The New York Jets seemed on their way to their first win of the season, but a brutal defensive lapse brought them back to a winless reality.
Coming out on the wrong side of a Sunday scoreboard probably shouldn’t phase New York Jets fans at this point. After all, their team is the only winless squad left in the NFL and seems destined for 16-game imperfect infamy.
The Jets seemed ready to avoid such a fate with a narrow lead against the playoff-contending Las Vegas Raiders. New York had erased a 24-13 lead in the fourth quarter to the tune of rushing touchdowns from Sam Darnold and Ty Johnson. Their 28-24 lead seemed safe, even when Las Vegas got the ball back with 35 seconds to go. The Jets failed to pick up a first down after a potential go-ahead score was stopped, but they still figured to be sitting pretty at MetLife Stadium.
Braden Mann’s 47-yard punt situated the Raiders at their own 39 before a 15-yard Derek Carr pass to Darren Waller got them to the Jets’ 46. Victory still appeared imminent after Carr’s throw to Nelson Agholor was overthrown after a clock-stopping spike. But Las Vegas’ incoming redemption was a painful reminder that the team made to personify the year 2020 is still trapped in this cycle of distress.
Opting for a Cover Zero setting and an emphasized blitz on a ten-yard third down, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams apparently sought to use pressure to get the Raiders to fold. With the linebackers blitzing and the secondary engaged in man coverage, the Jets put all their hope in a sack to run the clock out and depart East Rutherford with their first win of the year. The plan backfired, with Henry Ruggs breaking free from Lamar Jackson and catching Carr’s deep ball. It led to the game-winning 46-yard score that sent the Raiders into hysterics. Five seconds remained on the clock, but all they produced was a desperation heave from Darnold that resigned the Jets to a 31-28 defeat.
The Jets (0-12) advanced one step closer to joining the 2008 Lions and 2017 Browns in winless 16-game seasons, though most of their fanbase seemed nonplussed by such news, taking solace in the fact that the team appears to be closing in on the top overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Conversely, Las Vegas (7-5) averted disaster and remained alive and well in the AFC wild card hunt. They currently sit one game behind fellow Sunday winners Miami and Indianapolis for the final playoff slots in the conference.
On the other side of MetLife Stadium, postgame comments took on a somber tone. Johnson, fresh off a career-best 104 yards (the Jets’ first such rusher since October 2018), couldn’t fully enjoy the best afternoon of his young NFL tenure.
“My family’s happy and a lot of people were messaging me this and that. But at the end of the day, we didn’t get the win,” Johnson said, per Randy Lange of NewYorkJets.com. “I wanted to get the win, that’s point-blank. It’s a blessing. I appreciate the guys giving me the opportunity, the guys on the line, out on the perimeter. I appreciate the hell out of them. I just wish at the end of that we came out with that W.”
Safety Marcus Maye was on the field for the fateful score. Covering Hunter Renfrow in man coverage, Maye was forced to watch helplessly as the ball landed in Ruggs’ waiting arms.
With eight men blitzing, Maye and his fellow men of the secondary were forced to deal with Las Vegas receivers one-on-one. The safety appeared to take a jab at Williams’ defensive playcall in his postgame comments.
“That situation, (there) just has to be a better call. We gotta execute, but you gotta help us out at the same time,” Maye said, per Brian Costello of the New York Post. “We fought hard to put ourselves in the position to win. That’s the point in the game we’ve just got to be in a better call.”
For his part, Jackson accepted responsibility for what happened with the Ruggs situation. The undrafted rookie has been pressed into a full-time role on defense due to both medical and transactional departures.
“I didn’t execute it to the best of my ability or how I wanted to. It’s tough, but at the same time, I also know that call is not going to define me or my career,” Jackson said in another Post report from Greg Joyce. “It’s tough. It’s definitely tough. I wasn’t looking for help, but I definitely was probably hoping it wasn’t on me. All I could think was, ‘Not me.’ I don’t want to be the reason. But I was. Gotta live with it. Gotta get better.”
Even Carr himself was shocked by the turn of events on the New York defense, telling SportsMax that he “couldn’t believe” that the Jets opted for an all-out blitz.
The call itself goes to Williams’ corner. Though the defensive coordinator did not speak after the game, head coach Adam Gase remarked that the team was trying to put pressure on Carr, which had worked to their benefit earlier in the game. New York was credited with six quarterback hits on Carr throughout the game, while Neville Hewitt and Quinnen Williams each earned a sack.
Nonetheless, the impulsive plan backfired at the worst possible time. The Jets’ appeared to ease up the pressure on the previous play, sending only four to the backfield on Carr’s final in completion of the afternoon.
“(The defense had) done well with (pressure) all game. That’s what happened. We had a couple of free runners, but we didn’t get there,” Gase said, per Rich Cimini of ESPN. “You’re in this league long enough, you see games like this. You don’t want to be part of them, I know that.”
The Jets return to action next Sunday, hitting the road to take on the Seattle Seahawks (4:05 p.m. ET, CBS).
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags