The Jets are in a desirable, if not unfamiliar, position after their first four games
The cautious excitement is palpable around the New York Jets.
After a 2-2 start to the 2022 season, the enthusiasm is not that difficult to quell. This long-suffering fan base could easily be told that their even record is the result of others’ mistakes, a sensation upon which they have had little to show for themselves. So futile and desperate have their gridiron prospects become that simply sitting at .500 come the calendar’s flip from September to October is cause for celebration.
In their jubilation, Jets fans have undoubtedly been told to “act like (they’ve) been there before.” Such an axiom, of course, is useless to supporters of Gang Green, whose younger recruits have, again, literally never been “there” before.
But, as it stands, the Jets are 2-2 after the de facto first “quarter” of the season, at least in the traditional pre-Week 18 sense of things. This isn’t the College Football Playoff, where style points and strength of the opponent put one on (or off) the bracket. Bill Parcells mused that “you are what your record is,” and in the Jets’ current NFL landscape, it’s enough to be included in the infantile playoff picture. For a team that’s often metaphorically eliminated before their metropolitan baseball counterparts, that might as well be a division title.
The second quarter of this season (the Jets’ next four games because there’s no way to divide 17 evenly by game) presents an intriguing opportunity. How can they take full advantage?
At least beat the East
The NFL’s cherished “Any Given Sunday” motif is on its most prevalent, purest display during divisional contests. Whether it stems from the mere familiarity of two guaranteed yearly matchups or the legitimate emotional fuel of a rivalry, the matchups are breeding grounds for upsets and thrillers, especially in this day and age of offensive explosions that often give the games of the late Arena Football League a run for their money.
That makes the Jets’ 0-12 record against their yearly double trio from Buffalo, Miami, and New England all the more frustrating. When you fail to beat an opponent you see twice a year even once in two consecutive years, it takes little investigation as to why the Jets have sat at the bottom of the standings and at the top of the draft board in recent seasons.
For more on the Jets’ divisional futility, turn to the man in charge of ending it: Robert Saleh has done his homework and then some on the Jets’ brutal streak, even though he’s technically responsible for only half of it.
“Here’s the real stat for you: We have 12 consecutive division game losses. We’ve been outscored by our opponent 358-158. That’s 16.6 per game. We have a gap to close,” Saleh said, as documented by the New York Post. “Showing up is the first step. How we grow and how we close that gap is going to depend on every person in this room, including me, myself.”
It’s probably a bit too much to ask the Jets, as they stand, to dispose of the mighty Buffalo Bills. But the next four weeks offer two intriguing opportunities to end the curse: divisional bread decorates the second quarter, with the Miami Dolphins visiting this Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS) and the New England Patriots coming over three weeks later.
Sure, Miami has the “well-rested” argument after partaking in the most recent Thursday nighter, but the Jets are still facing a team that’s mired in controversy and working with a backup quarterback. The post-Tom Brady Patriots are still a work in progress, but they’ve managed to keep one tradition alive in their continued green bullying. If the Jets ever want their narrative to change, they have to flex their muscles against familiar competition.
Win by two
Many a playground game has ended … or carried on … through the “win by two” decree. Maybe it’s time for the Jets to get back to basics.
One of the most commendable things about this Jets team and a trait that separates them from the doomed groups of the past is that it’s that while they’ve been gifted plenty of opportunities to conjure up victories, this group is actually taking advantage of those chances (e.g., turning a turnover into a touchdown last week in Pittsburgh).
Last-second victories make for the best scripts, of course. In fact, the Jets’ comeback nature is only adding to the cinematic, team-of-destiny feeling this group appears to be carrying with it.
But there’s something to be said about a comfortable, wire-to-wire victory. Not everything needs to be high on drama. Granted, it might be hard to secure that big win in this stretch: after all, we literally just finished talking about the unpredictable nature of divisional games, and the Jets also have to face a presumably angry Aaron Rodgers when they go to Green Bay next weekend.
But if the Jets can take advantage of, say, the visit to a downtrodden, lifeless Denver team come Week 7, that’d be a nice little notice to the rest of the league that the definition of “Same Old Jets” is fading.
Let Zach attack
At this point, the Jets shouldn’t, and more than likely don’t, care how their wins come about. A good ending can make up for otherwise brutal steps that came before it: let’s face it, Joe Flacco’s statuesque pocket presence in Cleveland is a long-forgotten memory after Garrett Wilson erased the Jets’ zero on the correct side of the standings column.
So it’s thus of little surprise that no Jets fan has complained that Zach Wilson‘s return (18-of-36, 252 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT) didn’t win them their fantasy football contest last week. As far as they’re concerned, the Jets won a game, and Wilson was a major part of that. That’s all they care about it. This isn’t the “NFL Street” franchise, so style points are thus irrelevant.
Alas, for an astonishing number of quarterbacks, mere victories aren’t enough to ensure longevity these days. Now a quarterback must represent his team on the playoff bracket, the statistical leaderboards, and the highlight reels. Look no further than the retired Alex Smith, who fell victim to the phenomenon twice (San Francisco and Kansas City). Tyrod Taylor got the Buffalo Bills closer to the playoffs than any other pre-Josh Allen quarterback in the new century. His reward was a benching in favor of Nathan Peterman before the Bills realized their mistake. In modern times, Cooper Rush is 4-0 as the Dallas Cowboys’ starter, but there’s no realistic push for him to usurp Dak Prescott.
Heck, a vocal part of the Jets’ support group was willing to do the same to Wilson after one game of Mike White magic last season. A visit from Buffalo quickly silenced those notions, but it showed just how precarious of a spot Wilson is working from.
A team like the Jets needs to go into the future with as few questions and as much silence as possible. It’s time for Wilson, he of no 300-yard games through 14 showings, to start impressing on the stat sheet so as to eliminate any questions about his franchise worthiness.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags