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Ryan Fitzpatrick is back. Let the Jets’ soul searching begin.

The Jets' quarterback question has been answered. Now, they have to figure out what caused last year's collapse with the playoffs on the line.

Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. --€” He missed offseason meetings and reps, but since Ryan Fitzpatrick turns 34 later this year and has played for six teams in 11 NFL seasons, what's a spring or summer toss here or there got to do with it? No doubt, one digestible measure during Fitzpatrick's holdout and the Jets' hammer lock during their ludicrous contract dance was that it could press toward the day before training camp commenced and the old soldier would be just fine.

And here they are. Fitzpatrick signed fewer than 24 hours before today's first Jets practice. A new beginning, they say. A fresh start, they insist.

The Fitzpatrick question overshadowed the principal question for the Jets this season.

This franchise needs to answer and fix something far more important than any one player or any one scheme.

This is it --€” what the hell happened in Buffalo?

You remember. Rookie coach Todd Bowles took a team that had won four games the season prior and won 10. Beat NFC East champion Washington. Topped rival New England late. So much hard work set up a payoff, a regular-season finale at Buffalo against a team that had lost two of its last three games and had won only seven overall. A team that had beaten the Jets 22-17 in the Jets' stadium in mid-November. A team coached by ex-Jets coach Rex Ryan, the man Bowles replaced.

Win and the Jets would be a shiny 11-5. Win and they were in the playoffs. It was all right there at hand. It was a big moment. The Jets, winners of five straight, looked primed for it.

And what happened was another 22-17 loss with Fitzpatrick throwing three interceptions on the Jets' final three drives. Worse was how small the Jets played in such a big moment, how confused they looked, how listless they looked.

So, at the Jets facility on Wednesday, the Jets were asked about this. What did they learn? How did they handle this in the offseason? How is this team going to be molded to shine in the biggest moments in 2016?

What the hell happened in Buffalo?

A Jets executive was asked how Bowles handled it all and answered: "Well, I think he does what he has always done, just move on, not get too high or too low over any one game, forget about it and forge ahead."

Wrong answer.

Jets center Nick Mangold said: "Last year means nothing to this season."

Dead-wrong answer.

Safety Marcus Gilchrist was asked to explain the Buffalo buffoonery and he said: "It is what it is."


Only Jets linebacker David Harris came close. He said: "They wanted it more than we did. We played like we took that game for granted. You don't have long to look back in this league. You've got to move on."

The first part, I like. The second part, not so much.

* * *

Maybe the Jets are just being coy about it, but I think every play of that game and every component of the preparation for it should have been examined with the highest scrutiny. First by Bowles, then by every coach and player, individually and collectively. NFL teams scout players, scout opponents with fervor. The best ones self-scout with as much intensity. This is how a team learns. How it grows. How it improves.

I think Bowles has the makings of a fine coach, but if I were a Jets fan, I would be critically concerned about a season where I was led to a scintillating edge and then witnessed a total collapse. In this league, a team has to play its best football when it matters most or it has no chance of being a champion. And that is an art that is cultivated, carved from inside-out.

Sure, Bowles tackled the emperor of the AFC East, Bill Belichick, and finished 1-1 against him in the division in his first year. But to go 0-2 against Ryan, the man Bowles supplanted? To allow Ryan to outcoach him and kick him out of the playoffs in the season finale?

It is unacceptable, alarming.

I am reminded of what the late, tremendous coach Dennis Green had to say about this, about one of the most essential things for a new NFL head coach on the job: "The first time and every time you play against the guy that you replaced or they thought about hiring instead of you, you had better whip his ass. You know what I mean?"

If Rex Ryan sweeps Todd Bowles again this season, it will be quite clear to Bowles what Green means. If the Jets tank again late in the season with a solid playoff shot in play, Bowles is going to hear it in New York unlike he's ever heard it.

* * *

So, welcome back, Fitz. Nice to see Matt Forte here. The defense looks capable. Offensive coordinator Chan Gailey is one of the deluxe ones in the game. The Jets look a little younger, a little faster, especially with rookie linebacker Darron Lee. I sure hope second-year receiver Devin Smith can stay healthy --€” I believe he can be spectacular.

But none of it matters if the Jets don't fix their mental game when the prize is at their fingertips. If they don't completely study, understand, and fix what the hell happened in Buffalo.

The Jets cannot have a second straight season where they build a steady car --€” only, in the end, to have the engine fall out.