Jets coach Todd Bowles

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Keidel: While Darnold Develops, Bowles Deserves Longer Leash

Finally With A Legit QB, Jets Coach Has Shot To Prove Himself

Jason Keidel
October 18, 2018 - 11:00 am

When we ponder the NFL's greatest quarterbacks, we often talk about his boss wearing the headset. From Bradshaw and Noll, to Montana and Walsh, to Brees and Payton, to Brady and Belichick, it seems a great passer is healthy portions of talent and tutor. 

Fifteen games into his first season as Jets head coach, Todd Bowles was 10-5. Then Ryan Fitzpatrick threw a brutal interception in Buffalo and the Jets failed to punch their ticket to the playoffs. Gang Green hasn't contended since that wayward pass -- going 10-22 in the two subsequent seasons -- and has started a conga line of woeful quarterbacks in Fitzpatrick's place. Not coincidentally, Bowles has drawn swarms of criticism, his seat warmer by the week. 

No one can say for sure how much of a QB is nature versus nurture. But now that the Jets have Sam Darnold under center, their prospects seem exponentially better, and Bowles has his first real shot at winning football games. And the better Darnold plays, the more likely Bowles keeps his job. 

Despite being the youngest QB to start an NFL game, Darnold played well beyond his years in his first game, a 48-17 thrashing of the Lions at Detroit. Then the Jets lost their next three games while Darnold played with a rookie's inconsistency. Now at 3-3 and fresh off two straight wins, we're back on the Darnold bandwagon, and folks aren't so publicly pining for Bowles to be booted from the Meadowlands. 

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Is Bowles clearly the best man to lead Gang Green? Not necessarily. But he never had a real shot until now. He never had a potentially great thrower and leader until the Jets drafted that hulking kid from USC. History is not entirely on Darnold's side. Between the failure rates for kids who don't play three years of college to the phalanx of failed QBs who played for the Trojans, Darnold could be a big tease. 

But you don't have to be David Cutcliffe -- the quarterback guru who mentored Peyton and Eli Manning -- to be excited at seeing what Darnold can do. And no one should embrace Darnold's growth more than Bowles, whose vocational future is tethered to his QB's growth. 

Bowles's detractors -- chief among them is WFAN's Joe Benigno -- have long campaigned for Gang Green's coach to be canned. And Benigno does make valid points. The Jets have played with a lack of ability and discipline, their defenders often flagged for senseless, redundant infractions -- all of which feels quite egregious considering Bowles made his bones as a defensive mind. The Jets have also employed a gaggle of miscreants who can't keep it clean off the field, from Sheldon Richardson to Robby Anderson to Dylan Donahue. 

But how often has a great quarterback doubled as mascara for an ugly defense? How many times has Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady or Drew Brees saved a sinking ship with a spectacular, last-minute drive? Now that the Legion of Boom has been embalmed, Russell Wilson has kept Pete Carroll employed by saving the Seahawks time and again. Now the Jets may finally have that kind of guy, a potentially transcendent talent that has become essential to win in the modern NFL. 

MORE: Lichtenstein: With Broadway Joe Watching, Darnold Shines In Act 1 Of His Own Story

owles isn't perfect. But for those so ardently against him, keep in mind this is his first time as an NFL head coach with a potentially great quarterback on his side. If you've watched some of the astonishing throws Darnold made against Denver, you know he's eons ahead of Geno Smith, Mark Sanchez and Fitzpatrick. Unless the Jets implode and somehow turn their promising 3-3 record into a 5-11 nightmare, Bowles deserves one more year with his gifted QB. 

The Jets have an ornery road to the end of December. They still have to face the Patriots twice, plus the Vikings, Packers and Bears. In fact, seven of their final nine games are against teams with a .500 record or better right now (and two games against Buffalo). If they can win four of them and finish the season 7-9, that should be enough to earn Bowles a yearlong stay of execution.  Plus, the Jets will have copious cap room entering the offseason. 

Let Bowles coach Darnold for two years. If the Jets are still soporific after Darnold's sophomore season, then Bowles was given a real chance to change Gang Green into a winner. Just give him that chance. 

Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel​.