The New York Jets stink, yet they’re also providing legitimate hope.
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ—They stink yet provide some intrigue. They break your heart yet sometimes get you going. They make you cry while questioning your own sanity.
OK, so not every New York Jets yin can have an appropriately contrasting yang, as the downtimes will often crush the human soul, and routine Sunday cry sessions should often lead to sanity checks.
Nevertheless, the Jets’ 24-17 loss to the AFC East rival Miami Dolphins on Sunday provided a legitimate shot in the arm for future hope.
Rookie wide receiver Elijah Moore, 21, put up big numbers yet again. His eight catches for 141 yards and a touchdown paced the Jets’ weapons all day.
Moore’s 62-yard touchdown was a thing of beauty that featured both physical traits and in-between-the-ears prowess.
Take note of Elijah Moore's route on this one … where he starts, moves to (stems outside) in order to give Flacco enough inside room against a pre-snap zero blitz look. Then the burst is what you want in today's NFL. #Jets pic.twitter.com/HFlsCXwV07
— Robby Sabo (@RobbySabo) November 21, 2021
Take note of Moore’s route. Starting from a stack look, he understood Miami is showing zero blitz pre-snap (as they did often on Sunday). Knowing he’d have space over the middle, the rookie weapon stemmed his route just far enough outside in order to give the quarterback room inside to deliver a nice ball.
He also sped up his route due to the situation (pre-snap zero blitz look).
“I felt the pressure the way the first nickel blitzed, so I knew I had to speed my route up,” Moore told the media after his first-career 100-yard game and fourth straight with at least 44 yards. “The route was probably like 10 yards; I think I went eight. So, I just kind of felt it out and adjusted.”
The head coach is noticing as well, in spite of the many challenges his team currently faces.
“Elijah has been getting better every week,” Robert Saleh said after the game. “(I’m) really pumped for him. He’s starting to get into a rhythm (and) had the explosive play which we all know he is capable of. He’s stacking up days (and) only going to get better. He’s going to be a special kid.”
Don’t wave away Moore’s performance thanks to another loss. Don’t boot Joe Douglas’s 2021 NFL draft class simply because New York is now riding a miserable three-game losing streak.
Try not to live on easy street as it relates to outer-surface pondering about what should unfold moving forward. Besides, it’s entirely too easy to bet the over on “Same Old Jets”—no matter how feverish it currently feels.
This sort of attitude would be much more of the same as it relates to this world’s rapidly increasing polarization.
Mutual exclusivity is a tough thing for people in today’s digital media age. Whether the topic is politics, a societal manner, or even sports, the hot Twitter take (limited to a specific character count) of the day often encourages the idea that two things cannot be true at the same time.
For instance, Adam Gase and Sam Darnold couldn’t both be an issue. While the majority of the fanbase pegged the head coach as the problem that ruined a future franchise quarterback, the few who thought Darnold held back the head coach also didn’t believe that both thoughts could simultaneously be true.
This obviously applies today, as this rightly disheartened and frustrated Jets fanbase looks at their 2-8 team with dismay.
Dallas Cowboys fans felt a similar way heading into Week 11 of the 1990 season.
Coming off a 1-15 season, second-year NFL headman Jimmy Johnson and sophomore quarterback Troy Aikman sat at 3-7 prior to a showdown against the Los Angeles Rams in 1989. Dallas won that game and finished the season 7-9, a final stretch that set up its first playoff appearance (11-5 in 1991) in six years.
Obviously, Jets fans shouldn’t automatically equate Elijah Moore to Michael Irvin, Michael Carter to Emmitt Smith and Zach Wilson to Troy Aikman. But they also shouldn’t toss it aside as if the kids’ progress is meaningless.
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The kids are, indeed, coming along.
Take Carter, for example. The Joe Flacco-led Jets offense looked excellent early in the game. Alijah Vera-Tucker—a potential future All-Pro guard—and the offensive line was moving Dolphins defenders while Carter found holes.
Although he did leave the game early with an ankle injury, Carter’s 63 yards on just nine carries (7.0 yards per carry) opened onlooking eyes much wider than usual.
The kid’s balance is excellent and his vision is coming along. No, he’s no Emmitt Smith, but some of his traits—the way he keeps his shoulders squared to the defense and the way he often uses his off-ball hand—mirror the great No. 22.
Obviously, Emmitt needed Aikman just like Aikman needed Irvin and vice-versa.
As far as New York’s quarterback situation is concerned, Flacco provided an average outing (24 of 39, 291 yards and two touchdowns). The former Super Bowl MVP was solid in many areas, not so great in others—oftentimes oozing a Mike White “take what the defense gives you” feel.
The hope is that Zach Wilson returns to full form immediately so the Jets are with No. 2, 8 and 32 when they travel to take on the 2-8 Houston Texans, who defeated the banged-up Tennessee Titans, 22-13.
So, while 2-8 with the worst defense in the NFL sounds miserable—especially to the defensive-loving Rex Ryan, a.k.a. Robert Saleh’s new best friend—how these Jets’ rookies are improving allows the fan a chance to look forward to something.
Something else to note is the way Saleh handles topics. Intentionally seeking to keep emotion out of the public eye, the Jets rookie head coach is usually careful in breaking down a thought—considering each side of an argument or potential answer.
As visibly frustrated as Saleh was in the postgame presser, he made sure that credit was given where it’s certainly due—an important part of bringing along a football program that’s still in its infancy.
“We still have a lot of faith,” Saleh said when referencing the 2021 draft class. “We still think our quarterback is going to be special. AVT (Alijah Vera-Tucker) has been getting better every single week. Elijah Moore, his play speaks for itself. Michael Carter, his play speaks for itself. The nickel, Michael Carter II, his play speaks for itself. (Brandin) Echols had been doing a nice job before he got injured.”
— Robby Sabo (@RobbySabo) November 21, 2021
Saleh also praised second-year players Bryce Hall, Bryce Huff, Javelin Guidry and Ashtyn Davis, the latter of whom collected his first interception on a terribly-thrown Tua Tagovailoa pass.
Still, this Jets head coach has no problem in admitting that frustration exists.
“Are there frustrating moments? Sure. There are,” Saleh added. “But, at the same time, these are all scars that they are getting. They’re learning. I’ve said it up here a million times, you have to learn not to lose first. Then, once you learn how not to lose, you figure out how to win. Then, once you learn how to win, you have to learn how to close games. Today was clearly one of those learning moments of how not to lose.”
As a fan, that’s really all that can be asked for: public words that don’t defy reality or an acknowledgment that things aren’t unfolding in a fruitful way, all while something can be pointed to as legitimate hope.
Better yet, perhaps at least a part of the Saleh message has been heard, loud and clear, throughout that locker room in a transparent manner.
When asked if he could exhale now that he’s put up big numbers as of late, the Ole Miss rookie provided even more optimism for this rookie class.
“No, because we’re not winning,” Moore said. “So, I don’t really exhale. I’m just trying to win. It would be great if I did all that and I won, (but) when we start winning, I think I’ll be able to take a little bit of an exhale.”
— Robby Sabo (@RobbySabo) November 21, 2021
If Elijah Moore, Michael Carter, Alijah Vera-Tucker, Zach Wilson and the rest of the youth on this squad can follow that selfless notion through to completion, legitimate hope will ultimately turn into a chance for team legitimacy.
For now, mere hope will have to do—while the New York Jets continue to figure it out in real-time. For now, no authentic Dallas Cowboys comparisons or future Super Bowl dreams can commence.
Instead, only a little slice of reality that has these youngsters legitimately sprouting up is what Jets fans can keep within arm’s reach this Thanksgiving.
Yes, the New York Jet stink. Also yes, there are plenty of reasons (Elijah Moore, Michael Carter, Alijah Vera-Tucker, etc.) to believe they’re on the right track.
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