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

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

Sam Darnold returned to the field, but the New York Jets’ offensive spark did not, as they fell without a touchdown to the Miami Dolphins.

A relic of the New York Jets’ past put them one step closer toward their future.

Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 257 yards and two touchdown passes, guiding his Miami Dolphins to a 20-3 victory over the Jets on Sunday at MetLife Stadium. New York (0-11) welcomed back Sam Darnold to their lineup, but he failed to keep the offensive progress rolling, throwing two interceptions and only 197 yards in defeat. Miami (7-4), on the other hand, kept pace in the AFC wild card hunt, staying a game behind Buffalo for the division lead and gaining ground on the fallen Las Vegas Raiders in the wild car chase.

ESM does have some game ball to dispense for the Jets, mostly coming from the defensive side of things after yet another defeat…

3rd Star: WR Denzel Mims

(4 receptions, 67 yards)

The Jets’ future with Darnold looks a bit murky, but it’s abundantly clear that Mims has a bright future with this franchise. In the third of what could be dwindling opportunities with the current Jets thrower, Mims earned 67 yards on a quartet of receptions, the primary tally being a 30-yard gain that mostly consisted of yardage after the catch, a gain that brought the Jets out of the shadow of their own goalposts. If the Jets could earn Mims his first 100-yard day and his first NFL touchdown, that just might be enough to call this dreary final stretch a success.

2nd Star: LB Neville Hewitt

(6 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF)

A case against tanking comes in the form of Hewitt, who may be the type of player trying to impress both the Jets and other teams moving forward. Hewitt has risen to the occasion over the past three seasons as a reliable depth option, duplicating that process on Sunday against Miami. He gave the Jets some hope in the third quarter with a strip-sack of Fitzpatrick that situated the Jets in Miami territory. Hewitt has signed one-year deals with the Jets in each of the past two offseasons; he’s currently working his way toward a third…and possibly even longer.

1st Star: DL Quinnen Williams

(7 tackles, 2 passes defended, 1 sack)

Despite a year from the depths of the football underworld, Williams has taken a major step forward after a difficult season. He was perhaps in the Miami backfield more often than some Dolphin running backs on Sunday, earning a sack of Fitzpatrick and forcing a Matt Breida fumble that set up yet another failed opportunity for the offense. Williams also had a pair of pass breakups in defeat. Not only can the Jets be pleased with his development in a lost year, as Williams is one of the few Jets taking advantage of a season where there’s nothing to lose, but he’s starting to build a bit of a Pro Bowl case as well.

The Jets return to action next Sunday against the Las Vegas Raiders (1 p.m. ET, CBS).

Geoff Magliocchetti is @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: It’s now or never for QB Sam Darnold

New York Jets, Sam Darnold

The New York Jets are officially eliminated from the playoff contention. But the next six weeks might as well be Super Bowls for Sam Darnold.

The holiday season is upon us and with it comes an endless tide of yuletide excuses for getting out of December festivities. Even in these trying times, there are enough activities in a metropolitan area like New York where social distancing can unite with a sense of supposed fun.

For New York Jets fans, however, a weekend with the in-laws may serve as a perfect excuse for avoiding these final hours. Braving cold temperatures to put up Christmas lights may be more preferable to watching the Jets (0-10) attempt to conjure up a victory.

Even the most die-hard, live-or-die Jets fan would be hard-pressed to list reasons to watch the Jets’ final six games of the 2020 season for non-masochistic reasons. The trek starts on Sunday afternoon against the Miami Dolphins at MetLife Stadium (1 p.m. ET, CBS), where even the surefire tradition of tailgating has been erased by the distancing mandates. All but one of the adversaries they’ll face would either be in the playoffs if they began immediately or would lose their spot through a tiebreaker. Miami (6-4), for example, is locked into a three-way tie with Las Vegas (another future Jets opponent) and Baltimore for the final AFC wild card spot.  Jets fans have more or less resigned themselves to the idea of forming an unholy trinity with the 2008 Detroit Lions and 2017 Cleveland Browns in “earning” 0-16 records throughout the course of NFL history. The primary consolation stems from the fact that an 0-16 record would secure the top overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, where a plethora of gridiron talent, primarily of the throwing variety, will be available. If seeing their name atop of the big boards means there has to be a goose egg in the win column, so be it, the fanbase has seemed to declare.

