It’s time for Robert Saleh to prove why he got the New York Jets job

new york jets, robert saleh

Ending the New York Jets lengthy postseason drought is still a tall task, but early injuries have raised the pressure on the new boss.

For New York Jets fans, hiring Robert Saleh was like getting that one Christmas gift your parents insist they’re not getting you.

Saleh was one of the most sought-after coordinators during the NFL’s search for head coaches in 2021. He was an anomaly in the lens of modern American football in that his prior duties have centered around defense, a new arrival in the brotherhood of NFL head coaches at a time when stats like 30 points or 400 yards appear on more losing box scores than ever. Of the seven new hires, Saleh was the only one with a background primarily in defense.

He nonetheless earned interviews with all but two of the teams looking to fill headset vacancies. His eventual hire by the Jets earned positive reviews both domestically and abroad. A football fan landscape that uses any simple Jets mistake as a guaranteed punchline almost didn’t know what to do with itself.

Jets supporters would’ve taken any average football mind after the harrowing two years under Adam Gase’s watch…something along the lines of the mediocrity on display with say, Eric Magini would’ve been downright euphoric. Getting Saleh, the coveted coordinator from San Francisco, could’ve been classified as the closest feeling the Jets have had to a postseason triumph since their visit to the AFC title game at the start of the prior decade. Saleh’s mantra of “All Gas, No Brake” has been more quoted than lines from the scripts of The Sopranos…no easy tasks in Northern New Jersey.

Despite the praises hoisted upon Saleh (and a strong refurbishing of the team’s depth chart), the Jets’ issues didn’t instantly vanish. No one was booking trips to Inglewood for Super Bowl LVI. MetLife Stadium probably won’t have to reschedule any events in January. The feeling of being a savior, a prophet amongst metropolitan football fans, has to feel good. But it’s going to take a lot of work to keep that trust.

Jets fans were understandably patient: Gase’s antics over the last two seasons left the franchise in shambles. “Trusting the process” has become a parody of itself…especially since such a strategy has produced nothing greater than heartbreak in the conference semifinals for the concept’s originators in Philadelphia…but Gang Green’s worshippers had no choice. Merely improving from last year’s disaster would be viewed as a genuine step in the right direction. The veteran additions they made this offseason were strong markers in that path back to respectability.

The trigger fingers of NFL decision-makers are quicker than ever: Gase’s two-year tenure was the shortest in Jets history to end via firing since Rich Kotite’s cursed 32 games in 1995-96 (Al Groh resigned after a single season in 2000). But, perhaps a completely winless campaign notwithstanding, Saleh isn’t getting fired if/when the Jets miss the playoffs this year.

 Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

But Saleh probably thought he’d at least get to enjoy the spectacle of opening kickoff before dealing with his first true test.

Saleh’s first games as an NFL head coach are going to held without the services of two of his top defenders after a costly business trip to Green Bay. Carl Lawson is done for the year after rupturing his Achilles while linebacker Jarrad Davis (ankle) is out for at least the first five games after leaving the exhibition showcase that concluded the trip. The football gods continued to show no mercy as the Jets prepare for their final preseason contest on Friday against Philadelphia (7:30 p.m. ET, WCBS); former Eagles Vinny Curry will miss the reunion with his former team and all 17 regular season games after that after he was diagnosed with blood clots.

Saleh has also been left to finish cleaning up the mess the prior regime left behind. The incompetence of the last two seasons created so many holes that it was a near guarantee that some area on the roster was going to be neglected. New York’s secondary appears to be the odd group out: inexperienced raw talent reigns at the top of the cornerback depth chart (Bless Austin and Bryce Hall). The new, experienced arrivals upfront could’ve helped the Jets get by, especially in the early going. Now, Saleh is dealt his first major crisis before the calendar flips to September, to the point where the team is planning to seek out more help in the pass rush before the season starts…an endeavor that would ignore holes like backup quarterback and the aforementioned secondary. He’ll have to work through his first games with a relatively thin group on the defensive front.

In other words…the showcase that got Saleh hired continues.

If one’s criteria for hiring a new head coach stopped at a quick glance at the standings, Saleh’s status as a former 49ers assistant likely would’ve eliminated him. San Francisco followed up an NFC title with a 6-10 showing that sank them to the bottom of the NFC West. But the standings often rarely tell a team’s full story.

Since Gase, among others, was doing a fine job of upending the Jets’ fortunes on his own, the football gods might’ve left the Jets alone during the 2020 season. They instead turned their focus to the Bay Area, where several key ingredients were forcibly removed from the 49ers’ Super Bowl recipe. Saleh’s unit was no exception: the defensive injury list resembled a Pro Bowl ballot. Nick Bosa, Solomon Thomas, Dee Ford, and Richard Sherman missed significant time, while Emmanuel Moseley, Jimmie Ward, and K’Waun Williams were also medical departures. San Francisco was extensively also affected by the COVID-19 issues that invaded the NFL last season; local restrictions forced them to relocate to Arizona for the last portions of their season.

Saleh responded to the challenges head-on. Whereas some new hires (i.e. Arthur Smith, Tennessee offensive coordinator-turned-Atlanta head coach) earned their promotions through on-field results, Saleh earned his job through adaptation.

Despite the front seven losing a good part of its bite, San Francisco’s defense managed to keep its pressure at a consistent rate, forcing hurries on 11.2 percent of opposing quarterback dropouts (fifth-best in the league). In more conventional stats, Saleh’s ragtag group of defenders allowed 350 yards or less in six of their final games. One such effort allowed the Washington Football Team’s offense to put up 193 yards…in a game the 49ers lost 23-15. Washington’s points were primarily earned through a Chase Young fumble return touchdown and Kamren Curl pick-six and two other drives totaling 42 yards that led to Dustin Hopkins field goals. Their longest drive of the day, a 72-yard trek to open the second half, also produced a Hopkins triple.

Under Saleh’s watch, depth man Kerry Hyder got back to numbers (49 tackles, 18 quarterback knockdowns, 8.5 sacks) not reached since his sophomore season in Detroit, which was followed by a torn Achilles that cost him his whole 2017 campaign. He was rewarded with a three-year deal from Seattle.

Linebacker Dre Greenlaw said that Saleh’s composure helped the 49ers keep their composure in a time of distress.

“(He made) sure that every guy is doing their job 100 percent of the time, as good as they can, hard as they can,” Greenlaw said per Shayna Rubin of The Mercury News. “Saleh said if we bring that every week to the game, we’re going to be one of the most dominant teams. Having the mentality he has, the mindset he has, it carries to us on defense. I don’t know where he’s going to go from here, but I know that mentality will stick with us.”

Now, Saleh has to deal with that adversity right from the get-go. He’s not looking for sympathy…he’s looking for players to step up.

“The NFL train stops for nobody,” Saleh said after last weekend’s 23-14 preseason win over Green Bay per Randy Lange of the team website. It was Saleh’s first public comments after the dire Lawson diagnosis. “When someone falls off the train…it’s another opportunity for someone to jump on the train. A lot of men at that defensive end spot are chomping at the bit for the opportunity, and they got it. We’ll work our tails off to get them ready, and I know they’ll work their tails off to reciprocate.”

The New York Jets have been a franchise that has had to deal with adversity, a team that has been forced to adapt to landscapes changed through both self-inflicted calamities and issues bestowed from parties from abroad. Fortunately, they’ve found a head coach that earned his biggest opportunity to date through overcoming such issues.

This time, however, it’s time to do it in green gear.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

New York Jets: The fullback experiment set to continue for Trevon Wesco

trevon wesco, new york jets

Some of the more potent offenses in the NFL still feature a fullback. The New York Jets appear to be turning to Wesco to try it again.

Though hope reigns through newcomers, the New York Jets are in no position to turn down any method of boosting their offensive momentum…even if the potential approaches are considered archaic by NFL standards.

The fullback is an endangered species in the modern league, as the days of Mike Alstott and Daryl Johnston have gone the way of the Oilers and the tuck rule. Causes of the countdown to potential extinction have never been truly isolated, though the rise of single-back sets and empty backfields in the shotgun has more or less convinced teams that offensive resources are better spent on receivers and blockers.

But there’s no denying that the fullback still has a role in today’s game and can play an active role in a good team’s success. Several successful squads, including Super Bowl participants, still have a specifically listed fullback on their roster.

That made it a tad more surprising that the Jets didn’t make a stronger push for Kyle Juszczyk, the Bay Area staple that stands as the NFL’s premier fullback. It probably would’ve taken a lot for the Jets to lure Juszczyk over. Juszczyk’s five-year, $27 million contract was one of the first deals announced at the commencement of the movement period, done even before the legal tampering period got underway. But considering the Jets brought several former San Francisco 49er bosses (including Juszczyk’s old offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur), it was still somewhat surprising not to see a larger New York case made.

Even so, the Jets can use all the protection and weaponry they can get, especially with yet another franchise quarterback, Zach Wilson, on the path to his NFL debut. A fullback can provide both, even in its unsung status, though it has been a while since they fully utilized the position. The closest thing the Jets have had to consistent glory days were earned with a fullback in tow. Richie Anderson was a metropolitan essential for a decade while Tony Richardson ended his accomplished NFL career with the Jets’ AFC finalist squads in 2009-10.

New York’s offensive bosses appear to have taken the hint.

“You like to have a fullback. You like to be in those traditional 21-personnel formations. It just keeps the defense balanced a little bit more,” LaFleur said at the end of this week’s minicamp activities, per notes from the Jets. “You can go lead their way so you can control the angles, particularly in the run game and obviously all the play passes that come off of it. (Juszczyk) was the traditional fullback, there’s no doubt, and he’s obviously performed at a high level, maybe one of the best ever, who knows. He’s certainly gotten paid like the best ever, and I love Juice, so he deserves all of it.”

But there’s no use crying about the past. Excuses, after all, don’t exactly have a place in head coach Robert Saleh’s quickly-adapted “all gas, no brake” mantra, nor does looking back at the past. After all, the Jets mostly avoided getting the San Francisco band back together. A major exception was made through running back Tevin Coleman, but the only other Santa Clara holdovers (receiver Matt Cole and running back Austin Walter) face uphill battles to make the roster.

Even if on-field personnel from San Francisco won’t be making the journies to Florham Park and East Rutherford, LaFleur and the new offensive staff won’t hesitate to employ similar looks in their new surroundings.

