After the Eagles’ embarrassing display on Sunday night, no one should fault the New York Jets for their pair of December victories.
The NFL playoffs are set to get underway this coming weekend and there is no shortage of storylines amongst the 14 participants. But the national conversation is focused on the four-win Philadelphia Eagles and their Sunday night excursion against the Washington Football Team.
Over the first 30 minutes of the 256th and final game of the NFL regular season, Philadelphia made it difficult for Washington to clinch their first division title since 2015. They even held a 14-10 lead until the final 20 seconds. The Eagles’ scoring was handled through the legs of Jalen Hurts, a rookie quarterback taking full advantage of relatively consequence-free football. His passing stats were nothing to write home about (7-for-20, 72 yards, and an interception), With two rushing touchdowns, Hurts was potentially on his way to an early signature moment: ending a division rival’s Super Bowl dreams, fantasies that would transfer over to the New York Giants upon a Washington loss. With the Eagles reportedly clashing with franchise face Carson Wentz, Hurts was in a position to get gameday experience and the joy of an NFL victory along the way.
But, to the bewilderment of the football-loving public and his own on-field constituents, Pederson pulled some of his starters…those who weren’t on the pregame injury list…headlined by switching subbing Hurts for Nate Sudfeld. A career journeyman more likely to appear in the third version of the XFL instead of the NFL in 2022, Sudfeld lost the ball on each of his first two drives. A stagnant Washington offense mustered only three points over the latter half-hour, but they still clinched the NFC East with a 20-14 victory thanks to an Eagle offense that only moved backward with Sudfeld in tow. It will be Washington, not the Giants, that will host Tom Brady and the Buccaneers in the last game of Saturday’s playoff festivities (8:15 p.m. ET, NBC).
Pederson’s gambit of defeatism has drawn the ire of not only the Giants (who only have themselves to blame for missing out on a playoff berth offered to them solely through divisional technicalities), but his own team. Lipreaders claimed that a visibly upset Hurts declared “it’s not right” as he watched Sudfeld (whose last NFL pass came in December 2018) take over. Running back Miles Sanders, one of the aforementioned injury departees, claimed that “nobody liked the decision” to pull Hurts. Jeff McLane of The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that two defensive players had to be held back when confronting Pederson about the decision.
The Eagles’ ultimate prize for the essential forfeit? The right to choose sixth in April’s NFL Draft in Cleveland, avoiding the three-slot drop a win would’ve obtained. Even with such valuable draft capital, a turbulent offseason awaits in The City of Brotherly Love. Wentz and his massive contract have to be moved, and he’ll likely be one of several staples from the team that made the victorious trek to Super Bowl LII.
Say what you will about the 2020 New York Jets…they didn’t do that.
Hurts’ benching swiped center stage in Week 17 compilation of football follies from the Jets, who finally bid farewell to Adam Gase after a listless 28-14 defeat at the hands of the New England Patriots earlier in the day. The meaningless visit to Foxboro was hardly the most football sin of Gase’s tenure but served as an appropriate end to a two-year term that produced only nine wins.
The Jets’ fortunes were among the most trivial of New York concerns in 2020, but it was still tough to bear from a football fan standpoint. Much like a doomed blockbuster, things went haywire right from the start. Some calamities were completely understandable in the wake of the ongoing health crisis, with linebacker C.J. Mosley opting out before the first snap of training camp. The cancellation of the preseason hurt the Jets more than most teams, denying a team with completely revamped blocking and receiving corps. Elsewhere, the climax of the Jamal Adams saga yielded two first-round from Seattle at the price of an All-Pro-sized hole in the secondary. Second-round deep threat Denzel Mims, among others, were lost to training camp injuries. Even before Le’Veon Bell’s unceremonious release in October, the most casual football observer could tell it was going to be a tough season for the Jets.
Sure enough, the Jets’ were more or less eliminated from the playoff conversation before the Yankees…maybe even the Mets as well. Once the season got underway, the promises of brutality became nightmarish realities. Bell’s departure only opened the floodgates for a veteran exodus, with the New York careers of Steve McLendon, Avery Williamson, Pierre Desir, and Gregg Williams all ending throughout the course of the season. The brutal start saw the Jets fall in each of their first 13 games…a number so garish even Rich Kotite’s doomed bunch manage to avoid it.
Yet…pulling a “Pederson” never seemed to be under consideration.
Indeed, there were plenty of times where the Jets fulfilled Adams’ most damning departing declaration…that the Jets “didn’t want to win”. Any 2-14 season is one for the football hall of shame and the Jets lost half of their games by at least three possessions. But any gameday decision was made with a win in mind. Granted, some decisions were questionable at best…the 37-year-old Frank Gore’s run tally perhaps at the forefront…but the modern Jets were never interested in a reward that some of them might never get to see.
“There’s been a lot of adversity,” Gase admitted to Andy Vazquez of NorthJersey.com after the first of two wins, a 23-20 triumph over the Los Angeles Rams. “The fact that it’s this late in the season, the way that they kept fighting, the way that they stuck together and found a way to play a good game in all three phases was something that our guys should have been excited about.”
That was obvious as the season went on and the Jets inched closer to 16-game imperfection. Observers tried to tell the team that losing, however, was good for them. Inclusion amongst the likes of the 2008 Lions and 2017 Browns was a small price to pay to be at the top of the draft board. All the Jets had to do was take a few losses toward the end of the year…something that, on paper, shouldn’t have been hard to do. Following their Week 10 bye, the Jets battled teams either in the thick of the playoff picture or finding their footing in tough times. The epitome of brutality came in when Adams and the Seahawks dominated the Jets to the tune of a 40-3 shellacking in the Pacific Northwest.
All the while, professional and amateur pundits alike, perhaps partly fueled by the theory that the concept of “LOL Jets” gets clicks, encouraged the team to complete the 16-game goose egg in the win column. Such an “accomplishment” would’ve allowed them to outright clinch a spot at the top of the 2021 draft board. Their lone competition, the Jacksonville Jaguars, appeared to embrace the Pederson method when they benched Gardner Minshew’s potential for the journeyman efforts Mike Glennon. The Jaguars perhaps only avoided such calls for tanking through a 15-game losing streak after kickoff weekend and the theory that prime Joe Montana himself could take over under center in Duval County and still struggle to win ball games.
The Jets’ participants still refused to justify the mere notion. Following the embarrassment at Seattle, they knocked off a pair of playoff-bound teams, the Los Angeles Rams and Cleveland Browns. These Christmas gifts were met with only disdain from the fanbase and observers, who torched the Jets for the sin of winning a game when a date with destiny in the form of Trevor Lawrence awaited. The woebegone Jaguars “took care” of business, headlined by their Glennon gambit, losing their final games in anticipated one-sided fashion.
It didn’t matter to the Jets.
Already a ludicrous notion from the outset…asking professionals to intentionally toss contests in pursuit of an award they’ll never sow…players went for the jugular when it came to those who called for tanking.
“If you wanted us to lose, you’re not a real fan, honestly,” first-round rookie Mekhi Becton told SNY’s Jeane Coakley after the 23-20 win in Los Angeles. “We wanted the win and we got it. That’s our goal right now. We want to go get another win.”
That mission was accomplished the following weekend, as the Jets prevented their equally star-crossed brothers from the midwest from clinching a playoff spot, topping the Cleveland Browns 23-16. Cleveland was
Simply put, one (rightfully) thrashing the Eagles is a hypocritical move if they also criticized the Jets for going all-out in their final hours.
The era of Gase is one that many Jets would like to eradicate from their memories, Men in Black-style. But it was never one where the Jets outright sacrificed a shot at victory. It’s shameful that it’s something to be proud of these days, but Week 17’s action produced a green aura of defeatism on Sunday…this time, the Jets weren’t involved.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags