Of course the New York Jets are trying to win games, and center Connor McGovern doesn’t appreciate the tank fans.
Once upon a time, the Dallas Cowboys found themselves absolutely screwed out of a playoff game. Trailing 26-21 with under five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Tony Romo found Dez Bryant on a fade that looked to set the Cowboys up at the Green Bay Packers’ 1-yard line.
The catch was not to be. Officials determined that Bryant did not finish the process of the catch, which gave the ball back to Aaron Rodgers, who did just enough to run out the clock.
Callers on the radio airwaves were incensed. Some suggested that the two teams strap it up on Tuesday to finish the game from that point. Bring the teams back, bring the FOX cameras back, and play it out in order to come to an appropriate conclusion.
A more utterly ridiculous concept is tough to imagine. This is football, the sport that makes players feel like they’ve just been in a major car crash. Bringing players back after just two days off would never work in this sport.
The same can be said for tanking.
With just 16 regular-season games (17 games soon enough), each player and coach navigates his way through the league as an independent contractor. Each game is an opportunity to improve a portfolio in an attempt at a better living. Each game is precious, just as 10 games in baseball are to any hitter looking to keep the average up.
“I don’t put my body through this, (and) I don’t think anybody on the Jets puts their body through it, to lose,” McGovern told the media on a Friday Zoom call. “It might be easy for somebody sitting on the couch, eating pizza, chips and dip, to say they should keep losing. But if they’ve ever strapped the pads on, that sounds like an impossible thing for me to do. I’m going to do whatever I can to win.”
McGovern, 27, started slowly this season after signing a three-year, $27 million contract last offseason. He’s since come on strong as the leader of the improved offensive line. Having started every game this season—the only Jet offensive lineman to do so—he’s as familiar with the course of the 2020 season as anybody.
For many emotional and shortsighted onlookers, Gregg Williams‘ zero-blitz against the Las Vegas Raiders could only be explained one way: the man was tanking. He intentionally doomed his own team either to exact revenge on Adam Gase or because he was paid off by some mysterious figure lurking in the shadows.
No other explanation worked in the minds of the ultra-imaginative. (Pay no attention to Williams’s aggressive pattern in similar situations previously.)
Everybody placed on IR over the last month and change is a direct result of a tank job. Brian Poole, Kyle Phillips, Bradley McDougald, Jordan Jenkins and Greg Van Roten sitting on the shelf is a dubious strategy to land Trevor Lawrence. Trading the likes of Steve McLendon and Avery Williamson also qualifies.
While the Joe Douglas trades do fall in line with “not going for it in 2020,” any attempt to point the finger at an intentional tank job should be met with hilarity.
Think of a guy like Gase. Here’s a head coach who’s now failed in his second shot. Flaming out as an 0-16 head coach won’t help him snag another NFL job on somebody’s coaching staff. Other coaches and players are extremely aware of what’s happening around the league, and the moment a real tank job begins to circulate within the league is the instant trouble really surfaces for a team.
Reputations follow franchises around like a terrible odor. Douglas understands this, and it’s why he’s always preaching culture. It’s why he’s always after the character-driven players.
“There’s been adversity, and adversity’s going to make us stronger,” McGovern said. “I think it’s a good base platform to grow on.”
The tank job is a classic media creation. Not literally, of course. The NBA has suffered through legitimate tanking for over two decades, and it’s done so despite a lottery system. Professional basketball is a superstar game—something nobody can deny. The difference between 20 and 60 wins can be a LeBron James.
But the media has carried the idea over to football, even though the sport is fundamentally much different. Not even a Trevor Lawrence can make that great of a difference. The natural characteristics of the game don’t line up with the NBA in the least.
Even the best example of an NFL tank job needs to be analyzed, whereas the San Antonio Spurs intentionally dropping games for Tim Duncan is tough to dispute. The 2011 Indianapolis Colts started 0-13 only to win two of their last three games. It landed them Andrew Luck in the end, but just barely.
Not finishing 0-16 is important to every man in the locker room, and that mindset will continue over the next three weeks, no matter the Trevor Lawrence noise.
“I don’t feel like anyone here is intentionally trying to lose,” McGovern added. “This game is too hard to do for a piece of paper and some money in the bank. You’ve got to love it to be great at this game and you’re not gonna love it if you’re trying to lose.”
It’s impossible to throw players on the field just two days after a Sunday game. It’s also impossible to think any football player is intentionally throwing a game.
This is football.