FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Coach Adam Gase already has reached a potential turning point in his first season with the New York Jets. This is where he can flip the season, where he can solve the problems on offense as they begin the so-called soft part of their schedule.
Or it's where the season can spiral out of control, where the Jets' many issues -- exposed by the New England Patriots on Monday night -- get amplified by weaker competition and cause Gase to lose the locker room.
If the Jets return from their two-game Florida trip with a 1-7 record, with losses to the Jacksonville Jaguars (3-4) and Miami Dolphins (0-6), their coach will be under intense scrutiny. Some people go to Florida for their honeymoon; Gase's will end in the Sunshine State if he fails to discover the Fountain of Offense.
"Unfortunately, I haven't found the formula yet to make us anything close to consistent," Gase said Tuesday.
Gase was unfairly criticized during the three-game losing streak because he had to play Luke Falk, currently unemployed as an NFL quarterback, but he's fair game now that Sam Darnold is back in the lineup. Many fans and talking radio heads already are tired of Gase and want him gone -- which is a total overreaction. Remember, a week ago, he was praised for the way he managed Darnold, who had just returned after recovering from mononucleosis, in the Jets' upset victory against the Dallas Cowboys.
Now, in a span of eight days, we've reached the other extreme -- a 33-0 meltdown to the Patriots.
"What we put on the field is on me, and it wasn't good enough," Gase said.
This latest turn to the ugly will shine a light on Gase's problem-solving skills. It's his job to make the corrections, get the players to buy in and produce tangible results on the field. Narrowing the focus, his No. 1 job is to fix Darnold and make sure he's an ascending quarterback by season's end. Ultimately, that's how he should be judged. If Darnold has a few more clunkers, it will reflect poorly on Gase, who was hired, in large part, because of his background with quarterbacks. If he can't get that right, it will warrant a hard look at his coaching future in New York.
Of the Jets' nine remaining opponents, only one is ranked in the top 11 in scoring defense -- the Buffalo Bills (No. 3). They will play six games against teams ranked in the bottom third, including the Dolphins (32) twice. They also face the Oakland Raiders (29), New York Giants (27) and Cincinnati Bengals (24).
The schedule is tailor-made for a team that needs to find its offensive identity. If Gase is smart, he'll try to ride running back Le'Veon Bell, who rushed for a season-high 70 yards and was the only bright spot on Monday night. Tight end Chris Herndon (hamstring) should return this week or next, and that will help. But the Jets won't be "unstoppable" at full strength, as Darnold suggested last week. "Functional" would be a good start.
The Jets have only five offensive touchdowns, two fewer than the Dolphins, who aren't even trying to be good. Gang Gase has played well in only two of 24 quarters -- the first half against Dallas, when Darnold played out of his mind. On Monday night, they couldn't even handle a basic Cover 0 blitz. When there weren't protection breakdowns, there were no "hot" receivers for Darnold. When there were "hot" receivers, he missed them more often than not. The Jets looked unprepared, and there were no adjustments.
It certainly appeared as if Gase got hoodwinked by the Hoodie. He insisted the Jets were prepared for the Patriots' scheme, claiming, "They didn't disguise it. They just say, 'Hey, we're coming. Good luck blocking it, good luck setting it up right.'" Funny, but Bill Belichick told a different version Tuesday, saying his players "disguised the different looks we were in."
Maybe Darnold wasn't the only one on the Jets "seeing ghosts" on Monday night.