New York Jets: The next 14 games could well decide Sam Darnold’s future

After a dismal start to the 2020 season, Sam Darnold and the New York Jets have 14 opportunities to get this era back on track.

Two weeks into the 2020 season, the New York Jets are more or less removed from playoff contention.

It’s certainly foolhardy to eliminate a team from the NFL postseason in September, especially when playoff real estate increased by a spot in each conference. But the Jets (0-2) have done nothing to suggest they belong among the league’s contenders. The latest disaster, a 31-13 loss at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, didn’t even have the added luxury of a somewhat respectable final score like the 27-17 defeat in Buffalo provided on opening weekend.

“We haven’t shown progress,” linebacker Jordan Jenkins said, per Brian Costello of the New York Post. “It’s been rinse and repeat for the last two games. It’s either we’re going to keep getting embarrassed or we’re going to respond.”

Perhaps most disappointing in the Jets’ process has been the lack of progress on offense. Even with the expanded playoff capital, it was a tall task to put the Jets in the preseason brackets. Thus, it felt like a decent year for Sam Darnold to develop into the franchise quarterback and consistent contributor the Jets envisioned when they chose him third overall in 2018.

The offensive arsenal went through a considerable downgrade over the offseason, letting Robby Anderson walk and cutting the injured Quincy Enunwa loose. Upon their departures, Darnold was left with no receivers from his rookie season depth chart. Medium-risk, high-reward receiver options were brought in via Breshad Perriman (granted a one-year deal with $6 million in guaranteed after a strong December in Tampa Bay) and second-round pick Denzel Mims.

So while question marks lined up in his receiver spots, assurances of a revamped offensive line (headlined by first-round choice Mekhi Becton) gave Darnold some reassurance. Despite little help around him, particularly on the offensive line, Darnold still managed to produce occasional flashes of brilliance. The end of his rookie season saw him earn a come-from-behind win in Buffalo and go blow-for-blow with Deshaun Watson and Aaron Rodgers. His first game back from illness was a 338-yard, two-touchdown masterpiece in a win over Dallas last season.

2020 was on pace to be full of games like that. It served as a chance for Darnold to become a leader. It was set to be a chance to develop chemistry with new teammates that earn long-term rights in a trying campaign. It was a year where the Jets could officially become Darnold’s team, especially with Jamal Adams napalming his New York bridges on his way to Seattle.

But, so far, 2020 has only been a year of regression.

For as much as head coach Adam Gase has felt the temperature rise on his proverbial seat, a good portion of the Jets’ fanbase must learn that it’s indeed possible to hold both he and Darnold accountable for their respective flaws. In year three, Darnold is simply making plays that a third-year franchise quarterback can’t be making.

An interception against Buffalo in Week 1 saw him throw across his body. He ran out of bounds for a loss to escape the Bills pass rush. Things were a little better against the 49ers…particularly on Darnold rollouts…but that didn’t change the final result.

“No one’s yelling at each other. We understand we have to stay together,” Darnold said after the loss, per team writer Randy Lange. “It’s only our second game of the season. Obviously we didn’t envision these two games going like this. But we’ve just got to keep our heads down (and) go to work.”

Darnold’s rough pair of 2020 outings have not only had premature mock drafts pencil the Jets in at the top of the order but also attached Clemson star quarterback and consensus top choice Trevor Lawrence’s name to the hypothetical selection. Opportunities await Darnold in the coming weeks to change the minds of fans, analysts, and New York decision-makers.

Casting Darnold’s struggles in a brighter light is the fact his rookie contract is set to expire after next season. For perhaps the first time, there could doubt lingers over whether Darnold will be granted a long-term deal. Back-to-back tough showings is slowly turning a year of risks and consequence-free football into a make-or-break campaign…a theme that’s becoming all too prevalent under Gase. Ryan Tannehill escaped the nearly annual viewings under the microscope to become a solid contributor in Tennessee. If the Jets aren’t careful, Darnold could undergo a similar NFL journey.

At the same time, the Jets have to what they can to help Darnold, a quarterback who has managed to produce some memorable moments in New York green despite the ineffectiveness around him. So far, the would-be solutions of Perriman and Mims have yielded only injuries. Chris Herndon has yet to recapture the form of his rookie season. The top solution among the amatuer general managers amongst the Jets’ fanbase has been to can the current coaching staff.

But is that fair to do to Darnold? Is a third round of new coaching in what would be his fourth season something he wants?

Even Sunday’s disaster featured ever-so-brief glimpses of Darnold brilliance, primarily a would-be sack that he turned into a touchdown pass. But the sheer number of mistakes and miscalculations that have been made in his brief time in New York would take its toll on anyone. It’s fair enough to criticize Darnold’s role in the Jets’ fall, but it’s time to analyze who shoulders more of the blame. If it’s Darnold, especially with the fifth-year option conversation looming, then it’s time for he and the offense to hunker down and overcome the numerous obstacles facing them. If it’s on Gase and the coaching staff, then they have to do something, anything, to justify team CEO Christopher Johnson’s label of “brilliant”. Gase and company may have to do it sooner rather than later; coaches have been shown to be far more expendable than franchise quarterbacks.

Even at a mere 0-2, the Jets are likely too far gone from the AFC playoff picture. But these next 14 games may mean everything the team’s offensive outlook.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets Game Preview Week 2: San Francisco 49ers

New York Jets, Jimmy G

The September road gets no easier for the New York Jets, who welcome in the defending NFC champions on Sunday afternoon.

What: San Francisco 49ers at New York Jets
Where: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ
When: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
Watch: Fox

Whoever formed the 2020 NFL schedule was probably not a New York Jets fan.

A week after opening their season with a tilt against an up-and-coming divisional foe, the Jets open their 2020 MetLife Stadium slate against the defending NFC champion San Francisco 49ers on Sunday afternoon (1 p.m. ET, Fox). Each is looking to avenge opening week losses against familiar competition.

The Jets (0-1) experienced the worst kind of deja vu last weekend, opening their season with a loss to the Buffalo Bills for the second straight year. In their 27-17 defeat, the Jets allowed 404 yards of offense, 369 coming from the arms and legs of Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen. It allowed the Bills to build a 21-0 lead before the Jets earned second half touchdowns from Jamison Crowder and Josh Adams. Defensively, safety Marcus Maye impressed on the statsheet with a game-best 10 tackles and two sacks while also forcing an Allen fumble.

“It was about as bad of a start offensively as we could have had,” head coach Adam Gase said of the loss, per transcripts from the Jets. “We didn’t do anything when the defense did a good job getting a turnover. Complimentary football was non-existent throughout most of the game. We just really did not play well. The disappointing aspect is just watching the guys work all week and the excitement level coming into this game. We have a lot to work on and a lot of things to get fixed.”

San Francisco’s follow-up to their Super Bowl LIV appearance didn’t go as intended, as they fell 24-20 to the Arizona Cardinals at Levi’s Stadium. Raheem Mostert tallied 151 total yards of offense and a receiving touchdown in defeat.

The Series

This will be the 14th all-time meeting between the Jets and 49ers, with the latter leading the all-time series 10-3. With the scheduling formula, the teams meet only once every four years. The Jets took home the last meeting in overtime by a 23-17 final in 2016. It was a career day for Bilal Powell, who had a career-best 145 yards and the game-winning score in the extra period. San Francisco dominated the most recent meeting at MetLife Stadium, a 34-0 shellacking in 2012.

History Happens: 1983

Historically, the Jets and 49ers have been at the opposite end of the football success spectrum. The Jets had their share of success in the 1980s, but it was nothing compared to San Francisco’s quartet of Super Bowls. New York, however, was on the right side of things in a 1983 matchup at Candlestick Park. In a victorious 27-13 final, Jerry Holmes stifled the potential tying drive by taking a Joe Montana interception back 43 yards for the sealing score. Richard Todd threw for 201 yards and a score, while Scott Dierking added a rushing touchdown.

They Said It

“He has a short memory no matter what goes on good or bad. He’s always positive no matter what the situation is. On both sides of the ball, we look up to him. We look for him to get everybody going on that side. He’s the leader on that side of the ball and on this team. We will all rally behind him and I’m sure the offense will too. He always finds a way to bounce back,” Maye said. “I don’t expect him to come out with any doubt at all. He’s a great competitor and he knows how to get those guys going. I’m excited to see them come out fast, come out hot this week and he’ll be alright.”Jets safety Marcus Maye on Sam Darnold, per Eric Allen

“Obviously, hindsight is 20-20 but Nick at number two is a no-brainer. And Quinnen was a no brainer. At that point, it was just kind of what you prefer as a team, as a coaching staff, and as an organization. Obviously, I don’t think you could have gone wrong with either player. I do feel Nick has turned into one of the best at his position. Quinnen has that same ability. So we expect him to be disruptive on Sunday and we expect to try to contain him. Both of those guys are saturated with talent and I don’t think you could have went wrong either way.”-49ers tackle Trent Williams comparing Quinnen Williams and Nick Bosa, per Chris Biderman

Matchup To Watch

T Mekhi Becton vs. DE Nick Bosa

Becton has been thrown into the NFL fire in his professional debut. He dealt with the likes of Jerry Hughes last week that powered San Francisco into the most recent Big Game. Bosa exploded onto the NFL scene in his rookie year and, as evidenced by Williams’ comments, he might have a little extra something to prove as the 49ers battle Quinnen Williams, who went one pick later in the 2019 draft at third overall.

The Jets’ blocking was one of the rare consistent silver linings of Sunday’s opener. Becton’s performance was particularly inspiring, turning in a performance good enough for Pro Football Focus’ top-rated offensive rookie in Week 1 games. The second presents on opportunity or reckoning for the offensive line. If they truly want to show the NFL that their offensive line has taken a step in the right direction…and perhaps provide a stronger sense of security for Sam Darnold…pacifying the 49ers’ relentless rush would be an inspiring step in the right direction on both a local and national level.

The Jets Will Win If…

Sam Darnold responds to perhaps the biggest challenge his NFL career has faced yet.

A good portion of the Jets’ fanbase has to realize that criticism can be levied toward Adam Gase while also holding Darnold accountable. Opening weekend was not a strong showing for Darnold, who put himself in situations and issues that third-year franchise quarterbacks frankly shouldn’t be facing in their third year at the helm. In today’s world of instant gratification and response through hot football takes, that can be deadly for a quarterback’s social status in this league. Some mock drafts have gone as far as to pencil Trevor Lawrence into the Jets’ 2021 draft slot. A good game would do a lot to stifle those concerns.

The window of opportunity opens even wider upon the injury-induced absence of starting cornerback Jason Verrett. Darnold has risen to the occasion before when the odds are stacked against him…remember his return from illness against the Cowboys last season? He might need another one to create some peace of mind.

The 49ers Will Win If…

They take care of business. Until further notice, the Jets are prime trap game fodder, that possibility only increasing with each opponent’s prestige.

San Francisco is going to a popular pick in knockout pools over the next two weeks, as they return to the metropolitan area next Sunday to take on the Giants. The trap game case is only increased with their constant travel to the other side of the country. But the 49ers can not get caught looking ahead. The Week 1 scores, ones that left San Francisco as the only fruitless squad in their group, proved that the NFC West is going to be one of the most, if not the most, division in football season. Arizona’s road win in Santa Clara shows they may be ahead of schedule. The already dangerous Seahawks looked to be on another level with Jamal Adams in tow. In Los Angeles, the Rams christened both SoFi Stadium and their redemption tour with a nationally televised win over Dallas. Simply put, the 49ers can’t afford to go 0-2. Desperation only rises with both Verrett and star tight end George Kittle out due to injury.

The Super Bowl runner-up has missed the ensuing postseason in three of the past six seasons. San Francisco must take care of business to avoid that same fate.

Prediction

Even with the time zones on their side, it was already enough of a tall task to ask the Jets to take down the defending Super Bowl finalists. The fact they’ll be missing several major contributors (Jamison Crowder, Le’Veon Bell, Denzel Mims) and the idea that San Francisco will still be stewing from the misstep against Arizona only makes the task even more daunting. Thus, it’s probably not wise to expect any miracles on the New York end.

Moral victories will be the name of the game for the Jets in the foreseeable future. If they play well against an elite team, they can hang their heads high. Victories on the scoreboard, simply put, may still be at a premium.

49ers 27, Jets 14

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Four plays that shaped the New York Jets’ Week 1 fate

ESM looks back on the New York Jets’ Week 1 defeat, finding a play from each quarter that’s shaping their past, present, and future.

When taking a look at exactly where it went wrong for the New York Jets on Sunday afternoon, one well could argue that things went awry from the opening kickoff.

The Jets (0-1) opened their 2020 campaign with a 27-17 defeat at the hands of the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. Week 1’s final score shielded just how ugly the game, particularly the first 30 minutes, truly was, as a 21-point onslaught buried the Jets before they could truly get going. Fleeting positives were able to emerge in the second half, but the former segment’s shortcomings cast a considerable pall over any progress the Jets were trying to make or showcase in their season opener.

“There is so much for us to clean up,” head coach Adam Gase said in defeat. “It was a rough game. We didn’t play well enough. We have to get a lot of things fixed in a short period of time.”

ESM looks back on opening weekend, looking back on a big play from each quarter, one that will affect the team’s past, present, and future…

1st Quarter: Pierre Desir’s penalty 

Maybe it’s just the “2020” effect, but Sunday’s first quarter already feels like an eternity ago. The early stages of the frame actually granted brief hope to the Jets in the form of Marcus Maye forcing the ball from a running Josh Allen, putting the ball right into the hands of Bradley McDougald. Maye and the rest of the unit, however, were barely granted a two-minute break to compose themselves. An offensive three-and-out lasted just two minutes, forcing the defense to return to service almost immediately.

Buffalo took advantage of the Jets’ gassed defense, working their way to New York’s five-yard-line. The potential of holding Buffalo to a field goal seemed realistic and rookie kicker Tyler Bass was anything but fully reliable (2-of-4, though one miss appeared to be ruled incorrectly). If the Jets emerged from the ordeal with a 3-0 deficit, good vibes could’ve emerged from a dangerous quarter.

Alas, a Desir penalty, a defensive holding infraction to be precise, gave Buffalo a fresh set of downs as Allen’s would-be touchdown pass to John Brown fell incomplete. Allen and the Bills capitalized immediately in the form of his first of three touchdowns on the afternoon, this one being a two-yard rush. It began a streak of three consecutive touchdown drives and buried the Jets before they even knew what hit them. Desir had a tough debut in cover Brown and touted Buffalo newcomer Stefon Diggs. He was eventually benched for Nate Hairston in the second half.

Penalties continue to be an issue in the Gase era. The Jets were 10th in the final penalty rankings last season (115) and the nine yellows they drew on Sunday were tied for the most with Tampa Bay and Arizona.

2nd Quarter: Sam Darnold’s Interception

It’s possible to hold both Gase and Darnold accountable when analyzing Sunday’s disastrous results. One particularly garish play was something that simply should come from a third-year franchise quarterback. Darnold’s first interception of 2020 was an across-the-body toss that more or less served as the premature dagger for the Jets’ Sunday chances.

The defense managed to hold Buffalo scoreless on the drive that came from the Matt Milano interception, taking advantage of another Allen fumble. But still wasn’t an encouraging sing the Jets wanted to see from their franchise savior.

“The interception was just a bad play to try to fit a ball in there that I shouldn’t have,” Darnold said in his postgame comments. “It’s a bad play, it’s inexcusable, there are no excuses for it. I’ve just got to be better.”

Criticism against Gase is widespread these days…early Vegas odds have him ranked as the coach most likely to be fired midseason…but one can rip on his situations and playcalling while also acknowledging that Darnold has more to learn. The offensive line actually performed rather well in Sunday’s showing, but Darnold worked his way into coverage sacks that stalled drives. He’s got a lot to work on with a relentless rush from San Francisco visiting East Rutherford on Sunday.

3rd Quarter: Marcus Maye Forces a Field Goal

A rare Sunday silver lining of consistency was Maye. Thrust into the defensive spotlight after Jamal Adams napalmed his New York bridges, the safety got his contract year off to a good start with the tune of a game-high 10 tackles to go along with the forced fumble and a pair of sacks and pass breakups each.

Each of Maye’s sacks came on third downs in the third quarter, the first capping off a three-and-out on Buffalo’s opening trek. The latter, a three-yard loss at the cusp of the red zone, kept the Jets’ hopes temporarily alive. His takedown led to an unsuccessful 38-yard try from the rookie Bass, three plays before Darnold united with Jamison Crowder for the Jets’ most electrifying play (a 69-yard scoring hookup and the team’s first 2020 touchdown).

Maye admitted that the Jets’ biggest Sunday sin was failing to contain Allen, who made up for his turnovers with 369 yards of offense, a career-best.

“(We failed at) containing the quarterback,” Maye explained. “(Pass interference penalties) in the first half hurt us and letting (Allen) extend plays. Other than that, in the second half we got off the field like we needed to once we settled in. It wasn’t really anything that they necessarily did, it was all us I feel like.”

To Maye’s point, the Jets allowed only two field goals in the second half and allowed less than 200 yards. Maye knows that a better start against San Francisco and beyond could work wonders.

“You have to come out hot. You have to come out fast. You can’t wait until things get tough to get going. From the first play you have to come out.” Maye remarked. “We just have to execute and be disciplined in our rush lanes. When the ball is in the air, just be composed and be smart.”

4th Quarter: Josh Adams Gets a Workout

Le’Veon Bell missed a majority of the second half with a hamstring injury, one that will keep him off the field for the foreseeable future. It opens up a new opportunity for Adams, who made a name for himself as an undrafted rookie, discovered by Joe Douglas in Philadelphia. Adams finished in the top ten in rookie rushing with 511 yards and joined the Jets’ practice squad last season. He was in the same spot at the start of September but was promoted when it was clear La’Mical Perine wouldn’t be ready for Week 1.

Adams took full advantage of spelling Frank Gore in the dying stages of Sunday’s loss, earning 22 of the Jets’ final 65 yards on their last drive. The last two allowed him to score his first NFL touchdown since December 2018.

The Notre Dame alum was placed on the practice squad earlier this week, but with Bell on short-term injured reserve and extended moves on and off the squad allowed in this trying season, it stands to reason that Adams will be called upon to fill the void while Bell heals. If Sunday’s final drive is any indication, he can certainly help stem the New York bleeding.

The Jets return to action on Sunday afternoon against the San Francisco 49ers (1 p.m. ET, Fox)

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Good News/Bad News from the New York Jets’ Week 1 loss to Buffalo

Positives were hard to come by as the New York Jets offense continued to look stagnant in their 2020 opener.

It was deja vu all over again in the worst possible way for the New York Jets. For the second straight season, the team was on the wrong end of an opening week decision to the Buffalo Bills. This one didn’t even require a blown lead, as Buffalo scored 21 unanswered points to open things up, all but the extra points coming from the arms or legs of Buffalo quarter Josh Allen. The Bills withstood limited resistance to prevail in a 27-17 final at Bills Stadium in Orchard Park.

The Jets (0-1) mounted a mini-rally in the latter stages, energized by missed field goals on the Buffalo end. Their main catalyst was a 69-yard scoring hookup between Jamison Crowder and Sam Darnold that narrowed things to 21-10 in the third quarter. However, a Chris Herndon fumble more or less any hopes of a revival in Central New York.

GOOD NEWS 

If anything, the Jets’ special teams appeared to be in somewhat decent shape. Forced into action six different times, rookie Braden Mann did what he could to make Buffalo’s job on offense a bit tougher, averaging 46.3 yards per boot, with a long of 58 in his NFL debut. Sam Ficken also made his lone field goal attempt of the afternoon, successfully converting a 31-yard triple toward the end of the first half. With the offense continuing to struggle, the kickers will be vital, whether it’s salvaging a drive that entered enemy territory or making the opposing offense work a little harder. They can’t do anything about their comrades not capitalizing on those opportunities.

In the midst of a brutal defensive performance (Allen became the first Bills quarterback to throw for 300 yards since Tyrod Taylor in December 2016), Marcus Maye started to capitalize on the opportunity Jamal Adams’ departure left open for him. It was his turn to invade the backfield this week, earning two sacks in defeat. Maye also got two additional hits on Allen and led all defenders with 10 tackles and two pass defenses.

BAD NEWS

Everything else. The 27-17 final was nowhere near as indicative of just how far the Jets have to go to catch up to the favorites in Buffalo and New England.

Le’Veon Bell missed a majority of the second half with a hamstring injury, and his time on the field wasn’t filled with much hope (6 carries, 14 yards). Darnold was somewhat better protected, sacked “only” three times, but the run game failed to generate further hype, averaging only 3.4 yards per carry.

Turnovers continued to be an issue for the Jets. It’s obvious that not everything is Darnold’s fault, as the third-year man is desperate for assistance, but desperation toss in the latter stages of the first half killed momentum the Jets were trying to create. Herndon’s fumble, coming in his first full game since the end of the 2018 season, more or less sealed the deal in favor the Bills.

Penalties also were the negative name of the game for the Jets. Roughing the passer calls were far too common, as the Jets were a bit overzealous in trying to stop Allen (who nonetheless had 60 additional yards on the ground). Overly conservative coaching decisions and playcalling also distracted from the cause, with defensive lapses leading to Buffalo’s triumph.

