The New York Jets (4-5) will face a familiar foe on Sunday as they travel to Tampa Bay to face Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Buccaneers (2-6) at Raymond James Stadium. The game has already brought out tons of emotion from a Jets fan base that has not soon forgotten 2016. More importantly, the team has a golden opportunity to play themselves back into the thick of the playoff picture and carry some momentum into the bye week with a two-game winning streak.
Revenge game? Yes, for the Jets.
Bucs quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick stated that this one will mean “a little bit extra” but it is difficult to understand why. The Jets gave him more money than anybody else even considered, as well as an opportunity to start games long enough to divide the locker room and throw his teammates, coach, general manager, and owner under the bus. This is absolutely a revenge game for the Jets and this defense, many of whom most certainly did not appreciate Fitzpatrick’s contract saga or the ensuing circus act that followed between he and Brandon Marshall throughout the season. I think I share the same sentiment as most Jet fans who wish to see a ferocious pass rush avenge some of what we were forced to endure last season.
Thin at wide receiver
With Jeremy Kerley suspended for four games and news that ArDarius Stewart tweaked his groin on Thursday, expect significant reps for rookie Chad Hansen. Hansen, along with Jermaine Kearse and Robby Anderson would be the only active wideouts if Stewart does not play, although the Jets do have several options on the practice squad including Jalin Marshall, Damore’ea Stringfellow, and speedster JoJo Natson. Whoever rounds out the Jets group of wideouts on Sunday, expect to see a lot of two-tight end sets involving Eric Tomlinson who has been an important piece to the Jets success on offense.
Can McCown stay hot?
As Josh McCown does his best to top Fitzpatrick’s 2015 performance, one has to wonder how long he can maintain this level of play. McCown currently sits 2nd behind Drew Brees in completion percentage at 70.4%, a number that was almost unthinkable heading into the year considering his previous three seasons (54.5, 63.7, 56.3). Credit offensive coordinator John Morton, who has received significant praise for his creative schemes that have resulted in quick throws with players getting open in space. McCown has quickly grasped the offense while providing true leadership along the way. McCown knows this could very well be his last run as starter, and will look to push this season as far as it can go.
Keys to the game
Even with Matt Forte ruled out (knee), the Jets may still rely heavily on the ground game, which finally opened up last week against the Bills. The Jets best rushing performance of the season came in Forte’s absence earlier in the year against Jacksonville, where Bilal Powell and Elijah McGuire teamed up to rush for 256 yards. Look for the Jets to wear down the Bucs on the ground, as Bowles will have faith in his defense to shut down Doug Martin and force Fitzpatrick into mistakes. With Mike Evans suspended, Fitz will lean heavily on tight ends Cameron Brate and OJ Howard, putting the spotlight on rookies Marcus Maye and Jamal Adams. Offensively, if the Jets need to adjust their game plan and throw the ball, it should not be a problem, as the Bucs pass defense ranks 30th in the league (272.4 yards per game allowed) with a pass rush that is 32nd (8 sacks in 8 games). Morton must continue his solid game planning and continue to make in game adjustments as he did against Buffalo.
What it means
Make no mistake, if the Jets win this Sunday, they will return home following the bye at .500 with meaningful football games to play. At that point, they will have earned the right to consider themselves in the hunt. As a fan, that is everything you could have wanted from this season. Young players are developing and the team is gaining valuable experience down the stretch. On the other hand, a loss would be disappointing and raise significant questions. Without Winston or Evans, the Jets are significantly better than the Bucs on paper, meaning this game will come down to execution and staying disciplined. If the Jets truly turned a corner with last Thursday’s dominating win over the Bills, than beating Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Bucs is a must. Expect a motivated Jets team to show up in Tampa understanding what is at stake. Bowles continues to preach that at 4-5 they have accomplished nothing to this point, and the players seem to be buying in. Now they must deliver if they wish to keep their 2017 season alive. Jets win 30-10.