New York Jets: Three stars from Sunday’s win over Cincinnati

New York Jets

Mike White and Michael Carter guided the New York Jets to a jaw-dropping victory over the AFC-leading Cincinnati Bengals.

Behind 405 passing yards from Mike White and 172 scrimmage yards from rookie rusher Michael Carter, the New York Jets earned a 34-31 win over the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals. White, making his first start in place of the injured Zach Wilson, earned the 11th 400-yard game in Jets history and first since Vinny Testaverde reached the mark on Christmas Eve in 2000.

With a huge win under their belts, the Jets (2-5) return to action on Thursday night against the Indianapolis Colts (8:20 p.m. ET, Fox/NFL Network).

ESM bestows three game balls from the jaw-dropping triumph..

Honorable Mentions

  • RB Ty Johnson: 86 total yards, 1 receiving TD
  • WR Jamison Crowder: 8 rec., 84 yards
  • WR Elijah Moore: 6 rec., 67 yards
  • WR/Ret. Braxton Berrios: 1 receiving TD, 29.5 kick ret. average
  • LB C.J. Mosley: 10 tackles (1 TFL)
  • DL Sheldon Rankins: 4 tackles (2 TFL), 1 sack
  • DL Quinnen Williams: 1 sack

3rd Star: LB Shaq Lawson

1 interception

A victory over the AFC leaders was child’s play for the Jets’ linebacker.

Lawson was in the holiday spirit when he arrived in East Rutherford on Sunday, as he was dressed like the horror film icon Chucky. He went on to become a nightmare for the Bengals, picking up the Jets’ first interception of the season at the perfect time. That crucial turnover situated Gang Green 14 yards away from the end zone as they went on to punch in the winning score via White’s touchdown pass to Tyler Kroft.

Mosley described Lawson’s takeaways as a “Hall of Fame defensive end type of play”.

“I think about Terrell Suggs doing that all the time, tipping the ball and getting it to himself,” Mosley said, per notes from the Jets. “What a great time to have that happen.”

“I didn’t even think I was going to get it,” Lawson himself added. “I’ve been fortunate these last couple of years. I scored last year, and a pick this year. That ain’t never happened like that. You always run to the ball, and being around the ball good things happen. that’s what we preach every day.”

2nd Star: RB Michael Carter

172 total yards, 1 rushing TD

Carter’s hold on the Jets’ primary rushing duties has grown over the past few weeks (though Johnson remained a factor through some big aerial gains). He had reached triple digits in yards from scrimmage before (doing so in last week’s disastrous visit to New England) but he made a major impact on the Wilson-free settings. Carter’s final tally is the fourth-best output from a Jets rookie running back. He’s also the first such rusher to reach that mark in consecutive weeks since Freeman McNeil in 1981.

“He’s a rookie, but he’s taken it as a vet,” Johnson said of Carter’s efforts. “I told him today, I was like, ‘Man, he was playing a lot. And I was like, ‘Hey man, I appreciate you. You took every single rep you had and you were on your P’s and Q’s, you were on your alignments, your assignments, and your execution.’ So, I was like, ‘Get your body right, let’s do it again on Thursday.’”

“He’s a rookie, but he’s proven that he’s built for this and he’s a vet in a rookie body.”

1st Star: QB Mike White

37-of-45, 405 yards, 3 TD

White’s first career NFL start became a national headline, one that was historic on both a team and national level. His final yardage total, already a rarity by Jets standards (joining Testaverde, Joe Namath, Ken O’Brien, Richard Todd, and Glenn Foley as the green quarterbacks to do so), is the second-best tally for a quarterback in his first start over the past six decades, passed only by Cam Newton’s 422 from his 2011 debut. The quarterback also tallied two of the game’s most important points by himself, literally taking matters into his own hands on a Halloween trick that saw Crowder loft a two-point conversion toss to him, creating the final 34-31 margin.

White was an obvious recipient of the Jets’ offical game ball bestowed by Saleh in the postgame celebration. The head coach confirmed that White earned the right to start Thursday’s game in Indianapolis.

Looking back on White’s Sunday showing, Saleh believed that his quarterback had something special brewing from his first possession. White completed 7-of-7 passes on the drives (part of a 10-of-10 showing to start the game) and the trek ended with the team’s first opening quarter points of the year via a six-yard scoring rush for Carter. That was enough for Saleh to put the game in White’s hands.

“Mike White was poised and took what the defense gave him, but also took shots when he had to,” Saleh said. “He came out comfortable and poised. He drove the ball right down the field and scored that touchdown. I was like, ‘Alright, let’s get this dude the ball and see what happens.’ I know we had some mishaps in the first half where we could have been even more explosive as it pertains to points, but to be down three at halftime despite three turnovers, to show the grit and grind that this group was fighting through. To be down 11 and come back, it’s a gritty group. It was awesome to see.”

White’s instant legend grew so large that fans began chanting his name in support.

“It was a lot of fun. Anytime you get to play football it’s fun,” White said of his first East Rutherford experience. “That’s what we all grew up doing and that’s what we all came to this level to do, so I embrace it, but I think I personally did a good job of not making it more than it is. What helped a lot too, was the coaches’ faith in me and the team’s faith in me. There wasn’t a flinch and guys were supportive, guys were rallying around me and it made it that much easier.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: Three stars from Sunday’s loss vs. Atlanta

New York Jets

The New York Jets took a few steps forward after a brutal first half, but their overseas comeback effort fell just short.

Deja vu flirted with the New York Jets, but Gang Green couldn’t seal the international deal against the Atlanta Falcons.

Matt Ryan threw for 342 yards, 119 of which went to rookie Kyle Pitts. The fourth overall pick from April’s Draft proceedings also had a touchdown alongside fellow tight end Hayden Hurst as Atlanta escaped with a 27-20 victory after the Jets nearly came back from three possessions down. Michael Carter and Ty Johnson had rushing touchdowns for the Jets (1-4) while Zach Wilson threw his ninth interception of the season as Atlanta built its early lead. The loss comes after the Jets erased a nine-point lead against the AFC South-leading Tennessee Titans at MetLife Stadium.

Both the Jets and Falcons (2-3) will now take the standard week off granted to teams that partake in overseas contests. New York re-opens its season on Oct. 24 as they head up to Foxboro to battle the New England Patriots (1 p.m. ET, CBS).

ESM has three game balls to bestow as silver linings from this latest loss…

Honorable Mentions

  • RB Ty Johnson: 4 carries, 12 yards, 1 TD, 2 receptions, 22 yards
  • WR Corey Davis: 4 receptions, 45 yards
  • WR Keelan Cole: 2 receptions, 38 yards
  • WR Denzel Mims: 2 receptions, 33 yards
  • WR Jamison Crowder: 4 receptions, 24 yards, two-point conversion
  • CB Bryce Hall: 7 tackles, 2 passes defended
  • CB Brandin Echols: 9 tackles

3rd Star: LB C.J. Mosley

8 tackles, 1 forced fumble

Mosley’s reintroduction to the NFL has been a wonder to behold. He temporarily transferred momentum to the Jets’ side by forcing a fumble from Hurst when Atlanta entered the red zone again. His cough-up was recovered by Michael Carter II and the Jets embarked on a 16-play drive that netted a Matt Ammendola field goal.

2nd Star: RB Michael Carter

10 carries, 38 yards, 3 receptions, 20 yards

Despite some solid contributions from Johnson, Carter’s takeover of the primary rushing duties took another step forward on Sunday. The Jets’ best first down yardage came from Carter touches, ones that set the Jets up handsomely on the latter strikes. With his Sunday score, Carter is one of only three rookie running backs to visit the end zone twice. He also capitalized on extended duties through the air, his three receptions sitting behind only Corey Davis and Jamison Crowder.

1st Star: LB Quincy Williams

8 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 1 QB hit

The Jets’ pass rush struggled to build upon the momentum established against the Tennessee Titans last week, failing to get to Ryan at any point in London. Williams did what he could to establish pressure and once again stifled a dangerous run game with some clutch takedowns. He also forced two fumbles in the second half: another forced from Hurst bounced harmlessly out of bounds but another taken away from Mike Davis and recovered by Shaq Lawson stopped an Atlanta drive in New York territory.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: 3 stars from Sunday’s win vs. Tennessee

It took all 60 minutes and then some, but the New York Jets earned their first win of the season in an overtime thriller over Tennessee.

New York Jets fans waited four weeks for their first win of the 2021 season…a nearly ten-minute extension was nothing.

Zach Wilson threw for 297 yards and two touchdown passes in conjunction with a strong defensive effort that was able to withstand 157 rushing yards from Derrick Henry en route to a 27-24 victory over the Tennessee Titans on Sunday afternoon at MetLife Stadium. It’s the first win for both Wilson and Jets head coach Robert Saleh, as well as the Jets’ first over triumph since December 2020.

New York (1-3) earned seven sacks of Ryan Tannehill, their best output since a November 2017 showdown with Buffalo. The Jets erased an early 9-0 lead built through Randy Bullock’s field goals to earn the fateful triumph, as Wilson found Jamison Crowder (making his season debut) and former Titan Corey Davis to give the Jets a lead in the final frame.

Though Tennessee tied it on a Ryan Tannehill touchdown pass to Cameron Batson with 19 seconds to go in regulation, the Jets eternally secured the lead in overtime through a 22-yard field goal from Matt Ammendola. The defense then forced Bullock into a missed 49-yarder with 15 ticks left in the extra session to send East Rutherford into hysterics.

With their first victory in hand, the Jets will now head overseas to battle the Atlanta Falcons in London next Sunday (9:30 a.m. ET, NFL Network).

ESM has three game balls to bestow from a memorable win at MetLife…

Honorable Mentions

  • WR Corey Davis: 4 receptions, 111 yards, 1 TD
  • WR Keelan Cole: 3 receptions, 92 yards
  • WR Jamison Crowder: 7 receptions, 61 yards, 1 TD
  • LB C.J. Mosley: 13 tackles, 1 sack
  • LB Quincy Williams: 12 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack
  • CB Bryce Hall: 5 tackles, 3 PD, 0.5 sacks
  • CB Javelin Guidry: 10 tackles
  • LB Bryce Huff: 1.5 sacks
  • RB Michael Carter: 13 carries, 38 yards, 1 TD
  • WR/Ret. Braxton Berrios: 2 carries, 15 yards, 3 total returns, 56 yards

3rd Star: QB Zach Wilson

21-of-34, 297 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT

Wilson broke away from the gridiron cesspool that the rookie quarterback class of 2021 stumbled into. Things threatened to spiral out of control when another “unearned run” hit the board (an interception that landed in the hands of Kristian Fulton when Davis fell tripped while running a route), but instead recovered to post the best numbers of his infantile career. Wilson, most importantly, looked composed when Tennessee upped the pressure and moved around well in the pocket, primarily on the 53-yard scoring tally that allowed Davis his revenge.

2nd Star: DL Quinnen Williams

7 tackles, 2 sacks

The Williams brothers have flourished while working with each other and united to make NFL history on Sunday: united for three takedowns of Tannehill, they become the first fraternal pair to earn a sack in the same game since it became an official statistic in 1982. Quinnen has appeared to have rediscovered his pass rush groove, having earned 3.5 sacks over the last two games. Sunday was a particularly emotional experience for Quinnen and Quincy, as Sunday marked the Jets’ celebration of the NFL’s “Crucial Catch” initiative that raises awareness and donations for cancer battles. The two lost their mother to cancer as teenagers and met with survivors prior to kickoff.

1st Star: DL John Franklin-Myers 

4 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack

When should the John Franklin-Myers Pro Bowl campaign commence: now or two weeks ago? Franklin-Myers got back on the sack ledger with a takedown of Tannehill in the first half and continues to establish himself as a premier pass-rushing threat. In addition to his sack, the former Ram had three further pressures and creating a full-scale invasion when the Titans lost some of their premier blockers to injuries. He dealt with some injuries himself, with the game stopping twice so medical examiners could get a look at him, but he wound up finishing the contest. Franklin-Myers is set to enter free agency this offseason; could the Jets have finally found a defender that they can convince to stick around for the long term?

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: Grading Week 3’s loss in Denver

jets, zach wilson

Already trapped in the depths of the NFL’s offensive landscape, the New York Jets somehow sank further on Sunday in Denver.

New York Jets 0 (0-3)

Top Offensive Performer: QB Zach Wilson (19-of-35, 160 yards, 2 INT)
Top Defensive Performer: DL Quinnen Williams (4 tackles, 1.5 sacks)
Top Specialist: P Thomas Morestead (6 punts, 46.7 average)
Up Next: Sunday vs. Tennessee (1 p.m. ET, CBS)

Denver Broncos 26 (3-0)

Top Offensive Performer: WR Tim Patrick (5 receptions, 98 yards)
Top Defensive Performer: LB Alexander Johnson (5 tackles, 2 sacks)
Top Specialist: K Brandon McManus (4-of-4 FG, long 47, 2-of-2 XP)
Up Next: Sunday vs. Baltimore (4:25 p.m. ET, CBS)

Offense: F

With the rise of big plays and penalties bestowed for merely looking at a quarterback or receiver the wrong way, it’s almost impossible to be blanked in the modern NFL. But the Jets have somehow earned…yes, earned…a scoreboard goose egg in each of the last three seasons, a dubious distinction that continued in Denver.

The best thing that can be said about Sunday’s offensive performance was that Zach Wilson mostly fulfilled head coach Robert Saleh’s requests to play boring football. He also took care of the ball until two final desperation drives that ended in interceptions. His final pass went through the hands of Braxton Berrios, capping off an afternoon where Wilson’s receivers failed to come through for him.

Corey Davis (5 receptions, 41 yards on 10 targets) had two drops (one would’ve put the Jets in the red zone) while Michael Carter had another with room to run. Carter was particularly disappointing after serving as a silver lining against New England, earning only 24 yards on nine carries. New York earned only one of its already abysmal 11 first downs via the ground and that was earned by Wilson on a two-yard rush in the third quarter. The blocking once again provided no assistance, a fact Wilson learned the hard way through five more sacks.

Defense: C-

It certainly wasn’t a shutdown effort by any means (allowing 344 yards, 22 first downs, and just over five yards a play), but the Jets’ defense mostly kept its cool when the offense kept setting them up in awkward situations. C.J. Mosley continued his comeback tour with a game-best 10 tackles, the most famous of which was a goal-line takedown of Melvin Gordon that briefly kept the game scoreless.

Quinnen Williams also managed to get back in the swing of things through his involvement in two sacks of Teddy Bridgewater, sharing one with Bryce Huff. Williams also had two further quarterback hits, one of only four hurries New York had on the afternoon (Huff and Sheldon Rankins had the others).

Saleh’s oft-spoken “All Gas, No Brake” philosophy has gone by the wayside in the early going but the defenders at least help partly personify it in the dying stages of a lost contest. As Denver embarked on another would-be scoring drive (set up by Wilson’s first interception), Quincy Williams forced a fumble from Javonte Williams (no relation) that ended up in Del’Shawn Phillips’ possession, leading to a 34-yard return.

The Jets’ red zone defense has been a bittersweet gift to the metropolitan area: they’re allowing four such possessions per game (only Kansas City, Jacksonville, Washington, and Seattle have let up more) but have let up touchdowns on only a third of them. That percentage is good for the best in the NFL, tied with New Orleans and Sunday’s adversaries at Mile High.

Special Teams: C-

The Jets’ special teams endeavors on Sunday ranged from average (Morestead placed the Broncos inside their 20 twice on six punts) to frustratingly distressing (a delay of game penalty on a 56-yard field goal erased what would’ve been the only green points of the afternoon), though a game desperate for silver linings did manage to find two.

Though not officially credited with a block, Phillips was able to carry over some momentum to his punt rushing duties, tipping a Sam Martin boot that went just 26 yards and situated the Jets at their own 41. Also, considering the team’s struggles with finding a consistent kicker, watching Matt Ammendola manageably boot a 56-yarder had to be satisfying, even if it didn’t count.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: Three stars from Sunday’s loss at Denver

New York Jets

The New York Jets endured their third shutout defeat over the last three years, failing to tally any points in Sunday’s visit to Denver.

New quarterback, same painful result.

The New York Jets endured a shutout defeat for the third time over the last three seasons (and fourth over the last five) on Sunday afternoon at Empower Field at Mile High, as they were the victims of a 26-0 shellacking at the hands of the undefeated Denver Broncos.

Denver (3-0) took advantage of a Jets offensive in turmoil, outgaining Gang Green 344-162 and forcing Zach Wilson into two late interceptions and five sacks. The final margin was created through rushing scores by Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon as well as a trio of kicks from Brandon McManus.

The Jets (0-3) will look for some traction next weekend at home against the Tennessee Titans (1 p.m. ET, CBS). First, ESM finds three individual bright spots from their disaster in Denver…

Honorable Mentions

  • LB Del’Shawn Phillips: 1 fumble recovery, 1 tipped punt
  • WR Corey Davis: 5 receptions, 41 yards

3rd Star: LB Quincy Williams

6 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 FF

The poor early returns in the Saleh/Wilson era have caused some to question general manager Joe Douglas’ blueprint. But the in-season/post-training camp gems he has found on the waiver wire (Ty Johnson, John Franklin-Myers, Braxton Berrios) can’t be denied.

Williams, a post-camp cut from Jacksonville, might be the latest addition to that list. Through two appearances in relief of Jarrad Davis and Blake Cashman, Williams has laid some memorable hits down during his brief New York tenure. On Sunday, he helped salvage at least a sliver of the afternoon with a forced fumble out of Javonte Williams’ hands that was taken back by Phillips for 34 yards.

2nd Star: L.B. C.J. Mosley

10 tackles

Mosley is taking full advantage of his newfound health as he’s the Jets’ early leader in tackles. That trend continued when he led the team with 10 on Sunday in Denver.

One of the former Raven’s earliest hits went somewhat viral on a busy football Sunday. Mosley laid down a punishing hit on Gordon as the latter tried to score the first touchdown of the afternoon. His efforts, alas, only delayed the inevitable as Javonte Williams scored on the very next play. But Mosley’s brief moment of internet fame served as a solid reintroduction to the NFL and served as a strong example of perseverance, one the Jets desperately need.

1st Star: DL Quinnen Williams

4 tackles, 1.5 sacks

Our weekly tradition ends in brotherly bookends to salvage some sort of good feelings from Sunday.

After a relatively quiet first couple of weeks, Williams resembled his breakout form from last season, one that got involved in two Sunday sacks (sharing one with Bryce Hall). He wasn’t willing to talk about these positive developments but about the Jets’ modern fortunes. Williams, ready to embrace a larger leadership role, sees his performance as worthy of only a deeper personal reflection, one that he hopes leads to increased accountability.

“I look at the negative things I did wrong the game before and try to correct them the next week,” Williams said, per team reporter Randy Lange. “I feel like now the whole team has got to take that whole self-correct, constructive criticism, put it to their own life, and look at themselves in the mirror and say, ‘I need to correct this, I need to not have this happen again, I need to make sure I’m on top of this.'”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty playoffs: 3 stars from Thursday’s loss at Phoenix

A valiant effort by the New York Liberty fell just short on Thursday night, as they dropped a heartbreaking postseason decision in Phoenix.

The New York Liberty’s Cinderella story surprisingly began at midnight. Alas, it came to an end shortly after.

Brianna Turner’s free throw with 0.4 seconds remaining gave the Phoenix Mercury just enough of a margin to escape Grand Canyon University with an 83-82 win over the Liberty in the opening round of the 2021 WNBA Playoffs. It was New York’s first playoff contest since 2017.

Facing the heavily-favored Mercury, the Liberty fell behind 17-8 in the early going, but fought their way back in a game that featured 13 lead changes. Betnijah Laney tied the game with a triple with 2.4 ticks remaining before a foul sent Turner to the foul line, where she hit one of two.

Skylar Diggins-Smith led the way with 22 for Phoenix while Sophie Cunningham had 21 off the bench for the victorious Mercury. They’ll now face the fourth-seeded defending champions from Seattle on Sunday afternoon (3 p.m. ET, ABC).

ESM has metropolitan game balls to bestow from a respectable final effort…

Honorable Mentions

  • Natasha Howard: 16 points, 10 rebounds
  • Bec Allen: 11 points, 4 rebounds, 3 blocks

3rd Star: Reshanda Gray

8 points, 2 rebounds

The Liberty’s modern fortunes have been defined by their youngsters, but the veteran Gray came up huge for the Liberty in the fourth quarter, helping them keep pace on the inside as Phoenix tried to pull away, forcing the opponents to rely on outside endeavors. Gray set new playoff career-bests after missing the last two games with a non-COVID illness. Through four different tenures this season, Gray became a relied-upon leader and spark off the bench as she seeks to establish a permanent WNBA residency.

2nd Star: Sabrina Ionescu

14 points, 11 assists, 5 rebounds

The Liberty’s brief playoff appearance carries a special weight and reward in the sense that they made their postseason return after enduring a two-win season in the Bradenton bubble. Her first “playoff” action since 2020’s Pac-12 tournament proved she has what it takes to lead at the WNBA level.

She believes the chemistry and camaraderie, particularly such contents built during a final stretch that included a vital win over Washington in Brooklyn, will allow the Liberty to get a head start in 2022 as their “hybrid rebuild” continues.

“We’re going to start training camp at this level,” Ionescu said. “Everything’s going to change drastically. We know each other a lot more.”

1st Star: Betnijah Laney

25 points, 4 rebounds

Laney wouldn’t let the Liberty’s season end without one more double-decalogue, taking full advantage of her first major playoff minutes, having spent two minutes on Chicago’s playoff run in 2015. The Rutgers alumna missed her first two shots as the Liberty fell behind early, but she hit 10 of her final 20, including a jaw-dropping triple that tied the game with 2.7 seconds left.

Laney’s postseason ascension further drives home her status as a leader and vital part of what’s to come. She left a dire warning for those willing to discount the Liberty after a single nationally postseason loss.

“It gives us momentum. Even if things didn’t go our way, the way we played as a group, there is a sign that we belong,” Laney said. “So we’re going to this offseason to continue to be better…come back mature next year. We’re here to stay.”

“I think there was a lot of questions in how we were going to come out, what kind of team we (were),” Laney said. “But I think that throughout the season, especially in our last game against the Mystics…I think it says a lot about this New York Liberty team. We’ll be back and we’re going to be really good.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty: Three stars from Friday’s win vs. Washington

Time will tell if the playoffs await, but the New York Liberty ended its season on the right note at Barclays Center on Friday.

This week’s metropolitan endeavor against the Washington basketball team was far more lucrative than the matchup against the football squad.

The New York Liberty ended its regular season on a strong note on Friday night at Barclays Center, topping the Washington Mystics by a 91-80 final. New York (12-20) snapped an eight-game losing streak with their triumph and will now await results from the weekend games. New York needs both Los Angeles and Washington to lose on Sunday to clinch its first playoff berth since 2017. The Mystics (12-19) return to the nation’s capital to battle the Minnesota Lynx (3 p.m. ET, ESPN3) while the Sparks battle the Dallas Wings on the road (5 p.m. ET, NBA TV).

Even if the playoffs aren’t to be, the Liberty set a WNBA record on Friday night, sinking their 317th three-pointer of the season, passing the 2019 Mystics. New York led by as many as 24, withstanding a 29-point effort from Ariel Atkins. Tina Charles, the all-time leading scorer in team history, was held to 10 points in defeat.

ESM has three standouts from the victorious finale…

Honorable Mentions

  • Sami Whitcomb: 13 points, 7 rebounds
  • Bec Allen: 9 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists

3rd Star: Betnijah Laney

10 points, 11 assists

It was a tough shooting night for Laney (3-of-13 from the field) but served as a facilitator all night with her passing and ability to contribute on double-teams. Laney also continued a growing role as a face of New York basketball by addressing the crowd on Fan Appreciation Night prior to tip-off, thanking them for the season-long support and encouraging them to get loud for the big contest.

2nd Star: Sabrina Ionescu

22 points, 9 assists, 5 rebounds

The Liberty’s first full-time Brooklyn ledger ended as it began: a Sabrina Ionescu buzzer-beater.

This edition wasn’t as dramatic…her shot clock-beating tally simply created the final 11-point margin…but served as one final crowd-pleaser to end Ionescu’s de facto rookie season on a high note. Ionescu ended the year with double figures in her final 11 games of the year. She also shot at least 50 percent in three of the final four. After the game, the California native and Oregon alumna said that New York was “starting to feel like home for a lot of us”.

“We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished, but this is just the beginning. I’m so excited for the future of this team,” Ionescu said. “We’ve talked about, that feeling of growth and unity is really what this team’s about and why they put us all together…the fans were amazing…we heard them, felt them, it was electric.”

1st Star: Natasha Howard

24 points, 10 rebounds

The Liberty’s Natasha Howard sample size was small thanks to an injury that cost “Flash” most of her debut year in New York. She saved the best for last, scoring 11 points in the first quarter en route to an 11-for-13 performance on the evening. Howard began to resemble her dominant self in the latter stages of the Liberty’s season, shooting 64 percent from the field over her last four games.

New Yorkers were most impressed with Howard’s leadership in the final game. Along with Whitcomb and Laney, Howard was one of those who took charge during a third-quarter timeout called and organized by players when Washington trimmed the Liberty’s 24-point lead. Howard herself admitted she isn’t the loudest motivator, but believed that had to change if the Liberty were to end the season the right way.

“Tonight I was talking a lot…it was time for me to step up to that plate, be more vocal,” she said. “When game time came, we were locked in…our growth came, we called stayed together, fought, and came out with a win.”

Head coach Walt Hopkins described Howard as a “sneaky vocal leader”, one who wanted to lead by example. Concerning the aforementioned timeout, Hopkins was further pleased with his players’ willingness to hold each other accountable.

“They needed to hear from each other,” he said. “I can yell until I’m blue in the face…your teammates, you’re not going to (ignore) your teammates. I was really proud of them.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty: 3 stars from Wednesday’s loss at Connecticut

The New York Liberty’s WNBA playoff hopes were dealt a major blow after a tough second half in Uncasville.

The New York Liberty’s playoff bid came up snake eyes at Mohegan Sun Arena.

Outscored by a 54-22 margin in the second, the Liberty dropped its eighth consecutive contest, falling by a 98-67 final to the Connecticut Sun on Wednesday. New York (11-20) will now need a win over the Washington Mystics in Friday night’s regular season finale in Brooklyn (7 p.m. ET, YES) and some help from their friends to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2017.

The Liberty jumped out to a 16-5 lead in the early stages of the first quarter, which they won by a 24-20 advantage. However, the wheels fell off in the second half, drawing the ire of head coach Walt Hopkins.

“We gave up. I think the team gave up in the second half, they got punched me four or five times turned the ball over a few times and Connecticut showed why they’re the best team in the league and we showed why we’re having trouble closing games,” Hopkins bluntly declared in the aftermath. “We have to get tougher. You got to want it more, and we gave up.”

New York can still reach the postseason through a win on Friday, plus a further loss from Washington on Sunday afternoon and a Los Angeles Sparks defeat over their final two games.

Six players reached double-figures for Connecticut (25-6), which not only won its franchise-record 13th game in a row but also clinched the top seed in the playoffs.

ESM looks back on three silver linings from this latest defeat…

3rd Star: Sabrina Ionescu

12 points, 5 assists, 2 steals

Ionescu has reached double-figures in all ten games of the post-Olympic slate. She vowed to help the Liberty re-establish its never-say-die identity that they’ve carried and lived up to for most of the season.

“We’re going to play our heart out, regardless of whether it’s a must-win for us,” Ionescu said. “It’s about figuring out what we need to do to win, and how to finish this year on the right note.”

 

2nd Star: Michaela Onyenwere

14 points (5-of-6 FG)

Onyenwere has come off the bench over the last two Liberty games after spending most of the year in the starting lineup. The Rookie of the Year frontrunner has responded well to the new role as a second unit energizer, hitting 7-of-9 from the field in the last couple.

The UCLA alumna provided a moment of levity in the somber aftermath when she declared the only difference between her starter’s mindset and reserve mindset was her lack of a pregame dance routine.

“We didn’t respond the way we wanted to,” Onyenwere analyzed. “We know at this point we have a lot to fight for. We didn’t necessarily show that in the best way.”

1st Star: Natasha Howard

25 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks

Howard continued her decent return from injury, sparking the Liberty’s hot start with 10 points in the first quarter. While Hopkins pointed out that she was one of the few New Yorkers that kept her energy going throughout the game, he did that the 18 turnovers between she and Ionescu were “unacceptable”.

“Second half, we kind of gave in,” Howard said. “We stopped doing the things we were doing in the first half…we weren’t being tough. That’s the difference…that’s what we’ve been preaching: we’ve got to be tough.”

Howard briefly left the game in the final quarter with an ankle injury that forced her to go to the locker room under the supervision of trainer Terri Acosta. She said after the game that it was merely a “tweak” and she was able to finish things off without incident.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty: Three stars from Saturday’s loss at Dallas

The New York Liberty’s playoff dreams were dealt a major blow in their penultimate road game of the season in Dallas.

Thrilling September matchups between New York and Dallas are no longer limited to the gridiron. These, in fact, bear greater importance on their respective league’s playoff picture.

Alas for the metropolitans, however, another loss built on development has dealt a sizable blow to their postseason aspirations.

The Dallas Wings took advantage of a 21-10 advantage in the fourth quarter, paced by a combined 34 points off the bench from Marina Mabrey and Satou Sabally, to earn a narrow 77-76 victory over the New York Liberty on Saturday night in the Lone Star State. Dallas (13-17) clinched its first WNBA playoff berth since 2018, leaving only one spot up for grabs as the end of the regular season approaches.

The Liberty (11-19) are one of three teams fighting for that eighth and final seed with two games left on their regular season schedule. That pair starts Wednesday against Connecticut (7 p.m. ET, CBSSN) and concludes with a matchup against their fellow fighters from Washington on Friday. New York has lost control of the final seeds through a 1-8 stretch in the post-Olympic slate.

ESM has three stars from the latest defeat…

3rd Star: Sabrina Ionescu

18 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists

In the midst of some brutal defeats, Ionescu is posting Ionescu-esque numbers again. She has reached double figures in scoring in all nine post-Olympic games to date, averaging 14.3 points and 6.0 rebounds and assists in the first nine games back. Head coach Walt Hopkins was quick to point out the silver lining of Ionescu’s return to form, calling her “strides” a major pillar of the long-term picture.

2nd Star: Natasha Howard

16 points, 11 rebounds

Though some turnovers at the worst possible team clouded the metropolitan progress, Howard earned her third double-double in the post-Olympic slate in the midst of defeat. She’s shooting 60 percent of the floor (15-of-25) over her past two contests.

 

1st Star: Betnijah Laney

19 points, 6 assists 

If anyone knows about the proverbial “process” of WNBA success, it’s Laney. The Rutgers alumna endured spent four seasons in professional purgatory before a breakout campaign in the Bradenton bubble netted her last season’s Most Improved Player award. Laney has kept the momentum up in her return to the tri-state area, topping the Liberty in scoring. She took on a verbal role in Saturday’s postgame comments, citing “simple” issues that lead to losses amidst the progress away from the scoreboard.

“We’re not really dwelling on it, but learning from it…We see it, we know it, but we just got to get over the hump of just the little things that have just been holding us back,” Laney said of the losing streak and the hidden silver linings. “Once we really focus in and are able to control those things we’ll be in good shape, we just have to marry that with the progress that we’ve been making…We’ve had progress, so we keep that, going into these games, we just tweak the things that have been holding us back. I think that the progress in the detail that we’ve been making these past few games flow will hopefully show up and give us the results that we want.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty: Three stars from Thursday’s loss at Seattle

The New York Liberty controlled Thursday’s game for three quarters, but they still couldn’t steal one from the defending champions.

Facing an increasingly dire situation in the WNBA’s playoff standings, the New York Liberty needed to steal one from the defending champion Seattle Storm on Thursday night at Angel of the Winds Arena.

For three quarters, they seemed well on their way. But Breanna Stewart unleashed her personal brand of Seattle storm on the reeling New Yorkers.

The MVP candidate tallied a game-best 33 points, helping the Storm fully reverse a 10-point deficit against the Liberty en route to an 85-75 triumph at home. New York (11-18) has now lost six in a row as they’ve fallen out of the WNBA’s current playoff bracket. The idle Washington Mystics now hold the eighth and final seed as the WNBA season enters its final stages.

New York has three games remaining as they’ll next play on Sept. 11 in Dallas (8 p.m. ET, WNBA League Pass).

ESM has three stars from this latest defeat…

3rd Star: Natasha Howard

15 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals

A vital piece from the Storm’s victorious endeavor in the Bradenton bubble, Howard made her return to her former Seattle stomping grounds and was bestowed a championship ring alongside Sami Whitcomb (who played 12 minutes in her second game back from injury). She shot a season-best 64 percent from the field (7-of-11). Making Thursday’s loss even tougher to bear was the fact the Liberty were unable to secure Howard a special birthday gift: the three-time champion’s return to the Pacific Northwest coincided with her 30th celebration.

2nd Star: Bec Allen

17 points, 2 steals

Allen’s streak of earning at least eight rebounds stopped at three games, but she fell just two points short of her season-best in scoring. The Australian Opal has become one of the most productive New Yorkers since returning from Tokyo, averaging 12.7 points and 5.3 rebounds over the past seven games. Thursday marked the fifth time in that span that she has reached double figures in scoring. Head coach Walt Hopkins referred to Allen’s contributions as “tremendous” in the aftermath.

“Her energy has been so consistent,” Hopkins said. “Bec somebody who has a tendency to be hard on herself. She has not let herself get out of the game in a long time. She’s not let herself get frustrated and take herself out. She’s been really resilient and really proud of the way that she’s grown in terms of her emotional and mental approach to what she’s doing.”

1st Star: Sabrina Ionescu

20 points, 7 assists

In the midst of some tough New York efforts, Ionescu is starting to put up Ionescu-esque numbers against. A return to the PNW area did the ex-Oregon Duck some good. With former collegiate head coach Kelly Graves in attendance, Ionescu helped the Liberty build a consistent lead in the first half. She was mostly held in check in the second half, but she still managed to facilitate and set up metropolitan opportunities. Ionescu has reached double-figures in scoring in all eight post-Olympic games and has averaged just over six assists in that span.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags