Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer 13d

Jets have flipped the tank, thanks to old quarterback and young defense



Here's a look at the first half of the season for the New York Jets and a preview of what to expect in the second half:

First-half snapshot: Surprise! The Jets don't stink. Projected by many to be the worst team in the NFL, they've already won more games (four) than anyone could've expected. They convinced their harshest critics they're not tanking, which seemed to be the game plan after an offseason in which they blew up the roster. They still have personnel deficiencies, but this is a highly competitive team -- a credit to Todd Bowles and his coaching staff. They lost three games by seven points or fewer, with only one blowout defeat. If they hadn't lost their poise in a couple of fourth quarters, they could be 6-3 instead of 4-5. They're getting strong play from their young building blocks, namely Darron Lee, Jamal Adams, Marcus Maye and Robby Anderson. The downside: They've hurt their 2018 draft position, perhaps costing themselves a shot at a top quarterback. Grade: Average.

Midseason MVP: When Josh McCown signed last March, he was slapped with a label that no player wants -- bridge quarterback. He has proven that all bridges aren't created equal. Everybody's favorite journeyman has exceeded expectations. He's an ideal fit in coordinator John Morton's short-pass attack, having completed at least 60 percent of his passes in nine games. He already has six games with a 100-plus passer rating, which is kind of amazing when you consider he had only 16 in his first 14 seasons. Maybe 38 is the new 28.

Best moment: It was last Thursday's win over the Buffalo Bills. In their only prime-time game, the Jets dominated the so-called darlings of the AFC East, recording seven sacks and rushing for 194 yards. They played fast and physical, and they had fun doing it. They snapped a three-game losing streak, showing they weren't ready to fade into irrelevancy.

Worst moment: The meltdown in Miami. The Jets blew a 14-point lead in the final 12 minutes and lost 31-28. Brutal. McCown was intercepted in the final minute on an overly aggressive pass, setting up the game-winning field goal. McCown said he felt "sick" after the game. The play typified a problem for the team -- the inability to perform in clutch situations.

Second-half outlook: The prevailing theme will be job security. Acting owner Christopher Johnson, calling the shots while older brother Woody serves an ambassadorship in England, says Bowles and general manager Mike Maccagnan will be evaluated based on the progress of the team, not wins and losses. Barring a collapse, it seems likely both will return. If they finish 6-10 or better, it's hard to imagine ownership pulling the plug. McCown's job also will be a hot topic. If they fall out of contention, the "play-the-kids" chorus will start chirping. Bowles is in no rush to make that move, which would be akin to waving the white flag. Neither Bryce Petty nor Christian Hackenberg is considered the future starter, so anything more than a one- or two-game audition would be pointless.

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