New York Jets positional preview 2021: Running backs

How will the New York Jets move on in their rushing situation after Le’Veon Bell? ESM investigates in Part II of its offseason preview.

The Position: Running Back
On the Roster: La’Mical Perine, Ty Johnson
Free Agents: Frank Gore, Josh Adams
Reserve/Future: Pete Guerriero

If you told New York Jets fans this time last year that Le’Veon Bell would be getting ready to play in Super Bowl LV, they would be ecstatic and likely booking their flights and hotels to/in the Tampa area. Alas for the wearers of green, we’re enduring a socially distanced Super Bowl this year that will limit attendance. If Bell plays, he will not represent the Jets, but the Kansas City Chiefs, having been mercifully granted his New York release after 17 games over the last two seasons.

Upon his departure, Bell left behind an aura of uncertainty with the Jets rushing situation…and that can’t be pinned entirely on his release. The Jets had an opportunity to clear up their rushing future with several viable candidates. Fourth-round rookie La’mical Perine was emerging from an early stretch of injuries while the Jets added former Detroit draft pick Ty Johnson off waivers. Joe Douglas’ former Philadelphia disciple Josh Adams was also called up from the practice squad. Alas, New York opted to give most of its rushing opportunities to an aging Frank Gore, who put up a career-low 3.5 yards a carry and never reached the 75-yard plateau.

While Perine (64 carries, 232 yards, 2 scores) struggled to gain traction, missing six games due to injuries and a late positive test for COVID-19, Johnson and Adams took advantage of the little opportunities left. The pair united for 178 yards in a December contest against Las Vegas, with Johnson accounting for the first triple-digit rushing game for a Jets back in over two calendar years.

Free Agents-to-be 

Frank Gore

One can easily respect the brilliant, resilient NFL career of Gore while acknowledging that it’s probably not the best idea to make him your feature back at age 37. But that’s exactly what the Jets tried to do last season, and it didn’t end well. Again, one can’t entirely pin the disaster on Gore, who had a purpose upon his signing. No one was going to quarrel with the veteran Gore coming to New York and serving as a spell option, mentor, and veteran leader, but making him the top back after Bell’s release was ill-advised, especially when the macabre gift of consequence-free football games would’ve allowed the Jets to try something new.

Gore hinted at retirement during the season but left the door open to a 17th season earlier this winter, telling team reporter Jack Bell “I haven’t made a decision yet”. He ended the 2020 campaign as the third-leading rusher in NFL history at exactly 16,000 yards, behind only Emmitt Smith (18,355) and Walter Payton (16,726). Whether he’ll add to that tally remains to be seen, it’s possible additional yardage could be earned in a Jets jersey. Several of Gore’s younger teammates often cited the value of his veteran leadership and the Jets could be getting even younger at some of their most vital positions…i.e. quarterback. Then again, Gore may be better off “ring-chasing” as the Jets seek to make their own luck moving forward.

Josh Adams

After all the drama, someone with the name “J. Adams” actually contributed something positive for the Jets in 2020. Adams previously worked with Douglas as an undrafted rookie during the Eagles’ failed Super Bowl defense in 2018, picking up a team-best 511 yards. One of Douglas’ first moves upon taking the Jets’ GM spot was to pick up Adams after he was a part of Philadelphia’s final camp cuts the following year. Adams played sparingly in his New York debut but led Jets running backs with a 5.4 average carry (albeit on 29 attempts) last season.

Adams’ familiarity with Douglas could potentially work in his favor if he’s interested in a reunion, but he may seek a new destination with more consistent opportunities to avoid getting lost in the fold.

Will They Draft?

Unlikely. The Jets just used a fourth-round choice on Perine last spring. They will likely turn to free agency to find a more established primary option, whether it’s in preparation for someone like Perine or Johnson to take on the role full-time or a longer-term option. It has been a long time since the Jets drafted a running back during the draft’s early portions, their last selection over the first two days coming in 2009 (Shonn Greene), but there are far too many holes to fill to “waste” an early pick on a rusher.

