For the first time in his short head coaching tenure, Todd Bowles is taking heat for in-game decisions. It happens to every coach, experienced and inexperienced.
Sunday was the New York Jets' first down-to-the-wire contest, amplifying the importance of clock and game management. There were a handful of crunch-time moves that raised questions in the aftermath of the 30-23 loss to the New England Patriots. It made for an agonizing Monday at One Jets Drive.
"When you're going against a team like that, and you have a chance to put the knife in them, you have to do it," offensive lineman Willie Colon said. "If not, they're going to turn around and do it to you. That's what happened."
Let us dissect:
1. The third-and-17 debacle: With 10:46 remaining, and the Jets holding a four-point lead, they decided to play a Cover 2 zone behind a four-man rush. Tom Brady had time to throw and rifled a pass over linebacker David Harris and between safeties Dion Bailey and Marcus Gilchrist for 27 yards to Julian Edelman. It was the biggest play in the game. It was a Hall of Fame throw by Brady, but it also was a conservative call by Bowles. The call wasn't the issue, according to Bowles, who said, "We were fine, schematically. We just didn't stop them."
Bowles absolved Harris, who accepted blame after the game. Bailey, an injury replacement, also took responsibility. Bowles didn't disagree, saying, "He's right, he could've played it better." A review of the game tape showed that Bailey turned to the outside instead of inside toward the hash, leaving a gap in the middle of the field for Edelman.
What they should've done: They should've put Darrelle Revis on Edelman -- best corner on best wide receiver. It was a money situation that called out for a money player.
2. No defensive timeouts: The most glaring situation occurred with 1:56 left, with the Patriots facing a second-and-3 from the Jets' 15-yard line. Bowles had all three timeouts, but he let Brady run the clock down to 1:18 before snapping it -- bleeding 38 seconds from the clock. Why not use a timeout?
Bowles played the percentages based on the belief the Patriots were going to pass. Why wouldn't they? They threw on 90 percent of their offensive plays, the highest mark in the NFL over the past 10 years. Bowles' hunch proved correct when the Patriots went to an empty backfield. He figured it would either be an incomplete pass, stopping the clock, or a conversion to make it first down. If there had been a sack, or any stop for that matter, he said he would've called a timeout on third down. And they most definitely went for the sack, sending an all-out blitz.
Bowles said it would've been a "wasted" timeout if the Patriots had converted; it almost sounded like he was conceding a first down. Previously in the game, the Jets stopped them on two of three second-down situations with two/three yards to go. The same thing happened with under 2:50 to play. There, he let the clock run on second-and-2. In that case it worked because Brady threw an incompletion. One minute later, Bowles was counting on the same result.
Basically, Bowles felt the Patriots -- ahead by three, already in field goal range -- were a bigger enemy than the clock. So he put it on the defense, and it backfired, as Brady beat the blitz with a 15-yard scoring toss to a wide-open Rob Gronkowski.
"There was a lot of situation football being played at that moment," Revis said. "I don't know if a timeout should've been called or not. That's coach's call."
What they should've done: After the game, Bowles' reasoning was confusing, but he made it clear on Monday: He doesn't believe in using timeouts in second-and-short situations, especially not against a red-hot Brady. If he had used his first timeout at 1:56, and the Patriots converted, he would've been forced into burning his second and third timeouts to prevent the Patriots from milking the entire clock. In retrospect, Bowles' strategy makes more sense than it did in the immediate aftermath.
3. The Hail Mary that wasn't: After recovering an onside kick at the Patriots' 49 with 15 seconds left, Ryan Fitzpatrick threw a 12-yard pass to Eric Decker over the middle. By now, they were out of timeouts, raising the question: Why not go for the sideline to stop the clock? The game tape shows that a deep out to Jeremy Kerley would've been available on the left side. Decker was tackled with eight seconds left, clock running. There was only one second left when Fitzpatrick used the clock play.
"When it’s sitting at 15 seconds, we’re of the opinion that we can do that," Fitzpatrick said. "We can get everybody up and we just felt like getting an extra 10-plus yards was going to help us out a lot in terms of the percentage for the Hail Mary."
What they should've done: It was unconventional, but the strategy worked. There was time for a Hail Mary ... well, until Brandon Marshall was flagged for a false start. The mandatory 10-second runoff meant game over.