They say “to be the best, you have to beat the best.” There haven’t been many cupcakes on the Jets’ schedule this year. In fact, five of the Jets’ first six games were against teams that were in the postseason last year. The only reprieve, and coincidentally the Jets’ only victory, came against Buffalo in Week 2. That loss served as a wakeup call to the Bills, who have now won four straight.
Needless to say, if the Jets plan to turn their season around, they’re going to have to beat a good team at some point. It didn’t happen Monday in Arizona. The Cardinals, who have gotten off to a bit of a slow start themselves, were more than happy to hand the Jets their fifth loss of the season.
Arizona’s 28-3 victory came on the strength of another dominating performance by David Johnson. The second-year running back shredded the Jets for 111 yards and three touchdowns on 22 carries while adding three catches for 27 yards. Through six games, Johnson leads the league in both touchdowns (eight) and yards from scrimmage (833).
It’s been an incredible ascension for Johnson, who entered the league as a rather unheralded third-round pick out of Northern Iowa. Johnson’s memorable Week 6 began with a dazzling 58-yard touchdown in the opening quarter. The play, which featured a missed tackle by Jets corner Buster Skrine, marked the longest run of Johnson’s career.
A slot corner by trade, Skrine’s transition to the outside has not been a successful one. Skrine was called for four penalties on Monday including three in the first half and now holds PFF’s 87th-highest cornerback grade out of 111 qualifiers this season. The secondary used to be one of the Jets’ strengths, but with Skrine playing out of position and Darrelle Revis in steep decline, the unit has become a punching bag for opposing offenses.
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Adding to the chaos, the Jets were forced to play Monday night’s game without David Harris. The long-time Jets’ linebacker sat out with a hamstring injury, ending a streak of 121 consecutive games played. Harris has led the Jets in tackles each year since 2012 and would have been a huge help against Johnson. First-round pick Darron Lee did his best to plug up the running lanes but obviously didn’t do enough to contain Johnson.
Compared to his first, Johnson’s other touchdowns were anticlimactic. Both were of the goal-line variety as the Jets showed very little resistance in the red zone. Meanwhile the Jets’ own offense stalled, failing to produce anything outside of a 39-yard field goal early in the second quarter.
The calls for the Jets to bench Ryan Fitzpatrick have grown louder in recent weeks and Fitzpatrick’s lackluster showing on Monday night did little to silence his critics. Playing in his home state of Arizona, Fitzpatrick barely completed 50 percent of his passes while throwing a bone-headed pick on one of New York’s two trips to the red zone. Fitzpatrick forced an ambitious pass to Brandon Marshall, only to have it intercepted in the end zone by D.J. Swearinger. Fitzpatrick was lifted from the game shortly after that with Geno Smith taking the reins at QB. Using the final drive as his audition for the starting job, Smith struggled against a game Cardinals defense, completing four-of-six passes for 31 yards and an interception. He was also sacked once for a loss of eight yards.
Coming off a 10-win season in 2015, the Jets have bottomed out by losing their last four games by an average of 18.5 points. The Jets have struggled in all facets this year, but the team’s stagnant offense might be the biggest disappointment of all.
Fitzpatrick has self-destructed while Brandon Marshall has also seen his effectiveness wane without Eric Decker. Marshall’s counting numbers have actually improved since Decker went down with a season-ending shoulder injury, but his efficiency hasn’t. Without Decker around to draw defenders, opposing defenses have been able to key in on Marshall, limiting him to 15 catches on 33 targets over his last three games (45.4 percent success rate). Monday he was matched up with top corner Patrick Peterson. Marshall played Peterson to a draw, securing two-of-four targets for 59 yards including a 36-yard gain early in the second quarter. Marshall finished the night with three catches for 70 yards and no touchdowns.
The Fitzpatrick saga dragged on for most of the offseason as the veteran refused to budge on his contract demands. Perhaps the Jets should have stood their ground. Hindsight is always 20/20 and the Jets didn’t have many alternatives at the time (they still don’t). But all of the warning signs were there.
Fitzpatrick’s struggles bring to mind a film study done by ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski. Despite throwing for a career-high 31 touchdowns, Jaworski was appalled by Fitzpatrick’s game tape from 2015, remarking that he should have been intercepted at least “30 times.” Jaws also noted that Fitzpatrick was repeatedly bailed out by Marshall and was “a little bit lucky.”
Now we’re starting to see who Fitzpatrick really is: a 33-year-old journeyman better suited for backup duty. Jets coach Todd Bowles has already committed to Fitzpatrick for Week 7 against Baltimore but his leash is getting shorter by the minute.
Meanwhile Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer exited Monday’s game in the fourth quarter with a strained hamstring and did not return. Though the injury shouldn’t cost him any playing time, fantasy owners may want to think twice about starting Palmer against the Seahawks’ Legion of Boom in Week 7.
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Quick Hits: Bills coach Rex Ryan said LeSean McCoy’s knee is “totally fine.” McCoy exited briefly in the second quarter Sunday against the Niners, but returned and finished the game with 140 rushing yards and three touchdowns … Bills first-round OLB Shaq Lawson will return to practice on Wednesday after missing the first six games while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. He’s eligible to come off the PUP list this week, though it’s unclear if he’ll play Sunday against Miami … Michael Bennett left Sunday’s game with a right knee injury after taking a low hit from Falcons LT Jake Matthews. Fortunately his MRI came back clean and he should be ready to go Sunday against the Cardinals … Redskins coach Jay Gruden expects Josh Doctson to be out at least through the team’s bye in Week 9. Achilles issues have limited the first-round wide receiver to two games this year … Antonio Gates said he’s still not 100 percent. Gates missed time with a strained hamstring earlier this year but returned in Week 5 … Colts coach Chuck Pagano said Donte Moncrief is “getting closer” but declined to give a timetable for his return. Moncrief has sat out the last four weeks with a fractured scapula … Davante Adams was among several Packers not to practice on Monday. He suffered a concussion in Sunday’s loss to Dallas. With Green Bay hosting the Bears on Thursday night, Adams faces slim odds of playing in Week 7. Eddie Lacy (ankle) and Randall Cobb (back) were also absent from Monday’s practice … James Starks is expected to miss four weeks after undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus. With Starks out, wide receiver Ty Montgomery served as Eddie Lacy’s backup at running back Sunday against the Cowboys … Texans CB Kevin Johnson is headed to injured reserve after breaking his foot Sunday against Indianapolis. Johnson has earned PFF’s fourth-highest cornerback grade out of 111 qualifiers this year … The Dolphins “fear” that S Reshad Jones suffered a torn rotator cuff in Sunday’s win over Pittsburgh. Eric Decker was recently diagnosed with the same injury and was forced to undergo season-ending shoulder surgery … Dolphins coach Adam Gase admitted that Arian Foster wasn’t 100 percent for Sunday’s game versus Pittsburgh. Foster was limited to three carries for three yards in his return from a hamstring injury … Terrelle Pryor is day to day after injuring his hamstring in Sunday’s loss to the Titans. Pryor has corralled 33 passes for 413 yards and three touchdowns this year while operating as the Browns’ No. 1 receiver … Browns coach Hue Jackson confirmed Monday that Cody Kessler will remain the team’s starting quarterback. That means Josh McCown will be the backup whenever he returns from a broken collarbone … Dez Bryant said he will “definitely” play when the Cowboys face the Eagles in Week 8. He’s sat out the last three games with a bruised knee. Dallas is on bye this week … Jordan Reed is still in the league’s concussion protocol and will visit an independent specialist on Tuesday. Reed has suffered at least six known concussions since 2011 … Jamaal Charles tore his ACL over a year ago but Chiefs coach Andy Reid said he’s still reluctant to give him a full workload. Spencer Ware out-touched Charles 26-11 in Sunday’s win over the Raiders … Ravens coach John Harbaugh acknowledged that Terrell Suggs will likely miss Sunday’s game against the Jets. Suggs suffered a torn bicep against the Giants in Week 6. He could return after the Ravens’ bye in Week 8 … The 49ers will stick with Colin Kaepernick at quarterback Sunday against Tampa Bay. He struggled in his season debut against Buffalo, completing just 13-of-29 passes for 187 yards and one touchdown to go with 66 rushing yards on eight carries … Broncos coach Gary Kubiak (migraines) returned to practice on Monday. Kubiak stayed home last week while the Broncos faced the Chargers on Thursday Night Football.