Veteran Possibilities 

Leonard Fournette, Tampa Bay

Another future Super Bowl participant, Fournette could work in the same capacity Gore did: serve as a calming veteran prescience that knows how to win. In addition to his upcoming trip to the Big Game, Fournette was also involved in Jacksonville’s surprising trip to the AFC title game in 2018. The true difference from the Gore era would be that Fournette, 26, has proven he can still handle the workload of a top rusher. He has come up particularly big for the Buccaneers during their title run, putting up 313 total yards and scoring a touchdown in each of the three games. 

Malcolm Brown, LA Rams

It’s possible the Jets could go with a rusher-by-committee approach, though they could use an experienced option to head up the group. Brown will likely seek a new opportunity after sharing duties with Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson in Los Angeles. He and Henderson led the Rams in rushing scores with five each.

Kyle Juszcsyk, San Francisco

It has been a while since the Jets experimented with a fullback, their last legitimate project perhaps being Lex Hilliard in 2012. They briefly toyed with tight end Trevon Wesco in the spot but more or less abandoned it when the sophomore dealt with injuries this season. Adding Juszczyk, who would be familiar with Robert Saleh and Mike LaFleur from his San Francisco days, would give the Jets not only a player with winning experience but a goal-line option to go along with his traditional blocking duties. Juszczy, a five-time Pro Bowler, scored a career-best six touchdowns this season, including two in his first multi-score game against Arizona in December.

Outlook

There is certainly plenty of room to get better when it comes to the Jets’ run game, but, for a team that has so many holes, bolstering the unit may take a backseat while they settle some other affairs. Combine that with a relatively weak free agent class (the top overall options may be Fournette, Kenyan Drake, and Todd Gurley) and the Jets’ still recovering from the Bell debacle, it’s difficult to imagine them making too drastic of a movie. There’s certainly potential from the names on the roster right now, but the Jets’ failure to perform extensive research once Bell left could come back to hurt the team in the near future. An opportunity presented itself to check something off the offseason checklist, but they opted to give that opportunity to a potential Gore retirement tour.

 Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

The New York Jets won a game…and that’s completely fine

The New York Jets committed a mortal football sin on Sunday: a win in Los Angeles. But Gang Green has nothing to apologize for.

Christmas morning came about five days early for New York Jets fans.

Week 15 action saw two of their wildest fantasies become a reality, a pair of gifts that would generate a reaction forever immortalized in home movies. The early window of Sunday action saw the New England Patriots’ postseason streak finally end in a loss in Miami. On the other side of the country, the Jets perhaps prompted toasts of Zima amongst members of the 2008 Detroit Lions and 2017 Cleveland Browns. Their 23-20 win over the Los Angeles Rams…a team in legitimate contention for an NFL postseason spot…ended a franchise-worst 13-game losing streak and helped the Jets avoid 16-game imperfection.

For Jets fans, topping a team that could well be playing into February after watching the Patriots get erased from the playoff picture could’ve created rare tidings of comfort and joy. It was a feeling of watching your worst enemy have his gift of a PlayStation 5 taken away, but not before you get to use it for a couple of hours.

But, this being the year 2020 A.D., the sweetest of Sunday feelings, denied to the green New York fandom until the penultimate week of this cursed 366-day process, was viewed as the worst thing that could happen to an already star-crossed franchise.

The Jets’ victory in Los Angeles proved to be, in the eyes of some fans, an early Festivus miracle, as their feat of strength set off an airing of grievances unlike any other. Their triumph came at a price, the charge being lost real estate on the draft board in Cleveland. New York’s name now appears in the second slot, behind only the Jacksonville Jaguars, their compatriot in the brotherhood of 1-13 ledgers. Creating the imperfect, unholy trinity with the Lions and Browns has been no concern to the Jaguars, who have lost 13 in a row after winning on opening day. Their latest defeat was a listless 40-14 showing in Baltimore and they certainly won’t be favored in their final contests against Chicago and Indianapolis, each of whom harbors playoff dreams (the latter game could help the Colts win the AFC South). Jacksonville holds the tiebreaker with a worse strength of schedule.

The fear amongst Jets fans is that Jacksonville now has the inside track for Trevor Lawrence, who perhaps broke the hearts of two green teams in the span of a weekend. Saturday saw the Clemson quarterback solidify his status as the consensus top pick, torching Notre Dame for 412 total yards and three scores in a 34-10 victory in the ACC title game. Jets fans were willing to accept inclusion on the list of winless teams in NFL history in exchange for the glory of Lawrence. Now, Lawrence appears bound for Jacksonville, a five hour drive from Miami, where many believe he and the Tigers will be on January 11 for college football’s national title game.

