OAKLAND, Calif. -- Todd Bowles knows what he has. He knows it's a young roster, lacking talent in certain areas. As much as he wants to win, he understands the big picture for the New York Jets. That was evident by what he said and did after Sunday's 45-20 loss to the Oakland Raiders.
After his postgame news conference, in which he acknowledged the team's margin for error is "very small," Bowles worked the locker room. He stopped to chat with defensive linemen Leonard Williams and Muhammad Wilkerson. He walked across the room and talked to wide receiver Jermaine Kearse, who scored the Jets' two touchdowns.
This was unusual for Bowles, who doesn't make too many postgame appearances in the locker room -- at least not in full view of the media. His message, the players said, was to stay positive. He didn't rant and rave after the game. Instead, he tried to make them believe the difference in the game was only five plays -- including three long touchdowns by the Raiders and a muff by punt returner Kalif Raymond that set up another Oakland touchdown.
"We might have grown as a team with this loss," Bowles told reporters. "The guys started believing in each other and they played hard. We just can't have mistakes here and there."
The Jets are 0-2 for the first time since 2007, and there will be many more Sundays like this. To keep his players together, to keep them from kissing off the season before October arrives, Bowles tried the up-close-and-personal touch. As soon as he lost the game (hardly a surprise), he started coaching Weeks 3 to 17.
His team apparently listened. Wilkerson said there was "a positive" feeling in the locker room, claiming the defensive line -- called out last week by Bowles -- "responded real good."
The Jets allowed 180 yards on the ground, bringing their two-game total to 370. They surrendered 45 points, the most by a Bowles-coached team -- and, remember, they had a few stinkers last season. The defense is young, but not that young. The unit is underachieving, and that has to be fixed. The Jets allowed 410 total yards -- alarming. If you're carrying a silver-lining playbook, you might say 121 yards came on three plays. That's what Bowles was selling.
"Some of the young guys played young at times," Bowles said.
Bowles usually stays out of discussions about the talent level of the team, lest he infringe on general manager Mike Maccagnan's turf, but he came close to acknowledging the current state of affairs. We all know the deal; they're rebuilding. They're sacrificing short-term gain for long-term growth. Some call it tanking.
"We're not good enough to correct our mistakes and win the game," Bowles said. "We have to play pretty good, sound football, and we didn't."
The Jets lost to a far superior team, but they hung around for nearly 40 minutes, closing to within 21-13 midway through the third quarter. The inevitable unraveling occurred, as the Raiders proceeded to score 21 unanswered points to pull away. Make no mistake, some players were upset. Linebacker Jordan Jenkins said, "There's no explanation for it. ... We have to stop making idiotic mistakes."
Jenkins was in the minority; most players tried to see the positives. Quarterback Josh McCown, ever the optimist, said, "You look at this kind of loss and the scoreboard, and it doesn't feel like you can find a lot of good. But we're going to do that because we want to keep establishing ourselves and the things that we're good at."
They scored two touchdowns, one more than last week. Their running game improved by nearly 400 percent from Week 1. Baby steps.
It's the right approach, but it doesn't ease the Monday-morning pain for a frustrated fan base.