NFC North Recap: What did we takeaway from week two?

With week two of the 2021 NFL season officially in the books, how did the NFC North, the Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions, and Minnesota Vikings perform? For the first time all season, the NFC North finished with two wins and two losses, as Chicago and Green Bay secured their first wins of the new year while Minnesota and Detroit lost for a second straight week.

1) Chicago Bears

What more could you ask for if you’re a Chicago Bears fan? Sunday saw the Bears get their first win of the season with rookie quarterback Justin Fields getting extended playing time after veteran quarterback Andy Dalton left the game with an apparent knee injury. Fields was explosive as a runner but also showcased the ability to throw wide receivers open, as evidenced by dropped passes that should’ve been touchdowns to Darnell Mooney and Allen Robinson.

The Bears’ defense was also fired up, after sacking Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow four times, forcing a fumble and three interceptions. Sitting down with Maxx Smith, my co-host for the Fireside Bears YouTube channel, I mentioned how Cincinnati was the perfect opponent for the Bears defense to turn everything around.

What’s next for the Bears? Well with Dalton’s future uncertain, the Fields show has officially arrived and a new energy has descended upon the Bears locker room as the team looks to stack wins between September and October, laying the foundation for a potential playoff run over the final two months of the season.

2) Minnesota Vikings

Someone needs to figure out what’s wrong with the Minnesota Vikings and quickly if possible. Kirk Cousins tossed three touchdowns but it wasn’t enough to beat the Arizona Cardinals, who scored 34 points, including 17 points in the second quarter. For the entire afternoon, outside of one sack, the Vikings’ offensive line did keep Cousins upright but when the game mattered the most, the Vikings failed to capitalize.

Switch over to the defensive side of the ball, traditionally a strength of the Vikings under Zimmer and there are mixed reactions. Two interceptions and three sacks weren’t enough to propel the Vikings past the Cardinals either, despite one interception being returned for a touchdown. Minnesota lost this game because Kicker Greg Joseph failed to missed a 37-yard field goal as time expired after Cousins and the offense marched down the field on a nine-play, 58-yard drive that took 2:09 off the clock.

What’s next for the Vikings? Three straight home games against the Seattle Seahawks, Cleveland Browns, and Detroit Lions gives the entire team an opportunity to get some wins at home. Zimmer knows the Vikings need to win at least two of these three games, maybe even all three to stave off the hot seat, which could get hot quickly.

3) Green Bay Packers

Well, the Packers are officially back. If you watched Green Bay on Monday night, Aaron Rodgers and the offense started slow but picked up steam as the game progressed. Major credit goes to running back Aaron Jones, who scored four touchdowns while Rodgers connected with wide receiver Devante Adams eight times for 121 yards, averaging 15.1 yards per reception.

One name that stuck out on the Packers’ defense was rookie cornerback Eric Stokes. The 29th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft had two pass breakups and one tackle, shutting down Lions wide receiver Quintez Cephus on a key play to force a Lions punt. Green Bay’s defense as a unit did improve as the game progressed with defensive coordinator Joe Barry proving he can get the whole unit playing at a high level.

Up next for Green Bay is a primetime matchup in the Bay Area against the San Francisco 49ers, who’ve won two straight road games. With the 49ers’ defense playing at a high level, San Francisco’s defense will present Green Bay’s offense with another great test to see if Rodgers can get Green Bay clicking even more.

4) Detroit Lions

The Lions haven’t looked as bad as many expected and while flaws do exist, Detroit’s offensive line has looked more than solid so far. Penei Sewell, Jonah Jackson, Frank Ragnow, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, and Matt Nelson gave quarterback Jared Goff more than enough time to throw. With wide receiver Tyrell Williams out, Quintez Cephus stepped up, catching four passes for 63 yards, including one touchdown. Cephus averaged15.8 yards per reception, proving he could be a big-play threat in Detroit’s offense.

The Lions’ defense did do enough to remain in the first half of the game but big plays throughout the second half helped break the game wide open in Green Bay’s favor. Having a banged up secondary, with Jeffery Okudah, the third overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft sidelined for the year doesn’t help Detroit’s case but the defensive line did look solid, sacking Aaron Rodgers on three occasions.

What’s next for Detroit? The Baltimore Ravens will come to town with a road trip to Chicago in week 4. It’s very much possible that the Lions start the 2021 season winless through the first quarter of the season but credit head coach Dan Campbell for continuing to have his team fight on every play, even when the game seems out of reach.

 

Chicago Bears: NFC North Week One Recap

bears, matt nagy

With week one of the 2021 NFL regular season officially in the books, it’s time to recap how the Chicago Bears and their NFC North counterparts performed.

 

1) Chicago Bears

Well, the Bears lost to the Los Angeles Rams and are now 1-3 in season openers under head coach Matt Nagy. The Bears did too little too late and struggled to limit big plays, allowing Matthew Stafford and the Rams offense to score points. Chicago did look solid in the running game, where David Montgomery had a 41-yard run on the first possession of the game.

Bears QB Andy Dalton was efficient throughout the evening and while Justin Fields did see some action, Chicago’s first drive ended in a redzone interception. The Bears also failed to convert on fourth down, going 0-for-4, a stat that Nagy will likely want to forget. Chicago ran 69 plays and had the ball for nearly 35 minutes but still failed to score in both the first and fourth quarter.

It’s a long season and with 16 more games to go, the Bears have an opportunity to turn this ship around. Nobody in Chicago is panicking just yet but the Bears did flash some positives in week 1.

2) Green Bay Packers

Um, what just happened. The Packers playing the New Orleans Saints was America’s Game of the Week but it looked more like a Super Bowl contender (New Orleans) playing against a team that’s heading towards a full-scale rebuild Green Bay struggled all afternoon. The offense couldn’t move the ball and the defense couldn’t come up with any stops.

The bigger issue here is the play of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who tossed two interceptions, zero touchdowns, and had just 15 completions. This could be rust that Rodgers is shaking off after being absent from the Packers offseason programs but reporting to training camp on time. Or it could be that Rodgers’ absence has led to trust issues among players, the coaching staff, and front office.

It’s only week 1 but the Packers’ performance isn’t encouraging. Time for head coach Matt LaFleur and the coaching staff to reflect hard about what just happened.

3) Minnesota Vikings

One minute it seems like the Vikings are ready to win, the next minute, Mike Zimmer’s squad looks like a young team that’s learning how to play football. The Vikings are all over the place, it’s that simple. Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow sliced up the Vikings defense all afternoon, winning by three scores at one point.

Minnesota also had 12 penalties on the afternoon. Wide receiver Adam Thielen had two touchdowns but the quarterback Kirk Cousins was unable to capitalize in key situations, once again proving that the Vikings need to get better at the quarterback position if a deep run in the playoffs is to be made.

4) Detroit Lions

Despite being down by 21 points at halftime, give the Lions credit. Head coach Dan Campbell, who’s been made fun of by NFC North fans this offseason for his passion and enthusiasm coached hard on Sunday afternoon. Detroit battled back in the fourth quarter, scoring 16 points, losing by eight just points.

Running backs Jamal Williams and D’Andre Swift combined for 16 receptions, averaging 7.5 yards per reception. Up next for the Lions is the division rival Green Bay Packers, meaning that some NFC North team will be in the win column next week. By the way, credit to quarterback Jared Goff, who was traded to the Lions this offseason for tossing three touchdowns in his Lions debut while posting a passer rating of 92.6.

New York Jets: Is a trade for pass rushing the right move right now?

new york jets, robert saleh

It’s been theorized that the New York Jets could seek out a new pass rusher. But is that the most worthwhile move as the 2021 kickoff looms?

Any analysis of the New York Jets’ 2021 offseason must be prefaced with the caveat that the previous campaign sunk the team to such dramatic depths that anything short of full-on contraction would’ve been seen as an upgrade…and, even then, some Gang Green fans would go full John McKay.

But there is no objectively denying that the Jets made smart moves following last year’s disastrous two-win showing. Even with the loss of the most expensive purchase, defensive end Carl Lawson, the Jets are in a favorable position to at least start to reintroduce themselves to the world of professional football relevancy. At the same time, however, even the most unapologetic Jets propagandist has to admit that Lawson’s forced season-long departure due to a ruptured Achillies sustained during last week’s joint activities with the Green Bay Packers puts a bit of a damper on Joe Douglas’ most impactful offseason to date.

To that end, the Jets are reportedly seeking help from abroad to bolster their pass rush game. A popular candidate amongst fans has been former New England pass rusher Chandler Jones, who’s reportedly displeased with his current settings in Arizona. Other potential movers could include Preston Smith of the aforementioned Packers or 2019’s fourth overall choice Clelin Ferrell in Las Vegas.

But as the Jets plan one more summer splurge before school starts, is the pass rush the right area to address?

The loss of Lawson obviously brings the unit down a few notches, but the Jets’ pass rush still has several notable returnees looking to build on breakout seasons from 2020. It’s a group headlined by 2019’s third overall choice Quinnen Williams and assisted by John Franklin-Myers and Foley Fatukasi. The team is also set to welcome back Kyle Phillips and Bryce Huff, the latter of whom has earned positive reviews during the most recent camp sessions in Florham Park. Veteran arrivals Vinny Curry and Sheldon Rankins have likewise dealt with ailments but bring talent and playoff experience from Philadelphia and New Orleans respectively. A major opportunity rises for Ronald Blair, a late arrival who previously worked with head coach Robert Saleh in the Bay Area.

In addition to the talent assembled, the Jets’ new boss has experience in dealing with big losses in the front seven. During his final season as the San Francisco 49ers’ defensive coordinator, new head coach Robert Saleh dealt with injury reports that resembled Pro Bowl rosters. Nick Bosa and Solomon Thomas were lost for the year after ACL tears at MetLife Stadium. Help from abroad (Dee Ford, Ziggy Ansah) was likewise medically removed from the 2020 proceedings.

Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the losses, Saleh’s backfield invaders still managed to post respectable efforts. The 49ers ranked fifth in quarterback hurries per dropback (11.2 percent) and yards allowed (314.4 per game) despite the departures. One could argue that Saleh’s ability to adapt was one of the big reasons why he was one of the most coveted head coaching candidates once the year let out.

Saleh knows how much is lost with Lawson done for the year but he was among the first to come to grips with the doomsday diagnosis in the aftermath of the Green Bay business trip.

“I’ve said it before, the NFL train stops for nobody,” Saleh said after the Jets’ 23-14 preseason win over the Packers on Saturday, per team reporter Randy Lange. “When someone falls off the train…it’s another opportunity for someone to jump on the train. A lot of men at that defensive end spot are chomping at the bit for the opportunity, and they got it. We’ll work our tails off to get them ready, and I know they’ll work their tails off to reciprocate.”

There’s enough talent on the defensive line for the Jets to survive. The injury of Lawson shouldn’t awaken the Jets from dreams of development that would allow them to label the 2021 season a success. But there’s always room for improvement, especially when your rebuild prepares to enter a second decade. With so much draft capital…the Jets currently own 13 spots on the 2022 draft board…it would almost be silly not to seek out a trade. There are enough valuable names on the line that can hold down the pass rushing fort while Lawson heals. Improvement is better sought elsewhere.

