Some of the problems are persistent while others are surprising
Halt the narrative: the New York Jets did not get their revenge against the New England Patriots.
Instead, Bill Belichick moved into second place on the all-time coaches’ win list after picking up his 35th victory against the Green and White, vs. just 10 losses.
However, besides the continuation of the Jets’ now-13-game losing streak against their bullies up north, there are other issues to be concerned about. Some of them are now recurring themes, but others were considered advantages for the Jets and failed them against New England.
As the All-22 film comes out, we will review the game more closely to see what exactly happened. However, after watching the game unfold, here are some of the biggest problems that caused the Jets’ 22-17 defeat.
It starts with the quarterback
Even the most die-hard Zach Wilson truther must be concerned after Wilson’s performance today. No. 2 threw three boneheaded interceptions, including a throwaway that he failed to get out of bounds and an off-balance lob into double coverage.
Wilson came out playing fairly well early, hooking up with Garrett Wilson for a 54-yard connection and throwing a touchdown to Tyler Conklin. However, with time ticking in the first half, Wilson threw his first pick to Ja’Whaun Bentley, an overthrown ball to Ty Johnson on which he failed to set his feet. He didn’t recover from that mistake until it was too late.
Confidence has often been an issue with Wilson. When he’s comfortable and in rhythm, he has the confidence to trust his reads and get the ball out on time. However, once he makes one mistake, he becomes panicky and off rhythm and struggles to connect with receivers even when they’re open.
Wilson’s second pick came on a play in which he had Denzel Mims open deep. He missed Conklin earlier in the game on a sailed pass. This is a recurring theme in Wilson’s last few games.
Furthermore, despite the graphic from the CBS broadcast showing that Wilson was pressured on more than half his dropbacks, this game should not be confused with last week’s. Wilson had many plays where he had enough time to throw but held the ball for 3+ seconds before being pressured. His time to throw was one of the highest in the league coming into this game.
Sure, there were plays on which there was no one open, but there were also plenty on which Wilson could have either run for the first down or found a checkdown. He just looked ill at ease and rattled throughout the second half, reminiscent of the Sam Darnold “ghosts” game.
By the time Wilson connected with Denzel Mims, Jeff Smith, and Tyler Conklin on a TD drive with less than two minutes remaining in the game, it was too little, too late. The Patriots recovered the onside kick and killed the Jets’ last chance of a comeback.
However, that comeback may not have been as steep or necessary if Wilson had avoided the backbreaking mistake. The Jets’ defense was not perfect today, but they were up to the challenge after each of Wilson’s turnovers. They kept the team in the game throughout.
Questions will abound about No. 2. After playing fairly well in his first two games back from injury, Wilson has completely regressed, looking his worst today. The progress of the QB was one of the key goals of this season, and it’s difficult to find any of that in Wilson’s game tape from the last three weeks.
This game should also answer any questions about why Joe Flacco (now relegated to the No. 3 QB role behind Mike White) is not starting despite averaging over 300 passing yards per game. Wilson had 355 today. No one can kid themselves into thinking that he played well. Passing yards are a largely useless stat without context.
A No. 2 pick will always have a bit of a leash, but with the Jets improving their team significantly around Wilson, the lack of improvement from him is concerning. Even head coach Robert Saleh, ever protective of his quarterback, admitted that Wilson “needs to play better.” The rumblings in East Rutherford about whether Wilson is the answer will get ever louder.
Special teams woes
After a horrific start to the season against Baltimore, the Jets’ special teams had been one of their biggest strengths since. Greg Zuerlein was 3-for-3 on his field goals last week and was one of the main reasons the Jets beat Denver. Braden Mann has been nailing long punts and pinning teams deep. The punt coverage had been solid. Overall, the Jets were third in the NFL in special teams DVOA heading into this game.
Today, nearly every aspect of the special teams failed miserably. Mann set the tone with a 22-yard shank following the Jets’ three-and-out on their first drive. Braxton Berrios, who was second in the NFL in kick return average (24.4) among those with at least six returns heading into the game, had two returns at 18.0 yards per attempt, setting the Jets up inside their 20 both times.
The Jets’ punt coverage, so strong all season, also goofed, allowing a 32-yard punt return to rookie Marcus Jones. With the score 16-10, the Patriots started with the ball at the Jets’ 27, leading to another field goal and a two-score lead that was ultimately insurmountable.
Furthermore, Zuerlein missed a key 45-yard field goal that would have tied the game at 13. The Patriots had just taken the lead with a decisive march downfield into the end zone coming out of the half. The Jets responded with a decent drive of their own, going seven plays and 48 yards. The drive was highlighted by an 18-yard throw to Garrett Wilson and a 27-yard toss to Tyler Conklin. A good kick there would have evened the momentum. Instead, Zuerlein missed it, and the Patriots responded with a field goal.
