EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- There was a light moment in the New York Jets locker room Thursday night (actually, it was Friday morning by then) that showed the team's affinity for its head coach.
The Jets (4-5) had just sprung their third upset victory of the year at home, a 34-21 decision over the Bills in a game that wasn't as close as the final score might indicate. Todd Bowles was congratulating players on his way out of the locker room, moving in his usual lumbering saunter. He had changed out of his gray Jets hoodie (yeah, he wears one too), and was wearing a navy blue sweater with a print of a dog on the front, a dress shirt underneath and a pair of jeans.
"Coach got some swag!" rookie Marcus Maye yelled out sarcastically, with his buddy Jamal Adams, who was wearing a vintage Mighty Ducks jersey, laughing in the background.
Bowles told his young stud safeties, both in their early 20s, they'd understand style when they got to be his age. (Bowles turns 54 two weeks from Saturday.)
Sure, it's a silly anecdote. But it signified something larger.
In the movie "Any Given Sunday," Al Pacino plays grizzled veteran coach Tony D'Amato, who tells Jamie Foxx, his brash upstart quarterback "Steamin'" Willie Beamen: "On any given Sunday you're gonna win or you're gonna lose. The point is -- can you win or lose like a man?"
Bowles is an NFL lifer. He's been around the game at every level, from tiny Morehouse College to the field of the Super Bowl.
Little surprises him about this game. So don't expect him to be shocked when his team, picked by many to be the worst in the league this season, wins games.
"I understand we're deficient in some areas," he said Thursday night, "but you're not just going to come in here and beat us."
Everyone knows the Jets lack the talent of their opponents. They've been favored once in nine games, and that was against the winless Browns. But it almost doesn't matter who the 2017 Jets are playing anymore -- you expect a professional effort. Because that's what their coach demands of them.
"We are a hell of a lot closer and a hell of a lot better than we were in Week 1," said linebacker Jordan Jenkins after the Jets' only prime-time game this season. "Through all the adversity and through all of the losses and wins we had, we came together as a unit. We have the utmost trust in one another."
The Jets' warts still show late in games. They've been outscored a shocking 90-30 in the fourth quarter of their nine games, otherwise they might be in the thick of the playoff hunt. Instead, they remain in last place with a nine-day break before they travel to Florida for a game against the 2-5 Bucs, followed by their bye week.
Long term, it may be detrimental for this team to win seven or eight games. After all, they still need a franchise quarterback.
But that's not Bowles's job to worry about. The third-year coach, who grew up about a 25-minute drive from MetLife Stadium, is charged with rebuilding a franchise that's had many lean years recently. A 19-22 record in three seasons isn't anything to write home about. But it's a start.
"I still think we have another gear to get to," Bowles said Friday morning, only a few hours after he left the stadium, "but we played complementary football last night. It was the most we played this year.
"That's closest to what we want it to look like. We just have to keep grinding on it."
Wide receiver Robby Anderson is an emerging star in the league. But you don't need to tell that to fantasy owners.
After a slow start to the season in which he had 50 receiving yards the first two games, the 24-year-old out of Temple (also head coach Todd Bowles's alma mater) has touchdowns in three straight games and is now 16th in the league in receiving yards with 483 yards. Granted, Anderson has played at least one more game than every player in the league because the Jets played on Thursday and haven't yet had their bye, but it's still an impressive ranking.
Anderson also has nine plays of at least 20 yards, which is tied for fourth in the NFL with Travis Kelce of the Chiefs and Demaryius Thomas of the Broncos.
Anderson scored on a 25-yard fade route from Josh McCown to give the Jets a 17-7 lead in Thursday night's win over the Bills. After the game, Anderson credited McCown with helping him improve his route running and film study, and said he has improved against press coverage by going against cornerback Morris Claiborne at practice every day.
"It brought my game to a new level," Anderson said.
His 4.3-speed also puts his game at a different level.
When asked if he feels he can blow past any cornerback in the league, Anderson responded: "Definitely."
MIDSEASON REPORT CARD
--PASSING OFFENSE: B -- Josh McCown has had a penchant for fourth-quarter mistakes, as four of his seven interceptions have come in the final period. But he's also given the Jets some downfield plays they didn't expect to have early in the season, and he's developed a nice chemistry with speedster Robby Anderson the last few weeks.
--RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- The three-headed unit of Matt Forte, Bilal Powell and rookie Elijah McGuire has shown flashes, especially Powell, who has four runs of more than 20 yards. But combined they've averaged less than 100 yards per game and McCown actually leads the team with three touchdown runs. Maybe Thursday's performance against the Bills will provoke first-year offensive coordinator John Morton to rely more on the run.
--PASS DEFENSE: C -- The Jets have played at least one more game than every team in the league so far, so take this stat with a grain of salt, but they have allowed the third most passing yards at 2,109. They've also allowed a league-high 19 touchdown passes. The secondary does have a knack for interceptions, with nine on the season, but the lack of a pass rush (until Thursday night against the Bills) has been an issue.
--RUSH DEFENSE: C -- Like the pass defense, inconsistency has been the problem. They've now completely shut down Jay Ajayi, then of the Dolphins, twice, and LeSean McCoy once, but they have been bedeviled by big plays, like Tevin Coleman's 52-yard run in Week 8 against the Falcons. They've allowed 4.2 yards per attempt, which is 21st in the league. The foundation of a strong run defense is there, and it's been improving in the last few weeks.
--SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- Chandler Catanzaro has been a good find. He's missed only four field goals in 19 attempts, and two were in the driving rain in Week 8 against the Falcons, and has made all 20 of his extra points. Punter Lachlan Edwards is also greatly improved since last season, averaging 42 net yards per punt. This grade would have been an A, but the Jets haven't got much of anything in their return game. Elijah McGuire has looked spry on kickoff returns, so maybe he can provide a spark back deep.
--COACHING: B -- There have been blown leads, questionable clock management decisions and odd lapses in performance. But the bottom line is this: This team was supposed to be dreadful and they're not, and that's a credit to head coach Todd Bowles, no matter how you slice it.