If LaFleur’s final statements of training camp are any indication, expect the Trevon Wesco experiment to continue behind Wilson. Modern fullback endeavors have often substituted a bred fullback for a tight end, offensive lineman, or even linebacker to play the role. It appears that the Jets plan to utilize the 267-pound Wesco to establish the role again.

Surprisingly, LaFleur has worked with Wesco before, even though their paths never crossed in San Francisco. The 49ers’ staff served as the coaches for the South squad in the 2019 Senior Bowl, where Wesco represented West Virginia. He was used as a fullback throughout the afternoon, earning three receptions in a 34-24 defeat to the North. Three months later, the Jets made him the 121st overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.

“We played him a little bit at fullback and got to know him,” LaFleur recalled. “He was really the same guy there as he is here in terms of his personality. He’s a very confident dude, he loves being out there and yes, he is our fullback right now.”

Wesco is no stranger to the fullback experiment, as the Jets have tried to work him into the role over the past two seasons. The fourth-round selection burst onto the scene with a memorable showing in a rare regular season contest against the Giants. A fullback dive to Wesco on a one-yard fourth down produced a first down and kept an eventual Jets scoring drive going. He’d later go on to recover a backfield fumble the following week in Washington. Wesco likewise earned two reception in more traditional tight end duties, each of which went for first downs.

Last season’s fieldwork didn’t go so well. Wesco got only a single carry, an unsuccessful third-and-one carry deep in Arizona Cardinal territory. The project was more or less shut down when Wesco suffered an ankle injury in practice, but it’s clear that LaFleur wants to reestablish it. It could wind up being the way that Wesco plays his way onto the Jets’ Week 1 roster. Doing so as a tight end is a less certain endeavor with former Buffalo Bill Tyler Kroft added to the proceedings.

Wesco was downright euphoric when discussing his duties as a fullback with team reporter Randy Lange last season.

“I like it,” the former Mountaineer said. “You’ve got to be a man to be back there, that’s how I look at it. Not a lot of people want to run five yards, full speed, collision.”

August’s training camp, as well as a trio of exhibition games, should help the Jets further establish the offensive identity they’re pursuing. LaFleur admits that Wesco probably isn’t going to be the next Juszczyk…then again, that might not even exist…but he sees him as a prime spark that can ignite the Jets’ offensive fire.

The Jets, according to LaFleur, don’t need another Kyle Juszczyk. He says that Wesco’s size (over 25 pounds heavier than “Juice”) could in fact allow LaFleur and his staff to accomplish things he wasn’t able to in San Francisco.

“Is he going to do all the same stuff that (Juszczyk) could do? Probably not. Is he going to do some stuff that (Juszczyk) couldn’t do? Absolutely,” LaFleur said. “He’s a bigger body, he’s longer. He’s going to be able to play a little bit more inline, so we can use him in multiple ways, whether it be 21 or your typical 12 personnel formations. So, he’s embracing it.

“The fullback, kind of like our tight end, which obviously Wesco is a tight end, has a lot of moving parts and you’ve got to be able to process what’s going on post-snap and change direction, do all that kind of stuff. It’s going to be a challenge but he’s a guy that has done a really good job at it and it’ll be really cool when we put on the pads and get into training camp and preseason.”

Should the Jets continue to use Wesco as a fullback? Continue the conversation on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets add DE, ex-49er Ronald Blair (Report)

New York Jets

The latest New York Jets addition spent five seasons in San Francisco, the last four under new head coach Robert Saleh.

When it comes to his first roster as a head coach, things look a little more familiar for New York Jets boss Robert Saleh this week.

Per a report from ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Jets have signed former San Francisco 49er Ronald Blair. The Appalachian State alum joined the league as a fifth-round pick in 2016 and has spent the last four seasons under the watch of Saleh, then a defensive coordinator in the Bay Area.

Blair burst on the national football scene by ending his career in Boone with the 2015 Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year award (previously won by Demarcus Ware). He earned 88 tackles (including 13 sacks) over his five seasons with the 49ers, partaking in 47 games (2 starts). His best statistical season came in 2018 when he put 36 tackles (10 for a loss, 5.5 sacks).

While Blair has proven himself to be a reliable depth option, injuries have taken over his career. His last NFL regular season action came in November 2019, as he missed both the 49ers’ run to Super Bowl LIV and all of last season after tearing his ACL.

Saleh and the Jets have made a bit of a point to avoid oversaturating the roster with former 49ers, as only reserve receiver Matt Cole has officially joined this season. But Saleh routinely bestowed praise upon Blair during their shared tenure in red and gold, so it was thus no surprise that the Jets had some interest.

“If you like winning, you like Ronnie. If you don’t, you don’t,” Saleh said in September 2019, per Jacob Hutchinson of KNBR. “He’s just a model of consistency…I love Ronnie. I’ve gushed about him up here and I can do it for another 15 minutes if you all like. You guys know how I feel about him.”

“He looked fantastic and he’s looked like that, to me, his entire career, it just goes unnoticed when he’s not the big name, he’s not the big draft pick. But, he’s your lunch pail, gets things done, makes things work, gets people lined up. He does it all. I’m happy we have him. He’s a playmaker. People have never noticed it.”