The poor special teams play was further lopsided considering that Nick Folk went five-for-five on his own field goal attempts, including hits from 49 and 52. The former Jets’ kicker burned his old team. Patriots’ punter Jake Bailey, struggling entering the game, pinned the Jets at their own eight on his first punt of the day. While Bailey wasn’t great, the Jets did not gain any significant advantage from his punting.
Brant Boyer had done a fantastic job with his unit up to this point. It’s disappointing to see the deficiencies in this game. While Zach Wilson lost the game for the Jets, the special teams certainly contributed.
Third down defense early
While the Patriots finished the day 6-for-19 on third down, a 32% conversion rate that is nothing to write home about, they gashed the Jets on third-and-long early. On the Patriots’ second drive of the game, they converted third downs of 10, 11, and five yards before falling short on third and goal. On their next drive, they converted a third-and-eight and were starting to put a drive together before Bryce Huff hit Mac Jones and forced a third-and-nine interception.
On the Patriots’ 13-play, 70-yard drive that culminated in a turnover on downs, they also converted third downs of five and seven yards.
The Jets’ defense played well overall, but the inability to get off the field on third down hurt them in the first half. This has been a theme at times this year. Though they’re ranked 20th in the NFL with a 41.5% third-down conversion rate allowed, that number is up from 29th after four weeks of play. The overall stats in this game will only improve their ranking, but some of the conversions early in the game were back-breaking.
Mistakes in critical spots
We’ve already reviewed Zach Wilson’s follies in this game. His pick on third-and-2 at the Jets’ 43 with 0:48 in the first half was backbreaking, its significance reminiscent of Wilson’s first pick of the season near the end of the half against the Steelers. His other two interceptions killed virtually any chance the Jets had at a comeback.
A particularly painful error in this game, though, was once again a penalty. The Jets were the sixth-most penalized team in the NFL heading into Week 8. Though they were called for only four penalties today (for 41 total yards), one near the end of the second quarter heavily swung the game. Following Zach Wilson’s first interception, the Jets appeared to make a game-altering play, as Michael Carter II picked off Mac Jones and returned it 84 yards to the house. However, John Franklin-Myers was called for a roughing the passer penalty, and the Patriots scored a field goal. Instead of a 17-3 lead at the half, the Jets had to settle for 10-6. They never recovered the momentum.
Though Saleh was furious about the penalty, which, he was told by the officials, was called because JFM hit the quarterback “too hard,” that hit is often called in today’s NFL. There has been much controversy about the number of soft roughing calls this season, and you could argue that Franklin-Myers took only one step, had started his hit prior to the release of the ball, and hit Jones in the chest, not the helmet. However, this is the second bad penalty on JFM this season, and it was a back-breaker.
Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich deserve overall praise for the way their defense has played this year. There is not much exception today. They overcame terrible field position disadvantages and held the Patriots to one touchdown and five field goals. They sacked Mac Jones six times and picked him off once (almost twice).
However, the back-breaking penalties keep mounting. This defense needs more discipline against boneheaded plays. Yes, the unnecessary roughness penalty on C.J. Mosley was incorrect, per John Parry on the broadcast. Yes, there have been some bad calls on the Jets throughout the season. But they need to be smarter.
Everyone was concerned about the Jets’ offensive line following the loss of Alijah Vera-Tucker for the season. There was further reason to be concerned about the run game with the loss of both AVT and Breece Hall. The acquisition of James Robinson raised hope that the Jets could still establish a run game, but that did not happen today. The Jets had 15 carries for 51 yards, just 3.4 yards per attempt. They could not mask the deficiencies in Zach Wilson’s play.
Furthermore, the aforementioned CBS graphic late in the fourth quarter showed that Wilson was pressured eighteen times plus one sack and one hit in 37 dropbacks. Although some of it was on Wilson, the Jets did struggle in pass protection at times. Additionally, Wilson had three passes batted down, at least two of which were due to penetration at the line.
Max Mitchell warmed up today, and as he’s eligible to come off injured reserve next week, the Jets could choose to the line out until they get healthy. According to Saleh, the Jets are hopeful that George Fant will return against New England in three weeks following the bye. If Fant is healthier than he was earlier in the season, there is some reason for optimism that he could play more like he did last season, when he had one of the lowest pressure rates allowed among tackles.
However, Joe Douglas has been doing his due diligence on offensive linemen, and a move is still possible. This game did not provide any encouragement about the line’s ability to hold up. The offensive line continues to be an issue as injuries and poor play from veterans threaten to completely derail the Jets’ offense.