Jets can't finish, but they've started to build a foundation

The New York Jets ended the season with a 26-6 loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday. Here's a recap of the season and what's next:

Season grade: Average. Clearly, this grade is curved because a 5-11 record, by any objective measure, is terrible. In this case, it's important to remember the big picture. The Jets were supposed to be awful in 2017 -- we're talking Cleveland Browns awful -- and they managed to be competitive, beating a few good teams along the way.

Season in review: The title of the season should be, "The Team That Couldn't Finish." The Jets were a three-quarter team, pushing some of the best teams in the league into the fourth quarter -- and collapsing, sometimes in stunning fashion. They were outscored in the fourth quarter, 140-64, which explains why they lost six games by eight or fewer points. Their personnel deficiencies, masked for 45 minutes, were exposed in the final 15. We could throw out a bunch of stats and theories, but let's not complicate the issue: The NFL is a fourth-quarter league, and the Jets simply didn't have enough talent to survive in that crucible. And don't blame it on the perennial quarterback question. Josh McCown was solid, sometimes terrific, and they still went 5-8 in games he started. They couldn't overcome an inconsistent offensive line and a lack of playmakers on both sides of the ball.

Biggest play of season: For many reasons, it was Austin Seferian-Jenkins' controversial non-touchdown in the Week 6 loss to the New England Patriots. A short touchdown reception was overturned by replay because he "didn't survive the ground," fueling the what's-a-catch? debate in the NFL. The Jets got the double whammy because it was ruled a fumble out of the end zone, resulting in a touchback. Instead of cutting the Patriots' lead to three in the fourth quarter, the Jets were left fuming over a play that typified their season.

He said it: "Being competitive is winning games, and that ain't happening. I don't know how long we're going to say, 'We're in the game.' " -- Jets wide receiver Jermaine Kearse

Key offseason questions

Biggest draft need: It's a no-brainer -- quarterback. Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg are under contract for 2018, but neither is considered the heir apparent. Josh McCown, 38, is a free agent. The Jets desperately need to add a franchise-caliber quarterback. (People have been saying that for nearly 50 years.) With a top seven pick, they could get a shot at one of the top four -- Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen or Baker Mayfield. Prediction: If Darnold declares, they'll try to trade up for him. The fallback is Allen.

Free-agency targets: If general manager Mike Maccagnan doesn't think he can find his quarterback in the draft, he'll break out the checkbook. The Jets will have about $100 million in cap room, so they can bid with any team. They probably will have some level of interest in Kirk Cousins, but it's hard to imagine that marriage happening. Case Keenum, Teddy Bridgewater and McCown are more realistic options. Other targets: C Ryan Jensen and CB E.J. Gaines.

Keeping their own: The Jets don’t have any big-ticket free agents, but they have a small group of players worthy of multiyear contracts -- Seferian-Jenkins, LB Demario Davis and K Chandler Catanzaro. CB Morris Claiborne played well when healthy, but his injury history makes him a long-term risk. McCown would be the ideal "bridge" if they draft a quarterback. Seferian-Jenkins had a solid year with 50 catches, but the Jets aren’t going to make a strong push to re-sign him.

Managing the money: They have one of the best cap situations in the league, but will they spend to the max? Maccagnan is a methodical, build-through-the-draft kind of guy. His biggest splurges, bringing back Darrelle Revis (2015) and re-signing Muhammad Wilkerson (2016), were disasters. Wilkerson was so bad he will be released before mid-March, an $11 million cap savings. Some people in the organization are curious to see if Maccagnan is as aggressive as some people want him to be.