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The NY Jets-centric Super Bowl LVIII opinion that makes no sense

Mecole Hardman
Mecole Hardman

This opinion regarding the New York Jets and Super Bowl LVIII is completely absurd

Less than four months removed from playing his final game with the New York Jets, Mecole Hardman made what will go down as one of the most famous plays in Super Bowl history when he caught the game-winning touchdown in overtime.

Good for Hardman, and I’m not trying to take away from his moment, but we need to address some of the ridiculous takes that arose because of the clutch play he made.

I saw a lot of people – both Jets fans and non-Jets fans – saying things like “Of course the Jets let this guy go!” or “Wow, the Jets couldn’t have found a use for this guy? Typical Jets!” after Hardman made the catch.

Seriously? I get that it’s a low-hanging-fruit opportunity to make a joke at the Jets’ expense – there’s no easier way to get laughs out of the family members at the Super Bowl party who watch football once a year – but let’s use our brains for a second here.

The Jets did an infinite number of things over the past year that warrant criticism. Dumping Hardman is not one of them. You’re telling me they should be regretting their decision because Hardman caught an uncontested and perfectly thrown three-yard pass in the flat? I assure you that every wide receiver in the NFL is capable of making that play.

This touchdown was ninety-nine percent a product of Andy Reid’s play design skills and one percent a product of the player’s individual talent. Reid could have put anyone in that position and the play would have worked. Heck, he had Kadarius Toney in that spot during last year’s Super Bowl and it worked.

The Jets aren’t missing out on anything because Hardman made a routine play that was created via genius-level scheming.

These critics might have a point if Hardman was consistently productive for the Chiefs after he re-joined them in October, but he wasn’t. Until this game, Hardman was one of the worst wide receivers in the NFL.

Across his first nine games (including the playoffs) after being traded back to Kansas City, Hardman had 16 catches for 123 yards and no touchdowns – per-game averages of 1.8 receptions for 13.7 yards. He also rushed three times for -2 yards, dropped two passes, fumbled three times (two lost), and had two interceptions thrown on passes in his direction.

From Week 7 through the conference championship, Hardman generated a 44.3 passer rating when targeted, which ranked 111th out of the 116 wide receivers with at least 20 targets over that span.

The Jets gave up on Hardman for a reason: he’s not very good.

Criticizing the Jets for trading Hardman because he caught the easiest touchdown imaginable is nonsensical. If you want to criticize them for anything regarding Hardman, criticize them for signing him in the first place instead of someone who could’ve lasted more than six games with the team.

On another note, this was pretty funny.

Maybe the Jets should bring back Oz The Mentalist this year. Just make sure he calls up a player who is good enough to last the whole season with the team.

Two more former Jets were instrumental in the Chiefs’ Super Bowl win

On a side note, there were two other former members of the Jets who played pivotal roles in Super Bowl LVIII, so I wanted to shout them out.

Mike Pennel

Kansas City’s run defense was one of the main factors in the victory. The Chiefs held a typically-dominant 49ers run game far beneath its usual standards.

While Christian McCaffrey made noise through the air, the Chiefs silenced him on the ground, holding him to his third-lowest YPC of the season (3.6) while preventing him from scoring a rushing touchdown for just the sixth time out of his 19 games this year. In addition, Deebo Samuel was limited to only eight yards on three carries.

Mike Pennel – the Jets’ nose tackle in 32 games from 2017-18 – was arguably the number one reason for Kansas City’s clutch performance in run defense.

Pennel made six total tackles in the run game without being charged with a single missed tackle, and all six of his tackles were impactful. Each one held the runner to a gain of two yards or less and no first down.

Pennel was graded as the Chiefs’ second-best run defender of the game, per Pro Football Focus. He only trailed linebacker Leo Chenal, and that’s just because Chenal forced a fumble on McCaffrey in the first quarter – a tackle on which Pennel received credit for an assist. In fact, it was Pennel who initially halted McCaffrey’s progress before Chenal flew in for the punch-out.

In terms of consistency throughout the game, Pennel was the engine that drove Kansas City’s run defense. He came up big with one stop after another to help silence one of the best rushing attacks in the league.

The Jets will be seeking a run stuffing defensive tackle of their own this offseason. Al Woods, who served the role for them in the first half of 2023, is unlikely to return. He is set for free agency and is coming off an Achilles injury at 36 years old.

