PHILADELPHIA — What does a coach say to an 0-4 team that is so utterly dysfunctional on one side of the ball that it’s dragging down an entire season? Adam Gase was faced with that predicament Sunday in the cramped visitors’ locker room at Lincoln Financial Field. It was an important moment for the New York Jets‘ coach, whose team is vulnerable in so many ways. Say the wrong thing and …
The last thing he needs is a fractured locker room, offense versus defense.
So the Jets’ coach did the smart thing: He pointed the finger at himself, something he didn’t do after their season-opening loss.
“The defense is playing good, the special teams is playing good,” Gase told reporters after the 31-6 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, relating his message to the team. “We all know what group needs to play better. That’s on me. I told those guys in there that I’ll get it fixed. It’s on me, nobody else. That’s what we’re going to do.”
Aside from scoring points, a major problem since Week 1, Gase’s biggest challenge is keeping the team together. From a chemistry standpoint, it could go sideways quickly if the finger pointing starts. All the ingredients are there, but it’s on Gase to maintain the harmony as the team combats arguably the worst offensive slump in franchise history — only two touchdowns in four games.
Gase has been preaching “culture” from the moment he walked in the door, and he would look foolish if he loses the locker room before Halloween. He reportedly alienated some defensive players in his previous gig with the Miami Dolphins, so maybe he has learned something. His message apparently got through, because every player stuck to the company line after the game.
There was no blame game, no outward signs of frustration. Running back Le’Veon Bell said, “I know we’re close [to being a good offense]. We’re on the brink.” Parroting Gase, he also praised the defense and special teams.
Everybody knows what’s going on. Yes, the offensive line has performed horribly — 23 sacks allowed — but the major reason for the offensive crash is the quarterback situation. It’s painfully clear that Luke Falk, fired by three different teams (including the Jets), is not equipped to be a NFL starter. It was a minor miracle he was able to walk off the field after nine sacks and 16 quarterback hits — hooray for his toughness — but there’s a reason why he was on the practice squad.
Gase, perhaps the unluckiest coach in recent NFL history, has been stuck with Falk for two-and-a-half games because of Sam Darnold‘s mononucleosis and Trevor Siemian‘s season-ending ankle injury. With Falk behind center, the offense has managed only one touchdown — a one-play, 19-yard possession Sunday that was all Vyncint Smith. The speedy wide receiver, signed two weeks ago, scored on an end-around in the fourth quarter, probably because the Eagles had lost interest by then.
Look, Gase doesn’t get a free pass. His offense looked unprepared at the outset and it failed to attack Philadelphia’s vulnerable secondary, ranked 32nd. He did Falk no favors by limiting his practice reps last week, putting his eggs in the Darnold basket. It was a mistake by the coach. He insisted Falk “had a lot of reps the last few weeks. He did plenty this week to be ready for the game. I don’t think that was a reason we had an issue.”
He’s right, the Jets didn’t lose because of that, but he didn’t help his young quarterback, that’s for sure. Still, it’s unfair to judge Gase’s offensive acumen until he gets a healthy Darnold back in the lineup. What can be judged is his ability to maintain team unity. If his offense can’t score points on the field, the coach needs to score them by keeping his players from dividing.