But…it’s shocking it needs to be said, but hey, it’s 2020…what’s done is done. There’s no use crying over spilled Gatorade. The Jets won a game…and that’s perfectly all right.

Tank the Tank

The notion of tanking is ludicrous in all walks of life, particularly in a profession where you can be one of the 32 best people at your job in the entire world, and observers and supervisors alike will call for your axing.

To their macabre credit, the Jets rarely seemed to buy into the concept. Sure, there have been incidents where they might’ve been better off staying home…the brutal visits to Indianapolis, Miami, and Seattle come to mind…but one can look at the Jets’ 2020 schedule and find instances where, on paper, they should’ve come out with a win. Nothing more needs to be said about the ill-advised final blitz against Las Vegas, but they had control for a majority of prime time contests against Denver and New England. Even their first visit to SoFi Stadium could’ve gone worse, as they played the Chargers to a 34-28 decision.

Members of the modern Jets have been clear where their priorities lie. Spoiler alert, they’re not on the draft board.

“I don’t put my body through this, I don’t think anybody on the Jets puts their body through it, to lose,” offensive lineman McGovern said prior to the departure to Los Angeles, per Greg Joyce of the New York Post. “It might be easy for somebody sitting on the couch, eating pizza, chips, and dip, to say they should keep losing, but if they’ve ever strapped the pads on, that sounds like an impossible thing for me to do. I’m going to do whatever I can to win.”

Mekhi Becton, a rare Jet who has a spot on this roster beyond 2020, advocated that those rooting for losses should turn in their New York fan credentials.

“You ain’t really a fan if you didn’t want us to win, honestly,” Becton told Jeane Coakley of SNY. “I mean that in the nicest way possible. I don’t mean that in a disrespectful way. But I mean, if you wanted us to lose, you’re not a real fan, honestly.”

Even before the losses began to pile up, the Jets were made up of players who needed to prove their worth to build a long-term NFL future. That was apparent in general manager Joe Douglas’ free agent haul this offseason, where all but one signee (McGovern) was granted a contract worth one year or contained an affordable exit after 2020. To ask these players to toss away their final chances to impress, not only for the Jets but for the 31 other NFL squads as well, for the sake of a “reward” they maybe not even be around to witness is out of touch. For these players, these final hours could be the difference between another NFL paycheck or waiting for the XFL to come back in 2022.

Some of those holdovers are carving spots for themselves on a future roster. Midseason acquisition Ty Johnson earned the first 100-yard rushing game from a Jets rusher against Las Vegas and scored a touchdown on the opening drive against the Rams. Neville Hewitt is working his way toward another New York contract with 122 tackles. One can even point at Sam Darnold’s case as to why the Jets shouldn’t be tanking. He has, from at least a team standpoint, consequence-free opportunities to convince the Jets that he deserves to maintain his hold on the position.

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that people will go to great lengths to keep their livelihoods when they’re on the line. The Jets shouldn’t be faulted for doing so in a relatively harmless fashion.

Hold that Tiger

Lawrence mastery on Saturday might’ve been just enough for even the staunchest Jets supporter to consider wearing blue, cream, and yellow in support of the Rams the next day. There’s no doubt that whoever is getting Lawrence is getting an incredible talent on and off the field. His prowess on the gridiron speaks for itself and he became a strong voice of unity and leadership elsewhere. Along with Sugar Bowl opponent and likely fellow first-rounder Justin Fields of Ohio State, Lawrence was an advocate for both societal equality and safely finding a way to play the 2020 college football amidst the ongoing health crisis.

But for all his magic, for all his powers…even Lawrence is not a be-all, end-all, fix-all solution to the New York Jets franchise.

Sure, there’s plenty of time for the Jets to tidy up and make their organization attractive to a sought-after newcomer, be a rookie like Lawrence or a veteran free agent like Allen Robinson or JuJu Smith-Schuster. But it’s going to take a lot of work. The Le’Veon Bell case perhaps set the Jets’ transactional affairs back further than they could’ve imagined. What high-ticket free agent is going to look at the way the Bell situation played out, becoming a saga plagued by infighting amongst the team’s decisionmakers and leading to the post-draft firing of a general manager, and look to replicate that? The Jets certainly have a strong budget to work with (just below $73 million and potentially counting if they cut pricey veterans like Henry Anderson and George Fant), but they’ll need to do a better job building relationships.