Douglas has never been one to shy away from a late move if it helps the team: he took over the Jets after primary offseason activities like free agency and the draft ended and immediately tried to bolster the blocking (Ryan Kalil, Alex Lews) and receiving (Demaryius Thomas). None of those moves truly panned out in the long term…none of them are with the team…but Douglas’ activity was refreshing after the passiveness of the Mike Maccagnan era.

New York Jets, Joe Douglas
 (Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images)

It appears that the Jets might be ready to make another late summer move, but they have to assess their priorities. A show of faith to the talented youngsters of the defensive line might help team morale moving forward, leaving them to look at other areas, ones entrenched in far greater states of desperation.

With apologies to those still traumatized by the 2020 season, the ineptitude on display in the final year of the Adam Gase almost guaranteed that some area on the team was going to be neglected, even with the perfect offseason. The secondary still remains woefully undermanned in terms of experience. Their struggles were prominently on display during Saturday’s exhibition showcase in Titletown: Jets starters played deep into the first half and allowed a Green Bay offense consisting almost entirely of reserves to score on two of their four drives over the first 30 minutes. The ultimate insult was a 19-play, 81-yard drive that ate over 10 minutes of game time.

Zach Wilson’s (nearly) perfect showing allowed the Jets to bring some optimism home, but New York can’t allow it to mask their defensive struggles. Green Bay went 8-of-14 on third down, four alone earned through the air on the aforementioned long drive. The last was a five-yard touchdown pass from Kurt Benkert to Jace Sternberger. Perhaps the extra draft capital is better spent on a veteran corner to mentor and/or compete with Bless Austin and Bryce Hall. Charvarius Ward could be a championship addition from Kansas City (especially with L’Jarius Sneed’s emergence) while C.J. Henderson remains a tantalizing prize in Jacksonville.

The early strong returns from Wilson also shouldn’t discourage the Jets from bolstering their backup quarterback situation. Sam Darnold’s medical woes over the past three seasons have shown the Jets just how far south a season can go without the intended starter, even if they had good intentions through veteran additions like Joe Flacco, Josh McCown, and Trevor Siemian.

Mike White has been serviceable this preseason (86.1 passer ratings and no turnovers through two games) but it probably hasn’t been anything to convince the Jets they can stay afloat if the unthinkable happened to Wilson. White also took a few tough hits during Saturday’s win in Green Bay, leaving the contest with a rib injury. Late acquisition Josh Johnson was seen as a veteran mentor to Wilson but has yet to take a preseason snap in green.

Trading for Chicago’s Nick Foles remains the most popular and realistic option for teams seeking quarterback depth. Not only is Foles set to wallow in the third slot on the depth chart behind the Justin Fields/Andy Dalton conundrum, but the Bears are also in desperate need of early draft picks. Chicago has only two picks over the first four rounds in Las Vegas next spring, having dealt their first and fourth round choices to the Giants to ensure the selection of Fields. The Jets’ pair of first-rounders (including the last piece of the Jamal Adams trade from Seattle) is likely off the table but they have five other choices over rounds two through four.

No one’s denying the Jets can get better through a late trade or overcome the loss of Lawson (especially considering his prescience or absence wasn’t the difference in terms of ending their ten-year postseason drought). But if they’re going to make one more move before summer lets out, the Jets must take the time to assess their priorities, values, and faith.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Zach Wilson passed his first test as a New York Jets QB

new york jets, zach wilson

Parts of the New York Jets’ visit to Wisconsin were downright nightmares. But Zach Wilson’s showing has the team buzzing.

For all intents and purposes, the New York Jets’ business trip to Green Bay resembled Michael Scott’s visit to Winnipeg (ironically, the local of another squad branded with aerial endeavors). Sure they got an important job done: Michael made a sale to an international client while the Jets emerged with a 23-14 preseason victory at Lambeau Field on Saturday.

Yet, each trip left the protagonists a bit hollow and empty inside. Michael’s awkward encounter with the hotel’s concierge left him longing for his lost lover Holly Flax. The Jets, meanwhile, come home without several crucial names on defense: marquee offseason arrival Carl Lawson was carted off the field during a joint practice with the Packers, as was undrafted secondary rookie Zane Lewis. Neither will see the field in a 2021 regular season contest In the exhibition showcase itself, fellow newcomer Jarrad Davis likewise needed the cart to leave the field after sustaining an ankle injury in the second quarter. The former Detroit Lion is projected to miss the Jets’ first five regular season games.

Michael’s conundrum was solved through the magic of television: he and Holly married upon his departure from the series two seasons later. The Jets, on the other hand, are engaged in a playoff drought that has outlived The Office‘s nine-year run. That streak has festered in part due to a lack of a franchise quarterback and poor defensive efforts.

Another poor defensive effort awaited on Saturday, the only segment of the Jets’ Wisconsin visit where stats were officially recorded. The Jets faced a Green Bay team that rested most of their offensive starters. Few expected to see Aaron Rodgers in action but even his indirectly controversial successor Jordan Love was likewise absent, leaving perennial camp body Kurt Benkert to primarily oversee the operation. New York’s defensive starters played deep into the second frame, but a Green Bay unit that more resembled the (Michigan) Panthers than the Packers still earned two touchdown-scoring drives. The latter trek was the ultimate insult: the Packers embarked on a 19-play, 81-yard drive that ate over 10 minutes of clock.

So why are the Jets bursting with momentum after the trip to Titletown? Zach Wilson.

zach wilson, jets

Wilson, the Jets’ lastest savior under center, was coming off a perfect showing against the New York Giants. It was perfection earned not through a statistical sense (6-of-9, 63 yards on two drives that ended in Giants territory) but rather an emotional sense that quelled concerns about his highly publicized struggles in camp and intrasquad scrimmages.

Yet, there was a little something missing in the most recent Snoopy Bowl, a Jets tradition that has taken up residency no matter where the team lingers: adversity.

With the Giants likewise sitting their starters and the Jets’ defense at full strength, last weekend lacked a sense of danger. No one wants to be on the wrong end of the scoreboard in any NFL contest, even one whose box scores are likely eradicated on the flight home. The Jets perfectly took care of that problem against the Giants. They never trailed at any point and allowed Wilson to work. Holes in the system looked like a good fixer-upper instead.

But the Jets faced some good old-fashioned adversity against Green Bay, primarily through a lackluster defensive showing. After Wilson’s first drive yielded a Matt Ammendola field goal, it took Green Bay’s reserve only eight plays to waltz 75 yards into the end zone. The Packers faced only one third down on the drive…the one-yard attempt that led to Kylin Hill’s rushing touchdown.

Wilson obviously wasn’t brought into play defense so there isn’t much he can do to help the unit. All he can do is take care of his own business and take advantage of whatever opportunities are afforded to him. He didn’t let a single one go to waste on Saturday.

When the defense earned a quick stop after a Braden Mann punt pinned the Packers inside their 15, Wilson had a prime opportunity to move the ball and potentially earn his first scoring drive. They were poised to start at their own 45, but a holding penalty shifted them back 10 yards.

That was of little concern to Wilson, who handled the setback with the maximum preseason swagger. Wilson spent his third drive of the day further fostering the connection between he and Corey Davis, particularly through two strong throws at the end of the first quarter. Two hook-ups totaling 41 yards set the Jets up in the red zone, allowing Wilson to remove “first unofficial NFL touchdown” from his offseason checklist.

The union between Wilson and Davis is a collaboration between two players that are looking to prove different things at the NFL level. Wilson is trying to erase the stigma of not only being a high-profile draft pick from a mid-major program but that of being the New York Jets’ franchise quarterback. Davis, meanwhile, is another mid-major pick from the top five that’s eager to prove he can be a long-term difference-maker in the league. Every time the former Tennessee Titan has been ready to take a vital step in that journey, a situation beyond his control surfaces. A hamstring injury took out a sizable part of his rookie season while a brief stint on the COVID-19 list prevented him from reaching his first four-digit yardage season.

Davis believes the early chemistry he has created with Wilson will help each of them accomplish their goals through a collaborative effort.

“We were setting a tone, but still have some work to do,” Davis said of the Jets’ offense, per team reporter Jack Bell. On his relationship with Wilson, Davis remarked that a lot of “huge strides” have been made.

“I think Zach is a lot more comfortable in the pocket, he’s been more accurate,” the receiver said. “I’ve been getting open and creating space to try and make it easier for him.”

Yet another obstacle awaited Wilson as he tried to lead the Jets into the red zone: a penalty for an ineligible man downfield on a completed pass to Jamison Crowder forced the unit to deal with a dozen-yard second down. When a similar situation arose against the Giants last week, Wilson was able to at least afford the Jets the opportunity to fail on fourth down. He took things a step further on Saturday, finding Tyler Kroft for an 18-yard score, his first in the NFL.

This being the Jets, there was little time to relish the good feelings. The march of the Green Bay reserves featured five third down conversions and an additional new set of downs was earned through a successful fourth down try. It would’ve been understandable for them to hold Wilson out for the rest of the afternoon, let him “live” to fight another day. But when Corey Ballentine’s strong return placed the Jets 30 yards away from another touchdown, another opportunity lingered and Wilson took full advantage.

All it took for the Jets to capitalize was two six-yard runs by Ty Johnson and Wilson’s second scoring toss to Kroft, this one from 18 yards out. A lamentable first half of football for reasons both beyond and within their control ended with the Jets leading the Packers 17-14 before backups on both sides dominated the remainder of the game.

Thanks to Wilson and a little help from his friends, the Jets’ defensive woes are a mere subplot rather than the main attraction. While the showing against the Giants was perfect in a symbolic sense, his outing against the Packers was literally flawless…well, almost. His Saturday passer rating of 154.7 was just short of a so-called perfect 158.3…but the Jets were perfectly fine with that.

Head coach Robert Saleh, for example, was pleased with the way Wilson handled his first true taste of NFL adversity, an intangible perhaps unmeasurable by any part of the passer rating equation.

“I thought he had good command,” Jets coach Robert Saleh said, per Andy Vazquez of USA Today. “I thought he was under control. I thought he handled pressure well. He was good in and out of the huddle. He’s progressing. And just like his bad days, this was a good day, and it’s just another day. And he’s got to continue to stack up and take the good with the bad and find ways to get better.”

Of course, the road doesn’t end with the second preseason game, even the Jets did somewhat use Saturday as the dress rehearsal often reserved for the third preseason game under the old four-exhibition format. Untold challenges lie ahead, but Wilson’s performance and ability to make the best of stressful situations is exactly what a franchise in desperate need of stability needed.

Wilson has passed his first NFL test. The longer it keeps the Jets out of the watchful stare of tweeters and analysts looking to pounce on Gang Green to earn a few clicks, the better.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

New York Jets: 3 stars from Saturday’s preseason win at Green Bay

new york jets

Offense took center stage on Saturday, as Zach Wilson found Tyler Kroft for two scores in a New York Jets victory.

Zach Wilson earned his first two unofficial touchdown passes as a New York Jet on Saturday, each going to Tyler Kroft, while Corey Davis established a connection with the young quarterback through a 70-yard showing on four catches. The Jets’ rookie quarterback completed 9-of-11 passes overall for 128 yards, playing four drives in a 23-14 victory over the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.

Despite a tough showing from the defense in their first post-Carl Lawson injury showing…the ultimate insult being a 19-play, 81-yard scoring drive from the Packers’ offensive reserves…the Jets are likely enthused over their Saturday showings on offensive and special teams. Matt Ammendola converted three field goals, while Corey Ballentine set up the latter touchdown drive with a 73-yard kickoff return. Young men in the secondary managed to provide late defensive redemption, as Brandin Echols and Lamar Jackson each stole a pass from Kurt Benkert and Jake Dolegala respectively.

ESM bestows three game balls from the summer triumph…

Honorable Mentions

  • RB Michael Carter: 10 carries, 52 yards
  • S J.T. Hassell: 5 tackles, 1 sack
  • CB Brandin Echols: 3 tackles, 1 interception
  • KR Corey Ballentine: 1 return, 73 yards
  • K Matt Ammendola: 3-for-3 field goals

3rd Star: WR Corey Davis

4 receptions, 70 yards

After he was granted one series in the Snoopy Bowl last weekend, Davis was granted some extended time to work with Wilson in Green Bay. The two further strengthened their connection to the tune of a game-high 70 yards, including two big ones at the end of the first quarter that set up the Jets’ first touchdown.

“We’re definitely getting (chemistry),” Davis said of his connection with Wilson, per Jack Bell of NewYorkJets.com. “We’ve made a lot of huge strides the last week and a half, two weeks. I think Zach is a lot more comfortable in the pocket, he’s been more accurate. I’ve been getting open and creating space to try and make it easier for him.”

2nd Star: TE Tyler Kroft

2 receptions, 36 yards, 2 touchdowns

It’s been a while since the Jets have had a consistent red zone threat at tight end, perhaps dating back to the days of Mickey Shuler (although there have been brief flashes of brilliance, like Dustin Keller and Anthony Becht). Kroft could turn out to be a valuable diamond in the rough signing if he keeps this up and appears well on-pace to usurp the starting tight end role from Chris Herndon.

1st Star: QB Zach Wilson

9-of-11, 128 yards, 2 touchdowns

Wilson’s success undoubtedly comes with the caveats that he’s doing this against reserve defenses in the preseason, but it’s hard not to feel excited about what he’s been able to accomplish this summer (especially when his shortcomings in camp practices and scrimmages made national headlines).

The most inspiring portion of Wilson’s Saturday showing was perhaps his ability to respond to adversity and pressure. With the Jets’ defense going through a tough outing and his pockets collapsing, Wilson held his own and didn’t fall victim to any sacks. His first touchdown pass to Kroft came shortly after a Jets penalty bestowed the offense a dozen-yard second down. Such command of the offense impressed Jets head coach Robert Saleh.

“I thought Zach had good command, he was under control, he handled the pressure well, he was good in and out of the huddle,” Saleh said, per team reporter Randy Lange. “He’s been going through his progressions and he’s been pretty good at that.”

The Jets will round out their preseason slate against the Philadelphia Eagles on Friday night at MetLife Stadium (7:30 p.m. ET, WCBS). 

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: Attainable goals for Saturday’s game at Green Bay

New York Jets, Mekhi Becton

How can the New York Jets end a (literally) painful visit to Wisconsin on the right note? ESM’s Jets experts investigate…

Following a devastating injury on the football field, the New York Jets will look to pick up the pieces and seek redemption in a familiar place: the football field, namely the not-so-famous thawed, green tundra of Lambeau Field.

The Jets will seek to end a business trip to Wisconsin on the right note on Saturday late afternoon, as they’ll battle the Green Bay Packers in an exhibition contest (4:25 p.m. ET, WLNY/NFL Network). New York and Green Bay have done battle this week through a pair of joint practices within a stone’s throw of the football cathedral.

The latter portion was a scene plucked from Jets’ fans’ most garish nightmares: defensive end Carl Lawson was carted off the field during a team drill. Their newly acquired pressure artist was later revealed to have torn his Achilles tendon, an injury that will keep force him to miss the entire 2021 season. Undrafted secondary defender Zane Lewis was likewise lost for the year in a separate medical incident.

So how can the Jets leave Titletown with a sense of accomplishment, no matter how small? ESM’s Jets experts investigate with an attainable goal for the Jets to aspire to.

Geoff Magliocchetti: Find Clarity, Confident, and Depth in the Offensive Trenches

Jets fans have every right to be sad and upset over losing Lawson. But, as we discussed earlier this week, his prescience alone didn’t launch the Jets into the playoff conversation and the front seven’s pass rush potential is deep enough to weather the coming storm in 2021. This was always going to be a year centered on development and Lawson’s injury shouldn’t change that.

This season is about finding long-term solutions that can sustain the Jets during the potential good time ahead. One area that was full of fostered potential is the offensive line made to protect the new franchise quarterback Zach Wilson. The blockers mostly did their job last weekend against the Giants’ reserve defenders…they allowed only one sack on the night and their rushers had a little bit of real estate to work with. But this week featured some developments, perhaps masked by the mourning over Lawson, that could have the Jets questioning their depth on the offensive wall.

One of their blocking staples from the last two seasons, guard Alex Lewis, retired this week. Another interior blocking project, 2020 fourth-rounder Cameron Clark, was also placed on injured reserve. Alijah Vera-Tucker, drafted to take over interior duties on Wilson’s blindside, has dealt with a pectoral muscle injury all camp and likely won’t play on Saturday.

Furthermore, reports from Green Bay state that the Jets’ line struggled in front of a legitimate opponent, as Green Bay’s starters took center stage during this week’s get-togethers. Brian Costello of the New York Post estimated that Wilson would’ve been sacked seven times during Wednesday’s practice had his red non-contact jersey saved him. Last season’s most cherished silver lining, tackle Mekhi Becton, has reportedly struggled against opponents, both domestically (Lawson) and abroad (Preston Smith).

Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur mentioned that Becton was “going through some things right now”, per notes from the Jets. LaFleur nonetheless remained confident that Becton would regain his freshman swagger before opening weekend in Charlotte.

“He’ll keep on going. We’re only one preseason game in, we still have over three and a half weeks until we go out and play Carolina. Every day, there are still slight improvements that he’s making and we’re just trying to take it one day at a time right now,” LaFleur said. “Mekhi, he didn’t have a training camp last year. He didn’t have an OTAs last May and June so, he’s still working through some things. I got all the confidence in the world in Mekhi because one, I know how talented he is and two, he’s a good dude and he’s going to work through all this stuff. We got a long way to go across that whole front, across this whole offense and myself included.”

The Jets thus need to use Saturday’s proceedings as a way to build back confidence. Green Bay will likewise be resting many of its starters on Saturday, but a big opportunity lingers to regain the good vibes felt after last week’s win over the Giants. Some names to watch include Dan Feeney, who should continue to get premier interior reps with the first team, and David Moore, an undrafted first-year out of Grambling who drew interest from several teams on the rookie free agency market.

Brendan Carpenter: Go Beyond Lawson

The Jets have had a rough week. Leading up to their Saturday afternoon game against the Packers, joint practices took place in Green Bay. As we know by now, these practices were not injury-free.

.There were a few bumps and bruises, but no injury was bigger than that of Carl Lawson. He is going to miss the season with a torn Achilles. This gut-wrenching news, however, does bring about a new goal for the second preseason game: to see the rest of the depth at defensive end produce.

Outside of Lawson, the Jets have John Franklin-Myers, Bryce Huff, Ronald Blair, Jabari Zuniga, and Vinny Curry, (who should return to the field around Week 2). Lawson was clearly the number-one edge rush option, but the team has nice depth and should still be able to apply pressure. The Jets will most likely have an even more noticeable rotation at end during Saturday’s game, and that’s fine.

The season isn’t over. The loss of Lawson hurts, but it creates an opportunity for other players to show their worth on the field. It won’t be easy to replace the impact the Jets’ most expensive offseason addition would’ve had on the field, but they’ll find a way to compensate. The opportunity starts against Green Bay, and they should be up to the task.

Don’t necessarily look for a substantial amount of sacks against the Packers, but the line should be able to make noticeable noise in the backfield on drop-backs. That alone would be enough to reach this new goal on short notice.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets update status of players injured on Thursday

New York Jets

Carl Lawson and Zane Lewis are done for the year, but the New York Jets appeared to have dodged a bullet with two other starters.

The New York Jets announced on Thursday that defensive lineman Carl Lawson and safety Zane Lewis will miss the 2021 season after sustaining injuries during a joint practice with the Green Bay Packers.

Lawson’s departure is particularly devastating to a Jets team that bestowed him $30 million guaranteed to bolster their pass rush. At $45 million total (over three seasons), Lawson was the Jets’ most expensive offseason acquisition. He established himself as one of the league’s most promising pass rushers despite a relatively pedestrian sack total. Last season, he was one of 11 defenders to create at least 10 sacks, according to ESPN’s advanced stats department.

Per Connor Hughes of The Athletic, Lawson (ruptured Achillies) sustained the injury during a pass rush drill in the red zone. Lawson previously tore his ACLs in his sophomore years at Auburn (2014) and the Bengals (2018), missing the whole year in the former.

The Jets declared that Bryce Huff took over Lawson’s reps for the remainder of the afternoon.

Meanwhile, Lewis (torn his patella tendon/sprained MCL) was looking to make the team as an undrafted freshman free agent out of Air Force. He was a cornerback with the Falcons but the Jets were planning to use him as a safety.

In addition to Lawson and Lewis, each of whom was carted off the field, the Jets also lost receiver Denzel Mims (hip) and defensive lineman Sheldon Rankins (knee) to ailments. However, the Jets reported that each will be labeled day-to-day.

Thursday marked the latter of two joint practices between the Jets and the Packers in Green Bay. The collaboration will conclude with a preseason contest on Saturday late afternoon at Lambeau Field (4:25 p.m. ET, WLNY/NFL Network).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets DE Carl Lawson carted off from joint practice session

carl lawson, new york jets

Lawson was one of several key New York Jets injured on Thursday as they prepare for a preseason contest in Green Bay.

Per multiple reports from Green Bay, New York Jets defensive end Carl Lawson was carted away from a joint practice session with the Packers with an apparent leg injury. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport and Mike Garafolo have stated that Lawson will undergo an MRI on his Achillies, a tear of which would end his 2021 season.

The Athletic’s Connor Hughes stated that Lawson went down during a pass rush/red zone drill. North Jersey.com’s tandem of Daryl Slater and Joey Chandler revealed that Lawson tried to get up but was unable to put any weight on the affected leg. Head coach Robert Saleh has yet to comment on the incident. 

Adding to the wariness behind Lawson’s injury is his medical history. ACL tears in 2014 and 2018 respectively cost him his entire sophomore season at Auburn and nine games with the Cincinnati Bengals.

Lawson established himself as one of the rising pressure artists in the NFL during his time in Cincinnati. Eager to bolster their pass rush, the Jets inked him to a three-year, $45 million deal with $30 million guaranteed. That contract made him the most expensive addition of the Jets’ eventful offseason.

Alas for the Jets, Lawson wasn’t even the only major contributor to leave Thursday’s proceedings with an injury. Another Hughes report said that Denzel Mims limped off the field with a trainer with defensive lineman Sheldon Rankins while D.J. Bien-Aime of the New York Daily News said that undrafted rookie cornerback Zane Lewis was likewise carted off. The Jets might’ve caught a break when it comes to Mims, as Brian Costello of the New York Post says that Mims was removed as a precaution.

The Jets’ joint practices in Green Bay are in preparation for a preseason game on Saturday late afternoon at Lambeau Field (4:25 p.m. ET, WLNY/NFL Network).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

Signing QB Blake Bortles must be the New York Jets’ next move

blake bortles

As the start of the Zach Wilson era hits a bit of a snag, Aaron Rodgers’ arrival allows the New York Jets to right a glaring wrong.

As Moonrise Kingdom, Meatballs, and the never-ending Friday the 13th franchise taught us…what’s summer camp without a little chaos?

The New York Jets’ proceedings, which began Tuesday morning on One Jets Drive contain an aura of slight spookiness. Touted franchise quarterback/savior Zach Wilson has yet to report to the team, the only player on the Jets’ roster who has yet to arrive in Florham Park. Wilson, the second overall pick of last spring’s NFL Draft, is one of two first-round picks that have yet to sign with the team that drafted him, joining fellow thrower Trey Lance in San Francisco. The BYU alum’s Instagram story hinted that he is still in his home state of California as the Jets’ first camp practice looms on Wednesday.

Per ESPN’s Rich Cimini, contract offsets appear to be the point of contention between Wilson and Gang Green. Offsets offer a team relative insurance if they cut a high-profile draft pick prior to the end of his original four-year deal. A similar discussion temporarily delayed the start of the Sam Darnold era, as the previous franchise quarterback missed New York’s first three practices before inking his deal.

Head coach Robert Saleh doesn’t seem too concerned about the Wilson situation. Per notes from the Jets, he referred to the Wilson contract talks purely as “business” and that the quarterback is “intelligent” enough to make up for any lost time.

“(General manager Joe Douglas) has a great handle on everything and when it gets done, it gets done,” Saleh said. “He’s got a tremendous drive so when he does get here, I know somehow someway he’ll make up for it.”

The Wilson situation, however, does give the Jets an opportunity to reflect on a rare offseason failure: with Wilson stationed on the other side of the country, the fact that the Jets’ other two rostered quarterbacks (James Morgan and Mike White) have zero NFL regular season passes between them looms larger than ever.

Saleh has never been one to panic over the backup quarterback controversy and continued to keep his cool on Tuesday. He even hinted that quarterbacks coach Rob Calabrese, who broke Boomer Esiason’s passing records at East Islip High School on Long Island, has a “live arm” and could be called upon in practice in lieu of a veteran backup.

“I do believe that (Morgan and White) got better as camp went on, the two backups, and so we’ll see where they’re at come tomorrow and today for that matter, and we’ll progress through and make a decision as we see fit,” Saleh said when asked if the Jets would seek veteran help. “I got a lot of faith in Joe. So, we’ll see what happens here in the next couple of hours.”

Saleh’s introductory camp comments were made in the midst of the football landscape’s reshaping: nearly a thousand miles away in Wisconsin, Aaron Rodgers channeled his inner Dwight Schrute in a shirt depicting another character from The Office, Brian Baumgartner’s Kevin Malone. Rodgers temporarily lifted his shun of the Green Bay Packers and signed on for what appears one last ride in yellow and green. It sent a slight ripple throughout the football world, as the team released backup throwers Blake Bortles and Jake Dolegala.

The release of the former can help the Jets right one of the few wrongs they’ve endured this offseason.

Saleh has made it clear throughout the offseason that he’s not going to add a veteran quarterback for the sake of adding one, reasoning that teaching the Jets’ new offensive to an experienced newcomer would be no different from counseling a rookie (which makes their passing on former San Francisco understudy Nick Mullens all the more puzzling).

But the ongoing Wilson situation shows just how fragile the Jets’ current setup at quarterback is. They’re currently trapped with a questionable fourth-round pick and a 2018 day three pick that has been on and off the New York practice squad. Bortles can help a developing team like the Jets in several ways.

Even taking away the relatively cliched idea of a mentorship role…one that he briefly filled for Jared Goff with the LA Rams…Bortles can prove beneficial to New York’s future. Though it’s safe to say that Bortles hasn’t lived up to his third overall pick billing with Jacksonville (the first quarterback chosen in the 2014 proceedings), the 29-year-old has been serviceable enough to build a lengthy NFL career. Since 2014, Bortles has thrown 103 touchdown passes, one of 24 NFL passers to do so in that span despite minimal playing time over the last two seasons. In comparison, the Jets as a team have thrown only 137 in the last seven seasons, dead last in the league. If Wilson is befallen by an emergency…contract, injury, or otherwise…there are far worse options to install.

When Bortles’ five-year term in Jacksonville ended, then-head coach Doug Marrone didn’t buy into the idea that the Central Florida alum was a bust, despite the divorce. Instead, Marrone saw a leader who defined toughness in more ways than one.

“We as coaches always use that term and people think it’s physicality of how you play the game,” Marrone said in a Bortles retrospective penned by Gene Frenette of Jacksonville.com. “Everyone can see the physical toughness, the shots he’s taken, really putting himself out there. We see and appreciate that.”

“The stuff you can’t see is the mental toughness,” Marrone continued. “What I remember from Blake is how he handled himself, standing up there and answering all the questions. Quarterbacks can deflect a lot of issues that occur on the field. Blake didn’t do that. He took a tremendous amount of accountability, maybe more than should have been on his plate.”

Bortles’ one shining moment at the NFL level stands to be his 2017 campaign, when he helped guide the Jaguars to an improbable conference title game appearance (and, arguably, a stolen Super Bowl showing). Signing him would keep up with the theme of big game experience the Jets have created this offseason.

Two-time Super Bowl participant Tevin Coleman is slated to be their top rusher. Another ring bearer, former Philadelphia Eagles Vinny Curry, should help mentor a young front seven. The team already added one of Bortles’ 2017 teammates, receiver Keelan Cole. Fellow newcomers Corey Davis, Sheldon Rankins, and Tyler Kroft have all likewise competed in a conference title game over the last three seasons. That experience can help a team desperate for any sense of direction or positive reinforcement move forward in their quest to a postseason drought that has reached double digits.

The Jets are coming toward the end of an intriguing offseason that can be remarkably classified as macabre yet hopeful: the 2020 season was garish that almost any adjustment would’ve qualified as an improvement. Yet, there are legitimate upgrades on this roster that will help them in both immediately and in the future. Failing to add a backup quarterback was a rare shortcoming that could’ve been avoided.

Rodgers’ return sent ripples throughout the football world and offered the Jets a rare gift. They must do their best to take advantage.

How important is it for the Jets to add a veteran QB like Bortles to the fold? Follow @GeoffJMags on Twitter and keep the conversation going.

No, the New York Jets shouldn’t trade for Aaron Rodgers

The idea of Aaron Rodgers exchanging shades of green seems enticing, but the New York Jets should probably resist.

Let’s go with “Draft Day Bombs” for $1200, Aaron.

As the hours dwindle before the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft in Cleveland (8 p.m. ET, ESPN/ABC/NFL Network), ESPN’s Adam Schefter has reported that Aaron Rodgers doesn’t want to return to the Green Bay Packers. The disgruntled Jeopardy! host and Super Bowl MVP turns 38 in December but has continued to post stellar numbers in a career that will undoubtedly end in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Rodgers is the defending NFL MVP, posting career-best numbers in several major passing categories, including a 70.5 completion rate and a jaw-dropping 48 touchdown passes.

With Rodgers upset with Green Bay management…Schefter claims part of it stems from the Packers’ puzzling decision to draft Utah State quarterback Jordan Love with their premier selection last year…fans of non-Wisconsin teams across the league have clicked open their Photoshop apps to don Rodgers in their team’s colors. Supporters of the New York Jets are likely no exception, as there’s little doubt any metropolitan supporter would say no to Rodgers wearing a different shade of green after years of questions and failures at the franchise quarterback spot.

But if the idea of Rodgers exchanging an oval G for capitalized script on his helmet sounds too good to be true…that’s because it probably is.

Rodgers is one of the rare active quarterbacks…heck, probably in NFL history…that can single-handedly turn a team’s fortunes around. Green Bay, laden with controversy and silliness over the past decade-plus, has remained a perpetual prescience in the NFL’s playoff picture thanks to Rodgers’ efforts. But even he might have trouble making a playoff team out of this current Jets squad. The Jets undboutedly improved over the past few months, but it’s still not fair to expect the postseason out of them. There are simply too many established contenders in the AFC and the Jets’ own division appears to be under the control of a Buffalo overlord. Even Rodgers hasn’t ended every season in the playoffs, much less at the top of his quartet.

Even in his late 30s, Rodgers continues to be one of the most impactful and dominant quarterbacks in the NFL. Like Tom Brady before him, he could well continue passing a decade from now, when he’s in his mid-40s. But the Jets can’t afford to take a relative risk like that. No one knows how much longer Rodgers is going to want to do this. Schefter has implied that he may want to settle down with his fiancé, actress Shailene Woodley, and Rodgers himself has set his sights on succeeding the late Alex Trebek full-time.

Today’s offense-worshipping NFL requires a strong starting quarterback but they must also possess a thrower with whom they’re comfortable starting in three-to-five (if he’s not the same guy, that is). The Jets have a chance to fulfill that need with the second overall pick in the upcoming draft, a choice that will likely be used on BYU’s Zach Wilson. It’s better to stick with homegrown talent than going with a guy who would likely lead roll call on the updated “Wait, He Played For the Jets?!?!?” team roster.

“But wait!” you interject. “Why can’t they have both Rodgers and Wilson? What a great mentor for the kid!” The idea that such a union could work is a pipe dream at best. Fans will be welcomed back to MetLife Stadium this season, and the last thing either quarterback needs is for fans to start screaming for his replacement every time he throws an incomplete pass. The Jets have a chance to start fresh with a new roster, but they must work through with as little controversy as possible. Combining Rodgers with a rookie is the very worst way to go about that.

Besides, the Jets have already had one unpleasant experience with a Green Bay legend in Brett Favre. The season itself was more heartbreakingly mediocre than truly unpleasant, but it was nonetheless an endeavor that set the franchise back several years. Its lasting legacy, for example, is the fact it led to the drafting of Mark Sanchez. Additionally, Tim Tebow’s Jacksonville tryout was a stark reminder of the sensational and oftentimes absurd coverage that surrounded the team during Tebow’s one-year term…and he wasn’t even the starter. The combination of Rodgers, (burdened with controversy that’s sometimes far from his own doing), and the Jets (whose mere existence elicits sophomoric social media snickers) would be a marriage of no winners, one where non-football obstacles would rival opposing defenses.

This is a rare opportunity for the Jets to start with something homegrown and surround him with a strong foundation, including a head coach whose hire has earned positive reviews across the league. There’s no use playing with another team’s unwanted toys anymore…even if that toy is an only slightly rugged PlayStation 5.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags