Robert Saleh
Robert Saleh, New York Jets, Houston Texans, Getty Images

The Jets can’t let another winning streak go by the wayside

The December holiday season is a stressful time for many. No green playoff berth sits in Santa’s sack, but the 2021 New York Jets are no exception.

The good news about the Jets’ 21-14 victory over the Houston Texans is that they’ll actually get to enjoy and appreciate it.

True to the team’s star-crossed nature, the Jets could hardly savor their prior triumphs: a trip to London cut the celebration short after Oct. 3’s win over Tennessee, while they only had four days to relish the Mike White’s Halloween heroics against Cincinnati thanks to the NFL’s mandated Thursday night showcase.

When the win over the Texans was complete, head coach Robert Saleh made sure his athletes were going to be able to bask in the glory. With the exception of a “dealer’s choice” workout on either Monday or Tuesday, Saleh announced that the Jets’ prep for Sunday’s interconference showdown with Philadelphia (1 p.m. ET, CBS) would begin on Wednesday.

Saleh’s crowd-pleasing announcement sent an already jubilant locker room into hysterics. But, lest a 3-8 team get a little too complacent, captains C.J. Mosley and Justin Hardee took center stage to remind their teammates of cold hard facts while preserving the joy earned in Houston.

“We needed this, bro. We’re on a one-game winning streak, dog, now we need to make it two,” Hardee, the team’s special teams leader, reminded the group. “One at a time, enjoy it. (The) 24-hour rule, bro. Enjoy this (stuff), though, because winning’s hard to come by.”

“When we beat Cincinnati, we (were) all happy because we worked our (freaking butts) off and we all played ball together,” Mosley said. “I want y’all to really, really feel what y’all felt today. … If we’re on the right mindset, the right path, and we plan for the same thing, you’re invincible out there, man. That’s how it’s supposed to feel. So whatever you did this week we got to do more. If you do the same, we’re not getting better. We got to do more. I love you, boys.”

Some might call it tough love. Others would call it, at worse, cruel to remind a team fresh off a win about one of their most notorious failures. The shocking win over the presumably playoff-bound Bengals was followed up by a hopelessly poor effort against the Colts, where “Indianapolis 500” took on a whole new meaning—the Jets gave up all that yardage and then some in a 45-30 defeat that was only close because their merciful hosts relented once it became a 32-point game.

But the fact remains the following: It’s time to start a winning streak.

An unspoken, respectable preseason goal for the Jets would’ve been to insert their logo in the “in the hunt” column of the NFL’s version of an Advent calendar, the playoff chart that league broadcasters break out during lulls in November/December action. Even that modest endeavor is probably out of the question at this point, but the win over the Texans has given the Jets plenty to play for.

With the Houston win comes a caveat and a phrase that one famous (albeit fictional) young New Yorker was told by his uncle: with great power comes great responsibility.

It says some chilling things about the state of the Jets franchise when a win over the equally woebegone Texans (2-9) constitutes “great power”, but this season is about working well with the hands they’ve been dealt. The wins over Tennessee and Cincinnati are respectable feathers in Saleh’s cap, but they mean nothing when masked by the ensuing no-shows.

Even the most optimistic Jets fans would be silly to think they’re better than Buffalo and/or New England at this point, but those contests shouldn’t be lost by a combined 69-point margin.

But the win over Houston gives the Jets’ final hours purpose and meaning. Time is short, but the team is now blessed with a golden opportunity to create its first three-game winning streak since November 2019.

It might not mean much for the AFC’s expanded playoff picture but there’s no better way for this latest chapter of the Jets’ perpetual rebuild to build forward momentum, especially with their draft day fate residing in the Pacific Northwest rather than the Eastern Seaboard.

In other words, throw any notions of the (already ludicrous) practice of tanking aside if you’re tuning into the Jets this holiday season.

“It’s the same thing with regards to ignoring the noise, ignore the praise, ignore the criticism, and just focus on keeping the main thing the main thing: That’s getting better every week, building the foundation that we’re building, and understanding that this organization is going to get somewhere, and it’s going to get somewhere quick,” Saleh said of the impact over ending a three-game losing streak, per notes from the Jets. “The main focus is showing up to work, doing everything we can to get a little bit better, and find ways to finish the season strong.”

For better or worse, the Jets’ 2021 progress begins and ends with Wilson. The visit to Houston was headlined by his return from a sprained PCL and the 48-hour aftermath has yielded a universal green truth: Yes, his box score (14-of-24, 145 yards, and an interception) left much to be desired, but his comeback effort (aided by a strong rushing attack), completed with mid-play improvisation that led to the de facto winning score is certainly inspiring.

From a mainstream standpoint, the Jets only get better if Wilson finds a sense of consistency before the season lets out.

But that sense of consistency must be found beyond the quarterback. Sunday’s Houston excursion was a delightful throwback to when the Jets’ hopes were fueled by a strong, Carl Lawson-less pass rush, headlined by the newly-extended John Franklin-Myers. It’s great to see that the Jets earned five sacks on Sunday and yielded only 45 yards in the second half (11 coming on a desperate final Texans drive), but that progress can’t be forgotten.

When the Jets took down Ryan Tannehill seven times in the win over the Titans, they followed that up with a goose egg in the London. Entering the Texans game, in fact, the Jets were only able to match that seven-sack tally over their prior six games, which included another blank space against Miami.

Further recoveries in Houston were found beyond Wilson: Franklin-Myers justified his new extension with a strong homecoming performance. Blessed with a close game, Elijah Moore came up big despite some early inactivity. Bryce Hall enjoyed an unheralded afternoon of redemption when his pass breakup more or less sealed the deal after he let up one of Houston’s early touchdowns.

Even if the Jets had failed to escape the Lone Star State with a won, Saleh was pleased with a sense of consistency on display, one the Jets must carry on if they want to move in the right direction.

“Consistency is the truest measure of performance. You’re either consistently bad or consistently good, or consistently inconsistent,” Saleh said on Sunday. “There’s a standard that we have to be able to achieve day in and day out. Especially being a young team, it’s not about changing things up. It’s understanding how to be a professional, ignore the outside noise, and show up to work and keep the main thing the main thing.”

“Go line by line, play by play, minute by minute, moment by moment, and just try to find ways to get better. Then when game day comes, you do everything you can to play your absolute best, and you trust the result will be in your favor. But changing stuff up, the focus is exactly what it’s going to be, and that we plan on having as our standard for years to come.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

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Geoff Magliocchetti is a veteran football writer with years of credentialed experience with the Jets and Giants. Email: geoffmags90@gmail.com

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