At the very least, Douglas has made it clear that he has a plan, leaving traces of his blueprints across his transactions, even if they haven’t fully played out. When the quarterback needed blocking, Douglas traded for Alex Lewis and convinced Ryan Kalil to come out of retirement. With Darnold low on weapons, Douglas signed Breshad Perriman and found a day two gem in Denzel Mims in the draft. Noe everything has panned out on the field…Kalil failed to play up to his Pro Bowl form and Perriman has been inconsistent…but it at least showed that Douglas knew how to chase down a need position.

There’s definitely hope on the horizon. Mims has shown flashes of brilliance despite bouts with injury and Becton has been everything the Jets could’ve asked for. But this group, particularly the offensive line, is very much a work in progress. Putting Lawrence behind the current blocking unit would be only asking for trouble. There’s time to improve between now and the spring, but, if things stay the way they are, the Lawrence era probably wouldn’t be that much different from Darnold’s.

But, contrary to popular belief amongst the pro-tank crowd, the draft does not begin and end once Lawrence’s name is called. At least 224 men will be added to NFL rosters in Cleveland, and the Jets will be choosing quite often. Cincinnati’s shocking win on Monday night over Pittsburgh, perhaps another victory seen as ill-advised by those who wish to tank, ensured that the Jets would choose no later than second overall come April. There’s plenty of other needs that can be immediately satisfied with the No. 2 pick, even if Lawrence is donning a Jaguars cap and jersey. The non-Lawrence quarterback would be well protected with the combined efforts of Penei Sewell or Rashawn Slater. He can throw to Ja’Marr Chase or Devonta Smith. The yearly couple against Josh Allen and Tua Tagovailoa would be easier to bear pass rushers Kwity Paye or Jayson Oweh if they trade down. Others from those positions (i.e. Azeez Ojulari, Wyatt Davis, or Terrace Marshall) could be available when the Jets choose later on day one with Seattle’s pick, obtained from the Jamal Adams trade.

It’s fair to mourn the loss of Lawrence in the early going…and even more so when rewatching the film from Charlotte on Saturday…but it’s a potential loss they can overcome with the right brand of drafting and scouting ingenuity.

New York Jets, Adam Gase
Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Change is Still Coming

The Jets might’ve been on the right side of the scoreboard after Sunday’s affair, but there were still plenty of reminders as to why they’re long eliminated from the NFL playoff picture. Inspiring and fun as the win may be…former Super Bowl offensive coordinator and Jets head coach Adam Gase remarked per The Post that “I don’t think I’ve seen a group more excited after a game than what I saw (Sunday) when talking about the postgame reaction…it’d be silly to believe that it’ll serve as the deciding factor as to whether some veterans stay or go.

From a playcalling standpoint, for example, there’s no reason to waste consequence-free games on giving the ball to Frank Gore 23 times a game while Johnson carried it only thrice (returning rookie La’Mical Perine didn’t get any). There was a chance for the Jets to build on a 13-0 lead going into the halftime break, but opted for short runs that allowed Los Angeles to get the ball back and add a triple. The defense took a notable step backward when an injured Quinnen Williams was forced to leave the game, giving up three consecutive scoring drives in the second half.

Another asterisk came in the form of the opponent. Rams rusher Cam Akers, fresh off a career-best 171-yard performance against New England, was affected by an ankle injury they stripped him of his true impact (though two long Akers runs, including a touchdown, were called back due to penalties in the second half). Even if the Jets did buy into tanking, Los Angeles almost wouldn’t allow it. Five of the first six Rams possessions ended in a punt, one of which was blocked by J.T. Hassell. The outlier in that group resulted in a Bryce Hall interception.

So, unless Johnson or Gore helped you win your fantasy football semifinal, only true football die-hards are going to remember this win. Change is still coming with to the Jets. Previews of the purge have been plentiful…just ask Bell, Steve McLendon, Avery Williamson, Pierre Desir, or Gregg Williams…but it should begin in earnest this offseason. If the Jets are truly on the fence about Gase, a December win against an opponent that was clearly not operating at top speed shouldn’t be enough to sway the pendulum back in his favor.