But the already ludicrous concept of tanking fails to take into account the human aspect involved in the game. Livelihoods could well be on the line as the Jets play out the stretch. For some players, primarily the depth options that have been propelled to the starting lineup through injuries and transactions, strong showings over the next six weeks could well be the difference between suiting up in the NFL or waiting for the XFL to come back.

Then there’s Sam Darnold.

When a team lands into No. 1 pick territory, fans often comfort themselves through knowing a collegiate hero is likely on his way over. That savior is, more often than not, a quarterback, and the pomp and circumstance doubles when a New York team holds the pick in question. Joe Namath, for example, earned his “Broadway” moniker from a Sports Illustrated cover published two months before he threw his first NFL pass. The Jets’ propensity for chaos and football eccentrics is also attached to the quarterback no matter what he does. Darnold has undoubtedly been a victim of kookiness…just look no further than the sophomoric response to his mononucleosis diagnosis last season. The team’s seemingly perpetual rebuild has done little to help matters, as Darnold spent his first two seasons behind a flimsy offensive line racked with turnover.

Yet, in the midst of chaos, Darnold was able to provide ever-so-brief flashes of brilliance that will no doubt be spoken about in anecdotes across the tri-state area. The oncoming December rush could bring forth conversations of his rookie campaign, Darnold leading a game-winning drive in Buffalo during his first meeting against fellow 2018 draftee Josh Allen. Two weeks later, a Festivus Miracle from the Green Bay Packers did nothing to hide the fact that Darnold went head-to-head with Aaron Rodgers and lived to tell the tale. When Darnold returned from his illness last season, he led the reeling, winless Jets to a victory over the Dallas Cowboys. He later gave Jets fans temporary bragging rights over their East Rutherford domicile by outplaying Daniel Jones in a battle with the blue metropolitan team.

The 2020 season was never about making a playoff leap, even with expanded capital. Instead, it could’ve been a throat-clearing year for Darnold, a not-so-subtle warning to the rest of the NFL that the Jets were finally ready to rise. It was to be a year of chemistry and bonding, as a new era was underway with general manager Joe Douglas in tow. One of the first moves Douglas made upon his mid-offseason arrival was to trade for Alex Lewis and convince Pro Bowl staple Ryan Kalil to come out of retirement. That latter move didn’t pan out, but it showed that Douglas was willing to fix the offensive line, whose treatment under predecessor Mike Maccagnan could be described as negligent at best. Douglas spent his first full offseason at the helm building the wall in front of Darnold, drafting Mekhi Becton at No. 11 overall, and adding veterans George Fant, Greg Van Roten, and Connor McGovern. He would partially bolster the skill position slots as well, draft Denzel Mims in the second round to go with free agent Breshad Perriman and returning slot man Jamison Crowder. Many of the additions like Perriman, Fant, and Van Roten, were granted one-year deals or out clauses for 2021. Thus, the 2021 season had the aura of an audition or screen test with a blockbuster star.

Yet, like countless other 2020 happenings, things have not according to plan.

The fact that Darnold has missed four games is concerning, but should not be held against him. Football is a violent game, and one should not be criticized for missing games due to their health. But Darnold is making decisions that would be out of place for a rookie franchise quarterback, never mind the man in the proverbially crucial third year. There have been the trademark flashes of brilliance…such as that long touchdown run in prime time against Denver…but there have been far-too-many head-scratching moves. His 1,045 yards and three touchdown passes are on pace to set career-lows. His numbers currently have him situated in the same category as backups like Kyle Allen and Jeff Driskel. Miami’s rookie thrower Tua Tagovailoa has played three fewer games than Darnold but has already doubled his touchdown pass tally. 

What’s made Darnold’s decline even scarier is that the offense was appearing to gain traction under the supervision of backup Joe Flacco. It didn’t lead to wins, but the numbers are troubling from a pro-Darnold concept. The 614-yard, 55-point output against the Chargers and Patriots are the Jets’ respective best tallies over consecutive games. Flacco also threw five touchdown passes in that span, tied with several others…only Patrick Mahomes and Ben Roethlisberger threw more. Perriman had his best game of the season (5 receptions, 101 yards, and a touchdown against New England), while Chris Herndon broke out of a slump to score his first touchdown of the season against Los Angeles, where Mims also set an infantile career-high in yardage (71 yards on three grabs).

Losses ensued nonetheless, increasing the likelihood that the Jets would secure the top overall pick next spring. Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, Trey Lance, and Kyle Trask, among others, will undoubtedly be up for grabs. The trigger-fingers of NFL decision-makers are quicker than ever in the new decade. Miami drew controversy last week when they lifted Tagovailoa for performance-based reasons in a loss in Denver. Darnold’s fellow SoCal college football legend Josh Rosen is perhaps more familiar with the concept than anyone in recent football memory. It took the Arizona Cardinals a single to move on from both he and head coach Steve Wilks. If the Jets gain the top overall pick and Darnold’s outputs remain where they are…and possibly a new head coach on top of it all…they’d be almost foolhardy

Thus, every week might as well be a Super Bowl for Darnold, at least from a personal level.

Darnold’s early 2020 game ledgers are head to be printed alongside a sizable asterisk: over his first six starts, the USC alum did not have the top receiving trio that the Jets envisioned him to have throughout the course of the year. Perriman, Mims, and Crowder finally got to take the field at the same time and Flacco reaped in the benefits. But with the trio ready to go for Sunday…barring any issues related to the ongoing health crisis…Darnold is out of excuses (not that he’d make any as is). The Jets are in a position where it doesn’t matter if they, as a team, win or lose. Darnold needs to play with a coordinated sense of reckless abandon. New York will spend part of these final futile weeks making a list and checking it twice for what they need this offseason. Darnold must make sure that “franchise quarterback” isn’t on that list. Even if wins don’t follow, it’s not like the Jets are completely out of luck. There is talent beyond the quarterback pool, well represented by blocker Penei Sewell, receiver Ja’Marr Chase, and defenders Micah Parson and Patrick Surtain. It’s up to Darnold to prove that the Jets would be better served fulfilling one of those other needs rather than finding a successor to his franchise throne.

It’s not the type of win-or-go-home situation that Jets fans were rooting for at the start of the season. But if you’re looking for a holiday distraction, Darnold’s quest should prove to be enough of a distraction. Either way, provided he stays healthy, the Jets can earn a win before this year is out: that of clarity.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: Sam Darnold, receivers will finally be together

New York Jets, Sam Darnold

 

Sam Darnold hasn’t played in a single game this season with all of the Jets’ top targets. Before the season, in free agency and the draft, the team made considerable strides to add to their receiving corps with the additions of Breshad Perriman and Denzel Mims. These two players, along with Jamison Crowder, have all shown playmaking ability on the field. Now, they’ll finally get to pair their skills, on the field, with Darnold.

The New York Jets will be playing the Miami Dolphins tomorrow, still looking for their first win of the season. CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco predicts that they will get their first, beating Miami 26-23. That would be a huge feat, on a few levels. Firstly, it would be the first win of their season, as already stated and known. Second, Darnold needs to show that he can still be a winning quarterback in the NFL, either with the Jets or another franchise. Lastly, if Darnold stays, building continuity with the receivers, who have been playing pretty well despite the losses without him, is key.

Sam Darnold last played against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 8, missing the last two games (Jets had a bye in Week 10). Over those two games, all three top receivers have played together. In those games, their overall production has been a nice sight and has caused some excitement. The three top receivers, which have been Perriman, Mims and Jamison Crowder respectively, should be excited to have Darnold back, as well.

The wideouts

Breshad Perriman was brought in to be the main deep-threat guy, pretty much replacing Robby Anderson. Over the last two games, he has totaled 7 receptions for 155 yards and 3 touchdowns. The 22.1 yards per reception average has led the team, along with the touchdowns during that span, including two against the division-rival Patriots.

Second-round rookie Denzel Mims has shown his capability of being a very good well-rounded wideout, as well. Over the last two games, he has totaled 7 receptions for 133 yards. The thing that sticks out, especially to possibly delusional Jets fans like myself, is that he has the ability to win tough catches. With great size at 6’3″, 207 pounds, he can be that go-to big target for Darnold, or whoever is playing quarterback next season. He showed that catching ability on one exciting play against the Chargers last week:

I am, perhaps, most excited for the Darnold-Mims duo tomorrow. They have been able to play zero snaps, let alone games, together this season. Videos and clips of them together from the preseason was cause for excitement, but it, unfortunately, hasn’t had the chance to translate yet.

The final piece of the top-three Jets wideouts is Jamison Crowder. To begin the season, he missed two of the first five games. Although, in the three he played, two with Darnold, he totaled 22 receptions for 335 yards and 2 touchdowns. The last two games, however, haven’t been as dominant. Over the last two, he’s totaled just 3 receptions for 42 yards and a touchdown. Those numbers should be expected to increase.

Crowder has been the go-to guy for Darnold over the last two seasons and has helped build a confident connection between the two.

With Perriman being the deep-threat, Mims being an intermediate-to-deep playmaker and Crowder being a short-to-intermediate option primarily, Sam Darnold will finally be surrounded by the best the Jets have to offer.

New York Jets: Does Joe Flacco have a future with the franchise?

Joe Flacco played respectably while substituting for Sam Darnold. It’s possible he can play it into a future with the New York Jets.

Those also writing about Joe Flacco’s NFL career likely won’t be using the word “future” much longer.

That’s no slight toward the New York Jets quarterback. Age is a near-undefeated behemoth that has claimed the careers of countless others before him and, at 35, there’s no denying that Flacco’s time is coming. The polarizing ex-Baltimore Raven has built himself a solid NFL career that turned him into one of the major faces of pro football in the 21st century. But his glory days, like his legendary run to Super Bowl XLVII, are long behind him. Football analysts, amateur and professional alike, will likely view his time in a Jets uniform (as well as his eight-game cameo in the colors of the Denver Broncos) through the same, sarcastic lens of Tom Brady’s ongoing Tampa Bay endeavors.

But if this truly is the end for Flacco, could the final, successful chapters be written in green?

With Sam Darnold set to return on Sunday against the Miami Dolphins (1 p.m. ET, CBS) in a situation where his job as the franchise man could be on the line, it stands to reason that Flacco, a free-agent-to-be, probably won’t take the field again unless the former endures yet another injury. Flacco has started four games for the Jets (0-10) this season, all after Darnold injured his shoulder in a loss to Denver on October 1, an ailment reaggravated a month later in Kansas City.

The intent behind signing Flacco was clear: if the unthinkable happened to the developing Darnold (again), the Jets would have a decent-enough substitution to tread water until the younger thrower came back. Additionally, if there was ever an on-field mentor for Darnold, one could’ve done far worse than bringing in a former Super Bowl MVP used to adversity. Josh McCown was the best of both worlds before he chose a brief retirement. Flacco believed he could still start for another team after his reign upon the Baltimore throne ended with the emergence of Lamar Jackson, but willingly embraced such a role.

“It’s where I am right now and I’m glad to be on a team playing football in some capacity,” Flacco said after his signing in May, per Andy Vazquez of USA Today. “I think it’s going to be huge to get in there and know the guys and develop a relationship with the team and do anything I can to help the team get better and in that process, help Sam with whatever he needs help with.”

It didn’t take long for the overwhelmed Jets (0-10) to call upon Flacco to empty whatever was left in his NFL quarterbacking tank. Asking him to fully flip the Jets’ fortunes was a little too much…the New York issues go far beyond the quarterback…but, in a surprising turn of events, the Jets’ struggling offense looked how they were supposed to look in 2020: a rebuilding team that was slowly but surely getting it together.

Over the last two weeks, the Jets have earned 614 yards and 55 points under Flacco’s watch, each of which are season-highs in consecutive games. Flacco has done his part, particularly over the last two games with five touchdown passes and 467 yards, good for a passer rating of 102.6. That made him one of a dozen quarterbacks with at least 50 pass attempts with a triple-digit passer rating over the last two games. Only Patrick Mahomes and Ben Roethlisberger have thrown more touchdown passes than Flacco in that span, with the mark tying him with Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins, Josh Allen, and Justin Herbert (who had three as his Los Angeles Chargers topped Flacco and the Jets last Sunday).

It’s not like Flacco’s tenure was exempt from 2020 Jets shenanigans; he took a 30-yard sack in a shutout loss in Miami and threw a “really bad” pick-six deep in Jets territory in the most recent defeat in Los Angeles. Nonetheless, the undeniable leadership and defacto spark Flacco brought to the lineup was noticed by his teammates and coaches alike.

“It’s been good for the most part,” receiver Breshad Perriman said of his relationship with Flacco after the defeat in Los Angeles, per Jack Bell of NewYorkJets.com. “Of course it could always be better. But it’s definitely going good.”

Working with Flacco, a fellow former Raven, Perriman has earned touchdown receptions in back-to-back games. Two came in the Jets’ 30-27 defeat at the hands of the New England Patriots two weeks ago, good for Perriman’s first 100-yard since last season in Tampa Bay.

“I think you saw it, I think everyone saw it, how well he throws the football,” Jets offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said after the New England game in another report from Vazquez. “This guy, he’s gifted that way, and he did some really nice things for us. He’s really accurate. I do think this guy is a starter in this league, and we’re very fortunate to have the quarterback situation we have right now. And that’s why Joe was brought here.”

. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Jets have some major decisions to make when it comes to their quarterback spot. These final hours of the 2020 season could mean everything to Darnold, whose status as the face of the franchise could be in major jeopardy if they get the top overall pick in next spring’s draft. Surprisingly, there may be a little more clarity in the understudy role, because no matter who starts at quarterback for the Jets come 2021…be it Darnold, Trevor Lawrence, Justin Field, or an unknown entity…is going to need some form of mentorship and stability behind him. It’s highly unlikely the Jets will replicate the Kansas City Chiefs’ idea and sit a potential draftee for a year. Duplicating the strategy that ended Flacco’s tenure in Baltimore, where Jackson came in partway through his rookie season, is equally doubtful. But having a veteran quarterback on the roster is essential on the rookie franchise quarterback shopping list. Protection is a close second, but the Jets have admittedly been doing well in that regard with the Mekhi Becton selection paying dividends thus far. That’s where Flacco comes into the Jets’ future plans.

For all we know, the Jets’ offensive progress stemmed not from Flacco, but from the fact that the Jets were able to use their top three receivers (Perriman, Denzel Mims, Jamison Crowder) in the same game(s). But if Darnold is willing to carry on the role of the mentor backup, it could be a perfect match and a perfect way to end his career. The role. of a perfect backup quarterback is, if you are pressed into service, don’t be the reason for your squad’s demise. If you can provide mentorship an intuitive sense of know-how to the lineup, that’s an added bonus. Flacco fulfills both of these roles and gives the Jets security for the future.

Flacco, for his part, has not given any indication toward retirement. If he was willing to come back from a neck injury sustained in Denver last season, then mere losses shouldn’t serve a deterrent in advancing things further. If the calling comes, he well could go to a team seeking a quick fix at quarterback to win immediately (the 5-5 Chicago Bears perhaps come to mind as they’re set to revert to Mitchell Trubisky this Sunday night).

But there’s no shame in serving as a veteran mentor to close one’s career. It worked perfectly for guys like Mark Brunell, perhaps one of the most accurate comparisons Flacco will receive. A Super Bowl as a starter was denied to the left-handed Brunell, but he left a lasting mark on the passing antics of the Jacksonville Jaguars franchise, much like Flacco did back in Baltimore.

After his time in Jacksonville ended, Brunell would later end his career with the Jets and New Orleans Saints, winning a Super Bowl with the former. That followed a stop with the team then known as the Washington Redskins, where Brunell took over in the mid-2000s before overseeing a peaceful transition of power to Jason Campbell. He would later mentor Mark Sanchez during two further seasons in New York.

Even the accomplished veteran Drew Brees knows how valuable a lauded backup can be. Brees was already well known upon his New Orleans arrival, but mentioned that Brunell helped him reach his ultimate heights. The two would go on to win Super Bowl XLIV together, with Brees capturing the MVP honors Flacco would earn three years later.

“You’re talking about a great mentor in so many ways,” Brees told Bill Baker of The Times-Picayune prior to embarking on that championship trek. “He’s started so many games, started so many big games. He’s played a lot of football at a very high level. He’s been to conference championship games before, been to Pro Bowls; he’s done all those things. He’s played in a lot of interesting systems with a lot of great coaches. There’s just a wealth of knowledge that I can draw from.”

Uncertainty continues to loom over the Jets’ quarterback situation, a feeling that has lurked for far too long. Bringing back Flacco, ironically destined for backup duties, would add a tremendous deal of clarity for a franchise in desperate need of it.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: Sam Darnold to start on Sunday vs. Miami

New York Jets, Sam Darnold

After missing the last two New York Jets games with a shoulder injury, Sam Darnold will return for a divisional showdown with the Dolphins.

New York Jets head coach Adam Gase announced on Friday that Sam Darnold will return to the team’s starting lineup on Sunday, as the team heads home to MetLife Stadium to battle the Miami Dolphins (1 p.m. ET, CBS). Darnold will make his first appearance since November 1 at Kansas City, when he reaggravated a shoulder injury suffered a month prior against Denver.

“It’s been a good week for Sam,” Gase said, per Ralph Vacchiano of SNY. “It just looks a lot different from the last time he tried to make a run at going in a game.”

Though the Jets (0-10) are officially removed from the AFC playoff picture, these final six games could mean everything to Darnold, whose 2020 struggles have observers and analysts wondering if he is still the Jets’ future under center. Having missed four games this season, Darnold is currently on pace to set career-lows with 1,045 passing yards and three touchdown passes.

But, right from the get-go, things will be different for Darnold than they were at the start of the season. Sunday against Miami will mark the first time that Darnold is able to work with the trio of receivers the Jets envisioned would be at the top of the depth chart at the start of the year. Darnold will work with second-round rookie Denzel Mims for the third time this season, having previously united with him for 84 yards on six receptions in tilts against Kansas City and Buffalo. Veterans Breshad Perriman and Jamison Crowder will likewise be ready to go. The Jets’ offense has enjoyed a slight resurgence upon the trio’s collaboration, tallying 614 yards and 55 points over the last two games, both of which are season-highs over consecutive games. Joe Flacco took over for Darnold in the meantime, leading the Jets to respectable outputs in losses to New England and the Los Angeles Chargers.

In comments made earlier this week, Darnold praised the progress that the incoming receiving trio was able to make, but also expressed personal excitement to get back on the field and lead the Jets to a victory. New York is the lone winless team in the NFL as the season prepares to reach its final stages.

Obviously, those guys are doing a really good job and are making plays for us,” Darnold said, per notes from the Jets. Regardless of their situation and how well they are playing, I just want to be out there, regardless of that. I’m always going to be eager to want to go out there and play football.”

Darnold is 1-3 against the Dolphins in his career, the lone win coming last season in East Rutherford. He would tally 270 yards and two scores in the Jets’ 22-21 triumph.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

4 players the New York Jets should be thankful for

New York Jets, Mekhi Becton

Happy Thanksgiving, Jets fans! Unfortunately (maybe fortunately for our appetites) the Jets do not play today. At 0-10, the Jets are in the midst of one of their worst starts in franchise history.

Here are four New York Jets players to be thankful for:

Mekhi Becton LT

Mekhi Becton has been the biggest bright spot for the Jets this season. The eleventh overall pick has broken out immediately and asserted himself as one of the top tackles in the league.

Becton is already leading the Pro Bowl votes for offensive tackles. Becton has been an absolute force this season with a PFF grade of 73.9 and easy handling of premier pass rushers like Joey and Nick Bosa, Melvin Ingram, and Frank Clark, among others. Becton has emerged as a franchise left tackle throughout this season, and he provides a huge (literally) building block for the future. The Jets struck gold on Mt. Becton.

Braden Mann P

Braden Mann being selected was viewed by some as a curious pick in the 6th round when the Jets had such a need at receiver. However, the former college star has been a breakout piece. Now, purely off stats, Mann has a 44.8 average in terms of a yard per punt, which only ranks 19th in the league, but his sample size is the largest in the league at 50, which is an excessive amount for punters. With a floundering offense, Mann gets a lot of work, and the fact that as a rookie, he already is in the pro bowl consideration and being a consistent punter is very impressive. Special teams do matter, and the future for the Jets groups is all the brighter with Braden in it.

Denzel Mims WR

Denzel Mims was out for the first 6 games this season, despite that, he has broken out in a big way. Mims currently sits at 13 receptions for 217 yards, with an average of 16.7 yards per reception. He has averaged around 54.3 yards per game and been a consistent producer for the Jets with their QB issues. Mims has made some really spectacular catches, though, that have really opened eyes. His beautiful sideline catch against the Chargers Sunday was just another example of his phenomenal hands. What the Jets offense needs to do is maximize his catch radius and start throwing him more targets in the red zone. Despite missing time, Mims figures to still put up above-average numbers this season, and he figures to be a great piece for the future.

