Who Ya Got Wednesday: New York Jets at New England Patriots

John Franklin-Myers, jets

Can the New York Jets kick off their post-bye slate on the right note? ESM’s experts of green endeavors share their thoughts.

  • What: New York Jets (1-4) @ New England Patriots (2-4)
  • Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, MA
  • When: Sunday at 1 p.m. ET
  • Watch: CBS
zach wilson, jets

Geoff Magliocchetti

Though one of the quieter games of a relatively sparse NFL Sunday (six teams are taking Week 6 off), Sunday’s AFC East divisional showdown between the Jets and Patriots showcase (an admittedly uglier case of) the unstoppable force meeting an immoveable object trope.

The Jets are coming out of a bye hoping to cling to the momentum of a decent second half against Atlanta in London, one that would’ve been flawless from a defensive perspective if not for a crucial touchdown drive allowed in the dying stages. Their hosts, the developing New England Patriots, have a prime opportunity to feast: they sandwiched an unfashionable win over the lowly Texans with highly respectable losing efforts against the NFC’s finest (Tampa Bay and Dallas). It’s certainly not the heights fans of the Flying Elvises are used to after they were spoiled by Tom Brady and Co. for nearly two decades, but it’s a sign that the franchise is heading in the right direction after last season’s meandering 7-9 effort.

Whether it’s fair or not, both the Jets and Patriots’ progress in their respective rebuilds, embarked upon under the supervision of a Western New York overlord, is going to be judged solely upon the performances of their rookie quarterbacks. Zach Wilson has shown flashes of brilliance but the British-based effort against the Falcons was undoubtedly a step backward. Mac Jones, on the other hand, has steadily improved with each passing (pun intended) week. The results have yet to make themselves known in the win column, but the proof is in the pudding of freshman statistics: the Alabama alum has found familiar footing, as he’s the top-ranked first-year passer in completion rate, yardage, rating, and touchdown passes. Turnovers have been a problem, but the Jets (the only team in the NFL without an interception) have done little to inspire the idea that they’re capable of forcing consistent, momentum-shifting turnovers.

There will be plenty of opportunities for the Jets to grow as they resume play after their week off. But there still isn’t a lot of evidence that they’re ready to compete with the middling Patriots. Despite a resilient defensive effort, they were soundly beaten by three possessions in the MetLife Stadium portion of the yearly series. The Foxboro affair should be closer…surely Wilson can’t throw four first-half interceptions again…but the Patriots have only gotten better since that September showdown.

The Patriots’ stranglehold of supremacy over their rivalry with the Jets is one of the final remnants of their dynasty; as they slowly mount a march toward another, don’t expect that to dissipate.

Patriots 27, Jets 16

John Franklin-Myers, jets

Dylan Price

This week the Jets travel to New England for their second matchup with the Patriots. The Patriots are coming off a tightly contested battle against the Cowboys this past weekend, one that ended in a heartbreaking overtime defeat. Mac Jones played a good game against America’s team going 15-for-21 for 229 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. Jones made some sloppy plays, but that’s to be expected from a rookie thrower. The killer for the Patriots was Bill Belichick getting outcoached by Mike McCarthy and the Cowboys: Belichick was too reluctant to take chances and called too conservative of a game, calls that ultimately cost his team a high-profile win.

Meanwhile, the Jets are coming off a bye and remain 1-4, but the team went into its week off on a sour note: Just when everything was thought to be clicking after Week 4 win over Tennessee, they lost in London to the Falcons.

These are two teams looking to regain some semblance of momentum. In the last meeting, Belichick had Zach Wilson looking like Nathan Peterman. I think Wilson performs better after having extra time to prepare, and the defense likely does well. But the Patriots will likely still force the Jets to shoot themselves in the foot, so I reluctantly go with New England to win this one.

Patriots 23, Jets 10

Best of the Rest

MagliocchettiPrice
Denver @ Cleveland (Thu.)BroncosBroncos
Atlanta @ MiamiFalconsDolphins
Carolina @ NY GiantsPanthersPanthers
Cincinnati @ BaltimoreRavensRavens
Kansas City @ TennesseeChiefsChiefs
Washington @ Green BayPackersPackers
Detroit @ LA RamsRamsRams
Philadelphia @ Las VegasRaidersRaiders
Chicago @ Tampa BayBuccaneersBuccaneers
Houston @ ArizonaCardinalsCardinals
Indianapolis @ San FranciscoColts49ers
New Orleans @ Seattle (Mon.)SaintsSaints
Last Week11-310-4
Overall59-3559-35

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags
Dylan Price is on Twitter @dylanprice27

Robert Saleh on the Jets’ offensive struggles, team identity after the bye

robert saleh, jets

New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh laid out what’s to come in his first public statements since taking off for the team’s bye week.

The New York Jets enjoyed one of the most lucrative Sundays they’ve had in a long, long time. By perhaps no coincidence, Gang Green didn’t play a down, as they embarked on their annual bye week.

Gridiron affairs tilted in the Jets’ favor for a change during Sunday’s action: their divisional rivals from Miami and New England each lost heartbreakers while further misfortune in Carolina and Seattle allowed New York to shoot up the draft board through imported picks. Entering Monday night action, the Jets own four slots among the first 46. MetLife Stadium might as well be painted green for the time being, as the Jets (1-4) are the kings by default after the Giants’ humiliating showing against the Los Angeles Rams.

Robert Saleh is hoping the Jets can start to make their own luck as they make their return.

The Jets’ head coach made his first public comments since departing for the league-mandated break on Monday, unofficially beginning preparations for their Week 7 showdown against the New England Patriots. Sunday’s visit to Foxboro (1 p.m. ET, CBS) will conclude the annual season series between the two; the first meeting was a listless 25-6 loss on Sept. 19 at MetLife Stadium. That defeat was one of two games where the Jets failed to reach the end zone over their five-game, pre-bye slate , the other being a 26-0 shutout shellacking in Denver.

The bye week was anything but a break for Saleh, who spent time with his staff trying to solve the team’s offensive problems. A 1-4 start has been granted life through slow offensive efforts that take too much time to find their footing. The Jets have scored only one first half touchdown over the first games and have held a lead in only one: their Week 4 contest against Tennessee eventually won in overtime.

“(Offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur) and his staff did a really good job digging in deep in terms of what the offense is having success at, what we’re not having success at, what the quarterback is having success at versus what he’s not having success,” Saleh said on Monday, per notes from the Jets. “I feel really good about the soundness of the things that we’ll be doing over the course of the week. The one thing that I thought was very important was that we didn’t just make things up and do things just to do things.”

The Jets’ offense has made some progress after the depressing doldrums of the Adam Gase era: Alijah Vera-Tucker has vindicated the faith bestowed in him when the Jets sacrificed one of the picks gleaned from the Jamal Adams trade to get him while fellow freshman Michael Carter has started to establish a hold on the primary carries in the run game.

But, perhaps unfairly, the offensive progress from a broad perspective will be primarily judged by new franchise quarterback Zach Wilson’s results. While Wilson has shown flashes of brilliance, his four-touchdown, nine-interception output has left much to be desired.

Saleh, however, spoke highly of the rewatch value Wilson’s mistakes can hold.

“(He has to) continue to grow from the things (that), not only that he’s done well, but the things that he did not do very well,” Saleh said. “It’s not easy being a rookie quarterback, but at the same time, there are steps that we can be taking every single week to get better so we can be there in the second half looking for a play or two to win a football game.”

An early bye, often granted to those who partake in the NFL’s international games (as the Jets recently did, losing to the Atlanta Falcons in London), means that the young Jets must now play a dozen games uninterrupted. But Saleh believes that the required time off did both Wilson and the team some much-needed good. He encouraged his young quarterback, a notorious film buff, to temporarily step away from practice, review, and game prep, if only for a short while.

“I was like, ‘Hey dude, just make sure you go to sleep. Just relax, just lay off a little bit and just relax.’ He’s such a competitor, he’s just constantly thinking about it,” Saleh said. “I think coaches, players, the organization, even for you guys, to step away and watch somebody else for a minute. It’s a good refresher and a chance to come back and see if we can finish this thing strong.”

The bye week also gave Saleh a chance to ponder what sort of identity the Jets are trying to establish as they work through yet another new chapter in the seemingly perpetual rebuild. He expressed solidarity with general manager Joe Douglas in defining green endeavors in how they play in the trenches upfront. While the offensive line’s veteran acquisitions have struggled, the Jets’ defense has been a pleasant surprise thanks to the efforts of a potent pass rush that has tallied 13 sacks so far. The rate of 2.6 per game is the sixth-best tally in the league.

“I think we all stand in lockstep with Joe (Douglas), in terms of we’re going to be identified upfront,” the first-year head coach said. “Our o-line has played very well here over the last few weeks, and we anticipate them to continue to play well. Our d-line has been extremely effective, very, very good playing with a lot of energy, a lot of just overpowering teams, overpowering their opponent.”

“I think it’s starting to get established,” Saleh said of the team’s evolving identity. “I know it’s hard to see right now, but I think in the trenches, I feel like we’ve been the better team, with the exception of those first couple of weeks, but it’s been coming along, and I think our guys are starting to understand where we’re going to make hay and where we’re going to win football games.”

Saleh used his public availability to provide updates on some of his injured players: defenders Jarrad Davis and Marcus Maye were labeled “day-to-day”. He cautioned that further updates could come later in the week, but labeled their medical progress “promising”. Blocker Mekhi Becton, on the other hand, remains a “few weeks away” from returning.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Ex-NY Jets QB Geno Smith ready for chance at prime time redemption

Geno Smith, New York Jets

Smith, once the future of the New York Jets, has a chance to reclaim the narrative on his NFL career in a new opportunity in Seattle.

No matter what happens during the remainder of his NFL career, Geno Smith will go down as the answer to a trivia question asked by those who cycle through MetLife Stadium’s gates, no matter whether they wear green or blue.

For New York Jets fans, Smith is the last green thrower to toss a perfect game on the gridiron (a 158.3 passer rating) and the only one to do so in the 2010s. In the realms of New York Giants history, he’s the man who ended Eli Manning’s streak of 210 consecutive starts under center.

Smith is finally free from the incessant spotlight of quarterbacking in the metropolitan area, one that has slightly hardened him as he tries to carve out an extended NFL path. While Smith had settled into a backup role in Seattle, a rare injury to Russell Wilson (one expected to keep him out for at least the next three weeks after he was placed on injured reserve) has thrust him back into the gridiron mainstream. His path starts on Sunday night as the Seahawks (2-3) start the process of salvaging their season in prime time against the Pittsburgh Steelers (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC).

The visit to Pittsburgh will be Smith’s first regular season start since his infamously historic single outing as the Giants’ primary man in December 2017. The trust bestowed in Smith to help the Seahawks in their most desperate hour in a long, long time is the highest vote of confidence since former blue head coach Ben McAdoo controversially inserted Smith into the woebegone Giants’ starting lineup once they were among the earliest eliminated from the 2017-18 playoffs. McAdoo did in spite of only Manning’s streak but the prescience of then-rookie Davis Webb, who had been the Giants’ highest selection at quarterback since the instantly-traded Phillip Rivers went fourth overall on a fateful spring afternoon in 2004.

At the time, a respectable performance (21-of-34, 211 yards, a touchdown, and two lost fumbles in a 24-17 to the Oakland Raiders) wasn’t enough to withstand the fury of Giants fans eager to see their Super Bowl hero go out on any semblance of a “right” note. When McAdoo was ousted, one of the Giants’ first moves was to re-establish Manning as the top passer.

McAdoo had a parting gift for Smith upon his firing after the Oakland debacle.

“When Coach Mac was let go and left the building, I talked to him before he left, and he had told me he felt like I deserved to play the rest of the season,” Smith told Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News after his metropolitan departure in 2018. “He believed in me. A lot of people did. Guys wanted me to do well. But there are some things that are out of your control.”

“I’m not going to cry cry over spilled milk over things I can’t control. That’s only going to hinder my success or progress. It just added fuel to fire, made my offseason workouts interesting because I’m working harder. That opportunity was taken away from me for whatever reason, so every time I step on the field or in weight room, that’s my motivation.”

Going into Sunday night’s crucial contest, Smith is slightly more laid back, yet still enthusiastic, as he believes he’s made the most out of the past two-plus seasons through watching Wilson work.

“It’s not like I haven’t been playing football at all. The difference is now, it’s physical reps,” Smith told Ian Rapoport of NFL Network. “I’m getting all the reps. You always take mental reps and prepare that way, but this is about physical preparation as well, more than just the mental side of playing quarterback. This week was different because I’m taking physical reps, as well.”

Sunday’s return to the spotlight is nearly four years in the making: Smith spent a year as Rivers’ backup with the Los Angeles Chargers before settling in Seattle in 2019. Wilson’s durability has made the job of Pacific Northwest understudy a bit of an afterthought: Sunday night will mark the first time since New Year’s Day 2012 that someone other than “Russ” will start under center for the Seahawks (that honor going to the late Tavaris Jackson).

Yet, Smith had shown enough, primarily through his lasting starting endeavors with the Jets, that he could be a reliable contingency plan in case of an emergency. The West Virginia alum, after all, had his fleeting flashes of brilliance of green, including those earned in a prime time setting. For example, the second-round pick threw three touchdowns and engineered a game-winning field goal drive in a Monday night triumph in Atlanta as a rookie in 2013. While ultimately meaningless in the grand scheme of the standings, Smith managed to provide temporary solace to the tumultuous teams of the 2010s, sending Rex Ryan out on the right note with a 37-24 win over Miami.

Seattle was partly rewarded when Smith allowed them to keep pace in yet another nationally televised instance: as the Seahawks struggled to keep pace with the mighty Los Angeles Rams, the departure of Wilson could’ve been damning.

Instead, Smith rose to the occasion, keeping the increasingly desperate Seahawks in the game through a 131-yard performance that yielded 10 points over his first two drives in the fourth quarter. The affair ended in heartbreak…Smith was forced into a Nick Scott interception when intended receiver Tyler Lockett fell down on a route…but it was enough to keep the faith amongst Seattle brass.

“If Geno is going to play for us some as Russ comes back, you know, he showed that we’re in good hands,” Carroll said in the LA aftermath, per Liz Mathews of Yahoo! Sports. “I was just proud for him and the fact that he hung with us all this time and believed in being part of this program. Then when he got his chance, he did really. That was pretty good.”

“I went right to Geno afterwards and said, you been waiting a long time for your opportunity,” Carroll told reporters. “The faith you’ve shown in our program and us to stay with us, so proud that when he got in there, he did great. He really looked good. He’s been working for that. He’s a talented football player.”

Smith now gets to prove such acument on a long-term basis. The opportunity provided in Seattle affords him a rare chance as a high-profile washout (a status granted through factors partly beyond his control) to reclaim the narrative on his NFL career and perhaps get back on the radars of teams searching for starters.

But Smith appears to be embracing this chance with a sense of healthy abandon, one set to savor every moment of this comeback.

“I’m fresh, I feel like I’m 21 years old. I’m ready!” Smith said during Pittsburgh prep, per Rapoport. “The moment is what it is. We have a Sunday night game in Pittsburgh. It’s one night, not the rest of my life. Mostly, it’s a game I love to play, a game that I’m passionate about. It’s one that I prepare for and am ready for whether I get to play or not. It’s not a chance to showcase anything, that’s how I see it. I’m not going to change my stripes. I’m just looking forward to playing football.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Odell Beckham Jr. and the New York Jets…so crazy it just might work?

The last thing the New York Jets need is a distraction, but the new offensive era could use an established top option at receiver.

