CLEVELAND -- Everybody knows the New York Jets aren't a finished product. They're a young team in the middle of a rebuilding cycle, yet there's enough talent to dominate at times. We've seen the Promising Jets in six of 12 quarters. In the other six, well, now you're talking about the Maddening Jets. There's a wide gap between the two personas, and it's on coach Todd Bowles to narrow it before the season gets away.
They've already reached a pressure point. Yes, that's right, after only three games. They got through the Detroit Lions, Miami Dolphins and Cleveland Browns -- supposedly the easy portion of the schedule -- with a 1-2 record. Now they hit the tough stretch, starting a week from Sunday with the Jacksonville Jaguars on the road.
Players like to say "Pressure makes diamonds." We're about to find out if the Jets have the capability of becoming a gem or just a dime-store knockoff.
"We're going to be a good football team," Bowles insisted late Thursday night after one of the lowest moments of his 51-game tenure -- a 21-17 loss to the Cleveland Browns. "We do some good things. We just have to be consistent."
A work-in-progress team such as the Jets should be a smart, overachieving bunch that shows on a weekly basis that its whole is greater than the sum of its parts. You know that kind of team: It'll fight for 60 minutes, then maybe come up a little short in the end because it lacks talent. The fans can embrace a team like that.
These Jets are not that team.
That kind of team doesn't blow a 14-0 lead to a team that had gone 19 games without a win. That kind of team doesn't commit bad penalties at critical junctures. That kind of team doesn't let a rookie quarterback, in his debut, look like Aaron Rodgers.
The Jets did all that in a shameful loss to Baker Mayfield & Co. that won't soon be forgotten.
"We were doing dumb stuff," wide receiver Quincy Enunwa said. "We were just hoping our playcalling and athletic ability would let us ride it to the end."
Cornerback Morris Claiborne, responsible for one of the killer penalties, said, "We didn't focus enough to get it done."
Naturally, Bowles will get blamed for the debacle by the talk radio crowd, but it's too soon to say he's on the hot seat. No doubt, the lack of discipline and killer instinct falls on his shoulders, but this wasn't a mid-December loss. The season is young, and there's time to fix it. Consider Thursday night the baseline for ineptitude. Yeah, it was bad -- brutal, even -- but let's see how the coach handles it from there.
It won't be easy. The Jaguars' defense could be a nightmare for rookie Sam Darnold, whose confidence -- soaring only 10 days ago -- got dented by Cleveland's pressure schemes. After Jacksonville, the Jets return home to face the Denver Broncos (2-0), with two other strong defensive teams looming on the horizon -- the Minnesota Vikings (1-0-1) and Chicago Bears (1-1).
If Bowles doesn't clean it up, the Jets could be 2-6 at the midpoint, assuming they can take care of the Indianapolis Colts at home. And then the heat will be on because, no matter what he says publicly, CEO Christopher Johnson won't be happy with a repeat of 5-11. When a team is wildly inconsistent, it's a bad look for the coach.
When the team is dumb and inconsistent, it's a really bad look.