The situation is undeniably dire, but there are still clean, less-than-macabre reasons for New York Jets fans to keep watching.
After a one-week reprieve, the New York Jets return to the football field on Sunday…much to the chagrin of their embattled fanbase.
The Jets’ annual bye was perhaps liberating for supporters of the NFL’s only winless team in 2020. It perhaps gave them the freedom to talk to family members, work around the house, prepare for their own week ahead. They probably tuned into other NFL action or partook in the final round of The Masters during a busy Sunday in sports. Those in the metropolitan area, in fact, are blessed enough that this tri-state area provides enough activities in which to adequately distance that one perhaps can avoid the Jets outright as they wrap up a woebegone 2020 season.
But countless fans will undoubtedly flock to their television monitors on Sunday late afternoon to watch the Jets battle the Los Angeles Chargers in their first visit to SoFi Stadium (4:05 p.m. ET, CBS). New York returned to Florham Park this week, looking to find the good from their latest loss, a 30-27 defeat at the hands of the New England Patriots. Head coach Adam Gase that his team won’t be going down without a fight as they prepare to play seven weeks of what will amount to mostly meaningless football.
“I think we had some really good plays this last game, where we won one-on-one matchups and made the other side pay for it. I think defensively, we just got to continue to get better at getting people off the field,” Gase said, per notes from the Jets. “I think there’s a lot of little details that we can definitely clean up and I know our coaching staff’s, that’s what they spent the majority of the last week doing is making sure that we had a good plan going into this week, we explained it to the players today, we made sure that we went in detail of our expectations and what we need to work on moving forward.”
If Jets fans truly need a reason to get back into the fold of things, if only to have a built-in excuse for avoiding holiday preparations, ESM has a corresponding number of reasons…
Mims’ the Word
Jets fans had to be patient when it came to Denzel Mims’ NFL debut after the second-round pick endured hamstring injuries during training camp that eventually put him on injured reserve. So far, Mims has proven to be well worth the wait, earning 146 yards on 10 receptions thus far. Mims has earned positive reviews for his route running and ability to create separation and set an infantile career-best with 62 receiving yards in last week’s Monday night tilt against New England.
“I think the last few weeks you’ve seen some positive things from him, especially for a guy who’s really had two weeks of practices prior to playing in two games,” general manager Joe Douglas said about Mims, per Jack Bell of NewYorkJets.com. “I mean really, this is almost like the end of training camp for him in terms of the amount of actual professional football reps that he’s had. We’re really excited about seeing his progression these last eight games and what he brings in terms of his catch radius, ball skills, and route running.”
The Baylor alum has strong potential as a big play receiver and has put the Jets’ minds at ease for passing on several name-brand receiving talents at 11th overall to take Mekhi Becton (who has done a decent job in dispelling those doubts as well). Some big milestones could await Mims over these final hours, including his first NFL touchdown and 100-yard game. Provided all stay healthy, the Jets’ progress with the top three receivers of their group (with Mims joining veterans Jamison Crowder and Breshad Perriman) should be something to keep an eye on. With all three in the lineup for the first on Monday against the Patriots, the Jets put up a season-best 322 yards of offense.
The Kids Are All Right
Even with extra playoff capital, 2020 was never meant to be a year of contention for the Jets, but one to develop and nurture their rookies. Between Becton and Mims, Douglas’ first draft has positive reviews, but other plays have struggled to get into the fold due to injuries (OL Cameron Clark, DE/LB Jabari Zuniga, CB Bryce Hall), or being stuck behind talent that has been bid farewell (RB La’Mical Perine, S Ashytn Davis)) or lost to injuries of their own.
With nothing to lose, there could be some prime opportunities for the Jets to work their rookies in their lineup on a more regular basis. Gase certainly appeared to have the idea in his mind shortly before the Jets departed for their open date.
“We’ve got to lead the way. I think especially, this rookie class, these guys have done a good job of just focusing on the present, trying to get better, trying to make sure that when their number is called that they’re available and they’re ready to make plays,” Gase in Jets notes. “I know these guys are getting a ton of playing time now, and that’s going to work to our benefit in the long run. It’s frustrating right now to go through, but seeing these guys going out there and playing and the amount of guys that are playing that are that are rookies, I want to say we almost had 10 playing this last game.”
“The thing that you can say is the effort is through the roof, they’re given everything they have. We’re going to have to live through some mistakes, but at the same time a lot of these guys are playmakers and they’re going to help us find ways to win games eventually.”
The Last Stand of Super Bowl XLVII
Joe Flacco and Frank Gore are more than likely set to join Brett Favre and Chris Johnson on the all-time “Wait, He Played for the Jets?” team’s depth chart. But these staples of new century football may be making their final stands not only in green New York uniforms but in the NFL as a whole. Flacco has taken over starting duties in the absence of Sam Darnold while Gore continues to hold primary rushing duties since Le’Veon Bell departed.
While it’s clear that neither potential future Hall-of-Famer is living up to the numbers or performances of their glory days, the former Super Bowl co-combatants have embraced their roles as veteran mentors to a team full of young players and guys trying to find their NFL footing.
“My goal is to show the young guys what it takes to be successful in the NFL. If they can see me working hard every day, they have no other choice than to follow. I’m going to keep working and keep fighting,” Gore told the Inside the Jets podcast. “That’s why I’m playing the game still.”
“The only thing you can do and, in terms of being on teams that have gotten through tough times, is that you have to stay in the moment, tune out the outside noise,” Flacco said in a report from Bell following a defeat in Miami last month. “It’s a lot harder to go out every week in practice. It happens to a bunch of teams every year, but the NFL doesn’t stop playing games because you’re going through a tough time.”
The Jets’ youngest participants would be wise to heed the advice of Gore, who is now 993 yards away from passing Walter Payton for second place on the all-time NFL rushing yards list. Gore’s NFL endeavors began in the midst of a rebuild in San Francisco, who began the rusher’s career with six consecutive non-winning seasons. With the help of fellow homegrown talents like Vernon Davis, Alex Smith, Patrick Willis, and Colin Kaepernick, Gore eventually broke the 49ers out of their rut with a 13-win season in 2011. The season after, Gore led the charge for the 49ers’ first Super Bowl trek in nearly two decades.
“Frank has been an unbelievable veteran to have on this team,” Douglas said, per notes and video from the Jets. “The leadership that he brings on a daily basis, how vested he is to help not only the offense but the entire team and especially young guys.
Free Agency’s Anything But Free
Part of the reason why it’s so ludicrous to guilt the Jets into the already ludicrous notion of tanking is that there well could be some NFL futures on the line moving forward. Rookies are relatively safe and veterans like Gore and Flacco are another step toward retirement or don’t figure to play major roles in future depth charts. But the Jets have plenty of free-agents-to-be whose last seven weeks could well be the difference between an NFL job next year and counting down the days until the XFL’s return in 2022.
The Jets have 29 players set to hit free agency once the 2020 season hits its merciful end. Primary among them are several defensive starters like Marcus Maye, Pierre Desir, and Brian Poole (who is currently dealing with injuries). An inevitable purge is likely coming to the Jets roster, a storm signaled by the dealing of reliable veterans like Bell, Avery Williamson, and Steve McLendon elsewhere. The final seven games will more or less serve as an audition for not only New York for the other 31 NFL outposts across the country. Offensively, Breshad Perriman will seek to not only stay healthy, but look to try and build a long-term home in either New York or elsewhere as he works with the final stages of his one-year deal inked over the spring. The former first-round pick is certainly excited about the immediate future and the opportunities ahead over these last seven weeks, especially if he can continue to work with Mims and Crowder on a consistent basis.
“You’ve got to kind of be positive about the situation,” Perriman said of the New England loss, per Randy Lange of NewYorkJets.com. “It was the best game the offense has had all season, and like that’s just the start.”
Sam-I-Am (the Future?)
Darnold’s continuing issues with a shoulder injury couldn’t have come at a worse possible time from a personal standpoint. With the team on a collision course for the No. 1 pick and the quarterback prospects that come with it in next spring’s draft, these final weeks could’ve served as one last stand for him, seven opportunities where the only thing that mattered is providing reassurance to the Jets’ decisionmakers that he is indeed the man under center for the future. The already painful injury must certainly sting a little more with the top receivers back, which could’ve set the stage for Darnold’s long term future.
In his statements during the bye week return, Darnold expressed a desire to play well over these final weeks but made it clear that his health had to come first, especially since he has already missed considerable time due to injury this season. Darnold sustained the injury during the Jets’ Week 4 loss against Denver and suffered a re-aggravation four weeks later against Kansas City.
“I’m just going to continue to do what I need to do, first and foremost to get healthy, and then when I do play, play well. Just make sure that I’m doing everything I need to do to execute the plays that are called,” Darnold said, per notes from the Jets. “At the end of the day, my job as a quarterback is to move the ball down the field, take care of the football, and score touchdowns. I feel like once I get back out there, I’m going to do everything I can to do that.”
If and when Darnold gets healthy and gets back on the field, his potential last stand could be one of the biggest storylines across the league, especially amongst the eliminated teams.
Q & Pay
To say it’s been a tough season from a Jets standpoint would be the understatement of this chaotic year. But Quinnen Willaims, the final top pick of the Mike Maccagnan era, has undergone a redemption season that shows exactly why it was worth taking him third overall in the 2019 draft proceedings.
Apparently set to stick around after some rumors of a deal swirled at the trade deadline, Williams has been one of the rare consistent silver linings of the modern Jets. The sophomore from Alabama has already broken his rookie totals in tackles (31), tackles for a loss (7), and sacks (3). Amongst his fellow interior linemen, Williams ranks in the top ten in a good number of Pro Football Focus’ advanced metrics.
The final seven games of Williams’ strong push in the right direction should be inspiring to Jets fans everywhere.
“He’s at the very top of our league as an interior guy,” defensive coordinator Gregg Williams (no relation) said shortly after the trade deadline passed, per ESPN’s Rich Cimini. “He’s only going to get better. I believe that. If he stays healthy, he’s going to be really, really, really good and I’m glad he’s here.”
This could well play a factor in the Jets’ joining the Lions and Browns in 0-16 infamy, but the Jets have an improbable chance to leave an impact on the NFL playoff picture in their winless state. With the exception of the Chargers (whose seven losses have come by a combined 32 points), each of the Jets’ remaining adversaries is no more than two games removed from a playoff spot. If the season ended today, all but two (the Chargers and Patriots) would go to the postseason.
The idea of the Jets disrupting the postseason party is not as shocking as it seems. Last season, their Week 16 win over Pittsburgh was more or less responsible for keeping the Steelers out of the 2019-20 playoffs. In modern times, this woeful campaign might all be worth it in the end if the Jets were to go to Seattle in Week 14 and at least put a dent in Jamal Adams’ playoff hopes. The Seahawks currently hold the final NFC playoff slot after dropping three of their last four games, leading Chicago by a game-and-a-half.
While many Jets fans would probably be downright pleased with losing outright to improve their draft position (if the apathetic reaction to the New England loss was any indication), the players aren’t letting the scary schedule determine their fate.
“It is Monday night football, but at the end of the day it is another game, another opportunity,” Fatukasi said prior to the New England game according to Bell. “My biggest objective is to go in and play as hard as I can with my teammates, rally with my teammates, and play a good game.”
“This is what we play for…to get a W.”
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags