The unit settled down in the second half but the damage was done
Defensive antics once again doomed the New York Jets to Sunday disappointment.
New York (3-9) allowed at least 400 yards for the sixth time this season, clinching their sixth straight season with a losing record through a 33-18 loss at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles at MetLife Stadium. This disappointing effort overshadowed a strong first half for Zach Wilson and comes after they allowed only 202 yards in a win over Houston last weekend.
While defensive letdowns are nothing new for the 2021 Jets, the battle of the New Jersey Turnpike was one of the most frustrating efforts of the season. Philadelphia scored on each of its first seven possessions, taking the lead for good on an eight-play, 94-yard trek in the second quarter, one that ended with an 18-yard touchdown for Kenneth Gainwell.
Eagles and Jets going back-and-forth.
Kenneth Gainwell gives Philly the lead with an 18-yard TD run. #FlyEaglesFly
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— NFL (@NFL) December 5, 2021
Gainwell’s score was a 185-yard effort for the Eagles’ ground game, the most the Jets allowed this season with the exception of the 260-yard onslaught headlined by Jonathan Taylor in Indianapolis on Nov. 4.
“It’s disappointing. Our offense was rolling. We scored three touchdowns early in the first half and Zach and the receivers, the run game, all of it was working really well,” head coach Robert Saleh said, per notes from the Jets. “If we could have gotten a stop early, it felt like our offense would have turned around and gotten some points. We had some chances there, but obviously, it wasn’t good enough.”
Adding insult to injury (literally, as safety Michael Carter II was revealed to be in concussion protocol after the game), the Eagles (6-7) put on an offensive showcase without the services of injured franchise quarterback Jalen Hurts. In his place stood Gardner Minshew, who put up 242 yards and two scores in relief. New York pass rushers earned only two sacks of Minshew after posting five against Houston.
The Jets’ prep for the Philadelphia quarterback came under fire in the postgame aftermath. Cornerback Bryce Hall remarked that the team didn’t do much preparation for Minshew’s arrival (per ESPN’s Rich Cimini) before backtracking and claiming that Philadelphia’s eventual decision had little impact on their week of practice.
“We kind of saw them as similar,” Hall, he of six Sunday tackles, said of Hurts and Minshew in team notes. “We didn’t get the information who is up or who is down, and things like that. But, in terms of the preparation, had we known ahead of time, I don’t think it really honestly would’ve changed much at all. We still knew we had prepared for what they were going to do. And I think, in terms of running the football, and all the stuff that they did, it really didn’t change whether it was Minshew (or) Jalen. They did pretty much the same things that we were expecting them to do.”
A somber Saleh concurred, as did defensive leader C.J. Mosley.
“A system is a system. They weren’t going to change their entire system all in one week,” Saleh said. “It’s just, what were they going to call more of which we were very more familiar with? All right, you’re not going to get the QB runs, but you’re still going to get RPO’s. You’re still going to get more intermediate to short game, which is what they did. Everything that they did was expected. It’s all part of their game plan.”
“It didn’t affect us at all, they ran the same offense,” Mosley said of the switch. “We ran our same calls, we did our same defense. But like I said, they executed better than we did and they made the plays when they needed to make them.”
Minshew had 11 yards on four carries, all but two of that tally coming on a nine-yard scramble prior to Gainwell’s score.
The Jets were able to take a quantum of solace in the fact they allowed no touchdowns over the final 34.5 minutes of game time, as Philadelphia finished its scoring with four Jake Elliott field goals.
“They were able to kick field goals, but to hold up in the red zone the way that we did, to hold up in the second half and to make them kick field goals, it showed the fight and the grit and the pride that they have. It was good to see,” Saleh said of the defensive intensity in the second half. “Obviously, we don’t want to allow any points, but it was at least good to see that when their back was up against a wall, they continued to fight and keep points to a minimum.”
Alas, the consolation prize came with caveats: the lengthy field goal drives limited the Jets to a mere three plays in the third quarter. New York held the ball for 24:24 on Sunday, their third-worst time of the season. Between Philadelphia’s final drive of the first half and their second of the second half, the Jets ran three meaningful offensive plays in the span of over an hour of real time (excluding a kneeldown at the end of the first half).
Saleh hinted that the long delay could’ve killed Wilson’s offensive momentum.
“They had the ball to finish the first half. Then, they go eight minutes and then, it’s a quick drive for us and then they have the ball again for however many minutes it was,” he said. “You’re looking at over an hour of real time where our offense was on the field for just a quick minute…when it’s cold and you’re trying to stay warm and in rhythm. All of that matters.”
A matchup between green squadrons was instead defined by yellow. Minshew’s relief effort was aided by four first downs earned via New York penalty. The deadliest call came in the late stages of the third quarter, when Mosley jumped offsides to create a five-yard penalty on fourth-and-one from the cusp of midfield. Philadelphia took advantage to take a permanent double-digit lead via one of the aforementioned Elliott triples.
Despite the flags drawing animated responses from Saleh, he encouraged his team to look at themselves rather than the officials for the self-destructive penalties. The Jets have had 98 penalties called against them this season, the seventh-worst tally in the league. The 35 accepted penalties against the defense are tied with Buffalo and Chicago for fifth-worst.
“You have to look at yourself first,” Saleh said. “There are some self-inflicted wounds in there for sure. We have to be better in those regards. We can handle the ones we have control over. Those are the ones that are the most frustrating.”
Redemption potentially awaits the Jets in another interconference home game, as the New Orleans Saints visit next Sunday afternoon (1 p.m. ET, CBS).
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags