzpatrick tied a career-high in attempts but averaged just 4.88 yards per throw. With No. 2 WR Eric Decker out and RB Chris Ivory in uniform but not playing, Fitzpatrick had no choice but to dink and dunk and take ill-advised shots downfield. WR Brandon Marshall (10 catches for 109 yards and a touchdown) had a good final line, but nothing could make up for the boneheaded decision to try and lateral to TE Jeff Cumberland following a 15-yard gain in the second quarter. The ball was recovered by the Eagles, who scored what turned out to be the decisive touchdown seven plays later. WR Jeremy Kerley (six catches for 33 yards and a touchdown) reminded the Jets he still exists, as well as of his limitations. Rookie WR Devin Smith (three catches for 39 yards) made his NFL debut and was the target of an end zone interception by Fitzpatrick.

–RUSHING OFFENSE: F. Game flow had something to do with the nearly non-existent running game – the Jets rushed the ball just 16 times for 47 yards – but it also magnified the lack of a No. 1-caliber back behind Ivory. RB Bilal Powell (10 carries for 31 yards) got lead back duties and proved again he’s a jack-of-all-trades who simply isn’t equipped to be the No. 1 option in a backfield. It isn’t a good sign for RB Zac Stacy (two carries for three yards), a big back type like Ivory, that he barely saw the field in Ivory’s absence. He could lose his roster spot when RB Stevan Ridley is ready to come off the reserve/PUP list.

PASS DEFENSE: B-minus. The Eagles showed zero interest in testing the banged-up duo of CBs Darrelle Revis (hamstring, groin) and Antonio Cromartie (hyperextended knee). WR Jordan Matthews (six catches for 49 yards) was the only wideout to catch a pass, and his long gainer went for a mere 17 yards. But the Jets’ linebackers again proved to be liabilities in coverage, most notably when RB Ryan Mathews got open behind LB Demario Davis on a wheel route and caught a perfectly placed pass from QB Sam Bradford before racing into the end zone for a 23-yard touchdown. The Eagles’ other big gain of the day came when TE Zach Ertz got wide open for a 21-yard completion.

RUSH DEFENSE: B-minus. The Eagles averaged just 3.2 yards per carry (39 carries for 123 yards) but were able to carve our yardage when they needed it. Mathews broke off a 27-yarder on the Eagles’ first series, during which they rushed five times for 40 yards before settling for a field goal. The Eagles rushed for 40 yards on their first scoring drive. Mathews (11 yards) and Sproles (12 yards) also had productive carries on the drive that ended with Mathews’ touchdown catch. And the duo combined for 17 yards on four carries on the drive Sproles capped with a one-yard touchdown plunge.

SPECIAL TEAMS: D. The Jets fared well other than surrendering an 89-yard punt return for a touchdown by Eagles RB Darren Sproles. Other than that, Mr. Bowles, how was the play? P Ryan Quigley actually did his job on the fateful return by hanging a punt five seconds in the air and directing it to the left sideline. But the Jets missed a whopping five tackles as the shiftiest player in the NFL raced into the end zone for a crushing touchdown. Quigley bounced back from a rough first two weeks by averaging 46.4 yards on eight punts, three of which pinned the Eagles inside their own 20-yard-line. K Nick Folk nailed his only attempt, a 53-yarder with 2:34 left that kept the Jets’ flickering hopes alive. But the Eagles recovered the subsequent onside kick. Kerley averaged a solid 9.9 yards on seven punt returns while Stacy averaged 20.1 yards on four kickoff returns.

COACHING: F. Rookie head coach Todd Bowles had a bad day from start to finish Sunday. He unnecessarily burnt a timeout in the second quarter by challenging an obvious non-catch by Kerley, who made a terrific one-handed grab but clearly landed with one foot out of bounds. Rookie WR Devin Smith, making his NFL debut, was inexplicably asked to be a gunner on the long punt return touchdown by Sproles. And why was Ivory active if he couldn’t even play a snap? That the Jets were flat on a short week against a desperate opponent wasn’t shocking, but it still reflects poorly on Bowles. Offensive coordinator Chan Gailey’s conservative play-calling garnered some boos from the restless faithful, but with two of his three biggest weapons sidelined, he had little choice other than to play it safe.


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