The New York Jets could come to regret not adding an experienced QB

The New York Jets’ backup quarterback conundrum was thrust back into the spotlight when Zach Wilson struggled in Sunday’s home opener.

Two games into the Zach Wilson era, the New York Jets are once again embroiled in a quarterback controversy.

Rest assured, this isn’t a call to usurp Wilson from the Jets’ passing throne, even if many Gang Green supporters potentially did so (even facetiously) after being granted entry to MetLife Stadium for a regular season game for the first time since December 2019 on Sunday. Sam Darnold’s strong early returns in Charlotte have done nothing to quell the storm surrounding Wilson, whose 56.1 passer rating ranks dead last amongst 33 qualified NFL passers.

A four-interception outing during the Jets’ 2021 home opener, a 25-6 defeat at the hands of the Patriots, caused the statistical sinking. The road gets no easier with a visit to the Rocky Mountains to battle the undefeated Denver Broncos and their third-ranked defense (251.5 yards allowed) per game looming this coming Sunday (4:05 p.m. ET, CBS).

Even the most naive and optimistic Jets fans had to know that Wilson’s rookie season was going to feature some growing pains. But it’d help if Wilson had some form of on-field assistance and guidance to work through them. Yes, the Jets prepared for Wilson’s arrival by replenishing their offensive cabinet (Corey Davis, Elijah Moore, Alijah Vera-Tucker, etc.)…but they need a veteran backup thrower.

As Wilson’s Sunday passer rating continued to numerically resemble the bullpen ERA of New York’s woebegone baseball squads, some began to ponder if leaving him in to clean up the mess his turnovers created was the right move. It was prudent to keep Wilson in the game as the score worsened, as it presented a rare chance for him to build confidence in a consequence-free situation. But Wilson probably could’ve used a veteran voice in his ear to help him work through his tumultuous first taste of NFL regular season action.

Even if the Jets wanted to remove Wilson from Sunday’s carnage, it’s hard to say their current contingency plan would’ve beautified the situation. Mike White appears to be stuck in some sort of gridiron limbo, a quarterback whose first professional passes (in the regular season, anyway) are more likely destined for the third iteration of the XFL than Sundays in the fall. Even if the Jets were to mount an unlikely playoff push, White isn’t exactly the best option in case of a Wilson medical emergency. The South Florida/Western Kentucky alum’s NFL experience has been exclusively limited to preseason work and even that (71.5 passer rating over three summers with New York and Dallas) hasn’t been inspiring.

One of the more unfortunate parts of the affair is that the Jets are actively employing a quarterback who has been there and done this before, a veteran with a multitude of professional experience under his belt. Alas, Josh Johnson has been stashed on the practice squad, his services open to any team in need of an emergency veteran option.

What’s even more puzzling about this situation is that the Jets know just how valuable a veteran backup quarterback can be. Head coach Robert Saleh has repeatedly declared his reluctance to add a veteran backup for tradition’s sake. But recent history should’ve pushed the Jets in that direction.

Darnold’s finest New York hours, for example, came in the shadow of another well-traveled veteran: Josh McCown. Brought in as an emergency starter in 2017, McCown took Darnold under his wing during the latter’s rookie season and put him on a path to success. Darnold credited a sterling stretch at the end of year one (99.1 passer rating, 6 touchdowns, 1 interception, a comeback win over Josh Allen’s Buffalo Bills over his final four freshman games) to observing and working with McCown.

“(I watched) the way he went about studying the plays that are in the game plan, it’s literally everything, walkthrough, practice, how he treated everything,” Darnold told reporters of McCown’s impact in December 2018. “I think it was just awesome to be able to learn (from) and watch him.”

A similar situation served as a subplot in the Jets’ most recent glory days: in helping the Jets reach the latter of consecutive AFC title game appearances, Mark Sanchez had the therapeutic services of Mark Brunell, the architect of Jacksonville’s conference championship game visits toward the turn of the century. Under Brunell’s watch, Sanchez posted the finest numbers of his career. In the five years after Brunell’s retirement, the rest of his career was anchored down by 31 touchdowns and 38 interceptions over 32 games in New York, Philadelphia, Dallas, and Washington. With Brunell behind him, he had 43 touchdowns and 31 interceptions over 32 starts, posting a 19-13 record as a starter in that span.

Sanchez would later fulfill a similar role with the Cowboys during the 2016 season, helping oversee Dak Prescott’s breakout freshman season in the absence of the injured Tony Romo.

Even in the fickle, hard-to-please world of NFL quarterbacking, Sanchez was happy to embrace the role of a mentor. The pair partook in a 13-win season for the Cowboys, matching their best victory tally in the new century.

“I don’t want to cloud (his) head, but from my experience, I can’t tell you what to do, but I can tell you what happened to me,” Sanchez said at the time, per Kate Hairopoulos of The Dallas Morning News. The former Jet went on to recall a humorous incident during Dallas’ October visit to Green Bay, in which he heard that a “crazed fan” attacked Prescott after leading a 97-yard, 33-second scoring drive just before the half. That lunatic turned out to be Sanchez, the afternoon’s backup and the first person to greet Prescott following the game-changing drive, which ended on a 20-yard scoring pass to Brice Butler.

Shortly before that possession, Dallas was reeling from a pair of Prescott fumbles (one lost, one forcing America’s Team to resign itself to a field goal) that allowed Green Bay to linger in a crucial NFC showdown. Cameras caught Prescott in constant contact with Sanchez after the miscues, which accounted for some of the first blemishes on his NFL ledger. Prescott had entered that anticipated matchup with just a single lost fumble to his name.

Not only did that drive of recovery permanently shift momentum into Dallas’ corner (taking a 17-6 lead into the halftime break en route to a 30-16 triumph) but it arguably sealed Prescott’s destiny as the Cowboys’ franchise quarterback.

“I jumped on him because I was so just happy for him, because you talk about coming back from adversity and he hadn’t really faced it yet,” Sanchez said in Hairopoulos’ report. “On the road, they’re trying to call timeouts to get the ball back and he takes it (97) yards. That was awesome.”

That’s quite an impact for a guy with 18 passes with a star on his helmet to leave on an organization.

Barring injury or an absolute meltdown…say, consecutive games with an imperfect 0.0 passer rating…it would be foolhardy to bench Wilson at any point this season. The Jets’ current situation enured that the playoffs were a long-shot right from the get-go. but this season still offers a bittersweet gift in the sense that he (and the rest of the fledgling Jets) gets 17 consequence-free opportunities to find himself and crack open the dangerous yet euphoric puzzle box that is passing success in the NFL.

Unless the Jets miraculously convince the Kansas City Chiefs to send Patrick Mahomes their way, no one wants to see anyone other than Wilson under center for the Jets this year. This is his time to work things out, to build confidence for the road ahead.

The Jets has spent the last five decades search for the long-sought successor to Joe Namath. Their failure to add a veteran, on-field quarterback in these vital hours of development only eliminates more clues and landmarks toward ending that hunt.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

New York Jets: 3 silver linings from another loss to New England

robert saleh, jets

The New York Jets’ 11th consecutive defeat at the hands of the New England Patriots saw several optimistic causes slip through the cracks.

The New England Patriots beat the New York Jets in front of a crowd of disgruntled metropolitan football fans…yes, folks, New York City is back.

New England’s Empire may be over…its destruction brought about by the loss of its superweapon Tom Brady…but it has retained control of the East Rutherford system through a perfect three-game slate over the last two seasons. That includes Sunday’s 25-6 triumph at MetLife Stadium, one that provided the rudest of introductions to whatever lingers of the Jets-Patriots rivalry to Zach Wilson, he of four interceptions in the defeat.

It’s often hard for the Jets to glean anything positive out of get-togethers with the Patriots, who have now won 11 in a row over Gang Green. Eight of those defeats have come by multiple possessions and the Jets (0-2) have yet to earn a regulation win over New England in their modern MetLife-sponsored home since the original staging in 2010. The 19-point loss provided more or less the same heartbreak New York has been accustomed to over the last decade.

Yet, Sunday’s defeat somehow featured several unique bastions of hope in the midst of another defeat…

Get Carter (More Touches)

The Jets’ run game enjoyed a significant boost on Sunday: not only did it triple its yardage output from opening weekend at Carolina (45 to 152, besting its total in all but one game from last season), it did so without the offensive line assistance of Mekhi Becton.

Jets running backs averaged nearly 4.8 yards per carry on Sunday, which could come up big for the developing offense as Wilson still seeks to solve the NFL game. Ty Johnson, for example, maintained his brand of New York consistency (50 yards on 12 carries) while Tevin Coleman burst up the middle for a 17-yard carry in the second quarter.

But Jets management is likely enthused by the progress Michael Carter made on Sunday. Carter, the team’s fourth-round pick from last spring, is expected to pull away from the Jets’ current committee set up and flourished in an expanded role against the Patriots. The 88 yards he tallied from scrimmage were most for a green rookie rusher since Elijah McGuire in 2017 (93).

With five interceptions over his first two games, Wilson could for looking for some non-aerial antics to assist him as he gets further absconsed into the Jets’ offense. The rise of Carter can help the Jets build some much-needed, sustainable offensive momentum.

Defensive Fine

For all the concerns about the Jets’ defense in the early going, the unit has held its own in the early going. The 19-point disadvantage seems ugly to the naked eye but the Jets have lingered in their defeats far longer than should’ve been possible thanks to some strong adaptation by the defense. Wilson’s turnovers should’ve buried the Jets but the defense kept the damage relatively in check, yielding 16 points from the four turnovers.

The Jets’ young secondary group limited attacks from New England’s receivers, as it was once again mostly running back assistance that sank their efforts. James White was a menace on both the ground and through the air, tallying 65 yards on 11 touches. Nothing more needs to be said about the 26-yard rushing touchdown from Damien Harris that dragged several Jets defenders in the end zone.

But the secondary assistance was very reliable, limiting opposing wideouts to only 69 yards on nine receptions, limiting rookie Mac Jones to mostly dink-and-dunk strategies. The pass rush also drastically improved, earning three sacks of Jones in the first half (Marcus Maye, John Franklin-Myers, and Sheldon Rankins being the lucky recipients). New England’s 260-yard output was Patriots’ worst tally against the Jets since 2014. New York could also take faith in a strong performance from C.J. Mosley, who earned 10 tackles in defeat and once against finished a Jets game without incident.

The former Raven was particularly enthused by a late defensive stand by the Jets on the Patriots’ final possession of the afternoon. New England was situated only 25 yards away from the end zone after a turnover on downs but earned only a Nick Folk field goal to create the final margin.

“I know it looks familiar to a lot of people, but I can assure you that this is not the same team. We’re always going to show resilience, we’re always going to battle,” Mosley said, per team reporter Randy Lange. “That’s the picture I try to paint. Even on that goal-line stand at the end, it was all heart for us. In the locker room, we told ourselves we had a great week of preparation, everybody came into this game confident. Now we’ve got to take it to the next level. It’s not on the coaches. It’s on the players wearing the uniform.”

BB’s Great

The Jets’ offense was mostly stuck in reverse thanks to Wilson’s turnovers, but has another reliable receiving threat emerged?

While Jamison Crowder continues to recover from a bout with COVID-19 and a little more uncertainty has emerged around Denzel Mims (a healthy scratch for Sunday’s defeat), Braxton Berrios has picked up the slack.

It would’ve been easy for Berrios to get lost in the receiving fold after the arrivals of Davis, Keelan Cole, and Elijah Moore (who hinted at his powers with 47 yards on a quartet of receptions), but the third-year is making a name for himself. Through two games, Berrios is the Jets’ leading receiver with 124 yards on 12 receptions. That includes a career-best 73-yard showing on Sunday while New England locked down Corey Davis. Berrios has also been a reliable prescience on special teams, as his 23.8-yard average kick return ranks 10th amongst players with at least two attempts. His 38-yard runback in the first half set up the Jets’ first of two field goals of the afternoon.

While both Cole and Moore seem poised to take over in the slot if/when Crowder departs next offseason, Berrios’ development is worth keeping an eye on. The former Patriots previously described himself as a “Swiss Army Knife” in a report from team writer Ethan Greenberg.

“I have everything to work on,” Berrios said in January. “I think there is no one harder on me than m, and I’d like to keep it that way. I truly have everything to work on as a receiver, as a football player in general. Truly, I’m looking forward to doing that and coming back an all-around better player.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

Who Ya Got Wednesday: New York Jets vs. New England Patriots

Reeling from several injuries from their opener, the road ahead gets no easier for the New York Jets, who face an angry Patriots squad.

  • What: New England Patriots (0-1) at New York Jets (0-1)
  • Where: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ
  • When: Sunday at 1 p.m. ET
  • Watch: CBS
 (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Geoff Magliocchetti

If one were scripting the Robert Saleh era for the big screen, the subplot of his Jets opening up their MetLife Stadium slate and harkening the return of fans against the hated Patriots would likely be rejected for its lack of subtlety. Nonetheless, it’s what the powers-that-be at the NFL asked for.

There would be no better way to welcome supporters back and kick off the Saleh era on the right note than ending several dubious streaks against New England. The Patriots haven’t lost at MetLife Stadium since 2015. Their last regulation loss on Route 3 came in MetLife’s current parking lot, then known as Giants Stadium, in 2009. Overall, the Patriots have won ten straight against the Jets. Even New England’s struggles in year one A.B. (After Brady) weren’t enough for the Jets to steal a victory, though they needed every inch of clock to win the November showing in the Garden State.

One of the attainable goals for the modern Gang Green should be to earn a showcase victory or two, a throat-clearing gesture that would warn the football world that this isn’t your father’s Jets, your older brother’s Jets…heck, your twin brother’s Jets. Finally flipping the script on this one-sided rivalry would certainly be one way to do that, especially with green fans walking through MetLife’s turnstiles for a meaningful game for the first time since December 2019.

But circumstances aren’t tilted in the Jets’ favor: the 2021 NFL season is only a week old, but the Jets have suffered at least a month’s worth of medically-induced calamities, one that that has turned their injury ledger into the top of a depth chart. Everyone knew that Carl Lawson and Jarrad Davis wouldn’t be ready to go for the return to East Rutherford but the kickoff contest in Carolina erased Mekhi Becton, Lamarcus Joyner, and Blake Cashman, each of whom landed on injured reserve. Another fallen starter, linebacker Jamien Sherwood, avoided major catastrophe, but will still miss New England’s visit.

The makeshift Jets deserve a lot of credit for what happened in Carolina, particularly in a second half won by a 14-3 margin. Alas, in what’s set to become a recurring theme in 2021, many of the green victories won’t be seen on the scoreboard. Asking this ragtag group, one that has already had to seek sizable help from abroad, to not only exorcise some bad Boston-based juju but to conquer a Bill Belichick-led team that’s no doubt still peeved over dropping a winnable divisional contest is too much at this point.

Patriots 24, Jets 17

zach wilson, jets

Brendan Carpenter

The Jets’ future fell just short to their past Sunday, as Sam Darnold and the Panthers came away victorious in a 19-14 final. While they didn’t get the win, there are some positives to be taken away regarding the offense that should have them excited for the home opener against the Patriots this weekend.

For starters, Zach Wilson looked poised, collected, and exciting. He made those eye-popping throws that fans rave about, most notably ones that were caught by Corey Davis for a touchdown and a potential deep-gain that was dropped by Elijah Moore. The downside of seeing him make those throws? They almost all came after horrible blocking and breakdowns by the offensive line.

The offensive line needs to hold up better against New England, a task made all the more difficult now that Mekhi Becton is out. The offensive line should play better throughout, though, and won’t be the deciding factor: that burden instead falls to the defense.

The young secondary played well in Week 1 and the Patriots’ receivers aren’t as lethal as they were in years past, so that should be encouraging. However, the Jets are going to have to bring more pressure against Mac Jones and make him uncomfortable because if they don’t, he’ll dissect the defense. If that happens, game over.

The biggest thing the Jets’ defense has to do, though, is what they didn’t do against Carolina: they allowed 93 receiving yards to Panther running backs (namely Christian McCaffrey). The Patriots have James White, who had six catches in Week 1’s loss to Miami. Linebackers will need to make watching the running backs, even during passing plays, a priority.

The Jets will have their work cut out for them against a team that has, putting it nicely, had their number for the last decade-plus. With defensive injuries to linebackers Blake Cashman and Jamien Sherwood and safety Lamarcus Joyner, they’re thin. The offense will play better but the defense will seemingly have some difficulty.

Patriots 27, Jets 21

 (Photo By Streeter Lecka)

Dylan Price

The Jets dropped Sunday’s opener to the Panthers in a 19-14 outing. Gang Green came out of the gates with a first half that could be described as abysmal at best. Blockers failed to protect Zach Wilson, who had little to no time in the pocket. The defense was worn out as the Panthers controlled the time of possession throughout the first half.

In the second half, though, we saw a different team. The offensive line still struggled, but the team finished the game with momentum. Heading into Sunday, the Jets’ two largest challenges will be the offensive line and containing tight ends Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry. The Jets’ defense should have a chance to capitalize on the inexperienced Mac Jones, especially if the secondary can replicate Sunday’s second half performance. Ultimately, I foresee a tight game that ends with the Patriots narrowly etching out the win.

Patriots 20, Jets 17

Best of the Rest

Magliocchetti Carpenter Price
NY Giants @ Washington (Thu.) Giants Football Team Football Team
Buffalo @ Miami Bills Bills Bills
Cincinnati @ Chicago Bears Bengals Bengals
Denver @ Jacksonville Broncos Broncos Broncos
Houston @ Cleveland Browns Browns Browns
Las Vegas @ Pittsburgh Steelers Raiders Raiders
LA Rams @ Indianapolis Rams Rams Rams
New Orleans @ Carolina Saints Saints Saints
San Francisco @ Philadelphia 49ers 49ers 49ers
Atlanta @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers Buccaneers Buccaneers
Minnesota @ Arizona Cardinals Cardinals Cardinals
Dallas @ LA Chargers Cowboys Cowboys Chargers
Tennessee @ Seattle Titans Seahawks Seahawks
Kansas City @ Baltimore Ravens Chiefs Chiefs
Detroit @ Green Bay (Mon.) Packers Packers Lions
Last Week 7-9 7-9 6-10

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: LB C.J. Mosley feeling confident after return to MetLife

Donning a New York Jets jersey for the first time since October 2019, C.J. Mosley couldn’t hide his confidence.

It had been over 500 days since New York Jets fans got to see their team play a sanctioned football game at MetLife Stadium in person. Perhaps only an on-field attendee, Jets linebacker  C.J. Mosley, had to wait longer.

Mosley put on his New York uniform on Saturday night to partake in the Jets’ 12-7 preseason victory over the New York Giants. It was the first time his game day equipment had been worn since a Monday night game against New England in October 2019. Mosley helped the Jets’ strong defensive effort, one that held the Giants to 163 yards on the night, get off to a strong start.

Working next to newcomers Jarrad Davis and Hamsah Nasirildeen on the premier unit, Mosley rejected a Mike Glennon pass intended for Darius Slayton. Two plays later, Bryce Huff earned a seven-yard sack to force the Giants into a three-and-out after just 61 seconds of game time. The Jets (1-0) would get the ball at their own 36 after a punt and tallied a 30-yard field goal to go up 3-0 after the opening drives.

Mosley also appeared on the Giants’ second offensive possession, where he picked up two tackles, though one was erased by a Jets penalty. The Giants picked up two first downs, but the Jets limited the damage to 32 yards on seven plays, the last of which was a punt.

Despite relatively minimal work, it was hard for Mosley to hide his enthusiasm in the aftermath. The linebacker issued a foreboding warning to future visitors of East Rutherford that underestimate the Jets’ defense.

“If people come with that same mentality, they’re going to get their (butts) blown out,” Mosley said of those who expect the idea of “Same Old Jets” to continue this year, per Ralph Vacchiano of SNY. “That’s 100 percent, whether we’re at MetLife or anywhere else. If they think there’s anything old about this Jets team, it’s not going to end well for them.”

Mosley will be working alongside several touted newcomers this season. The Jets made their pass rush a priority despite several young breakouts headlined by Quinnen Williams. Pressure artist Carl Lawson comes in from Cincinnati while Sheldon Rankins arrives from New Orleans. The revamped unit was on full display against the Giants, as the Jets took down Glennon and Clayton Thorson five times. Their last takedown becoming a safety when another sixth-rounder (Jonathan Marshall) took down Thorson in the end zone. Huff had two sacks on the night while undrafted rookies Hamilcar Rashed and Michael Dwuomfour also got involved in the tally.

Mosley is a bit of a stranger to New York himself. Signed to a five-year, $85 million deal during the 2019 offseason, Mosley was the last big ticket arrival of the Mike Maccagnan era. He has partaken in only two games since then, besieged by medical calamities of both a football and non-gridiron variety. The former Baltimore Raven and four-time Pro Bowler has appeared in only two Jets games over the last two seasons. Groin issues limited him to two games in 2019 while he opted out of last season’s proceedings due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thrown into action in the preseason opener, Mosley was going to take full advantage of any game snaps, even if they came in an exhibition contest. Mundane gameday tasks like getting to East Rutherford and even hooking up with the team during the pregame took on a whole new meaning after nearly two full years away from the field.

“You can never take this game for granted. Any time you step on the field you want to try and give it your all and take advantage of every opportunity you get,” Mosley said, according to team reporter Jack Bell. “Driving to the team hotel, that’s something I haven’t done in a long time. Going to the meetings at night, waking up in the morning and getting back to my routine. There was even a little traffic to getting to the stadium. I’m embracing everything.”

Time will tell if Mosley is a fit in what head coach Robert Saleh and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich are trying to build through their reintroduction of the 4-3 set. Fate has given him every reason to believe that his New York tenure is cursed, but he’s defying the conventional metropolitan pessimism.

“(We have) an explosive D-line that’s going to get after it, especially when we get teams in second-and-long and third-and-long,” Mosley said, per Dennis Waszak of the Associated Press. “Even third-and-short, we’re going to get our defensive line trying to get after the opponent’s quarterback. I think we’re going to be a defense that’s going to make you try to throw over the top and we’re going to make you try to run the ball on us because if you don’t, it’s going to be a long day for your quarterbacks.”

“We’ve just got to make sure that we hold each other accountable every day when we go to practice, make sure we try to stay as healthy as possible…have the same mindset, same goal to win every game.”

Mosley and the Jets will return to preseason action on Saturday night, when they battle the Green Bay Packers on Saturday late afternoon at Lambeau Field (4:25 p.m. ET, WLNY/NFL Network).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

Fans’ return to MetLife Stadium sets up a special NFL preseason game

It’s all too appropriate that fans return to MetLife Stadium coincides with the resumption of the game dubbed the “Snoopy Bowl”.

Those who venture out to MetLife Stadium on Saturday night will probably forget the final score of the game they paid to see once they get back on Route 3 or the New Jersey Turnpike. But the important part is…they’ll have ventured out to MetLife Stadium.

It’s been 532 days since Giants Stadium’s successor hosted a full-fledged professional football game in front of paying customers. That streak, begun shortly after an XFL contest between the New York Guardians and the Los Angeles Wildcats, finally snaps on Saturday, as the New York Jets and Giants resume their preseason series after a year off (7:30 p.m. ET, WNBC).

The Jets and Giants have staged an annual late summer showdown since 1969, when the former began its Super Bowl defense with a 37-14 triumph at the Yale Bowl. Since the teams began sharing the swamps of the Meadowlands (when the Jets moved in from Shea Stadium in 1984), the game has become a North Jersey tradition, a different kind of fireworks as days slowly get shorter. It’s a night of playful bragging rights, a union of metropolitan football. Upon the naming rights takeover of MetLife, known for featuring the Charlie Brown gang in its advertising, the contest became known as the “Snoopy Bowl”, complete with a beagle-branded winner’s trophy. Fans have kept the name alive in an unofficial capacity despite MetLife severing its ties with the Peanuts franchise.

(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

For a few precious hours, it’s a metropolitan Super Bowl decided by those more likely destined for the practice squad than for The Big Game itself.

“Since the game doesn’t count, the parking lot always had kind of a party atmosphere,” Kenny Watkins III of Woodland Park, NJ and a season-ticket holder at Giants Stadium said of the game. “People in blue and green are tailgating, having fun, playing music, usually there’s a band set up somewhere. It’s more like a concert atmosphere than a football game.”

By now, no one needs to elaborate as to why the series was interrupted. The COVID-19 health crisis shut down many summer traditions across the tri-state area and the nation as a whole, including the NFL preseason and the plethora of regional matchups that come with it. Few mourned the loss of the exhibition slate…preseason football is often seen as a chore in even the best of times…but regular season games played in empty stadiums took on an eerie feeling, even if they were done in the interest of public health. The Jets and Giants were a couple of the 14 teams that played their entire 2020 home slate in an empty stadium.

But welcome normalcy has finally started to emerge from the pandemic, primarily thanks to vaccination efforts. Caution is still in place due to COVID’s Delta variant but football fans have eagerly made their way back into stadiums as the first official week of preseason action continues. 

In some ways, the true value of Saturday’s game is found not on the field, but rather the stands, which is set to host a de facto family reunition of thousands.

“Saturday is going to be special even though it’s just a preseason game,” Peter Schwartz of Long Island told ESM. “It’s appropriate that both sets of fans get to be at the first game with fans because this area has been through so much over the last 18 months.”

“It’s been awesome to have fans back,” Arizona defender J.J. Watt said during an in-game interview with KPNX during the Cardinals’ preseason opener against Dallas on Friday night. “It’s been awesome to have fans back in the building. After last season, everybody playing in empty stadiums, it’s an incredible feeling to have these fans back, to have the energy, to have the excitement.”

A few necessary adjustments might still have to be made. To reduce touchpoints, for example, MetLife Stadium has transitioned to cash-free transactions at all concession and retail outlets. But it’s well worth it to get back in the New York football groove.

“I think you should just be courteous to those around you, making sure that you’re not doing anything too obnoxious or breaking any of the COVID precautions in place,” Joe Gucciardo of Howard Beach said of the precautions. “I think having the Snoopy Bowl be the first game back is somewhat bittersweet. It’s fun, you can go with a buddy who likes the other tri-State team and jaw at each other all night.”

Both teams have offered sneak previews of their respective returns to fan-filled stadiums as their respective training camp proceedings continued. The Jets first hosted the Green & White Scrimmage last Saturday night while the Giants capped off their Fan Fest with a public practice on Wednesday night.

(Photo by Alan Schaefer/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Intrasquad scrimmages, however, don’t replace the feeling of showcasing your gridiron stuff against another opponent, especially one you’re forced to share the country’s largest media market with. Staten Island native and Jets fan John Maleka is looking forward to seeing his team showcase their young talent in a MetLife Stadium adorned in blue, as Saturday’s tilt is a designated Giants home game. Fellow attendee and Montville resident Dave Strum anticipates a “sea of green and blue”, which he labels a welcome change from his last East Rutherford excursion.

Strum, after all, was at the Jets’ last contest held in front of fans, a 16-10 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in December 2019. Alas, many attendees went home unhappy: black and yellow outranked green on that temperate afternoon, which was completely understandable with the Steelers’ playoff implications and the nine-loss Jets’ lack thereof entering what was each

Jets head coach Robert Saleh isn’t so much interested in New York bragging rights, but can’t wait to see his group go up against another…it just so happens it’ll come against Joe Judge’s gang.

“I think every NFL team is ready to see somebody else,” Saleh said this week, per notes from the Jets. “We’re sick of each other, we’re sick of seeing the same defense, we’re sick of seeing the same offense. They’re ready to see a different color and they’re ready to go against different schemes and be challenged in different ways. It’s going to be fun, I’m excited for the group.”

Lately, bragging rights amongst each other in a meaningless summer exhibition have the only thing Jets and Giants fans have had to celebrate. Neither team has made a playoff appearance since the end of the 2016 season. The 10th anniversary celebration of the Giants’ Super Bowl XLVI triumph comes with the bittersweet reminder that the upset win over New England is the metropolitan area’s most recent NFL postseason win.

But the redemptive naivety of the NFL preseason is that everyone goes in undefeated and undeterred. Win the game, and happy times are ahead. Losses can be blamed and excused on the idea that it’s “only preseason”.

While the Giants are holding most of their premier talents out of Saturday’s game, the Jets are set to put on a youthful showcase. Even the most stubborn Gang Green hater can admit that there is legitimate potential behind this team, headlined by the arrival of new franchise quarterback Zach Wilson.

The Jets spent this offseason doing what they could to make sure his NFL transition was as seamless as possible, bringing in receivers Corey Davis and Keelan Cole, who will likely see some time on Saturday. Draft choices Alijah Vera-Tucker and Elijah Moore aren’t expected to partake, but have nonetheless offered optimism. The hire of Saleh has also received universal acclaim.

“There’s a whole new vibe to this team from the front office to the new quarterback and the new ‘toys’ sprinkled throughout the offense and defense,” Meleka said. “It feels like the Jets fans have more to look forward to in this game, especially since Wilson is slated for the first quarter while (Giants quarterback Daniel Jones) is out. More specifically, the new coaching staff and the new schemes on both sides of the ball finally give these Jets players an opportunity to make a name for themselves and begin their journey to solidifying a spot on the 53-man roster.”

“So far, the atmosphere around the Jets has been nothing but excitement for the future of the franchise with Coach Saleh and all their young studs: Moore, Wilson, and (linebacker Hamsah) Nasirildeen,” Strum added. “Jets Nation will definitely be fired up for some preseason action against the local rival team.”

Time will tell if more restrictions lay on the road ahead as the Delta variant remains stubborn. But for the time being, provided that fans remain vigilant and use their best judgment, it’s fine to view Saturday’s game at its surface: a welcome back to a frivolous, if not cherished, Garden State tradition, a landmark in the battle against the hated pandemic.

“It is definitely fitting that football returns to New Jersey in Jets vs. Giants fashion. Although a meaningless game to some, this game, gives me a little bit of hope that the end of the pandemic is in sight and will be a milestone for how far we have come from the beginning of the pandemic until now.” Strum said. “Although I’m a little nervous with the new Delta variant going around, I am definitely excited to feel the atmosphere of thousands of screaming fans cheering on their team, the smell of food cooking on the grill before the game, some J-E-T-S chants with fellow Jets fans in the parking lot.”

True to football form, however, he’s not letting a joint celebration get in the way of a little good, old-fashion metropolitan smack talk.

“I might have to thank some of them for letting Elijah Moore fall to us in the second round.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: Four standouts from the Green & White Scrimmage

Playing in front of an East Rutherford crowd for the first time since December 2019, several New York Jets made early statements.

MetLife Stadium welcomed New York Jets fans through its gates for the first time since December 2019 on Saturday night, hosting the annual Green & White scrimmage.

Nearly 20,000 supporters came out to watch the special practice, which was the first sporting event at MetLife since an XFL contest in late February 2020. The team will spend another Saturday at the stadium next weekend, when open their preseason slate against their East Rutherford roommates, the New York Giants (7:30 p.m. ET, WNBC).

“It was awesome to come out here,” Jets head coach Robert Saleh  It was awesome to just be able to go through this thing, go through the stadium and just be able to go through as game-like of an experience as we can create for the players so next Saturday is normal. But it was cool.”

In case you missed the proceedings at MetLife, ESM has four names who stood out…

K Matt Ammendola

The Jets will likely wait until game situations against squads of different colors to make their decision at kicker. But it’s hard to not pencil in Ammendola’s name at the top of the early depth chart after Saturday.

Team reporter Ethan Greenberg stated that while Chris Naggar converted only 1-of-4 attempts, Ammendola was perfect in his quartet, half of them coming from at least 50 yards away. The Jets have converted only 6-of-11 from that distance since Jason Myers absconded to Seattle after the 2018 season.

WR Corey Davis

Davis helped the Jets make the most of a tough night offensively. Per ESPN’s Rich Cimini, Zach Wilson struggled, completing only 11-of-24 passes and throwing two interceptions. But the incoming Davis helped the unit keep their chins up and gave the fans something to cheer about.

A lot of excitement in the Jets’ new receiving outlook has surrounded Elijah Moore, particularly after he stole in the show in public training camp practices in Florham Park. But Davis made a decent case for primary receiver duties on Saturday, making three big grabs during two-minute drills. One highlight reel grab saw him tear the ball away from Bryce Hall.

Some may have already built the Jets’ offensive future around the Wilson-Moore connection, but it’s clear that Davis plays into the team’s long-term plans and can’t be forgotten.

LB C.J. Mosley 

Fans had to be extra patient when it came to seeing Mosley again. Saturday marked only the third time in the last 24 months that his cleats touched the MetLife Stadium turf, as his Jets career has been weighed down by medical issues.

Mosley knew going into Saturday’s proceedings that he was going to have to do a lot to live up to the five-year, $85 million deal granted to him in 2019 as the final marquee signing of the Mike Maccagnan era. Even a perfect showing wasn’t going to alleviate the concerns, but he was one of the biggest breakouts of a strong day for the New York defense.

The former Baltimore Raven, down nearly 20 pounds from his last listed playing weight (250) worked mostly in coverage during Saturday’s proceedings. His shining moment came during a two-minute drill, when he cashed in on Lamarcus Joyner’s breakup of a Wilson pass intended for Jamison Crowder, diving to earn the interception.

Mosley was pleased to reintroduce himself to the New York faithful but acknowledged that it has to be the start of something bigger.

“I haven’t put (anything) on tape in two years. I just have to remind everybody,” Mosley said afterward, per Brian Costello of the New York Post. “Today was a great start. It felt good to be out there after a long time.”

“There’s always more to improve on. I missed two tackles out there, two big tackles, in my opinion. That’s something I’ve just got to get back to working on in practice.”

Assessing the defense was a little tough considering Saturday’s restrictive nature…live tackling was kept to a minimum…but several defenders managed to post strong showings. John Franklin-Myers tallied a sack, while Javelin Guidry likewise earned an interception of Wilson.

QB Mike White

Much like their kicking slate, the Jets’ backup quarterback conundrum will likely gain more clarity through the exhibition slate. But in the absence of newly minted favorite Josh Johnson, who did not partake in Saturday’s event, White gained some early ground.

White was the only Jets thrower to earn multiple scoring passes, finding Josh Malone and Kenny Yeboah for the respective tallies. A big opportunity awaits the former Dallas Cowboys draft pick, who has been on and off the Jets’ active roster over the last two years. Fellow New York returnee James Morgan likewise had a scoring pass on Saturday, finding rookie rusher Michael Carter.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets 2021 opponent report: New England Patriots

There would be, perhaps, no better way for the New York Jets to open a new era than by ending their losing streak against the Patriots.

The Opponent: New England Patriots
The Dates: Week 2, September 19, 1 p.m. ET, CBS (@ NY)/Week 7, October 24, 1 p.m. ET, CBS (@ NE)*
The Series: New England leads 69-54-1 (last meeting: 2020, 28-14 NE)

*-(subject to flexible scheduling)

Year one of the post-Tom Brady era was a merciless kick back to reality for the New England Patriots. Yet, one tradition lingered from Brady’s historic tenure: beating the New York Jets.

For all the Patriots’ faults in 2020, they managed to keep their winning streak against the Jets alive, sweeping the annual pair for a fifth straight season. The Jets haven’t earned a sweep against New England since 2000…one year before Mo Lewis’ hit on Drew Bledsoe inadvertently shifted the course of NFL history. New England’s ten-game winning streak is the longest in the series that dates back to the days of the AFL, breaking a nine-game tally the Jets had between 1966 and 1970.

The Jets came close to ending the streak last season in a Monday night showdown in November at MetLife Stadium. New York, in fact, owned a two-possession lead entering the final quarter, but surrendered 13 points over the final six-plus minutes en route to a 30-27 defeat.

New York and New England also met in the final week of the season. Meaningless finales between the Jets and Patriots have been nothing new since the NFL instituted an all-divisional matchup slate for the last week, as New England would often rest starters going into the playoffs. This time, though, mere pride was on the line and the Patriots sent the Adam Gase era note out on an appropriate thud, topping the Jets 28-14.

Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

The Skinny on the Patriots

Bill Belichick is burdened with a load he hasn’t had to deal with in a long, long time: something to prove.

Few can question the impact and legacy…more a path of destruction…that Belichick has left behind. But last season created the closest thing to a smear one can make on Belichick’s New England ledger: Brady moved on to Tampa Bay and immediately won another Super Bowl with Belichick over 1,300 miles away.

Belichick isn’t like Michael Jordan: he won’t publicly declare that he “took that personally”. But Brady’s instant success in a new locale has to be eating at him a little. Every eye in the football world will turn to Foxboro on October 3, when Brady and the Buccaneers arrive for a Sunday night visit. But the Patriots will have a spotlight on them all season after last season’s flop.

Despite the departure Brady, Rob Gronkowski, and recent retiree Julian Edelman, the Patriots still have leftovers from their most recent glory days. Sony Michel’s third season was cut short by bouts on the COVID-19 list and injured reserve, but he performed well over the final three games of last season (287 yards on 40 touches). Devin McCourty returns for his 12th season, flanked by cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson (the latter earning nine interceptions last season).

New York Jets, Hunter Henry
Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

What’s New in New England?

Belichick did what any supposed villain would do after getting wronged: he spent a lot of money in an attempt to get revenge. 

New England spent over $316 million in free agency endeavors this offseason, a project headlined by swiping the top two available tight ends. The post-Gronkowski situation was even more garish, as Ryan Izzo and Devin Asiasi united for only 238 yards on 15 receptions last year.

New England remedied this issue by brining in Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, dedicating over $12 million in 2021 cap space to the former AFC foes. The Patriots have never been hesitant to use two tight ends, routinely pairing Gronkowski with names like Brandon LaFell, Martellus Bennett, and Aaron Hernandez. Expect to see them reemploy more 12 personnel sets with two elite names in tow.

On defense, the Patriots brought in two-time Pro Bowl linebacker Matthew Judon. He’ll join  returnees Kyle Van Noy and Donte Hightower will re-don the Flying Elvis after one-year absences. Van Noy returns after one year with divisional rival Miami while Hightower opted out of last season in the midst of the health crisis. Speaking of front seven additions, the Patriots also added former Jet Henry Anderson, who never lived up to the $25 million extension granted to him in 2019.

No discussion about the post-Brady Patriots would be complete without looking at the quarterback situation. Cam Newton got off to a hot start but was never the same after missing an October game in Kansas City on the COVID-19 list. The 32-year-old Newton is projected to be the opening day starter but the Patriots used April’s 15th overall selection on Alabama thrower Mac Jones.

When it comes to the quarterback’s targets, the Patriots appear to be moving on from first-rounder N’Keal Harry. Jakobi Meyers returns for his third season after a breakthrough year in the slot (729 yards), while team added Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor from the west cost.

(Photo By Streeter Lecka)

How to Beat Them

-Wow, What a (Pass) Rush 

The home opener against the Patriots will be an early test for the Jets’ revamped pass rush.

Even Brady finds himself flustered by a strong backfield invasion; if not for that of the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles, for example, he might have a Super Bowl ring for every finger. The Jets played a rare role in a Brady denial during their most recent playoff triumph: on that magical evening in January 2011, the Jets took down the arguable GOAT five times.

No matter whom the Jets face under center, they have to up the pressure. Newton can still move around as he gets deeper into his 30s…he scored two on the ground in the first meeting last season…but this isn’t the same Newton we saw during his Carolina heyday. New England was 3-6 when teams blitzed on at least 25 percent of Newton’s snaps last season. The pressure situation should only increase with Jones in tow, as there would probably be no better way to welcome the national champion to the NFL than a relentless rush.

The Jets know just how important pressure will be. Their most impactful 2021 contract is Carl Lawson’s three-year, $45 million deal that lured him away from Cincinnati. Enough has been written about how Lawson has made a defensive impact despite pedestrian sack totals. The early showdown with the Patriots will give him a perfect opportunity to back the early praise up.

-Push the Patriots off the Pedestal 

The horrors that the Patriots have subjected the Jets to could qualify as the stuff of urban legends at this point. November’s aforementioned Monday night loss, for example, was a positive in mere sense that it was the Jets’ first one-possession loss since the infamous Austin Seferian-Jenkins incident in 2017.

Nothing would symbolize a new era of Jets football better than taking down the hated Patriots. So desperate is the metropolitan area for a sports celebration…the Canyon of Heroes has been vacant to local affairs since the Giants’ parade in 2011 (the United States’ World Cup champion women’s soccer team in 2015 and 2019 notwithstanding)…that plans for a Robert Saleh statue could be submitted if the Jets take that Week 2 tilt. The fact that fans will be welcomed back to MetLife Stadium for an NFL regular season game for the first time since December 2019 only adds to how much the Patriots’ will mean.

But the Jets can’t go in with that mindset. A win is a win, no matter who it comes against. The Patriots are the Patriots…they’re a football team not a boogeyman. New York shouldn’t buy into the increased hype just because it’s been a while since they’ve enjoyed a win over a certain divisional rival.

Saleh walked through MetLife Stadium for the first time in June. Unlike, say, Rex Ryan, the newly minted Jets boss wasn’t looking to create bulletin board material for the New England locker room. Instead, his focus lingered only what a win would mean for the New York area. He hoped to create a similar atmosphere seen during late spring’s postseason endeavors at Madison Square Garden and Nassau Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum, where he witnessed the respective playoff runs of the New York Knicks and New York Islanders.

“I’m really excited to get it going and get that stadium filled where that thing becomes live again like it’s been in the past,” Saleh said in a report from team writer Eric Allen. “New York fans are extremely passionate. They love their home teams, they’re rabid to a sense and it’s awesome. It comes from just absolute love for their teams. But like everything else in the world, you got to earn it.”

“We’re excited about all the work we’re putting in. We’re excited to get the opportunity to earn the same response at MetLife stadium and let the fans light that place up.”

How important is it for the Jets to end their losing streak against New England? Follow @GeoffJMags on Twitter and continue the conversation.

Full capacity MetLife Stadium releases health protocols for 2021 season

New York Giants and New York Jets fans will be welcomed back to MetLife Stadium on a full-time basis next season.

This summer’s Snoopy Bowl is going to mean just a little more this time around.

MetLife Stadium, the East Rutherford home of the New York Giants and New York Jets, will welcome back fans on a full-time basis, as the venue announced gameday health protocols for the upcoming NFL season. Of note, masks, proof of vaccination, or a negative COVID-19 test will not be required for entry. Tailgaiting will be permitted.

The biggest change to gameday operations will be the transition to full-on cash-free transactions, an effort to reduce touchpoints. Reverse ATM machines will allow fans to put cash on debit cards.

East Rutherford has not hosted fans since February 2020, when just over 12,000 spectators witness the New York Guardians triumph over the Los Angeles Wildcats in an XFL showdown. The Giants and Jets are set to resume their annual preseason series on August 14 after last year’s exhibition was canceled along with the rest of the NFL summer slate.

Giants fans will flock back with an interconference showdown against the Denver Broncos on September 12, while the Jets open their home portion a week later against their divisional rivals from New England. MetLife Stadium was one of a dozen NFL venues that played the entire regular season without fans last season The Jets will also get to play nine regular season home games for the first time in regular season history, as it will come against the Philadelphia Eagles on December 5.

“I think it’s going to be great to get back and to go to the full stadium,” Jets Chairman Woody Johnson said in a statement to team reporter Eric Allen. “(To) go out in the parking lot and talk to fans and see what they’re cooking and do all that stuff.”

“We walked out of the tunnel and they blared it on the speakers, the J-E-T-S chant,” new Jets head coach Robert Saleh added in Allen’s report, having stepped into the stadium for the first time. “I’m not going to lie to you, I got a little bit of goosebumps. I’m really excited to get it going and get that stadium to where it becomes live again, like it’s been in the past.”

Will you be returning to MetLife Stadium next season? Continue to the conversation on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Giants and Jets to play 2021 season with full stadium capacity

There’s good news for anyone looking to witness a New York Giants or Jets game live this season. For the first time since COVID-19 hit the sports world hard and resulted in MetLife Stadium closing to fans, both teams will play with full capacity in the stands going forward.

This was announced on a joint statement in Monday, where the Giants confirmed it following an announcement from Governor Phil Murphy.

We are thrilled by Governor Murphy’s announcement today to have MetLife Stadium operate at full capacity for the 2021 season. We can’t wait to welcome our fans back, creating the gameday atmosphere we have all been missing. We will continue to work to ensure the return of fans is accomplished in a safe and responsible way.

This is set to come into effect as soon as the preseason, which the Jets and the Giants are set to play each other in during week one. The exact date and time of the game has yet to be announced but the week one date makes it clear that the game will happen in August.

The Giants played the previous season with no spectators in the stands, even as other teams in the NFC East were able to open back up with partial capacity.

This, in the eyes of some, may have made a difference in their performances as the Giants had to go on the road in front of hostile crowds while having no home crowd of their own.

Whether last season’s situation was ultimately fair or not, it won’t be a worry this year – it’s unknown what health and safety restrictions will be in place at MetLife Stadium, but we can already expect to see the stadium filled once again.

New York Jets schedule: Why Week 2 looms particularly large

National eyes have turned to the New York Jets’ opening matchup in Charlotte, but the home opener against New England will be a true test.

For all its flaws, the NFL status as a genius marketing behemoth cannot be denied.

Its draft is no longer two days in April expanding into a year-round process, a major tenet of which involves a lot of Indianapolis-based spandex and bench presses. Preseason games whose box scores are immediately scorched when the clock hits all zeroes get ratings are given national priority alongside late-season baseball games.

Perhaps the most obvious sign of the NFL’s stranglehold on the American imagination is the release of its annual schedule. The question of “who” yields no surprises…14 of a given team’s 17 opponents are predetermined years in advance and 17 are solidified by the end of final week action…but the question of “when”, the mere attachment of times and dates to these matchups, causes We the People to lose our collective minds. Playoff races in basketball and hockey are cast aside on national highlights show to debate whether the Chicago Bears deserved the Thanksgiving treatment.

Despite the relative lack of surprises, the New York Jets did learn some intriguing info. Though bereft of prime time games, save for a November Thursday night’s excursion to Indianapolis, the Jets will nonetheless study abroad in London, facing off with Atlanta in October. But the matchup everyone’s talking about comes in the Jets’ Week 1 visit to Charlotte to battle the Carolina Panthers.

By now, everyone knows what’s at stake at Bank of America Stadium come September 12: the hope of the Jets’ present and future meets the ghost of all-too-recent football past in the form of Sam Darnold (and Robby Anderson, among others). Despite the combatants carrying over a combined six wins from 2020, many have pegged the interconference showdown as one of the most anticipated get-togethers of opening weekend.

Opening with Carolina works from a Jets perspective in the sense that they can remove Darnold from their list of early “distractions” and carry on with the rest of what’s sure to be a developmental year. But, to that end, their home opener in Week 2 may loom even larger.

For their 2021 home opener, the Jets will welcome the New England Patriots into East Rutherford for the first of their yearly pair. What happens for those precious three hours at MetLife Stadium could well set a permanent tone for what the Jets’ leadership triumvirate of Joe Douglas, Woody Johnson, and Robert Saleh are trying to build.

Put aside the fact that three Presidents of the United States have held office and 11 Marvel Cinematic Universe films have been released since the Jets have emerged victorious from a showdown with the Patriots. Zach Wilson’s presumed home opener will mean everything to a Jets team that must do everything in its power to get started on the right note.

It might feel like an eternity since the Jets had a winning record, but one only has to flashback to September 2018. A 48-17 win over the Detroit Lions on Monday Night Football had the fanbase buzzing. The fact that Sam Darnold’s first NFL pass was a pick-six was offset by a strong defensive effort (five turnovers) and the run game run up 179 on the ground. Darnold even made up for his early gaffe with two touchdown tosses in the dominant effort.

However, things came to a crashing halt in the MetLife Stadium opener against Miami. Facing off against future boss Adam Gase, the Jets surrendered the first 20 points before making things somewhat respectable late in a 20-12 loss. It was a sloppy game whose final score was nowhere near indicative of just how one-sided it was.

Now, the Darnold/Gase era didn’t falter solely because they lost to the Dolphins in Week 2 of the former’s rookie campaign. But, in hindsight, it served as perfect foreshadowing of the struggles to come: they turned the ball over three times, saw their rushing protection fall to 41 yards on 17 attempts, and allowed Darnold to get sacked three times. Penalties were prevalent, with the Jets losing 50 yards on seven infractions. Three resulted in Miami’s first downs and a particularly embarrassing sequence

The Jets are still trying to pick up the pieces to this day. That loss signaled the beginning of the end of the Todd Bowles era, mustering a mere three wins after that before he was let go at the end of his third season at the helm. It placed the Jets on a collision course with the disastrous Gase era, a period whose strongest yield was probably the fact it led the hiring of a sound football mind like Saleh, whose arrival has garnered praise both domestically and abroad.

Miami was merely a microcosm of what was to come under Darnold, as it highlighted the issues that would plague his star-crossed New York career. Of the ten starting men that suited up for the Jets that afternoon, only one other (Chris Herndon) was on the team in 2020. The Dolphins were credited with only three sacks of Darnold, but he was nonetheless forced to run for his life, to the tune of five other quarterback takedowns.

Negligence on both the offensive line (featuring only one player chosen within the first day of the draft, the former Seattle Seahawk James Carpenter) and run game (Isaiah Crowell and Bilal Powell) was a hint of things to come. Current management has seen to counter these issues, using first-round choices (Mehki Becton/Alijah Vera-Tucker) to protect Wilson and bolstering the run game with a stopgap rusher who has been a vital cog in Super Bowl runs (Tevin Coleman).

This season’s home opener is also going to take on a special meaning. Improvements have been discussed ad nauseam but MetLife Stadium will be packed to the brim with fans for a Jets game for the first time since December 2019. We, the football-loving people, have been through a lot over the past year-plus. Fans of the Jets and 13 other NFL teams were denied the simple pleasure of spending Sunday in a parking lot, surrounded by 80,000 of their new best friends. With restrictions loosening across the country, it feels (knock on wood) like it’s only a matter of time before all 30 NFL facilities get the go-ahead to pack the house. No matter the result that day, the first spelling of Jets will be downright emotional.

A brilliant tone can be set for the team moving forward, or another distressing sign of things to come could emerge. What the Jets do in these early hours will mean the world.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags