New York Jets: Running game rises amidst disaster

Lost in the New York Jets’ most heartbreaking defeat in recent memory was the rise of a rushing tandem that united for 178 yards.

The number 100 holds a special place in the athletic realm. Olympic events are often contested in 100-meter durations. One of the most iconic photos in basketball history depicts Wilt Chamberlain holding a piece of paper with the numerals crudely scribbled on after he broke famously broke the century mark in scoring during a 1962 game in Hershey. The National Football League plastered it all over its fields, equipment, and merchandise as it turned the big one-double zero last season.

A 100-yard game from an NFL running back used to be a jaw-dropper, but the happening has become more commonplace as the league enters its second century. Entering Sunday’s Week 13 action, 60 such games had been recorded across the leagues. That follows the tally of 110 recorded during the last regular season.

None of those games, however, were recorded by New York Jets representatives. Ever since Isaiah Crowell turned himself into one of the most prominent one-hit wonders in New York Jets history with a franchise-best 219 yards in an October 2018 win over Denver, the Jets failed to reach the elusive mark. Le’Veon Bell was expected to prevent such a drought, but he never put up more than 87 yards in his season-plus in a New York uniform. Their failure to procure even the most basic tenet of offensive success has only added to the brutality of a losing streak that reached a dozen on Sunday afternoon, when the Jets fell to the Las Vegas Raiders by a 31-28 final in the most heartbreaking of fashions.

A late defensive lapse prevented the Jets (0-12) from breaking their losing streak, but one of their rushers was finally able to get back to the century-mark on the ground. Over two years after Crowell’s moment in the green spotlight, Ty Johnson got the Jets’ ground antics going with a 104-yard showing on 22 carries. Assisting Johnson was an equally strong effort from Josh Adams, who need only eight opportunities to reach 74 yards.

The unlikely tandem rose to the occasion when Frank Gore was forced to leave the game for a concussion evaluation. Rookie La’Micael Perine also missed Sunday’s proceedings after leaving last week’s visit to Los Angeles with an ankle ailment. With 28 more yards coming from Gore and quarterback Sam Darnold, the Jets earned 208 rushing yards on the afternoon, by far their best effort of the season.

“I think they did a great job, considering we were looking to rotate all three of those guys,” head coach Adam Gase said of Johnson, Adams, and Gore, per Randy Lange of NewYorkJets.com. “(Johnson and Adams) did a really good job of going in there and being ready to go. We gave them some good holes and they hit ’em. It was good to have a guy get 100 yards rushing and to get 200 yards on the night. It wasn’t enough.”

With a rising number of injuries and a de facto sense of freedom to experiment with the postseason no longer a concern, the Jets have seen several reserves make significant contributions in their valiant efforts to earn a win. Prepped for Sunday work against Las Vegas with Perine out, Johnson and Adams took advantage of their newfound opportunities.

Johnson, 23 is in the midst of his second NFL season, joining the league as Detroit’s sixth-round draft pick out of Maryland. The Jets claimed him less than 24 hours after he was released by the Lions in October. While used sparingly, he notable earned a 34-yard gain in the Jets’ Week 6 visit to Miami, one of their rare positive outputs in a 24-0 defeat.

The rusher earned 28 vital yards on one of the Jets’ final drives, one that set up Darnold’s four-yard scoring run and the subsequent two-point tally earned by Denzel Mims. Johnson himself would help the Jets complete their comeback from a 24-13 deficit in the final quarter and score what probably should’ve been the game-winning touchdown, a one-yard punch partially set up by Javelin Guidry’s forced fumble.

“It was just waiting on the moment,” Johnson said in Lange’s report. “It’s just putting in the work and whenever the opportunity shows, just run with it. The coaches gave me an opportunity and that’s what I did with it.”

Alas for Johnson, his shining moment came in one of the more painful chapters in Jets history, lost in a defeat that pushed the Jets closer to imperfect infamy. Johnson’s disappointment was evident during his postgame statements.

“(100 yards is) cool and all. My family’s happy and a lot of people were messaging me this and that. But at the end of the day, we didn’t get the win. I wanted to get the win, that’s point-blank. It’s a blessing. I appreciate the guys giving me the opportunity, the guys on the line, out on the perimeter. I appreciate the hell out of them. I just wish at the end of that we came out with that W.”

Adams’ New York resume was slightly more accomplished in the lead-up to Sunday. The Notre Dame alum had previously worked with general manager Joe Douglas during the pair’s shared time with the Eagles in 2018. Philadelphia added Adams as an undrafted free agent and he wound up tallying 511 yards in his abbreviated season, 10th-best amongst rookie rushers.

The Jets brought Adams in during the 2019 season and he has been on and off the Jets’ active roster ever since. He too was struggled to gain a spot in the New York rotation but notably scored a touchdown in the Jets’ 2020 opener in Buffalo.

Adams earned several chunk yardage plays during Sunday’s proceedings, his longest carry going for 38 yards late in the first half. Alas, his efforts were likewise wasted, as the Jets were forced into a turnover on the very next play, run in a first-and-goal situation. New York would later cash in on Adams’ efforts at the onset of the fourth quarter, when he went 18 yards on the first play from scrimmage en route to Darnold’s score (his second of the season, tying him for the team lead with Perine).

The theme of free research and development may continue to be the one thing the Jets have left to play four as they mercifully enter the final quarter of this cursed slate. Such a stretch begins next Sunday in Seattle (4:05 p.m. ET, CBS).

Even as the Jets seem destined to choose passing sensations Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields with the top overall pick come April, the first dozen games have shown that the team is far from a quick quarterback fix to return to NFL relevancy. Their post-Bell rushing game will no doubt be scrutinized, especially with Perine potentially returning at some point in this stretch. While the Jets may be reluctant to spend a part of their sizable offseason budget (currently at just over $82 million in cap space) on another running back after the Bell departure, they’ll possibly look to upgrade with a veteran like Mike Davis or Phillip Lindsay to move forward.

Thus, Johnson and Adams could potentially have a shot to show the Jets that their rushing solutions may lie within and that they might be able to trim their offseason shopping list. The situation could wind up falling from their control…the current coaching staff has shown an uncanny loyalty to a 37-year old Gore…but their ongoing antics should give fans a reason to keep an eye on whatever remains in this season long-forsaken by football deities.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

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

The New York Jets snatched defeat from the clutches of victory, as a long, late touchdown doomed them to an 0-12 fate.

The masochistic cult of New York Jets tanking efforts enjoyed an early holiday present in the late stages of Sunday’s action.

Derek Carr’s 46-yard touchdown pass with five seconds to go landed safely in the hands of Henry Ruggs, whose go-ahead touchdown gave the Las Vegas Raiders a 31-28 victory over the Jets at MetLife Stadium. Carr and Ruggs’ late-game heroics doomed the Jets to an 0-12 record, though they took another step toward securing the top overall pick of the 2021 NFL Draft.

Despite the loss, the Jets tallied a season-best 376 yards of offense and enjoyed a stellar rushing day from Ty Johnson and Josh Adams, who united for 178 yards on the ground after Frank Gore left the game with a concussion.

ESM has a trio of game balls to dispense in valiant, but short, effort…

3rd Star: LB Neville Hewitt

12 tackles, 1 sack

Perhaps it says more about the modern Jets than it does about the veteran linebacker, but Hewitt has been one of the Jets’ most consistent contributors over the past three seasons. He has established himself as a strong depth option, and this has proven to be no exception. Hewitt has taken on a veteran leadership role as injuries continue to eat away at the secondary, and he rose to the occasion with 12 tackles and a sack of Carr. The tanking concept is completely irrelevant to guys like Hewitt, who might be playing for a long-term deal after joining the Jets on three separate single-year contracts.

2nd Star: QB Sam Darnold

14-of-23, 186 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT, 3 carries, 26 yards, 1 TD

As Jets fans clamor for the Endeavor for Trevor (Lawrence), Darnold made it clear on Sunday that he’s not going to relinquish his hold on the team’s franchise quarterback spot without a fight. His turnover problem (three on Sunday) continued to surfac, but he nonetheless came up big in leading the Jets back from a 24-13 fourth quarter deficit. Darnold also found Jamison Crowder for a pair of touchdown passes in the first half. These final hours will be crucial for Darnold to prove that he can still be the man of the future, perhaps under a new coaching staff. After all, the draft doesn’t begin or end with Lawrence or Justin Fields. Penei Sewell would perhaps be a strong blocking option in a high posting.

1st Star: RB Ty Johnson

22 carries, 104 yards, 1 TD

Johnson made New York Jets history on Sunday, earning the first triple-digit rushing yard game since Isaiah Crowell put up 219 against the Denver Broncos in October 2018. Claimed off waivers from Detroit earlier this fall, Johnson came up big when Gore was evaluated for a concussion. His 104 yards were a career-high since joining the league as a sixth-round pick out of Maryland last season, and he scored what probably should’ve been the game-winning touchdown just past the midway mark of the fourth quarter. If Gore is out for the remainder of the year, the development of Johnson and Adams (74 yards) should be an intriguing subplot to keep an eye on.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Jon Gruden calls New York Jets “a handful” as matchup looms

New York Jets, Sam Darnold

Head coach Jon Gruden is refusing to take the winless New York Jets lightly, as his reeling Las Vegas Raiders are set to visit on Sunday.

The New York Jets and the Las Vegas Raiders have played some classics dating back to their American Football League days. Sunday’s latest chapter probably won’t be one of the cross-country rivalry’s finest.

Visiting under their Las Vegas moniker for the first time, the Raiders are set to battle the Jets in Week 13 of NFL action (1 p.m. ET, CBS). The Jets (0-11) figure to be little more than a minor inconvenience as the Raiders (6-5) remain on the cusp of the AFC playoff picture. But Vegas will be forced to rebuild their playoff case as they enter December reeling from an embarrassing 43-6 defeat in Atlanta last weekend.

The brutal experience against the Falcons has caused Raiders head coach Jon Gruden to reiterate that his growing squad can’t take anyone lightly…even the winless Jets.

“If you watch the Jets play (on Sunday), they’re a handful. They are going to be hard to move the ball on,” Gruden said after the Atlanta debacle, per Josh Dubow of The Associated Press. “This will be a fistfight, no doubt about it. I got a lot of respect for the way the Jets are competing.”

The Jets fell by a 20-3 final to Miami on Sunday, but kept pace with a respectable defensive performance that saw them force two turnovers and four sacks. Three of the Jets’ last five losses have come by one possession.

Gruden has had his share of run-ins with the Jets, as Sunday will mark his seventh time facing Gang Green. He owns a 3-3 record in the set, including a 38-24 win during the 2001-02 AFC Wild Card playoffs, a victory that would become the last of his original Raiders tenure.

Perhaps the most impactful defeat in that ledger came last season. In their Oakland swan song, Gruden’s Raiders were in the midst of a surprising playoff push at 6-4 when they came to East Rutherford to battle the 3-7 Jets. But the team was forced to wake from their postseason dreams in the cruelest of fashions: through a 34-3 shellacking at the hands of their hosts. Sam Darnold tallied 315 yards and two touchdowns, while the defense held Oakland to 10 first downs. It more or less sent the Raiders into a tailspin, as they lost four of their final five games to miss out on the final AFC wild card by two games. To date, it’s the last time the Jets have scored at least 30 points in a game.

Nov 24, 2019; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold (14) throws a pass during the first half against the Oakland Raiders at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Asked in the immediate aftermath about the positives gained in that visit to East Rutherford, Gruden could only smirk and declare “the sun came up today”.

The modern Raiders now have a sense of deja vu, having started last season 6-4 as well before a blowout loss on the road brought them back to earth. Gruden wasn’t interested in comparing this year’s team to last in any way, shape, or form going into their Atlanta visit.

“Everything is different,” Gruden said, per Ed Graney of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “Every day-to-day thing we do is different: The way we travel, the way we eat, the way we meet, the way we greet each other.”

So far, that doesn’t appear to be the case from an outsider’s point of view. The Jets, despite their dire predicament, have made it clear that they have no interest in a quest for a goose egg in the win column that would undoubtedly secure them the top overall pick in next spring’s draft. They’ll be looking for some offensive traction as they go into their final five games to avoid complete infamy.

“Our defense is playing well enough for us to win, so we’ve got to get it together as an offense score some points,” guard Greg Van Roten said, per Max Goodman of Sports Illustrated. “Our offense just needs to pick it up. We’ve got to get in the red zone. We’ve got to be more efficient on third downs. We have to score touchdowns.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Four plays that decided the Buffalo Bills’ Week 4 fate in Las Vegas

Familiar faces in familiar spots came up huge for the Buffalo Bills, who hit the perfect quarter-mark jackpot in Las Vegas.

Las Vegas may have been too much for the Wolfpack, but there was no undefeated hangover for the Buffalo Bills.

Josh Allen threw for 288 yards and two scores, with 115 of those yards going to Stefon Diggs on six hook-ups. The defense also earned a pair of fumble recoveries en route to a 30-23 victory over the Las Vegas Raiders in their first-ever visit to Allegiant Stadium. With the win, the Bills (4-0) are one of six remaining undefeated teams in the NFL after Week 4.

It was another big step for Diggs, who paces the NFL with 403 receiving yards alongside Seattle’s D.K. Metcalf.

“He plays so strong,” McDermott said of Diggs, per Issac Brekken of The Buffalo News. “He’s got the mentality and the attitude and it rubs off on our football team.”

A big play from Diggs is one of several plays that affected Sunday’s win and beyond, as ESM tracks down a big play from each quarter that affects the Bills’ present and future.

1st Quarter: Third’s the Word

Sunday’s matchup featured two of the NFL’s top five teams in third-down conversion rate. Through four weeks, the Raiders and Bills respectively rank third and fifth in the vital category and the two teams lived up to their strong reputation in the department on Sunday. The Bills went 7-for-13 on the down, while Las Vegas countered at 8-for-14 when they had the ball.

Buffalo had an early opportunity to show off that prowess. After converting two first downs on their opening set (including Josh Allen’s 26-yard score to Gabriel Davis), the Bills held a 7-3 lead but a tenuous 13 yards to go at the cusp of Las Vegas territory. Allen threw short of the sticks, but Isaiah McKenzie navigated through traffic to earn a pivotal first down. McKenzie’s elusiveness helped him reach the imaginary yellow line. But the Bills’ non-ball carrying skill players, namely Diggs, John Brown, and Devin Singletary got in the way of pursuing defenders to allow McKenzie the extra steps necessary to get the first.

Five plays later, another third down led to paydirt, as Allen found Cole Beasley from 11 yards out, giving the Bills a 14-3 lead in the early stages of the second.

2nd Quarter: Bitten By Witten

The sight of Jason Witten is one of the few remaining reminders of that classic, uncanny Buffalo choke in an October 2007 Monday night showdown against the Dallas Cowboys. Witten came back to haunt the Bills one last time on Sunday, making his first touchdown grab in a Raiders uniform just before the end of the first half.

Witten’s score is part of what’s becoming a recurring problem in Buffalo: the struggle to cover the tight end. The four receptions for 74 yards between Gerald Everett and Tyler Higbee last weekend only seemed pedestrian after Mike Gesicki had eight grabs for 131. So far, the Bills have been able to withstand the storm. But with a meaty part of the schedule looming…including a Thursday night tilt with Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, and the defending champion Chiefs…they need to solve this problem sooner rather than later to keep the good times rolling.

3rd Quarter: 4th and Fun

Buffalo has climbed toward the top of the NFL standings and power rankings thanks to their continued willingness to take risks. That includes their situations on fourth down. Through Week 4’s games, the Bills are one of six teams with a perfect conversion rate on fourth down. Of that tally, they’re tied for second with three conversions (only Cincinnati has more at a perfect 6-for-6).

When Las Vegas cut down the lead to 17-16, it felt like they could permanently shift momentum with a stop. But Buffalo trickery, namely an end-around from McKenzie, got things rolling and put a major rut into the Raiders’ comeback plans. The Bills wound up punting on the drive…a holding penalty on the ensuing downs prevented any points…but it provided a strong message to the rest of the league that they’re not going to let fourth-and-short stop them. This is a team that’s willing to take the risks a great team is willing to take.

4th Quarter: Star Power

The Bills’ rise to power has been fueled by a sense of cashing in on opportunities. The biggest chance on Sunday came in the third quarter with the Raider breathing down their necks. Buffalo led 23-16 but stifled a counter when newcomer Josh Norman officially became a member of the Bills by forcing and recovering a Derek Carr fumble. It took only four snaps to cash in, snaps that allowed the Bills to showcase their marriage of homegrown and acquired talent. Allen hooked up with Diggs for a 49-yard gain, a leaping grab over Erik Harris that would set up a two-yard score from Devin Singletary that more or less ended any true Las Vegas threats.

The difference between good teams and great teams is that the latter group finds a way to capitalize to the fullest extent on every opportunity. That’s among the many reasons they’re among the remaining undefeated squads and ready to make the leap toward NFL elitehood.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags