This holiday season will alter both the New York Jets’ present and future
While the world has mostly disposed of its pandemic glossary — remember social distancing and contact tracing? — the acknowledgment of “unprecedented times” has certainly stuck around for the New York Jets.
The Jets’ extraordinary circumstances certainly pale in comparison to those faced around the globe. But the situation is unique, special in the macabre sense that has defined green metropolitan football.
No one perusing this site needs a recap as to how the Jets’ season, which continues on Sunday late afternoon against the Buffalo Bills (4:25 p.m. ET, CBS), got to this point. But it’s still worth noting that few teams could overcome the loss of a potential franchise savior to inch their way back into their playoff chase. But that’s where the Jets (4-5) currently stand as Thanksgiving and Christmas approach, firmly (and finally) entrenched in the “In the Hunt” column on playoff charts that NFL broadcasters use as de facto Advent calendars.
Once Aaron Rodgers went down, the Jets were more or less offered a mulligan, a blank canvas to work with the rest of the season. Yet, they’re contending, sticking around for an improbable playoff run in an NFL where teams have posted winning records in the wake of an aerial disaster (i.e. San Francisco, Cleveland) thanks to sterling defensive efforts.
Engaged in an eight-team logjam chasing the seventh and final AFC playoff seed, the Jets also have a chance to deal a forceful blow to the reeling Bills. Buffalo’s small-town charm has perhaps kept the spotlight of “embrace debate” culture, one that thrives on pigskin schadenfreude, away from Western New York as long as it could, but the dam could finally break with a loss to the Jets. Larger matters, in fact, could be on the line: if the Jets complete the sweep of Buffalo, they’ll be no more than two games behind a division title currently held by Miami — who just so happen to be visiting for Black Friday.
At the same time, it feels like the Jets, and only the Jets, are the team that could at least somewhat gracefully recover (i.e. beating the Bills amidst Week 1 heartbreak, standing as the only team to defeat the Philadelphia Eagles) from the ultimate opening drive nightmare and still find themselves the punchline of gridiron gallows humor. Like most metropolitan football happenings, some of that is built by preconceived notions of the Jets that might take multiple Vince Lombardi Trophy hoists to fully exorcise.
But, of course, such a reputation is “earned” by five-plus decades of championship futility. This time around, the Jets’ most egregious wounds have been those of the self-inflicted variety and they could toss away the mulligan offered to management led by head coach Robert Saleh and general manager Joe Douglas.
That, of course, starts with the post-Rodgers era. No one needs to hear about how the Jets failed to land Plan B cult heroes like Josh Dobbs or Carson Wentz again. The fact of the matter is that they hitched their wagon to Zach Wilson and now have to ride it out. But with that trust firmly established — and Saleh has made it abundantly clear that it’s not going away — it’s time to trust him.
An era in trouble?
Last Sunday night’s road trip to Las Vegas was perhaps the most damning depiction of the Saleh era to date: the trust he supposedly placed in Wilson was not present when the Jets had a prime opportunity to establish a two-possession lead as Jordan Whitehead set them up on the right side of the river — enemy territory — with an interception of Aidan O’Connell, coming as the Jets nursed a 6-3 lead.
Wilson, to his credit, overcame an early holding penalty to set the Jets up in a goal-to-go situation by breaking loose for a 23-yard run. Once the Jets were flagged for another penalty (C.J. Uzomah’s holding negating a Breece Hall scoring rush), however, the Jets appeared to immediately play for three, punching Hall up the middle twice before Wilson’s futile pass to Michael Carter brought Greg Zuerlein out again.
Thus continued the Jets’ streak of 13 consecutive periods without an offensive touchdown. Further condemnation of the Saleh era came in the form of eight accepted New York penalty charges, which cost them 83 yards.
Douglas’ issues also extend far beyond quarterback. Just look right next to Wilson: the conversation about Hall is an in-depth conversation for another time, but the Jets recently bid farewell to 2021’s fourth-round choice Carter, the latest casualty of Douglas’ 2021 draft haul.
It’s scary enough that Amon-Ra St. Brown and Rhamondre Stevenson heard their names called shortly after Carter. But when one looks at the fate of the 10-man class, more creepy questions are raised: three (Carter, Elijah Moore, Jonathan Marshall) have already left, and one first-rounder (Alijah Vera-Tucker) is on injured reserve. And the other is Zach Wilson.
Now, Saleh and Douglas have been made an offer they can’t refuse: capitalize on this stretch now or face the consequences.
Rodgers isn’t going anywhere and, in fact, will tell anyone who will listen that he intends to come back and play out the 2023-24 stretch. Once he went down with the injury in the first place, Saleh and Douglas should have gotten clean slates to work with, de facto mulligans and furloughs as they dealt with the literal worst-case scenario.
Through their own mistakes, they burnt that chance,.That jet has taken off. What they do in these final hours could well determine if another is waiting at the gate for them come January.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on X @GeoffJMags
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