Four plays that decided the New York Jets’ Thursday fate vs. Denver

Conservative football stifled the New York Jets’ chances at a surprise victory in primetime, as they fell to Denver in an unusual thriller.

At certain points of Thursday night’s showdown with the Denver Broncos, the New York Jets resembled an NFL football team. But that wasn’t enough to steal a win in primetime.

A battle between two winless squads at MetLife Stadium somehow managed to be entertaining, but the Jets (0-4) fell short by a 37-28 final, the endgame of a topsy-turvy thriller that featured lead changes, mistakes, and hurt feelings.

ESM looks back on this latest defeat, highlighting a play from each quarter that doomed the Jets to their weeknight fate…

1st Quarter: Sam-I-Ran…46 yards 

We’ve outlined exactly why the Jets and Trevor Lawrence would create a union that benefitted no one. Sam Darnold made several plays of his own on Thursday to at least start dispelling the new notion that he may not be New York’s green franchise quarterback. 

Darnold gained all but two yards on the Jets’ opening 75-yard drive after the first kickoff. Remarkably, only 16 of those yards were gained through the air. He gained a pair of first downs with his legs before breaking loose for the longest run by any quarterback so far this season. It also allowed Darnold to set his career-best in rushing, demolishing a 35-yard output posted in December 2018 against Houston.

Adam Gase quarterbacks have never been known for their scrambling, mostly relegated to a prescience in the pocket. If the Jets can allow Darnold to move around more, through plays like the rollout that has played out well in goal-to-go situations, it can help him develop much-needed confidence.

2nd Quarter: Mekhi Pressure

The handling of Mekhi Becton was one of the most curious developments of Thursday’s game. After enduring a shoulder injury on Sunday, Becton was deemed healthy enough to dress, but not to start. Chuma Edoga’s injury in the opening quarter, however, forced Becton to enter. He didn’t last much longer either, as he sat after the early stages of the second frame.

His last play was a scary one, as it was also Darnold’s first play back in after enduring his own shoulder injury. The ailing Becton was beaten by Bradley Chubb, who sacked Darnold on third down. At that point, the Jets really should’ve questioned the true value of leaving both men in the game. Sure, the morbid gift of consequence-free football at least allows you the idea of playing loose, but it should never, ever lead you to risk a player’s health. Darnold at least appeared to look unbothered by the situation. But the question can still be asked over whether it was worth it.

3rd Quarter: Sore of Gore

Frank Gore definitely has a purpose in New York. He’s a veteran who has had experience in rebuilding programs (primarily his earliest days with the 49ers) and can still earn the short-yardage first down as a spell option. But Gore is no longer at a level where he can the primary offensive threat. His carries were down to a mere 13 after averaging 19 over the last two weeks, but the continued insistence on using Gore is stunting the development of projects like La’Mical Perine and Kalen Ballage.

The Jets had a strong opportunity to take the lead in the early stages of the third quarter after a 38-yard pass interference penalty. After two short Gore runs, Darnold tried to find him on a wheel on third-and-four 14 yards from the end zone. The incompletion forced the Jets to go for a mere Sam Ficken field goal that sliced the lead to 17-16. An argument could be made over whether kicking was the right decision (we’ll get to that in a minute), but it could’ve been avoided entirely.

4th Quarter: That Ficken Field Goal

Once again, the decision to kick was one that came back to haunt the Jets. Doing so down 24-3 during the San Francisco disaster was one thing. Pride was the only thing on the line and things got so pathetic that the Jets even denied themselves that. But this new instance might’ve played a role in this brutal defeat.

Down 27-25 and granted a generous spot on a crucial third-down at the edge of the Denver red zone…set up by Brian Poole’s interception…the Jets had an opportunity to think of a way to potentially earn the go-ahead score and force a struggling Denver offense to score a touchdown with relatively little time left on the clock while the Broncos threw the challenge flag.

Instead, cowardice might’ve cost the Jets the game. If the Jets opted to go for the necessary inches on fourth down with six minutes to go, they could’ve continued their trek to the end zone, forcing the struggling Rypien to go for a matching six-pointer. Even if you failed to convert the fourth down…how badly do you lose in the long run? The Jets played it safe and kicked…all the Broncos needed was for the reliable Brandon McManus to respond. Denver’s offense made it difficult on their own end, but they eventually secure the lead permanently. Everything else…the embarrassing Melvin Gordon clincher, the bad blood in the final seconds…could’ve been avoided if they had gone for it.

Ficken has proven reliable this season…he’s a perfect 8-for-8 on the season and he booted a 54-yarder on Thursday night…but alas, that doesn’t do the Jets any favors in the win column. A good kicker is vital on a team with a developing offense, but one could well argue if “developing” is the right way to describe the Jets at this point in time.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags