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Ranking the top New York Jets plays of the Robert Saleh era

Garrett Wilson, Bills, TD, Catch, Highlight, NY Jets
Garrett Wilson, New York Jets, Getty Images

It hasn’t all been ugly for the New York Jets under Robert Saleh

Considering that I recently ranked the top 10 worst players for the New York Jets under Robert Saleh, I figured that it’s time to give the embattled head coach a break. He might be on the hot seat, but there have still been plenty of cool moments for the Jets throughout his three-year tenure.

Ironically, even though most of those plays likely came on the defensive side of the football, it’s hard to put a defensive play as a top highlight. One sack usually looks the same as the next, and random tackles for loss just don’t have enough oomph. It’s interceptions and fumble recoveries that are exciting, and the Jets don’t have too many of those under Saleh.

Either way, here are the Jets’ top 20 plays from 2021-23. I couldn’t limit it to just 10 because that would be boring. Note that I tried to go with plays that showed a high level of skill rather than just the most exciting moments. (That might contradict what I said about sacks and TFLs, but no matter.)

Honorable mentions for coolness

Jermaine Johnson’s first blocked punt of his career came on a play where he actually beat his man, unlike the second one where the punt protector threw a half-hearted effort to block him.

Quincy Williams needs some mention here, so we’ll go with his strip-sack that Bryce Hall scooped-and-scored to seal the 31-21 win over Denver.

The Philly Special looks cooler than it actually is.

We love big men scoring, and Conor McDermott had to reach up for this ball. Good job hanging on.

Breece Hall’s 79-yard catch-and-run was cool, but it was really just a Miami blown coverage.

Quinnen Williams (6-foot-3, 302 pounds) vs. Tyreek Hill (5-foot-10, 185 pounds). Good night, Tyreek.

Jermaine Johnson’s pass breakup that went right into Quinnen Williams’ hands is an extra bonus for Williams’ stat line.

Blocked punts returned for touchdowns are always fun.

Breece Hall’s 83-yard run against Buffalo in Week 1 announced that he was back, but he mainly avoided one tackle and then broke into the open field on a well-blocked play otherwise.

Breece Lightning certainly took off, but this is really all about speed. It was a well-blocked play.

The same with this 72-yarder.

John Franklin-Myers’ tip drill isn’t quite as impressive as some others, but it’s still good enough to be an honorable mention.

Let’s get into the top 20.

20. Andrews lost in the Sauce

This play is a placeholder for all the great plays Sauce Gardner has made. Cornerbacks get recognition only on interceptions, but this play from Gardner’s first game against Mark Andrews demonstrates exactly how he plays: tight coverage, through the hands.

19. JJ brings down Allen

This was Jermaine Johnson’s first real “welcome to the NFL” moment in terms of making plays. It was a classic Johnson sack in that it was more about effort and motor rather than cleanly winning a rep. Still, Johnson closed ground and tackled one of the hardest players to bring down in all of football, the 6-foot-6, 237-pound Josh Allen.

16. Huff strip-sack

Bryce Huff was a beast over his last two seasons in New York, and no play demonstrates it more than his strip-sack of Josh Allen in a critical situation. With the Jets clinging to a 20-17 lead on second-and-two, Huff softened the edge and ripped past Spencer Brown for a 17-yard sack/fumble. The Jets couldn’t recover (as usual), but Huff was purely dominant in big moments.

17. Quinnen safety special

Like for Sauce and Huff, this is a placeholder for all the amazing plays Quinnen Williams makes. This one just stood out because it turned into a safety. Williams gets three yards into the end zone, and although Ashtyn Davis ultimately makes the tackle for the safety, it’s all Quinnen’s play. This is almost a routine play for Williams; he lives in opponents’ backfields.

Just for fun, I’ll add in Joe Blewett’s five-minute compilation of Quinnen’s plays, many of which are eerily similar to the one above.

16. Bye-bye, Garrett

Garrett Wilson is always one play away from something like this. It didn’t happen enough in 2023 because of the Jets’ quarterback play, but stick him in the slot or in a condensed split and throw him a slant, and he could be gone. Reception Perception charted him at a 90% win rate on slants for a good reason.

15. Breece cashes in a failed play

The amazing part of this touchdown is that it was a broken play. Mike LaFleur said after the game that when he saw the formation, he was already anticipating a second-and-11 after a failure on first down. Hall was supposed to hand it back to Garrett Wilson on the reverse, but he saw that the reverse was stuffed and took matters into his own hands. He cut inside on a dime and outran Packers defenders, adding a stiff-arm toward the end for the touchdown.

14. Zach Wilson to the house

Zach Wilson never ran the ball as much as he should have over his three seasons in New York. This play demonstrates why. Wilson avoided a sack and rumbled down the sideline, stopping to allow another tackler to pass him and jump-cutting before breaking a tackle near the end zone for the score.

13. Moore 62-yard TD

Elijah Moore’s 62-yard touchdown catch-and-run during his rookie season appears to be an easy play on the TV view. However, the All-22 shows how he froze the defender’s feet with a fake outside before cutting back inside for the wide-open catch and YAC score.

12. Wilson route-running for 54-yard gain

Most of Garrett Wilson’s top plays on this list are YAC, but I had to include one with his route-running. Here, he used a peek technique on an out-and-up to cook Jalen Mills. A better throw and it would have been six.

I also felt compelled to include four plays from 2023 where Wilson was open deep and didn’t get the ball. There are scores of others from his first two seasons, as well as overthrown deep balls galore.

11. Breece dump-off TD

There are many Breece Hall plays to choose from, but I wanted to show times where he did it all on his own rather than following great blocking for an easy score. Here, he took a two-yard side-armed dump-off, turned away from the converging linebacker, and ran through several tackle attempts in traffic (albeit poor ones) for a 50-yard touchdown.

10. Wilson to Davis

I was never as impressed with this play as most Jets fans, which is why it has a lower ranking than some might think it should (although with Wilson in Denver and officially a bust, perhaps that pushes it down for fans, too). Wilson rolled out of the pocket, directed Corey Davis to continue deep, and threw a dime into double coverage for the touchdown.

9. White to Davis on fourth down

On the flip side, this Mike White throw to Davis is ranked higher than many Jets fans likely would. The narrowness of the window on fourth down is what makes this so impressive to me. White was not known for his arm strength but fit the ball into the slimmest of windows for a 31-yard gain. If only Davis could have taken it for a touchdown, the Jets likely would have won the game and it would rank higher.

8. Lawson seals Jets-Bengals

In “the” Mike White game, after the Jets took a 34-31 lead, Shaq Lawson sealed it with a tip to himself for the pick. The hand-eye coordination here is excellent.

7. Garrett Wilson YAC special

Again, there are many Garrett Wilson YAC options, and this one is very similar to the one against Dallas from 2023. He nearly scored, which could have won the game (like the Davis play, which was). This was also a good throw into a pretty narrow window; one of Mike White’s strengths as a passer was giving receivers strong opportunities for YAC.

6. Epic onside kick

This one is about the onside kick attempt as much as the recovery. It bounced up at an 11-yard depth almost directly into Will Parks’ hands. Parks could not corral it, and Justin Hardee ended up with the football, but Braden Mann placed that kick so perfectly. For a play that’s had a 7% chance of success over the past several seasons, this one deserves its spot this high on the list. Oh, and check out Garrett Wilson going nuts on the sideline.

5. Wilson’s first career catch

Garrett Wilson announced his arrival to the Jets loudly and clearly on his first career reception. Stowed as the No. 4 receiver on the depth chart, Wilson caught a desperation lob from Joe Flacco, made three defenders miss, and nearly got a first down. While Saleh criticized him for not going straight forward at the end to get the first down, Wilson’s effort beforehand was very impressive. By Week 2, he was the Jets’ No. 1 receiver.

4. JJ tip, pick, score

Another tip drill makes the list for two reasons: first, how Johnson jumped and then was able to stop his body and jump again was extremely impressive. Second, the touchdown always makes it better. Tip, pick, score.

3. Hall contorts his body

Some might think this ranking is way too high, but I couldn’t believe Hall scored on this play. It looked like it was going to be a loss or at most a play for no gain. Instead, Hall broke a tackle, spun off another one, and somehow extended the ball to the end zone.

2. Gipson walks it off

I’m not one to be overly impressed by punt return touchdowns where the player merely followed his blocking. I thought Xavier Gipson did an excellent job here of avoiding the initial tackler and then finding the lane to his left. His finish at the end to score the touchdown was excellent. Oh, and obviously, it was the only truly exciting moment of the Jets’ 2023 season, one moment where you dreamed that Aaron Rodgers would be okay and the Jets would have a shot to beat the Bills in the division.

1. Wilson wows Joe Buck… and America

“That kid’s amazing!” We know, Joe.

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