Here’s Why Jets Fans Can Take Solace Despite Another Agonizing Defeat
Sunday’s fourth quarter decision was mathematically sound. The execution, from the communication of the play call to the quarterback’s read and sneak attempt, well, the Jets will have all offseason to work on that.
For if Gang Green QB Zach Wilson had indeed understood that he should have handed the ball off to wide receiver Braxton Berrios as he was motioning for the end around to the left side instead of attempting that nearly impossible sneak into the middle of a stout Tampa Bay defensive line on a fourth-and-two from the 7-yard line with just over two minutes remaining, it sure seemed like the Jets would have pulled off the upset of the year.
Instead, Wilson was stuffed, and quarterback Tom Brady led the Bucs to another one of his patented game-winning drives, with wide receiver Cyril Grayson beating Jets safety Elijah Riley over the top for a 33-yard touchdown with 15 seconds remaining. Tampa Bay escaped MetLife Stadium with a 28-24 victory they didn’t deserve.
To the many Jets fans who writhed in agony bemoaning the “Same old Jets”, I’m here to tell you that you can take some solace from this one. This isn’t about tanking (for those interested, the loss kept the Jets from passing the Giants for the fourth slot in the draft order) or dreaded moral victories. I’m talking about football functionality.
At least this week, Jets Head Coach Robert Saleh played to win the game. All the analytics models I’ve seen gave the Jets a significantly higher expected win percentage by going for the first down in that situation as opposed to kicking a field goal that would have given New York a seven-point lead.
Obviously, no one is defending the actual play call, which came about because, according to Saleh, Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur neglected to make sure that under no circumstances was Wilson to consider his option to sneak from such a distance. That New York took a timeout immediately before the play to get everyone on the same page only made the gaffe more egregious.
Still, last Sunday, the Jets won a game against Jacksonville despite an unsound decision-making process when Ron Middleton, filling in because Saleh was in the COVID-19 health and safety protocol, opted to kick a field goal inside of two minutes remaining on a fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line. That the Jags ended up falling one yard short of winning the game on the final play was seen as some sort of vindication of the decision.
Folks, you have it backwards. Sunday’s loss represented more progress, in ways besides fourth-down decision-making, than last week’s triumph. As such, even the most diehard fans shouldn’t get too upset with the outcome. If the Jets were in the playoff hunt instead of 4-12, then hell yeah, this loss might rank right up there with some of the worst in this woebegone franchise’s history.
But this team is far, far, far away from relevancy, so you should be measuring progress by different standards besides meaningless late-season wins that will have zero carryover effect.
Let’s move on to Wilson, who played his best game since the Titans upset on October 3. This wasn’t a 102-yard dink-and-dunk outing against the worst team the league. Facing the defending Super Bowl champs, Wilson threw for 234 yards with only one potentially interceptable pass. His average air yards went from 4.7 yards per attempt last week to 7.2 yards on Sunday, per rbsdm.com, hitting on some intermediate routes with laser precision. If not for ill-timed drops by receivers Jeff Smith and Keelan Cole that doomed a pair of possessions, maybe New York would have crossed the 30-point barrier for the first time in Wilson’s 12 starts.
Overall though, Wilson elevated the substandard personnel around him. No excuses. After running back Michael Carter (concussion) and left tackle George Fant (knee) exited in the first quarter, the Jets were down their top two backs, their three best receivers, all three of their rostered tight ends, two left tackles, and their center. And a partridge in a pear tree.
Of course, FOX announcer Chris Myers attributed the Jets’ relative offensive success to the Bucs missing edge rushers Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul. Ok. (Myers also called Antonio Brown’s fake vaccination card scandal “a mix-up”, and that was before the troubled Bucs receiver bizarrely channeled Ned Braden in the movie “Slap Shot” by stripping out of his football uniform and exiting the stadium with his team trailing by two touchdowns in the third quarter). Maybe if the Jets didn’t surround Wilson with a bunch of semipro-quality players, the Jets would have blown the Bucs out. Who cares?
The larger point is that if the Jets had played like this all season, there would be a different vibe surrounding them, like what the Bengals had last season before Joe Burrow got hurt in Week 11. Look at them now.
This Jets season has always been about one thing only: evaluating the rookie coach/quarterback combo. You can argue that their efforts on Sunday came too late in the season to establish it as a baseline in order to measure consistency, leaving open the possibility of it being a just be a one-off. But for one day, at least, they gave fans a little hope for a better future by playing the game the right way.
Until that stupid sneak, of course.