Quinnen Williams DT

Arguably the biggest breakout star of the Jets season is the former third overall pick, Quinnen Williams. Last season Williams had 28 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 4 TFLs, 6 QB Hits, and a FR. This season, in only 10 games, Williams has 34 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 7 TFLs, 7 QB Hits, and a FF. Williams has already exceeded his rookie campaign in only nine games that he has played in this season. Williams still has six games to continue to build onto his breakout season. Williams has displayed a real visible growth in his play as well. Last season he seemed a lot weaker and less developed. He still has a long way to go, but he has looked much quicker and more refined this season, and that is a huge thing to be thankful for in the trenches in the future.

New York Jets: Greg Van Roten isn’t buying into talks of a tank

New York Jets

As New York Jets fans clamor to clinch positioning for 2021’s top overall pick, Greg Van Roten made it clear that the team wants to win.

New York Jets fans often complain about “having” to watch their team play, but they can opt-out at any time. Greg Van Roten, however, has literally seen everything.

The offensive lineman, working his way through his first season as a Jet, has partaken in every single offensive snap the Jets have had over their first ten games. Van Roten has become a welcome staple of relative consistency on a unit that has seen a drastic amount of in-season turnover through injuries and transactions. He’s provided some of the few silver linings in New York football this season, such as the top guard ranking from Pro Football Focus during Week 5 action.

It hasn’t been enough, however, to keep the Jets away from pro football infamy. New York (0-10) is the only winless team left in the NFL and many believe they’re destined to join the 2008 Detroit Lions and the 2017 Cleveland Browns in the unholy brotherhood of carrying an 0-16 record. They’re also the only team mathematically eliminated from the NFL postseason after 11 weeks of play.

The light at the end of the tunnel in a winless scenario won’t be reached until spring, as imperfection would undoubtedly net the Jets the top overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. With five of the Jets’ final six opponents either holding or tied for a current playoff spot, many Jets fans are willing to bite the bullet and take the goose egg in the win column if it means hearing Roger Goodell inform the NFL world that the team will be on the clock first when the selection meetings commence.

Van Roten isn’t buying into that idea for a second.

“Why would you want to be in that group?” Van Roten asked rhetorically in his Wednesday post-practice availability, per Jack Bell of NewYorkJets.com. “The hunger is there, especially if you’re older. I don’t want to be a part of one season that is historically bad. We have six games left and we will try to win as many as we can.”

“It doesn’t matter to me,” he continued. “If we lose every game it’s possible that I’m not here next year. Nothing in this league is guaranteed. Not the next game, the next year, or the next play. In this league, you can’t concern yourself with the long term.”

The 30-year-old signed a three-year, $10.5 million contract after spending the prior three seasons with the Carolina Panthers, but the Jets can save over $3 million in cap space if they release him prior to June 1 after this season.

Van Roten isn’t the first Jet to speak out against Jets fans’ apparent wishes of 0-16. Veteran rusher and fellow first-year Jet Frank Gore issued similar sentiments after the Jets’ latest loss, a 34-28 defeat at the hands of the Los Angeles Chargers last weekend. The blocker referenced Gore’s statements and said that they are by no means the only ones in the locker room to believe it.

Furthermore, Van Roten doesn’t want the Jets to stop at one win. If and when that victory comes, he believes the Jets can conjure up more. 

“When we win, it will be a relief for sure,” he said, per Bell. “You never expect to lose this many in a row in this league. When we finally win, we want to get another and another.”

The Jets’ quest for a win continues on Sunday, as the Jets battle the Miami Dolphins (1 p.m. ET, CBS). 

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: Sam Darnold returns to practice at Florham Park

After Wednesday’s practice, Sam Darnold appears to be inching toward partaking in the New York Jets’ home tilt against Miami.

Sam Darnold returned to New York Jets practice on Wednesday as the team continues to prepare for their Sunday afternoon matchup against the Miami Dolphins (1 p.m. ET, CBS). According to ESPN’s Rich Cimini, Darnold took all of the first-team reps under center, relegating Joe Flacco to scout-team duties.

Prior to practice, head coach Adam Gase said that Darnold was a “day-to-day” case, per notes provided by the Jets. Gase added that the plan going into practice would allow Darnold to “eliminate any kind of unnecessary throwing”.

“We’re going in there thinking that he’s going to be able to do quite a bit,” Gase said. “Sometimes during these special teams periods and things like that, a lot of throws are made in those periods. We’ll really limit those. Most of his throws will come either in individual or team periods.”

Darnold is attempting to come back from a shoulder injury originally sustained in an October 1 loss to Denver. He returned two weeks later for a divisional tilt against Buffalo but aggravated the ailment in the next game in Kansas City. Joe Flacco has assumed quarterback duties in the meantime and has overseen the Jets’ best offensive outputs of the year, including a season-best 322 yard in their Week 9 loss to New England leading into their open date. The offensive resurgence has coincided with the first instances of Denzel Mims, Breshad Perriman, and Jamison Crowder collaboratively taking the field. That trio topped the Jets’ receiving depth chart at the beginning of the year, but injuries prevented them from playing together in the early going.

Flacco has tallied 864 yards, six touchdowns, and an 80.5 passer rating over five games in subbing for Darnold. He confirmed that he took exclusively scout-team snaps on Wednesday and praised Darnold’s progress.

“He was running around out there, throwing the ball well, his arm was live, I mean that’s really most of what you can gather out there today,” Flacco said, per the Jets. “But you know, I thought his arm looked, the ball looked like it was spinning and coming at guys, so I thought he looked really good.”

Darnold spoke earlier this week and echoed Gase’s ideas of viewing things from a day-by-day lens. He also expressed anticipation in working with the revamped receiving corps if and when he returns. The quarterback has had minimal work with Mims, for example, after the first was chosen out of Baylor in the second round of April’s draft.

“Those guys are doing a really good job and are making plays for us,” Darnold said of the trio, per the Jets. “Regardless of their situation and how well they are playing, I just want to be out there, regardless of that. I’m always going to be eager to want to go out there and play football.”

Only adding to the idea of Darnold starting on Sunday is the fact that the Jets (0-10) released quarterback Mike White earlier this week and readded him to their practice squad. The former Dallas Cowboys draft pick served as Flacco’s backup over the past two games.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Former Giants/Jets strength coach Markus Paul passes away at 54

NFL, Football

Paul had nearly three decades of NFL experience under his belt, including 14 years in the metropolitan football realm.

Markus Paul, an NFL strength and conditioning coach with ties to the New York area passed away on Wednesday at the age of 54. The cause of death has not been disclosed. Paul was serving as the strength and conditioning coach of the Dallas Cowboys at the time of his death. Dallas canceled practice on Wednesday after Paul was rushed to the hospital after experiencing a medical emergency. The team will observe a moment of silence prior to their Thursday afternoon game against Washington.

Paul was a two-time All-American safety at Syracuse before being chosen in the fourth round of the 1989 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears. After five years as a player with Chicago and Tampa Bay, Paul joined the New Orleans Saints as an assistant strength and conditioning coach, serving in that role for two years before joining the New England Patriots in the same capacity for five. Paul returned to New York as the director of physical development of the Jets before becoming their head strength and conditioning coach. He would then go on to spend 12 years as an assistant coach with the Giants, winning two Super Bowls with the team. Paul partook in five Super Bowl-winning efforts during his NFL service, including the last two with the Giants (2008, 2012). Paul had joined the Cowboys in the same role last season and was promoted back to the head role upon the arrival of Mike McCarthy.

Several of Paul’s former players paid tribute to their coach on social media upon learning of his passing.

Both the Giants and Jets penned statements commemorating his time with their respective organizations.

“All of us with the Giants, the Mara and Tisch families, and the entire organization, extend our deepest condolences on the passing of Markus Paul,” the Giants said. “Markus was a beloved member of our organization for several years. Our prayers of comfort and peace are with his family, the Dallas Cowboys, and his many friends across the NFL and beyond. He will be greatly missed.”

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the loved ones of Markus Paul, who spent two years with us in 2005-06,” the Jets added in their statement. “He was a kind man who made a lasting impact on those fortunate to have crossed his path.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags