The power of positive thinking is a wonderful thing, but the Jets got another punch to the gut Wednesday in what is fast becoming a lost season.
Eric Decker’s fate became official: He’s out for the year.
The news that the veteran wide receiver will require season-ending surgery to repair a partially torn rotator cuff wasn’t exactly a surprising development for an organization that had braced for this brutal conclusion weeks ago, but it still stings.
Decker’s loss is a severe blow for a desperate team on the precipice of freefall. The cold, harsh truth in this next-man-up culture is that the next man up won’t be able to replicate Decker’s impact.
“You can’t replace him with one guy,” Ryan Fitzpatrick said Wednesday.
The Jets are screwed. More specifically, Fitzpatrick is screwed.
Decker was Fitzpatrick’s money man, his go-to guy and BFF in crunch time. He is irreplaceable for myriad reasons.
Fitzpatrick leaned on Decker on third downs and in the red zone. He leaned on him in tense moments. He leaned on him when it mattered most.
“That’s the stuff that you really miss,” Fitzpatrick said.
Decker, who is expected to have an eight-month recovery period following surgery, scored 10 of his 12 touchdowns in the red zone last season. Fitzpatrick targeted him on an eye-opening 36.8% of his red-zone passes.
The Jets finished third in the NFL in red-zone TD efficiency (66.04%) thanks largely to the quarterback’s Vulcan Mind Meld with his receiver. Todd Bowles’ team is tied for 29th in red-zone TD efficiency (40%) this season. Only Houston and Washington have been more ineffective inside the 20.
Life without Decker, who suffered the shoulder injury in Buffalo before aggravating it in Kansas City nearly three weeks ago, has been challenging. Fitzpatrick & Co. have only two touchdowns in the past two games, including a fluky long fumble recovery and run when the opposition thought the play was whistled dead.
Fitzpatrick’s magical 2015 campaign was built on his trust and rapport with Brandon Marshall and Decker. It was the backbone of the most prolific offensive season in franchise history, the primary reason for the quarterback’s success. That chemistry and trust will be difficult to build in-season with Quincy Enunwa and rookies Robbie Anderson, Jalin Marshall and Charone Peake.
“I’ve got to throw on anticipation,” Fitzpatrick admitted. “I’ve got to throw with trust. So that’s going to be a big part of it. Just communicating with those guys. Whether it’s through a throw in practice that we can talk about or as we’re installing plays… where they’re expected and what time they’re expected to be there. A lot of that’s going to happen through repetition and on the practice field and doing it in the games.”
Therein lies the dilemma. Fitzpatrick is smart and savvy enough to work with anyone, but time isn’t on his side. He needs to click with this inexperienced group quickly with the 1-4 Jets’ season on the brink entering a Monday night road test in Arizona.
Although Fitzpatrick has worked with this new cast of characters for two weeks, is that really enough time?
“Don’t panic,” Marshall said. “We’ll be okay.”
Full disclosure: I’m panicked.
Although Marshall maintained that “we have guys that can get open,” Decker’s skillset was special for Chan Gailey’s offense. Fitzpatrick’s implicitly trusted him. He never worried whether his receiver would be exactly where he needed to be on a given play. Their relatively quick connection can’t be replicated at the snap of the finger.
Decker’s experience with Peyton Manning was a significant part of the equation too. He honed his craft working with the best. It’s unrealistic to think that a rookie will have the same ability to adjust, adapt and absorb the intricacies of playing the position right now. Maybe in time. But not today.
“It makes Chan’s job a little harder,” Fitzpatrick said. “Chan’s got to ahead and really figure out in a hurry the strengths of some of these guys and how we can put them in the best spot possible.”
Fitzpatrick and Marshall expressed full confidence in the rest of the receiving corps, but Decker’s absence is a crushing blow to what could have been a special offense in the second season under Gailey.
We saw a glimpse of what could have been in Buffalo last month. Everything went right that night. Fitzpatrick looked unstoppable. Now…
He’s going to miss his friend dearly.
Source: NY Daily News Headlines Sports News