WHAT’S NEXT: The Jets return to action at MetLife Stadium next week, taking on the defending NFC finalist San Francisco 49ers (1 p.m. ET, Fox).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets Position Group Grades: Wide Receivers

Breshad Perrimen, New York Jets

As the season looms, I decided to take a deep dive into each New York Jets position group within the organization and grade each group. Today’s group is one I had to do before I had a meal in my stomach because of the extreme lack of depth this group has. For a team that values putting pieces behind its franchise quarterback, this group is fairly pathetic. Nonetheless, I’m going to evaluate each target and grade the group as a whole.

WR 1: Breshard Perriman

Perriman joined the team on a prove-it deal after finishing the season in Tampa on a really strong note. Perriman was a blue-chip prospect that has struggled to truly make an indent on the league. At 26, you could firmly make the case that he’s just on the cusp of his prime. After struggling in Baltimore and Cleveland, he had a really impressive end to the season in 2019 and now looks to build on that with the Jets.

Perriman put up 36 catches for 645 yards and 6 TDs but only played 56 percent of snaps. Perriman now has to adapt to a new offense on a shortened practice schedule because of COVID. To make matters worse, he’s had injury issues throughout camp, and that’s not a good sign. I truly think Perriman would be a solid second option, but his potential as a lead target is worrisome to me because he isn’t as proven as you would hope for. Then, add in the severity and longevity of his injury issues, and I don’t have the highest of hopes for Perriman.

WR 2: Chris Hogan

Hogan was a late roster addition due to the depletion of the initial receiver core. The former Super Bowl champion was a favorite option for Tom Brady in his years in New England. His crisp route running style and high football IQ made him a valuable commodity when he hit the free-agent market in 2019. After finding a home in Carolina, he was sidelined for the year with a knee injury. Now, Hogan is back and has reportedly picked up the offense quickly. The journeymen receiver may end up being the number one option until Perriman and Mims are at a hundred percent. Hogan will inherit a lot of pressure and will be forced to form an in-game connection with Sam Darnold quickly. I do think Hogan is a good player, but I’m worried about the change of scenery this offseason and the quickly acclimation and how he’ll handle that.

WR 3: Jamison Crowder

My favorite receiver on the roster and overall the most talented one, Crowder, is likely facing his biggest season yet. The vet took very little time finding a role within the Jets as the premier slot option. Now, as he enters his second year in the green and white, more teams are aware of his connection with Darnold. If teams give Crowder more attention, that could open up opportunities over the middle for guys like Herndon and even opportunities over the top for Perriman. As long as Crowder can continue to stay healthy, he is the most talented receiver on the roster and the most important to Darnold’s development.

WR 4: Denzel Mims

Mims is the highly anticipated rookie. Mims, though has missed significant time in camp. Now, in terms of true quantity, it was not that significant. In terms of lack of time to get a grasp on the playbook, it is truly impactful in a season like this. With minimal time to adapt to the roster and the lack of in-game reps, how quick Mims picks up the offense fully is something to watch. Still, Mims is a really talented receiver. Mims is a deep threat and a physical receiver. He fights for 50/50 balls and has an insane catch radius. Mims is everything Darnold needs as a long term option. It’s just a matter of how quickly Mims can get acclimated to the offense and proper usage by Sam Darnold.

The Rest

The rest of the receiver room shows a complete lack of depth. Braxton Berrios is a special teams stud and solid burner as a backup. Aside from him, there isn’t much here, though. Donte Moncrief is likely going to have to hurry to pick up the offense before getting any real reps. Vyncnt Smith will be back quicker than expected, but he is still going to miss a few games early. When he does get back to 100%, he will likely play a big factor. Jeff Smith and some of the other practice squad pieces could play a role, but the fact I’m reaching for names that deep should say something. The receiving group lacks serious depth, and with the injury history of all four lead receivers, that is not encouraging. The Jets need to watch the trade market and waiver wire actively because upgrades are needed desperately.

Grade: C-

If all of the Jets receivers stay healthy, this group could be a solid one. That also factors in proper usage by Adam Gase and consistency with Darnold. All of that feels like too much uncertainty to give this group a high grade. The potential is there, and I’m hoping for the best. I just have a lack of faith in Gase to use these guys properly and for all of them to stay healthy.

The New York Jets can take advantage of an unusual trap game

It could be a trying season for the New York Jets. But Sunday’s opener in Buffalo presents a most intriguing opportunity.

The return of NFL football will no doubt bring with it the resurrection of football cliches, decorating socially distanced Sunday watch parties like tinsel and swags at Christmas. Among the emerging tropes will be fans channeling their inner Admiral Akbar and warning of a trap.

It seems unusual to push a Week 1 contest into the trap game zone, but remember, it’s 2020…nothing’s unusual at this point.

But that’s the case for the Buffalo Bills and their Sunday opener against the New York Jets (1 p.m. ET, CBS). Buffalo is perhaps the proverbial “preseason champion”, the darlings of every preview magazine and prognosticator headed into 2020. The rare silver lining of a playoff drought that nearly became old enough to legally drink is that you’re free from the burden of expectations.

Over the past three seasons, the Bills took advantage. They’ve gone 25-23 (good for seventh-best in the AFC) and earned two playoff appearances to end a 17-year playoff absence. They’re still seeking their first postseason triumph since the 1995 wild card round, but it’s enough to hype fans and analysts alike about the new decade.

It starts with hyped talent on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Josh Allen has been shown to take over games with both his arms and feet. Cornerback Tre’Davious White is becoming the league’s new shutdown defender, his efforts rewarded with a $70 million contract extension this summer. They also welcome back developing stars Devin Singletary and Tremaine Edmunds, and the potential was enough to convince former NFC playoff hero Stefon Diggs to join the fold. The forward momentum has convinced many that the Bills are in the best position to usurp the AFC East throne from the New England Patriots. Topped with a fanbase that perhaps knows how to have fun better than anyone in the NFL, and the Bills are one of the most-talked-about teams in football.

It’s hype the Bills are trying to counter by focusing purely on themselves.

“I think the biggest thing is we just have to as a team focus on ourselves,” Edmunds said in a report from Mary Margaret Johnson of RochesterFirst.com. “That’s the biggest part. In this league, you put emphasis on the other team, but the majority of it just comes down to what you do as a team, how well you use your fundamentals. That’s the thing that we’ve been keying down on.”

“We literally live in the underdog mindset,” offensive lineman Dion Dawkins added in statements from Vic Carucci of Buffalo News. “That’s where we live, that’s where we breathe, that’s where we eat. We appreciate all of the love, but we worry about ourselves. People will talk good and people will talk bad, but as long as we just focus on the 2020 Buffalo Bills, the rest will be history.”

The Jets may be on the opposite end of the spectrum. A perpetual rebuild, one that hasn’t even produced a mere winning season since 2015, continues. There’s some legitimate hope in the form of two backfield saviors (Sam Darnold and Le’Veon Bell) and a revamped offensive line, but the potential for major growing pains looms on the horizon. But the 2020 season will require a few test runs to build chemistry, a process that was only lengthened by the elimination of preseason games. Finishing 8-8 would probably be the best-case scenario for this fledgling unit.

But this continuing procedure of rebuilding could be big if they’re able to top the Bills on Sunday.

Both the Jets and Bills are ensnared in interesting points on their respective franchise timelines. Tom Brady’s Florida project has offered a glimmer of hope to the team he and his New England buddies routinely bullied en route to a division monopoly.

Buffalo appears to be the team best in position to take advantage, but we’ve seen preseason darlings fall in ridiculous fashion far too many times in the past for Central New Yorkers to book Super Bowl tickets. This time last season, everyone was ogling the Cleveland Browns after the arrival of Odell Beckham Jr. Typical Cleveland antics ensued to the tune of a 6-10 record. We’ve heard enough about the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles, whose “dream team” aspirations became 8-8 anonymity.

The case for division supremacy is a little bit more personal from a Bills standpoint. It’s been a geographical fact that they’re the only team that plays its games in the state of New York, but when they opened last season with over both the Jets and New York Giants…each at MetLife Stadium…the Bills took full advantage of reminding the public of the “NY” attacked to their address.

Simply put, the Bills are riding high and mighty and the Jets need to stifle this before it truly gets out of hand. Planting even the tiniest seed of doubt would be a great way to do it.

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The annual pair between the Jets and Bills has rarely, if ever, been must-see television. It’s certainly not among the priority games on Sunday, even among the 1 p.m. ET batch. But the potential to create one of the most intense rivalries in recent NFL memory is there. The common battlegrounds of the heart of New York State and the attempt to claim New England’s crown are common goals that will be worth watching. Add the battle of 2018 draftees Allen and Darnold (who spent this offseason working out together in California), and you have the perfect recipe for a spicy rivalry that can extend into the later parts of the decade.

History dictates the Jets owe the Bills a bit of a favor. The Buffalo hype train began to board when they made up a two-touchdown deficit at MetLife Stadium against the Jets. One year prior, Matt Barkley’s career day (which included a touchdown toss to Dawkins) led to a 41-10 shellacking in East Rutherford. It was, in fact, the Bills that put the Jets on this tailspin when they took the final game of the 2015 season, one that wiped out a green playoff spot and rendered a 10-win season meaningless.

New York’s green team, underdogs they may be, has to take advantage of this unique situation.

The Jets know that a good number of prognosticators are counting them out of the season already. A good start would make a trying process go by a little sooner. While many players are in make-or-break situations on an individual level, the New York Jets brand has little to lose.

Week 1, frankly, could be their Super Bowl.

Hyperbolic as a Big Game comparison may be, the opener does hold special meaning for a Jets squad eager to prove people wrong. This season presents 16 opportunities to give the rest of the league a preview of what’s to come. It really doesn’t matter who that preview comes against. Opportunities against the most Super Bowl participants, the aforementioned Patriots, and Jamal Adams’ new crew in Seattle await. But if it came against the high-rolling Bills, the taste of NFL success might be a little sweeter.

“We’ve got a bunch of great, hard-working men in that locker room,” Jets rusher and former Bill Frank Gore told Brian Costello of the New York Post. “This camp, every day we went out and worked hard. Nobody complained. We all want to play for each other. We’re going to do whatever it takes to win.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets Position Group Grades: Offensive Line

New York Jets, Mekhi Becton

As the season looms, I decided to take a deep dive into each position group within the organization and grade each group. This offseason, New York Jets GM Joe Douglas devoted both financial resources and draft capital towards improving one of the worst offensive lines in the league. Now, the Jets enter 2020 with a diverse group of both young talent, productive starters, and vets looking to establish themselves. With a lot of high potential guys, stable vets, and some key talent, let’s take a closer look at how this line grades out.

LT: Mekhi Becton

The mountain of a man joined the Jets as the 11th pick in this year’s draft. As part of the core group of top linemen, Becton is already considered to be a potential star. His unique combination of size and athleticism makes him a weapon in the run game. Not only that, but he’s a solid pass blocker. His lack of advancement in terms of detecting pass rush moves is worrisome, but it remains to be seen how ready he is to handle the top pass rushers in the game.

LG: Alex Lewis

Lewis was an aggressive and vocal leader in that offensive line room last year. Now he’s carved out a role on the roster and as a starter. Right now, his health for Sunday is questionable. In the short term, Lewis is classified as an average starter, but a strong season could earn him a long term role in the green and white.

C: Connor McGovern

The prized signing of the offensive line and my favorite new addition is the key man up front. McGovern is one of the most underrated centers in the game. McGovern is one of the least penalized linemen in football and one of the highest quality centers. His veteran presence and skill will add stability at the center of the line and contribute to the cohesiveness of the entire unit.

RG: Greg VanRoten

A lifelong Jet fan will be a starter from day one. VanRoten is just like Lewis. Both want to be here. Are fighting for a job next year and are quality linemen, but not superb. VanRoten is a poor pass blocker and a solid run blocker. If he can just hold his own as a pass blocker and provide stability, that will be a big asset. In the end, my hopes are mid-level for VanRoten this season.

RT: George Fant

Fant is not a crazy talented right tackle. He’s not going to be the reason this unit takes a big step up. However, Fant is built more like a tight end than a lineman. His athleticism is the best of any lineman on this team. His ability to fit into Adam Gase’s scheme and be a lead blocker is something that is a plus for the team. Still, Fant is unproven and the most worrisome of all the starting linemen, and I’m intrigued to see if he develops throughout the season or if the Jets turn elsewhere.

Bench: Josh Andrews, Cam Clark, Connor McDermott, Chuma Edoga & Leo Koloamatangi

This bench is not one that is loaded with talent. Instead, it’s loaded with guys who have the potential to come in and be an average filler if need be. They’re cheap and young linemen who provide a lot of versatility. Two guys to watch in this bunch are Clark and Edoga. Edoga was a starter in the past and could slot in for Fant if he struggles. The rookie, Clark has the potential to be a long term fixture on this line if given a shot.

Grade: B-

This line is still not proven or where it needs to be yet. The lack of in-game reps together is worrisome. Still, the talent is there and the competitive fire. This is a group that could outperform this grade. If they can be improved, they could be the reason this offense takes a massive jump. If they don’t, they could once again be the detriment of the team.

New York Jets unveil captains for the 2020 season

With takeoff scheduled for Sunday afternoon in Buffalo, the New York Jets revealed their 2020 captains on Wednesday.

The New York Jets unveiled their 2020 captains on Wednesday. Two men will each represent the offense and defense, while one more will lead the special teams unit.

Offense: QB Sam Darnold

Year three of Darnold’s Jets tenure will be his second year with the “C” patch. The 23-year-old previously held such honors in college at USC. Darnold has tallied an 11-16 record as an NFL starter thus far (including 7-6 last season) and has thrown for 5,889 yards and 36 touchdowns since his fateful New York entry in the 2018 Draft.

Offense: T George Fant

The veteran newcomer Fant is expected to be part of the Jets’ offensive line revolution. He’s the only fresh arrival to earn a patch, having spent the last four years in Seattle. Fant’s NFL journey is perhaps the perfect story for a young squad like the Jets. He entered the league undrafted out of Western Kentucky and his since transformed into a reliable blocking prescience.

Defense: S Marcus Maye

It’s about to be a big year for a certain New York safety that emerged from an SEC school and was drafted in 2017. Yes, Jamal Adams has (very publicly) moved onto Seattle, but Maye now takes over as the leader in the secondary in a contract year. It’s quite a comeback for Maye, who worked through a full season after missing ten games in 2018 due to injury. His Jets career has seen 178 tackles and four interceptions so far.

Defense: DL Steve McLendon

McLendon’s mere experience alone perhaps made him a shoo-in for captaincy honors. At 11 NFL seasons and counting (free agent arrivals Frank Gore and Joe Flacco are the only Jets with more tenure), McLendon, 34, is by far the most experienced green returnee. He has likewise risen from the ranks of the undrafted, spending seven seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers before changing addresses in 2016. This will be McLendon’s third year as a defensive captain.

Special Teams: S Matthias Farley

Yet another player who didn’t hear his name called at his respective draft, Farley has become a favorite of coordinator Brant Boyer for his special teams prowess. The 28-year-old Notre Dame alum played 13 games in New York last season after three seasons with the Indianapolis Colts, picking up 188 tackles with a horseshoe on his helmet.

The Jets open their 2020 season on Sunday afternoon against the Buffalo Bills (1 p.m. ET, CBS).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

The Good and The Bad of New York Jets First Scrimmage

New York Jets, Nate Hairston

A number of things stood out to me from today’s first team scrimmage for the New York Jets, and for the most part they were not very good. So, let’s breakdown what went right and what went wrong for the Jets today.

The Good

Frank Gore

Gore reportedly looked “terrific” according to The Athletic’s Connor Hughes among others. Gore has been fantastic to this point according to Gase in terms of leadership impact and on the field performance. The ageless wonder continued to amaze and I’m excited to see him debut with the Green and White.

LaMical Perine

Sticking with the running backs, Perine was impressive today ripping off a 20 yard gain and then a 79-yard score. Perine was known for his breakaway speed at Florida and he flashed that today. The Jets know they have a unique blend of speed and size in that running back room and the perfect definition of that is Perine. I’m intrigued to see how he continues to grow from here as the season progress.

Mike White and James Morgan

The little known former 5th rounder was a practice squad fixture last season. Then this season, Gase said it’s been like two different quarterbacks. He’s thrown the ball very well in camp to this point and that reportedly continued today with another solid showing. Morgan also dominated the first-team defense which is impressive but also scary.

Ashtyn Davis

Davis continued his impressive camp with a pick-six today. Davis has been working side by side with the Jets defensive coaches in order to maximize his potential early on. It’s clear the organization has high hopes for him.

The Bad

Turnovers

The Jets first-team offense turned the ball over 3 times today against the second-team defense. That’s inexcusable and something that you’d expect earlier in camp, not two weeks away from the season. That’s an issue that needs to be worked on quickly.

First Team Defense Pressure

The Jets reportedly had no pressure in the backfield today. Presumably, Tarell Basham was set for the second pass rusher role, but with his injury, Jenkins will get targeted all the more. So, this makes pressure a difficult thing for the Jets to sustain right now. A move might need to be made for a pass rusher if Basham won’t be ready by week one.

Injuries

It seems like every day more injuries occur. Today, Lawerence Cager caught bad luck during his excellent camp with swelling emerging around his knee. That’s the latest receiver out and latest important piece. Then, new guard, Greg Van Roten got hurt as well. The Jets need to find ways to minimize injuries or this will be a long year.

Wide Receivers

I touched on the injury to Cager, but with Crowder and Hogan having a bad record with injuries and both fumbling during the scrimmage, it’s apparent the Jets need more insurance. Perriman and Mims will be back soon, but the Jets could use another vet to provide more insurance.

Lev Bell

Lev was pulled after just a few reps. It was reportedly to keep him loose, but he refuted those claims on Twitter immediately. He claimed that he needs reps to get going and the Jets were mismanaging him. All I can say is, welcome to Jets football. 

New York Jets Position Group Grades: Quarterback

New York Jets, Sam Darnold, James Morgan

As the season looms, I decided to take a deep dive into each New York Jets position group within the organization and grade each group. The quarterback position, aside from Sam Darnold, has lacked depth in recent years. That was ever apparent last season with the poor play of quarterbacks in Darnold’s absence. This offseason, the Jets looked to address that problem with the additions of Joe Flacco and James Morgan.

QB 1: Sam Darnold

Sam Darnold enters year 3 with incredibly high expectations. Darnold has his work cut out for him. The Jets receiver room is incredibly thin and lacks a true number one receiver. The running back room and tight end rooms are more than formidable. The offensive line is presumably improved, but ultimately the team has no sure things for him. Coming off a solid finish to a year hindered by mono, Darnold has reportedly shown growth in the offseason as both a leader and an athlete. Now, it’s time to put it to the test in Orchard Park in 2 or so weeks. For now, though, his factor into the grade is based on both the potential, end of season, and early career woes.

QB 2: Joe Flacco

Once Joe is healthy, the job is his. Flacco wasn’t brought in to sit behind two young third-string caliber QBs and a rookie. He was brought in because a former Super Bowl champion who can mentor Sam and also step in if need be. Flacco provides stability at the backup position that the Jets didn’t have last season with Trevor Siemian. Still, how stable is Flacco truly? Last season he was less than impressive in Denver. Then he got hurt. Coming back from injury and exiting his prime doesn’t give me much excitement for Flacco, still, his veteran experience earns him decent points for me when grading the group.

QB 3: Mike White

Surprise! White has caught the eye of many in camp. I’ve been thoroughly impressed with what I’ve seen in terms of footage. White is only 25, but after being released from the Cowboys, he’s been a practice squad fixture. Now, White came into the season more in shape than ever and throwing a great ball. He’s never stepped on an NFL field, but he got an opportunity to go against the starting defense and impressed in a scrimmage. White might not know the offense as well as Fales, but if he can even remotely perform on the field, he’s the best option at backup for now until Flacco is healthy. White is unproven, but I’ve been impressed, so he’ll do okay for me in terms of grading.

QBs 4 & 5: James Morgan and David Fales

Neither guy has been very bad or outstanding in camp. The decision on who gets the third spot likely comes down to investment, thus, Morgan will stay on the roster. White, Fales, and Morgan is all about preference. I talked about White’s good ball. Fales knows the system like the back of his hand. Morgan has all the size and leadership to be an excellent backup. I like Morgan a lot and hope he gets a shot to be the main back up soon. I wouldn’t doubt that Fales will be gone after camp, but once again, it’s all about what Gase thinks fits best. For that reason, I’m grading this purely on potential as a backup for each individual.

Final Grade: C+

I think Sam Darnold is a B-B+ QB, but he can’t carry the uncertainty of the rest of the room on his back. With Flacco injured and the unproven nature of Fales, White and Morgan, there is no sure thing to backup Sam. As last season proved, the backup is key, and without a sure thing, I don’t feel comfortable giving this group a great grade. Still, if Flacco is healthy and one of the other three can step up, this room isn’t awful, so a C+ feels right.