Three reasons why the New York Jets will be fine without Julio Jones

New York Giants, Julio Jones

Some were disappointed that the New York Jets removed themselves from the Jones sweepstakes, but adding the former Falcon wasn’t their fight.

Julio Jones will sing a new tune in the Music City. The accoladed receiver has shed his Atlanta Falcon wings and has moved on to Tennessee, where he joins a Titans squad already blessed with the offensive talents of Derrick Henry and AJ Brown. Thus ends a saga that ignited with a fateful phone call on live television by Fox Sports’ Shannon Sharpe.

In the aftermath, the eventual price for Jones has been hotly debated. Tennessee sent over two mid-round picks, one each over the next two drafts, the highest being a second-round choice in next year’s selections. It seems like a relatively low charge for one of the most accomplished receivers in recent NFL memory, one that gains some context when a hamstring injury suffered last season is taken into account.

Still, as Jones prepared to don Titans blue, fans of the 31 outliers are left with the lingering inquiry of “what if?” and “why not”?

At first glance, many New York Jets fans have every right to ask those questions. After all, if that was all it took for Jones to leave his Atlanta-based nest, the Jets could’ve spared the necessary parts to bring him in. They have an extra pick in both the first and second rounds of next year’s draft stemming from the Jamal Adams and Sam Darnold departures. One could even argue that adding Jamison Crowder (and getting back over $10 million in cap space with Jones) to the mix might’ve sweetened the deal.

But the Jets are more than capable of surviving the lack of Jones in their lives, as consolation lies all around them…

The Jones Privilege

Adding Jones has given the Titans the dreaded title of “offseason champions”, as amateurs and experts alike will probably list them as their Super Bowl champions. They likely inherit the title from the Arizona Cardinals, who were burdened with expectations after acquiring DeAndre Hopkins in a one-sided trade with Houston. Arizona began the year 6-3 but dropped five of their final seven in missing out on the playoff entirely.

Time will tell exactly how Tennessee handles the pressure, but it’s hard to be too cynical about their chances, at least on paper. The Titans are, after all, only two years removed from an appearance in the AFC title game and are coming off their first division title since 2008. They’re tied for the seventh-best record in the NFL over the last two seasons. During his unscheduled on-air conversation with Sharpe, Jones insisted he wanted to be dealt to a contender, ruling out Undisputed co-host Skip Bayless’ Dallas Cowboys…and, by process of elimination, the Jets.

Acquiring Jones is a first-world problem of sorts, a privilege bestowed to those who are the proverbial “one move away” from the Super Bowl. The Jets are a few moves away from merely fighting for a wild-card berth, never mind The Big Game. Even if they undoubtedly got better this offseason…if only because there was nowhere to go but up after the Adam Gase era…emerging from a crowded AFC pool packed to the brim with established contenders seems like a tall ask. There’s thus no use in taking the uncertainties of post-injury Jones, who turned 32 in February, not to mention the financial obligations that come with it (over a $63 million cap hit over the next three seasons).

No Co-Authorship

One of the primary focuses of this New York offseason has been establishing a new identity, leaving a signature on a new exhibit. Through the hiring of new head coach Robert Saleh, the Jets have managed to do that. The former San Francisco defensive coordinator’s mantra of “all gas, no brake” has already been quoted ad nauseam by Jets fans and Saleh’s entry has been complemented by the arrival of several touted entries who are looking to take the next steps in their respective careers (i.e. Zach Wilson, Corey Davis, and Sheldon Rankins, all of who were chosen in the first round of their respective drafts).

But if one brings Jones into the conversation, suddenly a new identity emerges. Through no fault of Jones, this latest, most hopeful iteration of the Jets’ rebuild gets boiled down to the “Julio Jones Era” and would’ve rendered a great deal of offseason work meaningless.

There’s no doubt that Jones is fully capable of responding to this challenge and will seek to silence any doubters, particularly his former employers that thought he was “only” worth a second-round choice at best. But the Jets are seeking to scribe their own NFL story and identity, as well as write a comeback story that’s a decade in the making. They don’t have the time or resources to worry about ghostwriting someone else’s.

Good Reception

Obviously, in a perfect world, the Jets snag Jones, and he, at the very least, provides some entertainment during another year of rebuilding where progress won’t always show up on the scoreboard.

But if this year is truly the latest stanza of a seemingly eternal rebuild, the Jets must do what they failed to work during last year’s nightmare: take advantage of a bittersweet and gift and turn things into a year of development.

Simply put, anyone who’s watched a minute of NFL football over the last decade knows what Jones is capable of. If this hamstring issue is the first step of the twilight of his career, it’s better for that discovery to be made on a contender rather than a team in desperate need of answers. Once it became clear that the Jets weren’t going to do anything in 2020, Gase and Co. had a prime opportunity to audition a rushing triumvirate of La’Mical Perine, Ty Johnson, and Josh Adams. They instead decided to give Frank Gore a retirement tour, creating questions about the run game that lingered into the offseason.

The Jets have a group of receivers that, while talented, have yet to show they can handle the duties and burdens that comes with the status of a top target. Corey Davis worked behind Brown in Tennessee. Crowder has been a reliable slot option. There are high hopes for second-round brothers Elijah Moore and Denzel Mims. The receiving depth chart is packed to the brim with potential, but the Jets need more proven certainty to truly contend in the modern league. Rather than going with an option like Jones, who isn’t going to immediately shift the team’s fortunes in a lucrative direction, the Jets should instead focus on developing the attractive alternatives that are already in tow.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

Four plays that determined the Buffalo Bills’ Tuesday night fate vs. Tennessee

Finally allowed to kick off, the Buffalo Bills were on the wrong end of a one-sided loss to the Tennessee Titans.

Empire State football’s propensity for tough-to-watch football finally made its way up to Western New York.

Derrick Henry and Ryan Tannehill united for six touchdowns, while their Tennessee Titans teammates countered Josh Allen’s two scores with two interceptions. Allen’s Bills were thus doomed to their first loss of the season, falling to Tennessee by a 42-16 final at Nissan Stadium. It was safe to say that the Titans (4-0) took full advantage of the 16 days of rest brought upon by positive tests for COVID-19.

How did the undefeated trek of the Bills (4-1) come to an unceremonious end in the Music City? ESM highlights four plays that shaped Buffalo’s present and future, for better or worse, over a rare Tuesday night excursion…

1st Quarter: A Good Return

Andre Roberts has the initials “WR” next to his name on the official roster, but it’s safe to say that he has made a far bigger name for himself by removing the W and changing the meaning of the R…in other words, he’s a returner. But Tuesday saw Roberts get plenty of snaps on offense, particularly in the early going. Roberts looked out of place on the first drive, as his would-be reception became a tip into the hands of Malcolm Butler, whose interception set up the first Tennessee score of the day.

Roberts, however, made up for the gaffe on Buffalo’s next possession, a rare point in the game where they looked like the Bills of September if only for a short while. Facing 3rd and 15 at the cusp of the Tennessee red zone, an illegal shift penalty nullified a Buffalo touchdown. An Allen rollout, however, found Roberts at the edge of the sidelines, as his tiptoe catch was the last of four third-down conversions the Bills earned on their way to the end zone. Two plays later, Allen hooked up with Isaiah McKenzie to tie the game.

2nd Quarter: PI on the Case

Penalties were a major problem for the Bills on Tuesday. The Bills doubled their average penalty tally from the first four games, drawing ten flags over the course of the evening. While the infractions were mostly minor, the lost yardage reaching 56, the numbers taken turned out to be vital in the long runs.

Buffalo’s most costly penalty came in the late stages of the first half. Corey Bojorquez “saved” the season by following up a three-and-out with a punt that situated the Titans at their own 10. Tennessee, however, embarked on a methodic drive that reached Buffalo territory. Bills penalties on rare Tennessee third downs allowed the drive to stay alive. Josh Norman was called for a seven-yard pass interference at the 35, while Jerry Hughes jumped offside on third-and-four at the 22 (though it was declined after the Titans got the first down anyway). Tannehill could score from 10 yards out after the Hughes infraction to permanently set momentum in the Nashville corner, creating a 21-10 halftime lead.

3rd Quarter: The Butler Did It

Enough can’t be said about the progress Allen has shown in his third season under Buffalo center, but Tuesday showed some troubling flashbacks to his turnover-laden rookie season. Allen wasn’t afraid to take some risks, but some of those proved costly, like an underthrown cross-body pass intended for Gabriel Davis that went right into the hands of Butler, who broke out of an attempt Cole Beasley tackle to take it back to the Buffalo red zone.

From this brutal evening comes a huge opportunity for Allen. This is the first time both he and his team is facing major adversity in his junior season, and the chance to redeem themselves comes against the defending champion Chiefs on Monday. A true test awaits to see just how much he has learned.

4th Quarter: Five From New York

There were no truly dangerous or egregious penalties on the Buffalo end…no ridiculous roughing the passers, no late hits, no spot-of-the-foul pass interference calls that set the Titans up deep in opposing territory. But what the Bills did in their misdemeanors was set Tennessee up with must-win situations that were far more manageable. They put in a touchdown (a 22-yard Allen pass to TJ Yeldon that capped off a 90-yard trek) at the end of the final frame’s first-third, and had a fighting chance down 28-16 as time began to wind down.

Tennessee responded to that score with a strong drive of their own. They reached the Bills’ 29, but there was still a chance to keep things situated at two possessions by forcing a third down. Seven stood between the Bills and more time off the clock…but they were all-too-happy to wipe away a majority of the deficit when A.J. Epenesa invaded the neutral zone. Blessed with a shorter distance, the Titans took advantage with a seven-yard interior run from Jeremy McNichols that more or less decimated Buffalo’s will. Three plays later, a Henry score officially put the game out of reach.

The Bills return to action next Monday night against the Kansas City Chiefs (5 p.m. ET, Fox/NFL Network)

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Buffalo Bills Game Preview Week 5: Tennessee Titans

Uncertainty has given way to anticipation, as the unbeaten Buffalo Bills and Tennessee Titans take on a rare Tuesday night endeavor.

What: Buffalo Bills at Tennessee Titans
Where: Nissan Stadium, Nashville, TN
When: Tuesday, 7 p.m ET
Watch: CBS

Countless tests and 54 hours later, one of the NFL’s most anticipated Week 5 matchups will finally be staged.

The league will have one less unbeaten team after Tuesday night, as the Buffalo Bills hit the road to take on the Tennessee Titans. This game, originally scheduled for Sunday afternoon’s early slot, will finally kickoff after numerous issues involving positive tests for COVID-19. Consecutive days of fully negative tests out of the Titans allow the Bills to descend upon Nashville for a battle of perfection.

Tennessee’s Week 4 game against Pittsburgh was previously postponed due to positive tests. The Titans last played on September 27, stealing a 31-30 decision from the Minnesota Vikings. Stephen Gostkowski booted a trio of field goals from at least 51 yards out, including the game-winner in the game’s penultimate minute. Some called for the Titans (3-0) to forfeit their contests against Pittsburgh and Buffalo in the wake of the delays, but the Bills have instead rolled with the punches.

“We knew adversity was going to hit. We’re just going to take it day by day and focus on this week only,” Bills offensive lineman Cody Ford said of the delay, per Marcel Louis-Jacques of ESPN. “I don’t know anybody who wants to lose money because of something that they couldn’t control. It’s one of those things where we can only control what we can control. It would hurt not to get paid, but I would rather be healthy than be rich.”

The Bills (4-0) topped the Las Vegas Raiders in their latest matchup, earning a 30-23 decision in their first-ever visit to Nevada. Josh Allen put in three touchdowns (two passing, one rushing) while Quinton Jefferson and Darryl Johnson earned a sack each.

This marks the NFL’s first Tuesday night game since December 2010, when the Minnesota Vikings’ visit to Philadelphia was delayed by threats of a blizzard. Tuesday’s game is one of eight affected by the NFL’s rescheduling process at it continues to play on in the wake of the ongoing health crisis.

The Series

Tennessee leads the all-time series 28-19 (including the matchups under their Oilers moniker), but the Bills have won each of the last three get-togethers, including a 14-7 final at Nissan Stadium last season. Current Cardinal Jordan Phillips had three sacks for the Bills, while Allen had two touchdown passes, including the game-winner to Duke Williams in the fourth quarter.

History Happened: 2000

Everyone knows how the teams’ January 2000 playoff meeting ended…the Music City Miracle that haunts Buffalo fans to this day…but few talk about the immediate follow-up.

After the Titans’ special teams madness against the Bills gave birth to a Super Bowl run, the teams met up for the first Sunday night football game of the 21st century exactly eight months later in Orchard Park. The game was mostly a defensive struggle, with the teams uniting for nine sacks. Eddie George had a touchdown that tied the game in the fourth quarter, but most otherwise neutralized with 37 yards on 17 carries.

Buffalo was already missing Doug Flutie and was forced to turn to third-stringer Alex Van Pelt when Rob Johnson suffered an ankle injury. Van Pelt threw for 67 yards in relief, a majority of it coming on a 36-yard hookup with Eric Moulds that set up Steve Christie’s game-winning field goal. Deja vu nearly struck in the most horrifying way, as Derrick Mason set the Titans up near midfield on the ensuing kickoff. But one last stand from the Bills defense forced Tennessee to try a 60-yard overtime enforcer. Craig Hentrich’s kick failed, and the Bills escaped with a 16-13 win…hardly a sign of things to come for the fruitless decade.

They Said It

“Everybody’s being understanding. This isn’t a one-team league, it’s 32 teams. Everybody’s doing the best they can, things are going to happen. This isn’t a league-wide disaster or anything, the world’s going through it as well. As far as handling it one day at a time, I’m being understanding more than anything because I feel for those guys too. As far as people being sick, you don’t want anybody sick.”Bills WR Stefon Diggs on the Titans’ situation, per Maddy Glab & Dante Lasting

“At the end of the day, we’re not going to make any excuses man,” Byard said. “We’re going to come in here and focus on what we need to focus on, and that’s winning the ballgame.”Titans CB Kevin Byard on Tennesee’s approach to Tuesday, per the Associated Press

Matchup To Watch

WR Stefon Diggs vs. CB Malcolm Butler

The Titans have greatly missed Adoree’ Jackson, who has been dealing with a knee injury and has yet to appear in a game this season. They’re 23rd in the AFC by allowing just over 256 passing yards a game and have let up an average of 472 total yards over the last two weeks, skating by thanks to strong offensive performances. The former Super Bowl hero Butler has been part of the struggles in the early going. Both he and fellow secondary defender Chris Jackson have also been working with injuries, but both are expected to play.

It sets up the potential for a perfect Buffalo storm, as Diggs has been one of their most explosive catalysts behind their undefeated start. If he’s allowed to get loose, especially in the early going, it well could be another long 60 minutes, ones that could cost the Titans their perfect record.

The Bills Will Win If…

They attack the Titans’ suspect secondary and get off to a fast start.

Buffalo is only second to Dallas in passing yards a game at over 316. The Titans come in struggling in the deeper parts of the field and haven’t suited up in over two weeks. Pouncing on your host is advisable under normal conditions, and it could become downright vital in such a crucial conference showdown. It’s perhaps very, very early to start thinking about the postseason, but Tuesday could well play a role in playoff seedings…perhaps even the all-too-valuable, single first-round bye.

The Titans Will Win If…

They used their time off well.

Eyes in all NFL, maybe in all sports, circles are on the Titans after they’ve been responsible for one of the bigger COVID outbreaks since the return to action. They’ve used the momentum they’ve earned from an AFC title game appearance well, but they’ll have a plethora of taunts and problems to deal with if Tuesday’s match doesn’t go well. Tennessee reserves may have to come up big as well. AJ Brown is nursing a knee injury, so don’t be surprised to see names like Kalif Raymond or Geoff Swaim rise to the occasion.