[[UPDATE: 6/1/21, 8:55 A.M. ET]]: The Jets confirmed the signing of Blair, likewise announcing the waiving of fellow defensive lineman Sharif Finch in a corresponding move.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

New York Jets: A fullback could create new offensive avenues

Employing a fullback would be a familiar way for the newly minted New York Jets coaching staff to find an offensive spark.

The modern NFL is one ruled by “Big Offense”, an athletic denomination ruled by a deity known as fantasy football. Scoring four touchdowns in a losing effort has become more common and no less frustrating. Three of the seven highest-scoring games in NFL history have come in the last decade.

These phenomena and more have made the New York Jets’ offensive ineptitude all the more impressive from a macabre standpoint.

Enough has been written about how the Jets have lacked a true franchise quarterback solution since the Nixon resignation, but last year’s edition hit astonishing new lows. They failed to break the 300-yard plateau in all but five of their games last season. The two-touchdown threshold was crossed only seven times. New York has been victimized for two of the six shutouts tallied over the past couple of seasons.

In short, the Jets’ offense could use whatever help it can get. New assistance can spawn from the annals of NFL history if they’re willing to try. Reviving old properties appears to be good enough for Hollywood, so why can’t it work for the Jets? No one’s saying, of course, that the Jets have to go too far…so don’t expect to see, say, the T-formation or goalposts in the middle of the end zone at MetLife Stadium next season. But the team could be well-served by employing the services of a fullback as they start to traverse a new era.

Now, the fullback hasn’t fully gone the way of the single-bar facemask just yet, but it’s certainly an endangered species. We’re certainly far beyond the days where the man in the role was a household name on a championship team like Daryl Johnston, Mike Alstott, or even William “Refridgerator” Perry. But there appears to be a correlation between teams that employ a fullback in their modern roster and recent success.

“Not every team uses my position,” Derek Watt, then of the Los Angeles Chargers, told Nick Wagoner and Eric Williams of ESPN in 2019. “But teams that do, at least a handful that remained in the playoffs late last year, a majority of them had a fullback on the roster. I’m not saying that correlates to anything, but those teams that made it deep in the playoffs did have a fullback. That’s just an observation.”

Watt, now with the Pittsburgh Steelers, was sixth-round pick of the Chargers in 2016 and worked his way into the lineup during the 2018 season. A year after, Watt earned 10 touches (7 carries, 3 receptions), all but three of which went for first downs. To his point about fullbacks and postseason endeavors, three of the eight Divisional round participants (Baltimore, San Francisco, Minnesota), used a fullback on over 30 percent of their offensive (Patrick Ricard, Kyle Juszczyk, and C.J. Ham respectively). Others, Tennessee, have used tight ends (like Jonnu Smith) in the spot. The tournament’s Super Bowl champion, the Kansas City Chiefs, has kept 2014 All-Pro Anthony Sherman on retainer for the past eight seasons.

The Jets are no strangers to fullback endeavors, as the turn of the century has seen them employ crucial contributors like Richie Anderson and Tony Richardson. Names from the past include Brad Baxter, Roger Vick, Mike Augustyniak, Clark Gaines, and future Super Bowl MVP and Hall of Famer John Riggins. New York has mostly eschewed the concept since the end of the Rex Ryan era, when he tried to replace the retiring Richardson with Lex Hilliard and John “The Terminator” Conner. XFL draftee Tommy Bohanon was briefly considered during Todd Bowles’ time with offensive coordinator Chan Gailey.

Adam Gase attempted to turn 2019 draftee Trevon Wesco into a bit of a power option, and the concept somewhat paid off during his rookie season. Wesco earned three first downs on four touches during his debut campaign, but Gase mostly abandoned the concept when a fullback gambit failed to yield a first down in an early crucial juncture of the Jets’ loss to Arizona last October.

With the Gase era mercifully over, you’d think the Jets would be wise to cut off all ties from the previous regime, include those established in the starting lineup. But the Jets are now armed with a coaching staff that knows how to work the position and how to tinker with it to achieve maximum firepower.

If the Jets are to reintroduce a fullback to their lineup on a consistent basis, their timing will likely never be better. Robert Saleh and his San Francisco (including new offensive boss Mike LaFleur) imports know what it’s like to reap the benefits of a fullback’s work, having played witness to the rise of Juszczyk (pronounced YOOZ-check) over the past four seasons in the Bay Area. Each has ended in an invite to the Pro Bowl, including the virtual edition held last month. Those in Baltimore previously saw what Juszczyk was capable of when he first joined the team as a fourth-round pick in 2013. But Juszczyk truly began to hone his powers with the 49ers, his dominance perhaps summitting last season. Not only did Juszczyk score a career-best six touchdowns, but his blocking helped pave the way for a rushing unit decimated by injuries. Two of those rushers, Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr., earned at least 4.8 yards per carry with triple-digit carries. In the aforementioned 2019 playoff run, Juszczyk became the first fullback since Alstott to score a touchdown in the Super Bowl.

During his opening statements, Saleh hinted that the Jets hope to emulate the offensive gameplans Kyle Shanahan has established. In addition to the work he put in with Juszczyk over the past four seasons, Shanahan would also utilize Patrick DiMarco as a receiver during his time in Atlanta under Dan Quinn.

“Mike LaFleur has been with Kyle for I think he’s going on eight years now of professional football, which has been his entire career and nobody in the world knows it better than he does,” Saleh said, per notes from the Jets. “To be able to have him and to get John Benton along with us as run game coordinator, we’re really excited about them being able to install the system and implement the vision that we all want to see.”

Wouldn’t you know it, a certain 49er is up for free agency.

Juszczyk is set to hit the open market following the expiration of a four-year, $21 million deal inked in 2017. Nothing more needs to be said about the Jets’ blessed cap space situation, so a slightly larger deal would definitely be something worth investigating. The work Juszczyk did with his blocking last season would also help soothe some concerns the Jets have about their primary run game, which is out of sorts after the highly publicized Le’Veon Bell departure. His blocking can bestow confidence to a rushing attack that’s currently poised to be led by 2020 fourth-rounder La’mical Perine.

Taboo as the position may be, it’s a risk the Jets almost can’t afford not to take. Even if they miss out on Juszczyk, the upcoming draft provides several attractive backup plans like Senior Bowl standout and Cotton Bowl Classic MVP Rhamondre Stevenson out of Oklahoma, who could be worth looking at with one half of their third-round pair.

The modern NFL’s focus on offense makes the Jets’ ineptitude all the more shocking. It may be time to go against the trend in a more positive, refreshing way.

“When you look at the teams who are doing well, particularly late in the season, they typically have a power formation—or what I call ‘big-boy football,'” Earnest Byner, a former fullback and three-decade NFL veteran as a player and coach. told Brent Sobleski of Bleacher Report in 2016. “When it comes down to it, those teams are going to get you into a box and beat you up.”

“this sets the tone for a comeback of two-back offenses. When you need him, you better have a guy who can put a helmet on the linebacker to get the runner to the second level.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

Buffalo Bills: Three stars from Monday’s win vs. San Francisco

An offensive explosion allowed the Buffalo Bills to exorcise their Glendale demons and come away with a win over the displaced 49ers.

The Buffalo Bills struck prime time, offensive gold against the San Francisco 49ers on Monday night in a most unusual location.

Josh Allen threw for 375 yards and four scores, helping Cole Beasley earned a career-best 130 yards. Micah Hyde and Tre’Davious White also had interceptions as the Bills rolled to a 34-24 victory over the Niners at State Farm Stadium, home of the Arizona Cardinals and one of the most heartbreaking defeats in recent Buffalo memory. 

The win on Monday broke several dubious records in Buffalo history. It was good for their first win in a Monday night setting since October 1999, and the team also clinched their first pair of consecutive winning seasons since 1998-99. Stefon Diggs’ 92 yards allowed him to hit the plateau of 1,000 for the season, giving the Bills receivers with four digits in back-to-back years for the first time since 2011-12 (both Steve Johnson with John Brown accomplishing the feat last season). Buffalo (9-3) also maintains a one-game lead on Miami for the modern AFC East division lead.

ESM is ready to hand out game balls in the aftermath of a memorable victory…

3rd Star: TE Dawson Knox

4 receptions, 27 yards, 1 TD

I’m Dawson Knox, and this is a 10-point swing.

Knox tied his career-best with four receptions, none more important than a four-yard touchdown reception that gave Buffalo the lead for good. The second-year tight end has now scored touchdowns in back-to-back contests and is turning into a reliable red zone option. It’s perhaps a play that will only gain recognition and accolades in the Bills’ film room this week, but Knox would also come up big on another Buffalo scoring quest. Late in the first half, Knox stepped in front of quarterback hunter Dion Jordan as Allen rolled out to his right. It bought Allen enough time to find Beasley for a 20-yard gain that set the Bills up in San Francisco territory. Two plays later, Tyler Bass booted a 37-yard field goal that created a two-possession lead going into the halftime break.

2nd Star: WR Cole Beasley

9 receptions, 130 yards, 1 TD

Jon Feliciano may have rocked Beasley to sleep during first half action on Sunday, but the veteran was anything but sleepy on Sunday. Beasley continues to take on a larger role in the Buffalo offense, enjoying a career-night through mostly early endeavors in the first half. He has been one of the biggest contributors to the Bills’ division title trek, having reached triple digits in four games this season (yet another career-best), including three of the past six. His time couldn’t be much better, as his personal rise has coincided with John Brown being forced to miss some time with an injury.

1st Star: QB Josh Allen

32-of-40, 375 yards, 4 TD

The Bills’ ongoing national tour…they’ll host their first Sunday night game since 2007 next week against Pittsburgh (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC)…is a chance to prove themselves to the NFL at-large. Their roaster features several parties trying to make their professional cases on a wider scale, perhaps none more prominent than Allen, who, despite nearly every analyst suggesting the contrary, is proving himself as one of the most reliable franchise quarterbacks in the league.

Allen certainly got off to a good start in that endeavor, joining Jim Kelly as the only Buffalo representative to throw four touchdowns in a Monday night game and misfiring on only four of his passes. The journey will get a little more difficult next week against what’s sure to be a furious Steelers defense, but it’s one he seems well-equipped for. His name may not be as attractive as that of Patrick Mahomes, but MVP talk might be part of the holiday conversation in Western New York.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Buffalo Bills: Prime time, holiday endeavors will be the biggest test yet

The possibly-ready-for-prime-time Buffalo Bills have a prime opportunity to prove they belong amongst the NFL’s elite.

If one had to guess which NFL fanbase would have the most trouble belting the lyrics to “Waiting All Day For Sunday Night”, there would surely far worse estimates than Bills Mafia.

The rock anthem, inspired by Joan Jett’s “I Hate Myself For Loving You” is routinely performed by Carrie Underwood (taking over for fellow new century music icons Pink and Faith Hill) prior to the opening kick off NBC’s Sunday Night Football coverage. It’s probably ingrained into the minds of Dallas Cowboys fans, who have waited all day for Sunday night on a record 49 occasions.

Buffalo Bills supporters haven’t had to be as patient.

Since NBC took over the Sunday night package from ESPN in 2006, only two Bills games have been broadcast over the peacock-branded airwaves. Buffalo is part of a most unholy trinity, as Cleveland and Jacksonville have likewise “earned” only a mere pair of invites.

But, as the Bills (8-3) start to close in on their first division title since 1995, they’ll finally be able to make up some ground.

The Bills’ December slate features four games that will be available on a nationwide scale. That includes two appearances on ESPN’s Monday Night Football, which sandwich a Sunday night date from NBC. Buffalo’s game against Denver was also recently chosen to fill a Saturday the week before Christmas. Time will tell, but it’s quite possible that the Bills’ Week 17 finale against Miami (8-4) could also get the Sunday night treatment, especially if the AFC East division title is on the line.

This trek to potential glory starts on Monday, as the Bills travel to Glendale, Arizona to battle the displaced San Francisco 49ers (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN/ABC).

. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

It’s easy to understand why a majority of Bills games have been staged in the relatively mundane 1 p.m. ET timeslots on CBS and Fox over the course of the new century. Buffalo, while passionate, is one of the smaller media markets in the NFL (ahead of only Green Bay in the Nielsen market size) but the team’s lack of on-field success and marquee talent surely played a bigger factor.

Needless to say, the modern Bills are looking forward to their moment in the spotlight.

“This is what you want. This is how we built the program to be. The better you get, the more prime time games you have. I think it’s an exciting time for our fanbase,” Bills head coach Sean McDermott said of the prime time overload on The Howard and Jeremy Show on WGR 550 SportsRadio. “”When you get to a point where you’re respected by the league and you’ve got a good club, that’s what you work for, and that’s what you get. I think that’s exciting for our organization and our fans.”

The interconference matchup will come up big on both sides. Buffalo is looking to maintain its single-game lead on the Dolphins for the division title, while San Francisco (5-6) is looking to carry one momentum brought upon by a win over the Los Angeles Rams last weekend, one that ended a three-game losing streak. The Niners currently sit a half-game behind Minnesota for the final NFC wild card spot.

This rise in national recognition is perhaps the biggest sign yet that both the NFL and the football-loving public are starting to truly see the football revolution occurring in Western New York. Last season, the Bills were granted one national game when the original schedule was released, bestowed the late afternoon Thanksgiving slot in Dallas. That victorious effort, among others, caused NBC to take notice, booting a matchup between the Minnesota Vikings and Los Angeles Chargers in favor of the Bills’ Week 15 trek to Pittsburgh. The ensuing victory over the Steelers allowed Buffalo to clinch not only a playoff berth but also its first 10-win season since 1999. NBC will have the rematch against the undefeated Steelers next weekend, six days after their Monday doubleheader. Pittsburgh’s delayed kickoff with the Washington Football Team (5 p.m. ET, Fox) comes hours before the Bills do battle in the desert.

Buffalo’s other Sunday night showing came in 2007, when they served as the sacrificial lambs to the gridiron dieties from New England.

Monday Night Football has been slightly kinder to the BIlls, inviting them three times since 2010, though that still puts them in a last-place tie with the aforementioned Browns and Jaguars (though Cleveland will get their moment next week against Baltimore). The Bills have ended several streaks in this fledgling era of prosperity, but their Monday night futility still hovers. Buffalo hasn’t won on Garfield’s least favorite day since October 1999, when a trio of Steve Christie field goals earned them a 23-18 victory over Miami.

The second half of this modern Monday night double feature comes on December 21, when the Bills will possibly seek to put New England (6-6) out their misery.

But the Bills know that this onslaught of primetime coverage comes with a major responsibility. That stems not from the networks unwilling to put them on in years past, but from previously wasted opportunities earlier in the year.

Two of the Bills’ three losses have come with the eyes of the football-loving nation upon them. They previously fell in a one-sided Tuesday night display against the Tennessee Titans, a battle of unbeatens pushed back due to the ongoing health crisis. That defeat also had an effect on Buffalo’s originally scheduled Thursday night contest with Kansas City, which also ended with the Bills on the wrong side of the scoreboard.

Mandatory Credit: Jamie Germano-USA TODAY NETWORK

Receiver Cole Beasley has said that the biggest factor will be avoiding the temptation to look ahead to more dashing competition, particularly those of the postseason variety.

“We have to approach it the way we have all season, we try to go 1-0 each week,” wide receiver Cole Beasley last week, per Sal Maiorana of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. “We can’t get too far ahead of ourselves. We’ll deal with the playoffs if and when they get here. We have to take care of everything that’s in font of us before we can look ahead.”

There appeared to some signs of looking ahead, those signs that Beasley warned about, during last week’s visit from the Chargers. Buffalo prevailed in a 27-17 final, albeit in one of the sloppier efforts of the season. The Bills turned the ball over three times and earned 332 yards on offense, their worst output since tallying 206 in the aforementioned loss to Kansas City on October 19.

Monday’s game comes with its own share of distractions. It comes against a 49ers team fresh off a Super Bowl appearance struggling to tread water in the crowded NFC playoff picture and one that will start backup quarterback Nick Mullens in place of the injured Jimmy Garoppollo.

The Bills will also return to the scene of one of their most heartbreaking defeats in recent franchise memory. With San Francisco’s proceedings disrupted by local government orders made in the wake of rising disease cases, Monday’s game will take place at State Farm Stadium. The Bills seemed well on their way toward a major victory against the stadium’s regular tenants, the Arizona Cardinals, but everyone who has followed the NFL for five minutes this season knows how that one ended. The Kyler Murray miracle, a 43-yard desperation heave that landed in the outstretched arms of DeAndre Hopkins, affected the fates of both Monday participants. Buffalo missed out on a major opportunity to expand their lead in the AFC East, while the 49ers remain behind the Cardinals for crucial ground in the both the divisional and wild-card races.

“The biggest thing is just kind of looking back, having that nasty taste in our mouths,” linebacker Tremaine Edmunds said of the venue switch to Glendale in another report from Maiorana. “When we show up to the stadium, we’re going to obviously know what happened last time we were there. We’re motivated to get back there and redeem ourselves. I know it’s a different team, but at the same time it’s in that stadium.”

Buffalo will enter Monday’s game at their healthiest, as not a single player was give any injury designation in the official injury report released over the weekend.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: Analyzing Sam Darnold’s trade market

New York Jets, Sam Darnold

The hot button issue of the New York Jets organization right now is whether or not to trade former number three overall pick and presumed franchise quarterback Sam Darnold in order to clear the way for Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawerence. Now, in theory, as the Jets continue to lose, the likelihood of the New York Jets trading Darnold increases by the day. Here’s the thing though, Darnold has been bit by the injury bug in a big way during his first three years. Not only that, but with a career line of 6,934 yards, 39 TDs, 34 INTs, and an overall passer rating of 78.3, there are surely more proven commodities on the market. So, what does a potential market look like for Sam Darnold, and what kind of value could he hold?

The Cost

It’s evident the Jets are tanking at this point. Roles are being cleared out for younger players to stake their claim to be here for the long haul, the incompetent coaches were not axed, and if a player needs extensive recovery time, they are getting it. Darnold is a prime example of someone who likely could’ve tried to play through an injury but was kept on the bench in order to protect him and, more specifically, his value in the long term.

In talking about Sam and his potential value, you cannot forget the fact that he is only 23 years old. Not only that, but he is still the same physically talented athlete who was selected out of USC just a short time ago. Darnold has regressed, though, due to poor coaching, injuries, and lack of talent at skill positions and in protection. At times though, despite all those circumstances, Darnold has looked like a special talent. There are still many within the league who agree with that statement as well.

If Darnold is to hit the trade market, there is hope the Jets can recoup significant compensation. Specifically, though, a first-rounder. If the Jets are unable to obtain a first for Sam, it is going to sting. Now, don’t get me wrong, the floated around a combo of a 2nd and a 5th would be great, but not for a 23-year-old quarterback. See, the Jets should play hardball with Sam, if they’re going to draft Trevor Lawerence, they should and will trade him, but at the same time, they can’t give him a way.

A 2 and a 5 offers great flexibility, but anything above that, particularly a 1st, would be a phenomenal deal. Josh Rosen was mediocre at best in his rookie season, and he fetched a 2nd, so Sam’s value should exceed that. Joe Douglas has shown in the past he is capable of making massive trades, a la the Adams to Seattle deal. Darnold may have flaws, but he could also be the missing piece for a franchise. A team like the 49ers, the Bears, or the Colts could pull the trigger on Sam because right now, there are not many other young and high potential options outside of the draft.

A team like the Bears may be reluctant to take a shot on Sam if they feel they’re a few pieces away. However, the Colts and 49ers have both shown they can be two of the top teams in the league when healthy, but both teams need a more talented and long term signal-caller. Jimmy Garoppolo and Phillip Rivers have had their moments just like Sam, but in Garoppolo’s case, he is likely nearing his ceiling. As for Rivers, he has played solid football this year, but his days are likely numbered on his career. Trading for Sam could rejuvenate one of those offenses that have felt so stagnant this year while also landing the Jets premium draft capital and signaling the true beginning of a new era in New York, led by Trevor Lawerence.

Report: There’s Nothing Wrong With MetLife Playing Surface

The playing surface at MetLife Stadium has come under fire this week after five San Francisco 49er starters suffered severe leg injuries in their 31-13 victory over the New York Jets last week.

Defensive lineman Nick Bosa and Solomon Thomas both tore their ACL in the game and will miss the remainder of the 2020 season as a result. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo sustained an ankle injury that will likely keep him out of this week’s game against the Giants, which is also to be played at MetLife.

In addition, the Niners’ top two running backs – Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman – left last week’s games with sprained knees and will likely be out several weeks.

Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan had no recourse but to question the integrity of the playing surface at MetLife after the game. The complaints were that the turf, Act Global Speed S5 through 2019 Fieldturf which was installed this year, was ‘sticky’ and difficult to navigate. It didn’t stop San Francisco from routing the Jets, however.

The NFL took a second look into the matter on Wednesday and once again, revealed the surface is up to code.

“Yesterday, representatives from the NFL, NFLPA, MetLife Stadium, the Giants and Jets, Field Turf and the independent field inspector conducted an additional review of the field surface at MetLife Stadium. The group again verified that the field meets all applicable standards and protocols for NFL field surfaces.”

The Niners play of their home games on grass and perhaps were either wearing the wrong footwear or simply weren’t used to playing on the new turf. Jets players had no issues with the turf. Neither did the Giants or the Pittsburgh Steelers who faced each other at MetLife in Week 1.

New York Giants: Offensive line showing no signs of improvement in 2020

New York Giants, Will Hernandez

The New York Giants have had issues across their offensive line for years now. Entering the 2020 NFL season, the expectations were set higher for the Giants’ front line. New York invested heavily in their offensive line and upgraded the positional unit’s coach. But so far, these improvements have not shown up on the field.

The Giants have gone up against two of the NFL’s best front-sevens in the first two weeks of the season. New York’s new offensive line has been given two extremely tough tasks to kickoff 2020. But the Giants’ “new & improved” line has not handled these tasks well at all.

A Disappointing First Two Weeks

The New York Giants’ offensive line has surrendered an insane amount of pressure in 2020. Through two games, the Giants have allowed 56 pressures, the second-highest total in the NFL (according to Pro Football Focus). According to Football Outsiders, New York has also let up 7 sacks in two games, the second-highest total in the NFL.

Though Andrew Thomas has held his own against two of the best defenses in the NFL, he has still struggled through the first two weeks of the season. He is currently the lowest-graded of the top four offensive tackles from the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft class.

But the rest of the offensive line has struggled along with Thomas. If the Giants’ offensive line is going to make a turnaround, Week Three is the time to do it.

A Week Three Turnaround?

Originally, the Giants were scheduled to go against another dominant defense in Week Three of the 2020 NFL season. This week, the Giants will host the San Fransisco 49ers at MetLife Stadium. Andrew Thomas and the Giants’ line was projected to face off against the likes of Nick Bosa, Solomon Thomas, and Dee Ford. In reality, the Giants will face none of these talented defenders.

The 49ers were hit with the injury bug in a major way last week. Across the NFL, injuries were abundant. The Giants lost 2018 second-overall pick, Saquon Barkley, to a torn ACL in Week Two. The 49ers lost their 2019 second-overall pick, Nick Bosa, to a torn ACL as well in Week Two.

Solomon Thomas is another talented player on the 49ers’ defensive line. He also suffered a season-ending injury in Week Two. Dee Ford is also injured and out for Week Two, but fortunately, he will not be sidelined for the entire season.

The Giants will not have to face any of the 49ers’ top three defensive linemen in Week Two. San Fransisco signed veteran defensive end Ezekiel Ansah to help fill one of these holes. But overall, the Giants’ offensive line is fortunately not going to be completely overmatched like they have been the last two weeks.

Struggling against the Steelers’ and Bears’ front-sevens is understandable. But against this depleted and injury-riddled San Fransisco defense, the Giants should be able to turn things around. New York’s offensive line will be left with no excuses in Week Three. They need to step up and play a solid match against the 49ers to turn things around.

New York Jets enjoy one silver lining in awful week 2 loss

New York Jets, Quinnen Williams

When New York Jets‘ Quinnen Williams was selected with the third overall pick just a year ago, he was touted as the next superstar defensive lineman. The supposed “can’t miss talent” from Alabama (a defensive line factory) struggled in his rookie year.

With just over two sacks and only a few solid plays in his rookie season, he spent the offseason training and turning into a well-tuned machine. With his own personal lofty expectations of becoming a game wrecker, Quinnen was rather quiet in Buffalo. Until he turned it up today.

The New York Jets saw the potential of their stud interior defender: 

Quinnen took advantage of a big opportunity against a weakened 49ers offense. Since Jimmy Garoppalo lacked weaponry with star tight end and wide receivers George Kittle and DeeBoo Samuel out of Sunday’s game. When Brandon Aiyuk, Bourne, and Reed struggled to create separation, that created opportunity.

Williams took advantage of the lack of separation and bull-rushed through that offensive line multiple times. His first sack was a complete domination of LG Laken Tomlinson. His second was a bullrush through the heart of the line that forced a fumble on backup quarterback Nick Mullens.

Williams also nabbed a TFL and a few tackles. In just one game, Williams nearly replicated his 1st season sack total. Williams still needs to continue this success throughout the season, but for a guy being labeled a bust by some, his success must feel great. He’s no Aaron Donald, but the New York Jets had a dreary day, and Williams stood as a refreshing, bright spot.