First half boldness gave way to second half hesitation for the New York Jets on Sunday. Even in a lost season, it can’t become a theme.
The average NFL team runs about 1,000 offensive plays per season, give or take. All it takes is one to define a season. Many of these need only 2-5 words to reach immortality (Philly Special, Helmet Catch) or infamy (Reed Right 88, Butt Fumble).
The play that can come to come to define the 2020 New York Jets’ season might’ve come in their second game on Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers. It won’t earn a title, and many may have already forgotten it in the immediate aftermath. But, right now, there’s no better microcosm for the first season of a new decade.
Sunday’s visit from San Francisco ended in a 31-13 defeat. The decision was in little doubt by the middle stages of the third quarter, when the 49ers held a 24-3 lead. But the Jets had an opportunity to at least build momentum for the future and make things respectable after Pierre Desir took a Nick Mullens interception back to San Francisco’s 15-yard-line. Four plays later, the Jets faced fourth-and-goal, seven yards away from pay-turf.
Opposing red zones have been mostly unchartered territory for the Jets. There’s no excuse not to take advantage of every opportunity to earn the most points possible. The scoreboard should’ve only added to the losing team’s dark silver lining of fearlessness.
There were signs that the Jets (0-2) were willing to embrace that sense of immunity during Sunday’s game. They previously went for it on a shorter fourth down at the cusp of the San Francisco red zone in the first half and got so close in the latter instance on an end-around run by receiver Josh Malone. The first half incident was an inspiring sign. While the play calling (a handoff to Josh Adams in a single-back set) left much to be desired, it showed initiative. It was a sign that the Jets weren’t going to give up.
That initiative vanished by the third quarter.
Facing fourth down, trailing by three possessions, the Jets gave up on the affair by kicking a field goal. Sam Ficken’s 25-yard boot narrowed the deficit to 24-6, making things better by a purely numeric standard. An 18-point deficit would be erasable in two possessions back in February, when the XFL’s New York Guardians were capable of earning nine-point possessions thanks to the league’s innovative point-after-touchdown rules. Alas, the Jets were partaking in an NFL-sanctioned contest, though one could well argue the de facto XFL champion Houston Roughnecks could well give them a game at this point.
Gase’s postgame comments seemed to reflect the first half boldness but appeared to contract his decisionmaking in the latter occasion.
“We have to stay with the other team,” Gase said, per Steve Serby of the New York Post. “If our defense is struggling, we have to do better on offense. We have to find a way to get in the end zone. When we’re kicking field goals, it’s not gonna help us if they’re scoring touchdowns.”
Per a report from Andy Vazquez of NorthJersey.com, Gase admitted that he was feeling “p***ed” after the loss. Such playcalling indicates he’s not angry enough.
“There are not a ton of great plays on fourth-and-seven when you’re playing that defense,” Gase said in Vazquez’ write-up. (We were) just trying to get three and get something going. Get our guys rolling a little bit.”
Losing is one thing. Even with a fully healthy squad, it was a tall task to ask the Jets to make the playoffs this season. Moral victories don’t count in the NFL standings, but if the Jets could win in places other than the scoreboard, they could form a foundation that could provide hope and a blueprint for the future.
The Jets have received none of that in the first two games.
The bittersweet silver lining of yet another lost season is that the Jets are working their way toward 14 consequence-free opportunities that they can use to experiment and research. Find out what works, find out what doesn’t. Jobs for the future, the potential good times, can both be won and lost.
That’s not going to happen if you’re settling for field goals in 24-3 situations.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags