The good times seem so far away. That doesn’t mean the Jets should forget about them.
New York Jets fans got Festivus started early on Thursday night, turning a primetime, nationally-streamed showdown with the Jacksonville Jaguars into an airing of grievances … most of them lobbied toward a quarterback who is no longer master of the Jets’ passing domain.
It’s perhaps a downright Festivus miracle that Thursday’s game between the historically downtrodden Jets and Jaguars franchises carried significant postseason weight for both sides. The organizations’ respective cultures of futility were perhaps best personified by the fact that the contest was a meeting of the two teams that held the top picks of the 2021 NFL Draft, each of which was used on a potential passing prophet.
Don’t expect there to be a rematch.
Sure, teal-branded top choice Trevor Lawrence has the makings of a problem for not only the Jets but the rest of the AFC, one that amassed 280 total yards of offense in a 19-3 win. On the other side, the Zach Wilson era came to an unofficial end, the lauded second choice officially killing any goodwill he had left with the MetLife Stadium faithful with a 9-of-18 showing that amassed only 92 yards. To put that in perspective, the replacement fans yearned for … summer folk hero Chris Streveler … earned almost a third of that on his second aerial attempt alone.
Perhaps desperate for any return on his second overall pick investment, Jets head coach Robert Saleh insisted … or perhaps warned … the football world that they hadn’t seen the last of Wilson. But even he sounded more intrigued but what Streveler could offer over the Jets’ final two games, which have drastically decreased in value over the past four fruitless games.
“Right now he’s just got to focus on finding ways to get better, and we’ve got to find ways to help him. It’s not just him, it’s collective, and we’ve all got to find ways to get better,” Saleh said. ” I know Zach was struggling, but Streveler came in, ran a couple of plays, sparked the offense, got the explosive play, and so it just snowballed in a good way, so we wanted to give him the opportunity to finish the drive,” Saleh said. “By the time we got it back, again the same thing, we just said ‘We’re already here, let’s just keep going with (Streveler).”
Each side got back on Rt. 3 with very different 7-8 records: even if divisional caveats weren’t keeping the Jaguars’ playoff hopes alive, they could at least take solace in the fact that Lawrence appears to be getting this NFL thing down pat. The Jets, on the other hand, fall back to the familiar realm of losing, one well-equipped to extend their playoff drought to its 12th season.
Everything that has transpired in green metropolitan football since Marcus Jones’ heartbreaking runback to glory in Foxboro reeks of “Same Old Jets” shenanigans, ones that take on inflated notoriety because of their connection to Gang Green. Even the triumphant return of Mike White that closed out a hopeful Thanksgiving weekend rings hollow, not because of Chicago-based victims but because of the realization that he might be too injury-prone to be a reliable starter in the modern NFL (which perhaps says more about we, the football-loving people, and our expectations for passing success than we’d like, but that’s another discussion).
It’s truly hard, however, to label this season a disappointment, especially from a Jets perspective.
Sure, any year that features division title expectations giving way to calls to put in the preseason hero is going to be labeled a heartbreaker. But the Jets are far from a conventional franchise, if only because the bar is just above the entrance to the gridiron netherworld. If anything, the Jets’ Thursday outing was a microcosm of the year that’s been, one that defined the triumphs and heartbreaks of the 2022 campaign.
Anyone who came home drenched and depressed after a game like that surely won’t see any silver linings Thursday had to offer. Any remaining Wilson fanatics could’ve partly been excused by the shortcomings of a defense that has spent its year dominating at best and bending but not breaking at worst. For all the offensive progress Lawrence and fellow offensive risers like Travis Etienne, Evan Engram, and Zay Jones made, the unit primarily limited the damage to Riley Patterson field goals. Quinnen Williams wasted no time justifying his Pro Bowl Games selection with a strip sack of Lawrence, which only served to set up the Jets’ first drive of offensive futility, losing three yards before Greg Zuerlein got points via triple.
Sure, there were alarming signs of decline… primarily the 16-play, 96-yard trek that yielded the Jaguars’ lone six-pointer of the day, a punch-in from Lawrence himself … but the defense’s progress shouldn’t be discounted simply because of the familiar issue of quarterback play.
You know the Jets have made progress when the rookie cornerback gives up a mere 20 yards in coverage against arguably the hottest quarterback in football … and that’s considered a disappointment. The frustration, however, appears to be getting to the premier pick in question, Sauce Gardner. Pepsi-branded Rookie of the Week belts undoubtedly make good conversation starters come the holidays. Gardner would rather talk playoffs.
“We need to get takeaways and score at this point,” Gardner said. “It was extremely disappointing,” Gardner said. “We couldn’t execute. We couldn’t play complementary football today.”
That defensive progress has been a macabre, if not hopeful, sign that general manager Joe Douglas has a plan to make things right, one that has ensured that solving offensive woes (where Wilson is by no means the only problem…the offensive line did him no favors) is the primary issue when an offseason that’s coming earlier than expected hits.
Of course, that’s zero consolation to Jets fans who replaced their Halloween decorations with those pining for a division title.
True to their star-crossed nature, this Jets season, by far the most hopeful since Ryan Fitzpatrick’s rise to glory, has featured the team’s own success work against it. The potential of championship mirages aside, there’s nothing wrong with overachievement. Heck, the Jets’ blue MetLife Stadium co-tenants are doing the same thing and are inches away from a playoff berth.
Even the most optimistic Jets fan would’ve had trouble forging a spot on the AFC playoff bracket at the start of the season. The division belongs to Western New York until further notice (even if the Jets managed to outsmart they of the charging buffalo helmets the first time around) and established contenders painted the wild card picture.
Sure, some of the names changed (preseason contenders like Denver and Las Vegas are undoubtedly on the naughty list). But appearing in the fabled “in the hunt” column that NFL-broadcasting networks use as de facto Advent calendars, tearing fans away from the yearly showing of “A Year Without a Santa Claus” to watch a Jets game was always the most realistic goal for the Jets this season.
Mission accomplished … along with that of knowing the direction the offensive blueprint must take, one where the next start Zach Wilson makes in New Jersey should come only if the rebooted USFL’s Generals ever make their way up to the Garden State.
Sure, it’s the football equivalent of a donation to The Human Fund … but that’s the ultimate Festivus miracle of all, isn’t it?
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags
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