Odell Beckham Jr.’s time working with the resurrection of one downtrodden franchise could be coming to an end. Could he assist in a new one via a return to East Rutherford?

A report from Jeff Howe of The Athletic hints that the Cleveland Browns could be moving on from the former New York Giant, who has failed to match the hype that surrounded 2019’s blockbuster trade that led to a blue-to-orange makeover. Beckham earned 1,035 yards in his first season in Cuyahoga County but an ACL injury limited him to only seven games of Cleveland’s first playoff run since 2002. He missed the first two games of this season while recovering from last year’s injury and earned 77 yards in his debut against Chicago, but has earned only 47 on four catches (10 targets) over the past two games. In that time, Cleveland’s aerial efforts have been headlined by David Njoku, Rashard Higgins, and Donovan Peoples-Jones.

There’s no guarantee that Cleveland (3-2) will ship Beckham off; the Browns earn back no cap relief if they trade him now and would save $15 million against the cap if they release him over the offseason. But a commodity like Beckham could fetch them a fine prize before the Nov. 2 trade deadline.

Should the New York Jets inquire?

At first glance, Beckham is perhaps the last thing this chapter of the Jets’ perpetual rebuild needs: they couldn’t avoid the temptation of Le’Veon Bell but stepping out of the Deshaun Watson/Antonio Brown sweepstakes turned out to be the right move. Sure, Brown won a Super Bowl, but he was part of a team effort in Tampa Bay that also featured the talents of Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski, Ronald Jones, Leonard Fournette…and, of course, the immortal Tom Brady.

But perhaps that’s what the Jets need: established talent in the skill position as they attempt to open a new, lasting era under center.

Even with the lack of early returns in the win column, it’s hard to quarrel with the Jets’ offseason yields. For a team that went 2-14 the year before, a spring haul of Corey Davis, Keelan Cole, and draft pick Elijah Moore (not to mention retaining Jamison Crowder on a far more affordable deal) was like winning the gridiron lottery.

Each was armed with something to prove. Davis, for example, was serviceable in Nashville after entering as 2017’s fifth overall draft pick, but that didn’t stop the Tennessee Titans from adding Julio Jones to work next to A.J. Brown. Some were surprised to see Moore drop to the second round of the draft. But the Jets were still lacking a proven, established No. 1 target, and that’s haunted the early stages of the Zach Wilson era so far. There’s a strong possibility one of their current representatives can become a top target in due time, but that doesn’t do them any good in the immediate future.

That’s where Beckham can help.

Bringing Beckham back to New Jersey…and the off-the-field extracurriculars and recreation attached to it and neighboring New York City…comes with its precautions. But from an on-field perspective, the Jets could use someone with his acumen. The lack of a consistent, established big-play talent has been one of the Jets’ long-tenured issues: they haven’t had a receiver hit four digits since Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker’s tandem season in the thousands back in 2015. Not only is that an eternity in football years but it should be downright impossible for a team in today’s NFL, one that worships a fantasy football deity, to not feature a 1,000-yard season. Robby Anderson might’ve been the one to break the spell but repping the Jets proved outright depressing and guided him toward Carolina.

Further assisting the Jets’ cause in a trade for Beckham, or another high-ticket deadline option, is the fact they have the capital for such deals. Parting with one of the firsts is obviously out of the question, but the Jets own eight total picks over the first four rounds of next spring’s draft. Adding a veteran asset like Ty Johnson or Denzel Mims…serviceable options who are buried on the offensive depth chart for different reasons…or Marcus Maye…whose support staff has made their interest in the trade deadline no secret…could help sweeten the pot.

Sep 16, 2019; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (13) runs the ball against New York Jets cornerback Darryl Roberts (27) during the fourth quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

A doable deal for Beckham could help Wilson take the next step of his development and could even hit the fast-forward button toward it. The next question, however, is whether Beckham even would accept such a deal. He himself admitted that his “ultimate goal” is to win a Super Bowl (the disastrous, post-boat trip, visit to Green Bay in the 2016-17 NFC Wild Card playoffs is his lone postseason contest to date) and no one needs to update the Jets’ gargantuan distance from the Big Game. What he could truly use is a nice, peaceful, quiet place to hit reset on his career from a personal perspective. Beckham’s endeavors on and off the field…and the media extravaganza that often follows…don’t afford him such a luxury, but moving on to a team that’s not-as-burdened with expectations could afford him the closest thing.

Having said all that, it’s perhaps the Jets once again watch the transactional proceedings involving a star player from the side. No matter how they play the Beckham situation, it’s going to create some unwanted fanfare. Beckham is more likely to get his wish of being sent to a contender while the Jets themselves are better off developing their young aerial talent (the time, thought, and energy around a deal for Beckham is likely better spent trying to find a role for the explosive Mims).

But, provided it doesn’t derail the rest of this chapter…one armed with hope, maturation, and development despite negative early returns…the idea of Beckham joining the Jets shouldn’t be automatically erased and laughed at.

After all, at this point, what’s there to lose…for either side?

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

The New York Jets are resilient…but is that enough to succeed in 2021?

zach wilson, jets

The New York Jets have undoubtedly grown over the past year on the football calendar. But is this type of progress acceptable?

The modern New York Jets are a team of many labels. “Boring”, however, doesn’t make the cut. Many watch the Jets for gridiron schadenfreude and meme ammunition, but even the most relentless virtual court jesters who rely upon the Jets for their material had to take a legitimate interest in what the team had cooking in 2021.

The highly-sought Robert Saleh was granted the head coaching reins while rookie quarterback Zach Wilson was surrounded by the best offensive weaponry a 2-14 team could afford. Corey Davis, Tevin Coleman, Keelan Cole, Tyler Kroft, and Morgan Moses weren’t forming an All-Pro team, but each had two vital traits for a metropolitan squad in transition: postseason experience and something to prove.

It was hard to label the Jets’ 2021 expectations: they upgraded from the previous year’s group if only because anything short of folding the franchise would’ve been seen as an improvement after last season, the cursed final year of Adam Gase’s doomed tenure. There were legitimate reasons for excitement, but nothing that would allow the Jets to crash the AFC’s postseason party hosted by Kansas City and Buffalo.

Saleh, a stabilizing force for a franchise in desperate need of any footing, was kind enough to stop the debate over the Jets’ expectations during the fanfare surrounding his introductory press conference in February. The former San Francisco defensive coordinator flat out promised that the road back to NFL respectability would be paved with adversity. But he was willing to embrace such hardships with open arms in the name of growth.

michael carter, jets

“I’m genuinely excited for adversity, because a lot of different things are going to pop up,” Saleh told Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated shortly after his hire. “Everybody’s going to find out a little more about themselves when adversity hits. I think that’s when teams have their greatest amount of growth, it’s through adversity…that’s what I’m most excited for. I want to see how people respond.”

Having arrived at a league-mandated landmark…their Week 6 open date traditionally granted to those partaking in the NFL International Series…with a 1-4 record premature analysis of the Saleh era has gotten underway. The latest defeat came overseas, as the Jets fell by a 27-20 final to the Atlanta Falcons in London.

There’s no use in fully assessing Saleh and Wilson; barring complete and utter disaster, they’ll return for 2022. Even the most optimistic Jets supporter would’ve been foolhardy to assume playoffs and the overwhelming standings onslaught has come to pass.

The Western New York juggernaut that rules the East division has been everything advertised and then some. A desperate wild card bid is likely already thwarted by the usual expected suspects (i.e. Cleveland, LA Chargers) and surprise surges in Denver, Cincinnati, and Las Vegas.

Developmental growth is what will define the Jets’ individual seasons and efforts until a more complete team is assembled…so what can be said about 2021?

Through five games, it’s undeniably clear that this team is blessed with resiliency, perhaps the best trait you can ask for when you’re prophetically doomed to a year of rebuilding. That trait is best on display through a defense held together with the masking tape of additions obtained through Saturdays of draft weekends past and present (i.e. Bryce Hall, Brandin Echols). A unit that was supposed to be headlined by the antics of Carl Lawson, Marcus Maye, and Jarrad Davis has given way to breakout campaigns from bargain bin, end-of-camp releases like Quincy Williams and John Franklin-Myers.

quincy wilson, jets

For better or worse, the Jets have kept their fans more invested in their games from a scoreboard perspective. New York has faced sizable deficits over its first five games (summiting at a 26-point shutout margin in Denver) but they’ve had the decency…or cruelty?…to keep pace with their powerful opponents until the dam of gridiron destiny finally broke.

But while the Jets have kept things close in terms of the final score, the matters and context as to how they got there have been dubious. Sunday’s latest defeat was a prime opportunity for the Jets to cash in: they were coming off an inspiring win over division leaders from Nashville while Atlanta was missing blooming top receiver Calvin Ridley. Going up against the sputtering Falcons, whose pair of victories have come against the horrifying metropolitan duology of MetLife Stadium, could’ve been almost scripted by a pro-Jets screenwriter.

Instead, the Jets allowed the Falcons’ aging franchise quarterback to look like the Matt Ryan of old (season-best 342 yards) and heralded a Kyle Pitts breakout session (9 receptions, 119 yards, and a score). Granted, perhaps a defensive regression should’ve been expected: the unit has been carrying water for the offense all year forced to start an average drive only 65 yards away from the end zone, an NFL worse. At some point, they probably had to snap, and a breaking point of sorts came on Sunday.

But, despite that, the Jets keep things decent in their final margins, especially when removing the particularly ugly Denver outlier. For as much hullabaloo the Sam Darnold reunion caused, his new employer prevailed only by a five-point margin. After four Wilson interceptions, a visit from the New England Patriots was still only a two-possession game at the half.

So the Jets have established themselves as a resilient team, a pesky group that isn’t going to back down from a challenge and could perhaps even play up to its competition. But how long can they do this? How long can beautifying the scoreboard be a sustainable, respectable goal?

Last week’s win over the Tennessee Titans personified that best-case scenario of what the 2021 season can be: it was a win over a contender, a throat-clearing gesture to the rest of the football world that better times were finally ahead for one of professional sports’ most downtrodden and lampooned franchises. Sure, the win came as the Titans were missing the services of firey receiving options A.J. Brown and Julio Jones, but considering the long-term medical woes the Jets have endured over the first month of regular season play alone that’s hardly a valid excuse.

Wilson, the architect of 297 yards, two touchdown passes, and the Jets’ first comeback from two possessions down since December 2018, created a point on the team franchise timeline that couldn’t be ignored. Of note, was focused on not only the positives but on the work ahead as well.

zach wilson, jets

“I wouldn’t say we’ve fully arrived,” Wilson said, per Jack Bell of the team website. “This is just another puzzle piece of where I want to get. Now we have to stack the blocks. This was a step in the right direction.” Saleh concurred, noting that he hoped the win over the Titans would help the young team’s confidence “snowball”.

Alas, the opportunity to create a winning streak fell by the wayside on New White Hart Lane and leaves a sour taste in the Jets’ mouths. The lost chance to create a rare, guaranteed, three-week period of good vibes is likely not lost on a team that has embraced the low expectations and opinion the football-loving public has bestowed upon them.

Saleh, Wilson, and Co. can preach for hours on end about the Jets’ growth and development, how pleased they are in what they’re building. But all that means nothing if they can’t prove their progress in the most important…or at the very least most conventional…metrics: the win column and the three-hour windows on Sunday afternoon (or, in the London case, morning). Improving the former is a little too much to ask for, but the team can hardly prove that they’re moving in the right direction when they’re falling behind by two possessions in each of its games.

The Jets have been macabrely blessed with the gift of the fact that this season is an automatic improvement over last year’s disaster. But that doesn’t mean they have to be satisfied with it.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

New York Jets: Blake Cashman cleared to practice

New York Jets

The New York Jets welcomed back the third-year linebacker to practice after he missed the last three games due to hamstring issues.

The New York Jets announced on Wednesday that linebacker Blake Cashman was made eligible to return to practice. Cashman, a third-year Jet, sustained a hamstring injury during New York’s kickoff weekend contest in Carolina and has missed each of the last three games.

Cashman joined the Jets as a fifth-round pick (157th overall) in the 2019 draft. He enjoyed a breakout campaign when C.J. Mosley went down in his rookie season, tallying 40 tackles (3 for a loss) over seven games before he himself was injured. Career momentum has been hard to generate, as ailments have limited Cashman to a mere five games over the last two seasons and 12 in total. He was limited to special teams snaps during the opening loss in Charlotte.

The Jets placed Cashman on injured reserve and he’s eligible to be activated after the three-game absence. He was one of two Jets linebackers missing significant time, as Jarrad Davis and Hamsah Nasirildeen are also on the IR. Mosley has enjoyed a return to form over the first four games, while rookie Jamien Sherwood and waiver wire pick-ups Del’Shawn Phillips and Quincy Williams have also picked up the slack.

Robert Saleh maintained his faith in Cashman despite the lack of game film over the past two seasons.

“It’s a matter of getting on the field and doing it on defense,” the head coach said in August, per Dennis Waszak Jr. of the Associated Press. “He’s done it before, he’s a phenomenal linebacker and we’re really excited to see him get to work.”

New York (1-3) heads overseas in an attempt to start a winning streak in London against the Atlanta Falcons (9:30 a.m. ET, NFL Network).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

The New York Jets run game has a huge opportunity ahead

michael carter, jets

As Zach Wilson struggles to find his NFL footing, the New York Jets’ run game could become a vital source of offensive stability.

Offensive salvation may have made its way to the New York Jets through the 2021 NFL Draft. But the Cleveland-based gift might’ve arrived not on Thursday of the proceedings…but Saturday.

To the surprise of no rational Jets fan, Zach Wilson’s arrival wasn’t a one-size-fits-all instant fix for New York’s green team. Calling for Wilson’s dismissal and closing the book on his Jets career after two games is asinine but there’s no denying that Gang Green needs to develop some sort of offensive momentum, even if the results don’t translate on the scoreboard.

As one rookie has faltered, it might be prudent to turn over further trust to another: It may be time to give the Michael Carter project a jumpstart…the running back, that is (though the similarly-named safety has likewise done his part on defense).

Yes, turning the offensive reigns over to a rushing attack seems archaic by 2021’s professional football standards. But, as we know by now, the Jets aren’t really in any position to turn any form of offensive assistance. The unit has pulled itself out of the cesspool that Adam Gase dragged them into, as their 336-yard output on Sunday against New England bested their tallies in all but two games from last season. But if the Jets want to look at a 2021 season that likely won’t end in the postseason with proud eyes, they need to push the offense in the right direction.

Nothing more needs to be written about the Jets’ perpetual search for a franchise quarterback but a leading rusher has proven equally elusive. No Jets rusher has reached four digits in yardage since Chris Ivory in 2015, three years after Shonn Greene became the most recent homegrown back to do so.

It’s incredibly easy to understand why the Jets would be reluctant to turn over major offensive responsibilities to the run game. The last time they tried that, they got burdened with Le’Veon Bell drama and $4 million in dead cap space. It’s going to be a long time before the Jets ever break the bank open for a rusher and they’re not exactly hiding their minimalist approach: whereas Bell’s four-year deal was worth $52 million, the contracts of the six rushers currently stationed on the Jets’ roster are worth just about a quarter of that.

But the bargain bin, as anyone who has spent ten minutes in their local Target can testify, can yield delightful prizes. The early returns on Carter, and some of his rushing compatriots, suggest he could become a buried cult classic, like a copy of Idiocracy with a $3.99 price sticker. The Meadowlands complex is well-known for hosting the game-changing antics of one North Carolina alum with the surname of Carter. A path is set for another to do the same.

Carter has the makings of a popular fantasy football waiver wire option as the season goes on. The former Tar Heel, subtly slid under the radar in the fourth round as April became May. He currently stands as the fourth-leading rusher in Chapel Hill history, ahead of tenured NFL veterans like Natrone Means and Gio Bernard.

michael carter, jets

The Jets’ rushing situation in the post-Bell era was in a state of flux upon his arrival: Ty Johnson, Josh Adams, and La’Mical Perine (the latter being a fourth-round choice in 2020’s virtual proceedings) were denied extended opportunities in a lost season thanks to the Frank Gore retirement tour while the team also added two-time Super Bowl participant Tevin Coleman to the fold on a cheap one-year deal. There was an unspoken understanding that a committee-like approach awaited once the season got underway.

Yet, there was something about Carter’s skillset, praised for his physicality, size, and off-tackle abilities, that convinced observers that he would break away from the pack sooner rather than later. Offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur might’ve seen it coming through training camp comments from team reporter Randy Lange.

“He’s got such a good feel for holes and space,” LaFleur said in August. “When you think he’s about to hit something, he’s so tight to the ground and under control that you never really know where he’s going, but it always seems like he makes the right decision.”

That takeover might’ve come earlier than even his most optimistic believers anticipated.

The Jets’ finest offensive outputs came when they turned to Carter on Sunday. He was responsible for a third of the Jets’ 18 first downs (earning the necessary yardage on six of his 13 touches), totaling 88 yards from scrimmage, the most by a Jets rookie running back since Elijah McGuire had 131 in an October 2017 tilt against Jacksonville. Making things all the more impressive was the fact that Carter broke loose on an afternoon where the Jets were without offensive line anchor Mekhi Becton.

It was a performance that head coach Robert Saleh defined as “electric” in the aftermath of the team’s 11th consecutive loss to the Patriots. Saleh praised the way that the run game performed in general, as Johnson put up 50 yards through a dozen carries while Coleman had 24 on five. But he hinted that Carter may be developing the anticipated separation amongst the speedy trio.

“He was running his tail off (on Monday),” Saleh said, per notes from the Jets. “All three backs I thought showed up to play, but hats off to Michael.”

In addition to Carter’s progress, the Jets also continued to be enthused by veteran Ty Johnson. The former Detroit Lion has become a valuable find on the in-season free agency market, averaging 4.6 yards an attempt since donning a green uniform for the first time in October 2020.

As Wilson continues to deal with the dangerous obstacles traditionally thrown toward a rookie NFL quarterback’s way, the Jets need to find some sort of offensive stability. Both Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur know what it means to lean on a potent rushing attack in lieu of an established quarterback. LaFleur recalled just how important a ground attack led by Coleman, Raheem Mostert, and Matt Breida was in a Super Bowl bowl trek. Last year’s group, with Mostert joining Jeff Wilson, Jerick McKinnon, and Jamycal Hasty, helped partially alleviate an injury report that resembled a Pro Bowl roster.

“The run game, in general, is just critical, that’s what we all firmly believe,” LaFleur said in Lange’s aforementioned camp report. “If you can’t run the ball in this league, it gets really hard to throw the ball. There (are) only a few quarterbacks in the history of time that can just drop back and pick people apart and go up and down the field.”

Despite LaFleur’s insistence on having a good run game, the Jets rank in the bottom half of the league’s rushing attempts with 48 compared to 70 passes for Wilson, which currently ranks at the bottom of the top half. In addition to not wearing down Wilson (five of the top ten rookie quarterbacks with the most pass attempts since 2015 are no longer with the team that drafted them), both he and the team need to be as potent as possible, generate as much positive momentum as they can in a year that more than likely won’t end with the Jets’ among the 14 postseason squads.

A strong run game, mere inches away from him in the backfield, could be the perfect way to do that.

The Jets return to action on Sunday afternoon on the road against the Denver Broncos (4:05 p.m. ET, CBS). 

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

New York Jets opponent loses starting blocker

The New England Patriots will be without one of their top blockers against the New York Jets on Sunday in East Rutherford.

The New England Patriots announced on Saturday that right tackle Trent Brown would not play in Sunday’s tilt against the New York Jets (1 p.m. ET, NBC).

Brown injured his calf on the first series of the Patriots’ opening weekend tilt against the Miami Dolphins. He’s in the midst of his first year in New England, having arrived through a trade with Las Vegas. Justin Herron and Yasir Durant appear to handle Brown’s reps in East Rutherford.

With Brown out, the Jets’ pass rush has an opportunity to raise some much-needed pressure on rookie quarterback Mac Jones. New York (0-1) struggled to make the Carolina Panthers’ backfield uncomfortable last Sunday in Charlotte. The Jets’ pass rush was expected to struggle after prized acquisition Carl Lawson was lost for the season. It mustered only a single sack against Sam Darnold and the Panthers. John Franklin-Myers was a welcome exception to the struggles, earning two tackles for a loss, including the aforementioned quarterback takedown.

Brown’s downgrade wasn’t the only New England transaction on Saturday as the hours countdown toward their visit to the Garden State: the team added defensive lineman Tashawn Bower and kicker Nick Folk to its active roster. Another kicker, Quinn Nordin, was placed on injured reserve.

As for the Jets, they’re likely to be without rookie linebacker Jamien Sherwood, who was labeled doubtful with an ankle injury. Receivers Keelan Cole (knee) and Jamison Crowder (groin) are questionable as is tackle Chuma Edoga (non-COVID illness) and Isaiah Dunn (shoulder).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets WR Jamison Crowder activated from COVID-19 list

The New York Jets’ most potent offensive weapon from the last two seasons will be available for the team’s home opener against New England.

The New York Jets announced the activation of receiver Jamison Crowder from the COVID-19 list on Thursday. Crowder will be available to partake in the Jets’ Week 2 contest, their home opener against the New England Patriots (1 p.m. ET, CBS).

Former of Washington, Crowder is set to enter his third season with the Jets. In that span, he has developed into one of the league’s most reliable slot receivers. He has been the team’s most consistent offensive producer over the last two seasons, earning 1,532 yards on 137 receptions, 12 of which went for touchdowns. Each of those marks is good for a team-high over the last two seasons.

Crowder inked a three-year, $28.5 million deal in March 2019. He restructured his deal over this offseason, one centered around a $4.5 million guaranteed salary. The Duke alum was on the reserve list after testing positive on September 3.

The Jets (0-1) were without two of their top receivers during their season opener on Sunday, a 19-14 loss to the Carolina Panthers. Keelan Cole, who was acquired from Jacksonville over the most recent offseason, missed the contest with a knee injury and has been limited in practice this week. Zach Wilson threw for 258 yards in Sunday’s defeat, while Corey Davis paced the team with 97 yards on seven receptions. Braxton Berrios (5 receptions, 51 yards) took over Crowder’s duties in the slot.

“Those guys do things the right way,” Saleh said of Cole and Crowder, per ESPN’s Rich Cimini. “They’re where they’re supposed to be. They’re all gas 100% of the time. They’re reliable. For a quarterback, you can’t ask for much more than that. To have two more options on the field for the quarterback is priceless.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets continue to deal with the curious case of Denzel Mims

Mims, the New York Jets’ second-round pick from the 2020 draft, played only three snaps in Sunday’s loss in Charlotte.

The best thing you can say about Denzel Mims’ sophomore season opener is that he made the most of his limited opportunities.

Conversation around Mims has reopened after the New York Jets’ 19-14 loss to the Carolina Panthers in Week 1 action. Mims partook in only three snaps of the defeat, but featured heavily in one of the game’s most impactful plays: with three minutes remaining in the final frame, Mims’ 40-yard reception situated the Jets at Carolina’s 10-year-line. Corey Davis put in six points on a eight-yard pass from Zach Wilson to create what became the final margin.

Making the most out of limited opportunities has defined Mims’ infantile NFL career: the second-round pick from the 2020 draft tallied 357 yards over the final eleven weeks of last season, 10th amongst rookie receivers in that span. Hamstring woes ate away at his training camp and sidelined him for the first six weekends. Mims’ drafting was part of the Jets’ efforts to find the best of both offensive worlds. They chose blocker Mekhi Becton with the 11th overall choice, passing on several elite receiving talents. Mims, an aerial energizer out of Baylor, was chosen 59th overall.

Despite Mims appeared to be an odd man out of sorts after the Jets revamped their receiving corps this offseason, a relic of a prior coaching regime after the arrivals of Davis, Elijah Moore, and Keeland Cole. That idea gained further traction through Sunday’s snap counts: Mims’ trio ranked well behind reserves like Braxton Berrios (37) and Jeff Smith (9) on a day where both Cole and Jamison Crowder were each unavailable. Despite his late entry, Mims’ 40 yards earned on the aforementioned reception was third amongst New York receivers behind Davis (5 receptions, 97 yards) and Berrios (5 receptions, 51 yards).

(Photo: Getty Images)

Head coach Robert Saleh partly blamed the “sequence of the game” for Mims’ lack of reps, per notes from the Jets. He labeled Davis, Moore, and Berrios as his top three receivers in Carolina. Saleh also said that the Jets’ late offensive pace afforded the comfort to give Mims an offensive opportunity. The Jets’ final drive went 93 yards in 10 plays, doing so in 2:31 as they tried to erase a late two-possession deficit.

“(Mims) has been doing a good job getting himself a little bit better every day but, he’s got to know, when you’re not one of the main guys, you got to know all three spots and you’ve got to know it at a high level so you can step in and take advantage of all those opportunities,” Saleh said. “If the Z, the F or the X needs a break, you’re the first one that goes in because you know all three spots, you can execute at a high level and you can roll.”

“(Sunday) was more of a timing thing where offense really didn’t get rolling until that fourth quarter, which is where you started seeing him show up on the football field,” Saleh continued. “We had those extended drives, I think we had a 10-play, 93-yard drive where the receivers needed a break, and it gave them that opportunity to step in and get action.”

Saleh also mentioned that Cole and Crowder “both have a shot to come back this week” as the Jets prepare for their home opener against the New England Patriots on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS). Their potential reinseration could create an awkward situation for Mims, whose big-play potential and ability to gain yards after the catch made him attractive to a Jets offense in desperate need of big-yardage situations. Sunday opponent Jeremy Chinn and and Washington rusher Antonio Gibson were among those chosen in the next ten selections.

Finding a place for Mims could be a way for incoming offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur to leave an impact on the New York offense. LaFleur previously worked with the receivers in San Francisco and guided names like Kendrick Bourne, Maquise Goodwin, Deebo Samuel, and Brandon Aiyuk to breakout seasons.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags