In a perfect world, Sam Darnold would limp through the tunnel and then into the huddle and tell Josh McCown to take a seat and rally the Jets past the Bills on Sunday at a roaring MetLife Stadium.
Alas, this is Jets World.
Where the 39-year-old journeyman quarterback, who hasn’t played this season, tries to save the head coach.
Because if Todd Bowles loses this game, in this stadium, to this Bills team, and falls to 3-7, he will be Dead Coach Walking.
This isn’t a Must-Win Game for the floundering Jets as much as it is a Must-Win Game for the embattled coach.
If Bowles has any chance to save his job, he better find a way to get to 4-6, even if McCown has to throw left-handed.
Bowles suddenly finds himself needing McCown, more than anyone, to earn his $10 million deal on the field rather than in Darnold’s ear.
For one Sunday, Bowles gets a respite from answering why Darnold’s baby steps have stopped and become stumbles and whether he has fallen and can’t get up.
But on this Sunday, there is no excuse for not beating the worst team in your division in your own backyard. An ignominious defeat here would more than likely be the final nail in the Bowles coffin.
It is one thing to build toward a Win-Now team in 2019, quite another to devolve into a Lose-Now team during what last month was beginning to look like the sweet, innocent climb in 2018. Especially after three consecutive seasons missing the playoffs and back-to-back 5-11 seasons.
The jury certainly is not out on Darnold’s development, but as of right now, Bowles stands guilty until proven innocent.
His other would-be savior has to be offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates, who will have to figure out a way to help Darnold see the field better and find completions and stop forcing the ball and playing stupid football and somehow juice a running game to better support him when Bill Belichick welcomes him to the NFL following the bye.
The problem for Bowles is this is now a league in which offense wins championships, and Jets fans see what Sean McVay has done for Jared Goff, what Andy Reid is doing with Patrick Mahomes, what Doug Pederson has done with Carson Wentz and what Kyle Shanahan did at the end of last season with Jimmy Garoppolo.
Bowles will need Darnold to give Jets fans hope that the two of them will be able to pilot a supersonic jet together next season, and that hope has faded over the past three weeks.
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Tom Coughlin was shown the door before then-general manager Jerry Reese began spending free-agent dollars on his defense like a drunken sailor, and it would be Bowles’ misfortune if he doesn’t earn the chance to finish the job before GM Mike Maccagnan begins flinging around his 100 million free-agent dollars and upgrading the supporting cast around Darnold.
It is also his misfortune that in a copycat league, no one views him as a quarterback whisperer.
The organization made the mission statement at the end of summer that it would live through any growing pains from the rookie franchise quarterback, and that means Bowles giving the ball back to Darnold after the bye means he either believes Darnold — in the throes of a regression — still gives him a better chance to win than McCown, or he has made peace with the role of the good soldier, even if it results in him becoming the fall guy.
If his players like and respect him as much as they say they do, it would behoove them to show up as a smart, disciplined team for a change and buffalo the Bills. If they lose this game, they probably will be losing their coach as well.
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