EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.: If you found the how-to book for coaching decisions in the NFL, this one would have been outlined pretty clear in black-and-white.
The answer? Try. To. Score.
With 1:30 to play in the first half of Sunday's victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Jets took over at their own 15 yard line with all three timeouts. There was, in theory, plenty of time for the Jets to work their way down the field, get into scoring position and add some points before the end of the half. Heck, forget football fan, anyone who's ever played 'Madden' could orchestrate a drive with that much time and a full complement of timeouts.
But instead of attempting to work down the field, the Jets ran three straight times and punted the ball. The Jaguars, two plays later, scored a touchdown.
Too conservative? What the heck were head coach Todd Bowles and offensive coordinator Chan Gailey thinking? Bad call?
Actually, no. It was the right one.
See, the Jets weren't in a "normal" situation, no matter how "normal" said situation looked from the outside. This wasn't just a normal offense setting up looking for more points. This was a bruised and battered bunch struggling.
On the Jets previous three offensive drives, the team had punted on each. Just a drive before, starting center Nick Mangold had left the game with a neck injury. Starting right guard Willie Colon didn't dress for the game to begin with. The line was playing, well, pretty awful to be blunt. There was constant pressure being put on Fitzpatrick, and no running game to speak of.
So here was the situation presented to Bowles:
- The Jets, as outlined above, were playing without their starting center and starting right guard
- Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was under pressure regularly on each of the previous two drives
- While the Jets did have three timeouts, so did the Jaguars. If Fitzpatrick was pressured, or threw any incompletions, not only would Jacksonville be getting the ball back, but they'd be getting the ball back with each of their timeouts still in play.
- Even if the Jets moved down the field, the team would need to go the full 85 yards and score a touchdown because kicker Nick Folk was out and replacement (punter) Ryan Quigley couldn't do anything more than PAT's.
So, knowing all of the above, what did Bowles choose to do?
He ran it three times with Chris Ivory. He made Jacksonville use two of their three timeouts (on first down, they let the clock run all the way down). He then sent Quigley on the field to punt and put faith in his defense (which talked earlier this year of being the NFL's best) to make a stop.
"We were backed up pretty good," Bowles said. "I thought if we got something going on first down that we would try and open it up. We didn't get it going."
What ended up happening? Quigley shanked the ensuing punt, which traveled just 31 yards and rolled dead at midfield. Arguably the NFL's best defense didn't make a stop, but instead had two secondary break downs that resulted in a 20-yard pass, and 30-yard touchdown.
Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20.
And Bowles did take the conservative route. But in this situation, it was the right one.
It was unrealistic to ask an offense without two of their starting lineman, three receivers banged up and their quarterback playing with a gimpy hand to go 85 yards in 1:30. Period. Especially, again, considering the fact that the field goal wasn't in play. It was touchdown, or bust.
Is there a chance the Jets could have done it? Sure. But there's also a chance Fitzpatrick could have been sacked, or thrown two incompletions, and instead of giving the ball back to the Jaguars with under 30 seconds to play, the team had over a minute with a full set of timeouts. The risk of giving Jacksonville the ball back with so much time, out-weighed the small chance the Jets could move down the field and score.
Bowles trusted Quigley to make a better punt than he did. He trusted his defense to make a stop when they didn't. He played safe with an offense bruised and battered.
Was it the safe call? Absolutely. Was it playing not to lose? Yes.
But in this game, in this situation, it sure as hell wasn't the wrong call.