Prediction

It’s been a long, long time since the Titans suited up for a game. Beating a Buffalo squad that’s firing on all cylinders and eager for more seems like a lot to ask for at this point. If Buffalo is truly serious about contending, these are the types of games that need to come away with, especially with their divisional competition from New England sidelined by the health crisis as well. Expect the Bills to take advantage on Tuesday.

Bills 28, Titans 24

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Buffalo Bills stand by in wake of opponent’s COVID woes

The Buffalo Bills can only be patient as their battle of unbeatens against the Titans hangs in doubt due to Tennessee’s COVID woes.

The ongoing health crisis has officially invaded the NFL’s bubble…or lack thereof…in the form of an outbreak amongst the Tennessee Titans organization. A Thursday report from ESPN indicated that another member of the Titans’ organization has tested positive for COVID-19, bringing their total to 23 since September 24. The positives have forced a shutdown of the Titans’ Nashville facility.

It obviously pales in comparison, but the positive tests put a highly anticipated NFL showdown in jeopardy. Already forced to reschedule their Week 4 matchup against Pittsburgh, the Titans are, as of press time, slated to battle the Buffalo Bills this coming Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS).

As the situation awaits further developments, the Bills (4-0) are going to continue to push forward with business as usual while taking the proper precautions to ensure that they’re not forced to deal with an outbreak themselves.

“The best thing that we can do is prepare like we’re playing a game on Sunday,” Bills quarterback Josh Allen said earlier this week, in a report from Matt Parrino of Syracuse.com. “If the game does happen I trust what coach Sean McDermott and the league tell us to do…It takes one guy to go to the grocery store and it’s simple as that sometimes. You don’t ever suspect anybody to have it in the facility, but you’ve got to hope that guys are wearing their masks and the contact tracers are working.

“It’s just like holding each other accountable to that standard where if you are feeling something, tell somebody,” Allen added. “We are accountable, and we trust the guys in this locker room to do the right thing.”

Buffalo previously deal with a rash of false positives during training camp. Allen was among those affected by those and was forced to miss a practice session as a result.

The continuing situation is all part of the challenges a most unusual season that veterans like safety Jordan Poyer saw coming.

“I think coming into the season everybody knew that it was going to be something different. Everybody knew that there were a lot of challenges and obstacles that we’re going to have to overcome,” Poyer said, per Maddy Glab and Dante Lasting at BuffaloBills.com. “I figured at some point during the season this situation was going to happen, I just didn’t know when. I think Sean said it before the season, having the understanding that mentally, it’s going to be different than any other season that we’ve been a part of. We’re going to have to overcome it.”

While the previous matchup against the Steelers was pushed back three weeks (during Pittsburgh’s original open date), postponing the Bills game could be very tricky. Buffalo is scheduled to partake in Week 6’s Thursday night opener, another high-profile matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs. ESPN’s Dianna Russini states that their tilt against Tennessee could be moved to Monday or Tuesday, not unlike how the Chiefs and New England Patriots rescheduled their own Week 4 matchup from Sunday to Monday after a few positives tests on each side, including the latter’s starting quarterback Cam Newton. If that were the case, the Bills’ Thursday night visit to Kansas City would shift to Saturday.

A Tennessee forfeit is also on the table, though players would not receive a game check in such an event. Many fans have clamored for such a result after Tennessee reportedly broke protocol by practicing at a Nashville preparatory school while their facility was shut down.

Bills receiver Stefon Diggs, however, held no ill will toward the Titans and advocated to play if everything is safe and secure.

“This isn’t just a league-wide disaster or whatever, the world’s going through it as well,” Diggs said in Parrino’s report. “(We’re) handling it one day at a time. I’m being understanding more than anything because I feel for those guys, too. You don’t want anybody sick.”

The NFL has continued to monitor their attempts to work through the health crisis, which has proved risky without a bubble setting adopted by other leagues like the NHL, NBA, and WNBA. Adopting face coverings on the sidelines has proved to be a problem for coaches, forcing the league to threaten more progressive penalties, such as the forfeiture of draft picks.

Geoff Magliocchett is on Twitter @GeoffJMags