New York struggled to fill Woods’ shoes after he was injured and there isn’t an adequate replacement on the roster. Pennel will be a free agent as well; perhaps the Jets could show interest in a reunion?

While run stuffing defensive tackles have become overshadowed by interior pass rushers in the modern NFL, Pennel showed that a suffocating run stopper can still flip a game – even the biggest one of them all.

Dave Merritt

Dave Merritt has been the Chiefs’ defensive backs coach since 2019. He was the Jets’ linebackers coach from 2001-03 under Herm Edwards, coaching linebackers such as Marvin Jones, Sam Cowart, Mo Lewis, and James Farrior. Merritt was a part of two Jets playoff teams (2001 and 2002).

Here in 2023-24, Merritt was the teacher behind perhaps the most essential position group in Kansas City’s championship run.

Patrick Mahomes, Andy Reid, and Travis Kelce are deservedly receiving the majority of the attention right now, but let’s be clear: the Chiefs won this championship because of their defense. Throughout their four-game playoff run, the Chiefs scored 22.3 points per game in regulation. They allowed only 15 points per game. Those are the numbers of a defense-led team.

This is the same story as the regular season. Kansas City ranked 15th in scoring at 21.8 points per game. The Chiefs were second-best in scoring defense at 17.3 points per game.

Looking more closely at the defense, it’s Merritt’s defensive backs who powered the side of the ball that carried the load for Kansas City. In the regular season, Kansas City did not defend the run too well, ranking 24th with 4.5 yards per rush attempt allowed. But the secondary was elite, as the Chiefs ranked third-best with 4.9 net yards per pass attempt allowed.

In the Super Bowl, it was Kansas City’s defensive backs who led the way in yet another victory that was primarily sparked by the pass defense.

Christian McCaffrey gobbled up plenty of underneath yardage, recording eight catches on eight targets for 80 yards and a touchdown, but down the field, the Chiefs’ defensive backs completely dominated San Francisco’s superstar wide receivers and tight ends.

Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, and George Kittle combined for eight catches on 20 targets for 86 yards. When targeting one of those three players, Brock Purdy had a 40% completion rate while averaging barely over four yards per attempt.

Merritt oversees a young defensive backfield that rose to superstar status in 2023, and those young DBs affirmed their stardom with an incredible Super Bowl – especially Trent McDuffie.

The 23-year-old McDuffie developed into a first-team All-Pro in his second season. In the Super Bowl, McDuffie put together a classic performance. McDuffie was targeted seven times and allowed two catches for nine yards. He had three pass breakups, highlighted by a touchdown-saving deflection in the end zone against Deebo Samuel.

McDuffie even contributed in the run game, saving a potentially huge run by beating superstar left tackle Trent Williams in the open field.

Mahomes deserved the award, but McDuffie may have been the true Super Bowl MVP. For the majority of regulation, it was Kansas City’s defense that held them in this game, and McDuffie was the best player on that unit.

In November, Merritt said that McDuffie was the highest-graded cornerback that he has ever evaluated coming out of college. It’s safe to assume he was probably one of the loudest voices in the room advocating for McDuffie when Kansas City chose him 21st overall in 2022.

Today, the Jets have an elite defensive backs coach of their own in Tony Oden (he is officially listed as a senior defensive assistant and cornerbacks coach).

Oden is constantly praised by his players and fellow coaches for the role he has played in the development of Sauce Gardner, D.J. Reed, and Michael Carter II. It’s nothing new for Oden, who, prior to joining the Jets, had overseen the development of star cornerbacks such as Xavien Howard and Darius Slay.

The impact of assistant coaches is difficult for fans to evaluate from the outside, but these unsung heroes certainly play an integral role in the development of a team’s young talent, and thus, the team’s overall success. The Jets have plenty of tremendous assistants on the defensive side, led by Oden. Now they need the offensive side to catch up.

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4 months ago

You know how the world is today, just take the outlier and say “see look” as if it’s an entire sample size. Which is why I railed against the take “Look at the Browns, they had injuries and still had a good year.” It wasn’t the same nor was it the “norm.”

How about the Greenlaw torn Achilles? If that were at Met Life or on Turf everybody would be going wild…”oh the Met life turf” (which is the same in Detroit BTW) …

All of these “takes” are self serving. They either confirm some outrageous thought, or they make people feel better about their own challenges.

Hardman stinks. That’s the bottom line, and good for the Jets for letting him go after they realized they made a mistake.