The narrative changed in the last minute and a half, but there was both good and bad for the Jets in this game
The New York Jets won a regular-season game in September.
We have not been able to write such a sentence since Sam Darnold’s opening game back in 2018.
An exultant Robert Saleh took his first receipt following the win.
— Cool Your Jets (@CYJpod) September 19, 2022
Obviously, in a victory, there’s going to be a lot of focus on the good. And there was plenty of good that came out of this game.
But let’s not forget that with 1:55 left, the Jets looked dead in the water.
— Freezing Cold Takes (@OldTakesExposed) September 18, 2022
There was obviously much that did not go the Jets’ way to get to that point. It was looking like one of those games in which the team just couldn’t get it done despite hanging in there.
Let’s go over some of the things that went right and others that could use improvement for the New York Jets.
Garrett Wilson: the Jets’ Justin Jefferson?
Garrett Wilson needs his own category for his play in this game.
It may be a little too early to compare him to the Vikings’ record-setting wideout, but such comparisons are not just hyperbolic.
Tyler Conklin, who played with Justin Jefferson, said that Garrett Wilson reminds him of Jefferson:
"They move similar. They have those lanky strides and they're slippery, euro stepping down the field. I see a lot of similarities." #Jets
— Zack Rosenblatt (@ZackBlatt) September 19, 2022
DJ Reed on Garrett Wilson: “He has that Justin Jefferson vibe. Dudes don’t want to cover him man to man.” #Jets
— Zack Rosenblatt (@ZackBlatt) September 18, 2022
Wilson put up eight receptions for 102 yards and two touchdowns against the Browns, including the game-winner with 22 seconds to play.
What’s wild about Wilson’s historic day is that it could have been even better.
Looked at all of Garrett Wilson's targets vs CLE. He had a HUGE game but it could've been even better. Flacco was a little off on 4 targets (including 2 would be TD's) and Wilson had the big drop late in the 4th Q. This dude is special.
— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) September 19, 2022
Last week, Jets fans lamented the limited use of Wilson in the first half of the game. Offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur heightened those concerns when he stated that Wilson needs to master the Z and F positions to get out there more.
Either LaFleur was bluffing, or Wilson learned in a hurry. He lined up in the slot 18 times and out wide 16 times. He seemingly got open all the time. He did still get fewer snaps (43) than Elijah Moore (61) and Corey Davis (55), but he saw more targets (14) than the two of them combined (9).
Clearly, quarterback Joe Flacco has realized that he has a go-to guy. It showed confidence to go back to the rookie after his back-breaking third-down drop on 3rd-and-4 from the Jets’ 38-yard line with the clock ticking in the 4th quarter and the Jets trailing by seven.
After the game, Wilson said, “I didn’t want my drop to be the reason we lost the game.” And he made sure it wasn’t.
Wilson did something that no other Jets rookie has ever done.
A note on Garrett Wilson: the 1st Jets rookie ever with 100 receiving yds and multiple receiving TDs in a game. #Jets
— Rich Cimini (@RichCimini) September 19, 2022
When the Jets took Wilson with the No. 10 overall pick, they did not necessarily expect him to come in and immediately make a substantial impact. They do have three other capable receivers in Moore, Davis, and Braxton Berrios. But it appears that the rookie is outshining them all.
Try guarding him at practice everyday 🙄 https://t.co/LzryITtInQ
— Brandin Echols (@matayo_echols) September 18, 2022
Mike LaFleur: the seeds of an improved offense
Offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur took his lumps after the Week 1 defeat vs. the Ravens. He was criticized for running too many long-developing routes despite the offensive line’s struggles, not giving Flacco enough layups to get the offense going, and failing to utilize misdirection and play action to give his line some relief.
On the Jets’ first drive of the game, it appeared some of those criticisms were going to continue. The Jets went three-and-out after a 16-yard pass attempt on 3rd-and-1. Though it appeared that the pass could have been called complete on review, the play call was not great.
LaFleur course corrected as the game went on, though. It was apparent that he got the memo about misdirection, as the Jets ran Wilson, Moore, and Berrios on multiple jet sweeps and reverses. They also ran some counterplays and pitches to keep Myles Garrett, Jadaveon Clowney, and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah moving horizontally.
Though the plays themselves had mixed results (Wilson and Moore lost yardage on their carries, while Berrios had a nice gain), they kept the defense honest and opened up holes in the run and short passing games.
LaFleur dialed up a number of short passes, screens, and layups for Flacco. This helped the Jets’ offense get in a rhythm and push the ball down the field to the tune of 402 yards of total offense, including 8-for-15 on third down.
The fact that LaFleur was able to get that kind of success with an immobile QB in Joe Flacco tantalizes the imagination about what he can do when Zach Wilson returns. There was definitely some meat left on the bone with plays that Flacco did not execute but Wilson may have been able to make happen.
If fans are going to criticize LaFleur for the opening game defeat, they should give him credit for opening it up more in Game 2. This game showcased the improved weapons on offense and mapped the blueprint for some explosiveness down the line.
Joe Flacco: the Old Man delivers in the clutch
The Jets’ 37-year-old greybeard came through.
Joe Flacco played reasonably well for most of the game, even prior to the miraculous comeback. However, he had a few errant throws that made you scratch your head, and he was once again victimized by some bad drops. His worst play was a strip-sack by Jadaveon Clowney inside the red zone, which was recovered by the Browns and wiped out a strong Jets drive.
However, when it came to crunch time, Flacco hunkered down and delivered a masterpiece that the Jets have not seen in a long time. First, it was the 66-yard bomb to Corey Davis on a Browns’ blown coverage. As wide open as Davis was, Flacco gets credit for recognizing it and getting him the ball quickly enough to get in for the TD.
Then, after the Jets made a rare onside kick recovery, Flacco methodically drove the team down the field for the game-winning score. His best play may have been one that he did not make:
The most important play for the New York #Jets, on this absurd game-winning drive, was how Joe Flacco AVOIDED the sack on second and 10. HUGE veteran QB play. Cannot stress that one enough.
I said it earlier: Where Flacco was best this August in camp was in the hurry-up. 31-30.
— Robby Sabo (@RobbySabo) September 18, 2022
After all the talk about the plays that Flacco did not make last week due to pressure, it was his ability to get the ball out and avoid a sack that made the difference. Give credit to the vet. This is one of the reasons that the team stuck with Flacco over Mike White.
Flacco sliced and diced the Browns on the game-winning drive, chipping away with short passes and mid-range throws. Most importantly, on the only third down of the drive, Flacco came through. He found Garrett Wilson over the middle for the 15-yard score.
Joe Flacco is like Eli Manning in this regard: He's at his best when things are most chaotic in the football game, when the game breaks down and minds are going 100 mph. #Jets win 31-30. https://t.co/9En4HiAkA6
— Robby Sabo (@RobbySabo) September 18, 2022
According to a report from Connor Hughes of SNY, the Jets will stick with their Week 4 timeline for Zach Wilson, which means that Flacco will get one more game against the Bengals. But this victory over the Browns provides some reassurance that Flacco can get it done.
Special teams: redemption
Braden Mann was the subject of ridicule and anger from Jets fans after his poor performance vs. the Ravens. The Jets’ punter redeemed himself – in three different phases! – in the comeback victory.
Mann punted four times with a 47.3-yard gross average, including two punts downed inside the 20. His first punt forced a fair catch at the 10-yard line, making Cleveland march 90 yards to score (which they did). His best punt of the day came on the Jets’ first drive of the third quarter, where, from his own 47, he pinned Cleveland inside their own 4-yard line with a 48-yard punt that went out of bounds.
However, Mann’s two biggest plays of the day did not come on punts.
On the Jets’ second drive, already down 7-0, the team faced a 4th-and-2 from their own 46. Mann came out to punt, but Robert Saleh and Brant Boyer dialed up a fake. Mann made a perfect throw to Jeff Smith on the sideline for a 17-yard gain and a first down. It gave the Jets a shot in the arm, as they drove down for a touchdown to tie the game at seven.
Even more important was Mann’s role late in the game. After the Browns went up 30-17 on Nick Chubb’s touchdown scamper, the Jets quickly responded with a 66-yard TD pass to Corey Davis. With 1:22 left and no timeouts, the Jets had to attempt an onside kick.
Due to the changes in NFL kickoff rules in recent years, onside kick recoveries have become increasingly rare. However, Mann got off a bouncer towards the left sideline which forced a scramble for the ball. Justin Hardee eventually came out with it, setting up the Jets’ game-winning drive.
Past Mann, Greg Zuerlein showed why he has the nicknames “Greg the Leg” and “Legatron.” With the Jets trailing 17-14 early in the fourth quarter, Robert Saleh decided to attempt a 57-yard field goal rather than trying to pin Cleveland deep. Zuerlein was money, redeeming himself for a shaky Week 1.
Braxton Berrios reprised his All-Pro returning role, averaging 25.0 yards per kick return and setting up the Jets in good field position each time. He also had a 16-yard punt return to set the Jets up at their own 46 with 1:15 remaining in the first half. They marched down for a game-tying touchdown on that drive.
The only blip on the radar special teams-wise was an unnecessary roughness penalty on Marcell Harris following a Braden Mann punt that yielded no return. There was 2:40 on the clock, and Harris got into a small altercation following the whistle. It was a tick-tack call, but Harris should’ve known better, especially down one touchdown.
Breece Hall: signs of strength
After an uneven debut, second-round RB Breece Hall flashed the talent that enticed the Jets to trade up for him. In relatively limited snaps, the rookie had seven rushes for 50 yards, a tidy 7.1 yards-per-carry average. Hall added a 10-yard touchdown reception, the first TD of his NFL career.
Hall was the better back on the field on Sunday after Michael Carter outplayed him in Week 1. He made his 19 snaps count (vs. 43 for Carter) and showed the coaching staff that he deserves more playing time going forward.
Brandin Echols: stranglehold on the CB4 job
The Jets had some injury scares in this game, including Sauce Gardner‘s departure in the third quarter to be evaluated for a concussion. It was an inopportune time for the Jets, as the Browns had the ball in plus territory. Furthermore, Bryce Hall was inactive for this game, making it Echols’s time.
Sauce returned on the following drive, but Echols more than acquitted himself in his limited action. Coming in cold, he forced two consecutive incompletions on second- and third-and-goal from the Jets’ four-yard line, and Cleveland had to settle for a field goal.
The fact that Hall was inactive meant that the Jets were giving Echols an opportunity to step up. After Echols’s performance on Sunday, there may be more inactives in Hall’s future.
The Improved, but still a ways to go
After a terrible performance in Week 1, the offensive line mostly bounced back against the Browns. The interior line, in particular, did a much better job protecting Joe Flacco.
George Fant – 5 Pressures
Max Mitchell – 4 pressures
Alijah Vera-Tucker – 3 pressures
Laken Tomlinson – 2 pressures
Connor McGovern – 1 pressure
Against a very good defensive line that's a vast improvement on last week. Continuity is key. #TakeFlight
— David Wyatt-Hupton (@DWyattHupton) September 19, 2022
George Fant gets a bit of a pass this week, as he was playing against the dominant Myles Garrett. Even Fant settled down, though: after Garrett dominated earlier in the game, the Jets did a better job of containing him in the second half, especially on the game-winning score. Credit goes to Max Mitchell on that play.
Max Mitchell vs. Myles Garrett on the game winning TD 👀 pic.twitter.com/JPNeYngLuu
— Michael Nania (@Michael_Nania) September 19, 2022
Mitchell has done an excellent job for a fourth-round rookie. Despite the strip-sack by Jadaveon Clowney, Mitchell held his own overall.
Furthermore, Laken Tomlinson bounced back in a big way, putting up a 76.8 pass-blocking grade at Pro Football Focus.
After an encouraging performance in Week 1 against the Ravens, the Jets’ defensive line took a step back in Week 2.
Jacoby Brissett mostly operated from a clean pocket, allowing him to carve up the secondary to the tune of 22-for-27 passing at 8.5 yards per attempt. Carl Lawson came up with one sack, but overall, it was a disappointing performance from Lawson, Quinnen Williams, John Franklin-Myers, and Jermaine Johnson.
The Jets did a great job wrapping up against the Ravens. Not so against the Browns.
Nick Chubb is one of the hardest backs to tackle in the NFL, and he victimized the Jets with jukes, stiff arms, and just pure power. Pro Football Focus counted 17 missed tackles by Jets players, a putrid 24.6% missed tackle rate as a team. The worst offenders were the safeties, as Jordan Whitehead and Lamarcus Joyner missed four tackles each, a 36.4% rate.
The Jets will need to fix their tackling issues against Ja’Marr Chase and the Bengals next week.
Tyler Conklin generated buzz in the preseason as the quarterbacks’ favorite target. Fans expected big things from the former Vikings tight end. Instead, he has fumbled the ball twice in two weeks and had a drop against the Browns, as well. Conklin said he needs to “get that [bleep] cleaned up.” He certainly does.
Jets complementary football
The stat sheet was once again weighted heavily in favor of the pass. Joe Flacco dropped back to pass 47 times and handed off just 19 times. That happens a lot in games when a team trails, but the Jets were within one score or tied for the majority of the game.
While the offensive output and the result make it difficult to complain about play selection, and I just complimented Mike LaFleur above, it’s important for the team to be able to run more consistently as the season moves on. Joe Flacco has 109 dropbacks and 103 pass attempts through two games. After a 2021 season in which they passed 64% of the time, the Jets need to give their quarterbacks a break and spread the wealth more.
Referees: trying to lose the game for the Jets
The men in the stripes seemed to be playing against the Jets from the get-go. On 3rd-and-1 on the Jets’ opening drive, Joe Flacco appeared to complete a pass to Tyler Conklin on the sideline. The pass was called incomplete initially, but Robert Saleh challenged the play. After returning from a TV timeout, fans learned that the call was confirmed. Longtime NFL official and rules specialist Gene Steratore expressed surprise at the call on the CBS broadcast, saying that there was a blade of grass visible between Conklin’s toes and the sideline.
The only saving grace for the referees is that Conklin lost control of the ball when he hit the ground, which is likely the reason that the call was confirmed.
There were a number of tick-tack calls in the game, including a roughing the passer penalty on Micheal Clemons when he appeared to hit the quarterback’s thigh rather than his knee and the aforementioned unnecessary roughness call on Marcell Harris. They called two ineligible man downfield penalties on Connor McGovern but failed to penalize the Browns center for doing the same thing on the numerous screen passes thrown by Jacoby Brissett.
However, the worst call of the game was a holding penalty on George Fant. On second-and-five from the Browns’ 29, Carter broke one for 24 yards to set the Jets up with first-and-goal. The stripes called holding on Fant. The replay showed absolutely nothing: Fant did not grab in any way.
When there is holding on every single play, as the adage goes, calling one like that to kill a Jets’ drive was inexcusable. The Jets had to settle for a field goal following two consecutive incomplete passes.
Out of 65 safeties with at least 60 snaps this season, Jordan Whitehead and Lamarcus Joyner grade out as the third-worst (35.8) and worst (29.1) safeties in the NFL at Pro Football Focus, respectively.
In Week 2, Whitehead was the worst-graded, and Joyner was the second-worst. Although Joyner is more noticeable on TV, the fact is that both Jets’ safeties have been putrid in multiple phases of the game.
As mentioned earlier, both Whitehead and Joyner missed four tackles against the Browns. Whitehead allowed two receptions for 37 yards in the game, including 16 yards after the catch. Joyner gave up one reception for four yards but was generally AWOL in coverage.
Joe Blewett has emphasized in his reviews that Whitehead is a shaky tackler. We saw Joyner fail miserably as a center fielder in Week 1.
The safety play can be the Achilles’ heel of this defense.
Note: It appeared that the linebackers played very poorly in this game, as well, but without the All-22 film available, it’s hard to know exactly who was to blame. Quincy Williams graded out as the third-worst linebacker in the league in Week 2, per PFF, but we tend to be skeptical about PFF grades for linebackers without seeing the film to back it up. More will come later in the week.