Bowles, Jets aim to build off surprising, disappointing year
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) The New York Jets took a huge leap forward in Todd Bowles' first season as coach. And then, they got stuck on the outside of the playoff picture.
After winning just four games last season under Rex Ryan, the Jets went 10-6 and created a sense of confidence and optimism throughout the organization. But with a chance to reach the postseason for the first time since the 2010 season, New York blew it - and the players and coach were left wondering what could have been.
''I think we have something special here,'' wide receiver Brandon Marshall said, ''and I thought we had the formula to make a run at it.''
Marshall, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and wide receiver Eric Decker combined to set a handful of franchise records, leading the Jets' surprisingly efficient and high-scoring offense under Chan Gailey. Bowles' aggressive defense also had some big performances, finishing fourth overall in yardage allowed.
It all contributed to a five-game winning streak that put the Jets right in the middle of the AFC playoff mix.
But with the season on the line, they couldn't get it done. The Jets lost to Ryan's Buffalo Bills and Pittsburgh topped Cleveland to send New York home disappointed.
''I can be better,'' Bowles said. ''You learn some things as a coach. I'm harder on myself first before I look at anybody else. I can do a lot of things better.''
Bowles and general manager Mike Maccagnan have plenty to do this offseason, including making decisions on scheduled free agents such as Fitzpatrick, running backs Chris Ivory, Bilal Powell and Stevan Ridley, defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson, and nose tackle Damon Harrison.
''I thought we did a pretty good job of coming together and finding a way with guys that were new in an offense and haven't really played with each other,'' Fitzpatrick said. ''The more you can keep that together, the core group together, the better it is.''
Here are a few things to know as the Jets look to build on this season:
FITZMAGIC THE SEQUEL?: Acquired from Houston for a sixth-round draft pick last March, Fitzpatrick was expected be a veteran backup. After Geno Smith had his jaw broken by a punch from Ikemefuna Enemkpali in training camp, Fitzpatrick was thrust into the starting role and never relinquished it even after tearing a ligament in his left thumb.
The 33-year-old Fitzpatrick set a franchise record with 31 touchdown passes, helping the Jets put up a team-best 5,925 net yards of offense. Fitzpatrick said he wants to remain with the Jets, and Bowles said he'd be the starter next season if he re-signs.
''I'm better right now than I have been in any point of my career, physically, mentally, all of that stuff,'' Fitzpatrick said. ''I feel like I've got a lot of good years left.''
DYNAMIC DUO: Marshall and Decker established themselves as one of the league's most dangerous wide receiver tandems.
Marshall, acquired from Chicago for a fifth-round pick, set team records with 109 receptions, 1,502 yards receiving, 10 100-yard receiving games, and tied the mark with 14 TD catches. Decker finished with 80 catches for 1,027 yards and 12 TD receptions. The duo scored in the same game nine times, an NFL record.
D-LINE DECISIONS: Wilkerson was looking for a contract extension, but never received one. He's coming off a Pro Bowl season in which he had a career-high 12 sacks, but broke his right leg in the season finale. The Jets will now have to weigh letting him hit free agency or possibly using the franchise tag on him.
Harrison has established himself as one of the NFL's top nose tackles and could fetch a huge contract. New York still has Leonard Williams, coming off a solid rookie season, and Sheldon Richardson, who could be facing another suspension in 2016 for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy last offseason. It seems unlikely the Jets will be able to keep them all.
BACKFIELD IN MOTION?: The only running back under contract for next season is Zac Stacy, who ended the season on IR with a broken ankle. Ivory finished as the AFC's rushing leader with 1,070 yards, his first 1,000-yard season. But he sputtered down the stretch, getting only six carries in the season finale.
Powell was a versatile presence in the backfield, but has had injury issues. Ridley didn't show much after coming back from a serious knee injury suffered last season.
NEED FOR SPEED: While many of the Jets' key players are in their early 30s - including Fitzpatrick, Marshall, Darrelle Revis, David Harris, D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold - Bowles made it clear the team must address overall speed for next season.
''I think we need to get faster,'' Bowles said. ''I don't know about younger. We need to get faster. Obviously, certain areas we're going to have more team speed on the field and that's always a process for me, being a faster team.''
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