Douglas has a plan, picks, and prosperity through cap space. One win, even at the cost of one potential quarterback, shouldn’t be the force of destruction that upends it all.

It’s rare enough that the Jets earn a thrilling December victory in this day and age. If you’re a fan, you should feel no reservation toward celebrating it.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: Three stars from Sunday’s win at Los Angeles

The New York Jets pulled off the unthinkable on Sunday, topping the Los Angeles Rams in a shocking road upset.

New York Jets fans received the most purgatorial Christmas gift on Sunday afternoon.

For the first time in 357 days, the Jets (1-13) were on the right side of the scoreboard, topping the Los Angeles Rams in a shocking upset out west on Sunday evening by a 23-20 final. Neville Hewitt was among the Jets’ stars with 10 tackles, while Jamison Crowder had a team-best 66 yards through the air. New York defenders had three sacks on the evening, playing a part in dealing a brutal blow to the Rams’ (9-5) chances to win the NFC West. The Jets will also avoid landing in 16-game infamy, a fate that still belongs to only the 2008 Detroit Lions and 2017 Cleveland Browns.

ESM looks back on the win and dispenses some game balls from a big victory…

3rd Star: RB Frank Gore

23 carries, 59 yards, 1 TD, 1 reception, 6 yards

Much has been made about the Jets continue to insist on providing Gore a retirement tour of sorts while younger backs sit behind him. But he made the most of his opportunities in Los Angeles and earned some of the biggest touches in Sunday’s victory. Gore helped set the pace with a one-yard score on the Jets’ first drive of the second half and later caught the six-yard pass just before the two-minute warning of the fourth quarter that allowed Jets fans to start celebrating…the ones that wanted to, anyway.

2nd Star: DL Quinnen Williams

4 tackles, 1 sack

Even with an elusive win, it’ll take Jets fans a lot of football therapy to fully remove the demons of 2020 from their mindset. But the season could likely go down as the year that gave rise to the justification of Quinnen Williams at the third overall slot in his draft. Williams continued his breakout on the Los Angeles stage, invading the Rams backfield numerous times and picking up his team-best seventh sack of the season. It’s unclear whether Williams will get to finish his sophomore season, as he missed the finishing touches in the locker room with a concussion. If his season is indeed over, its relative brevity shouldn’t take away the progress Williams has made and the opinions he has changed.

1st Star: RB Ty Johnson

6 receptions 39 yards, 1 TD, 3 carries 16 yards

Johnson is one of those names that have stuck behind Gore’s final days as a feature back, even as he became the first Jets rusher in 26 calendar months to reach triple-digits in yardage in a single game. But he’s making the most of his chances and more or less one of the greatest examples and cases against tanking: the former sixth-round pick from Detroit is potentially creating a longer career for himself, whether it’s in New York or elsewhere. Johnson was one of Darnold’s favorite targets during Sunday’s action, tying with Crowder and Robert Woods for a game-high six receptions. One of his first accounted for a touchdown on the Jets’ opening drive that foreshadowed the magic ahead.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

New York Jets: Running game rises amidst disaster

Lost in the New York Jets’ most heartbreaking defeat in recent memory was the rise of a rushing tandem that united for 178 yards.

The number 100 holds a special place in the athletic realm. Olympic events are often contested in 100-meter durations. One of the most iconic photos in basketball history depicts Wilt Chamberlain holding a piece of paper with the numerals crudely scribbled on after he broke famously broke the century mark in scoring during a 1962 game in Hershey. The National Football League plastered it all over its fields, equipment, and merchandise as it turned the big one-double zero last season.

A 100-yard game from an NFL running back used to be a jaw-dropper, but the happening has become more commonplace as the league enters its second century. Entering Sunday’s Week 13 action, 60 such games had been recorded across the leagues. That follows the tally of 110 recorded during the last regular season.

None of those games, however, were recorded by New York Jets representatives. Ever since Isaiah Crowell turned himself into one of the most prominent one-hit wonders in New York Jets history with a franchise-best 219 yards in an October 2018 win over Denver, the Jets failed to reach the elusive mark. Le’Veon Bell was expected to prevent such a drought, but he never put up more than 87 yards in his season-plus in a New York uniform. Their failure to procure even the most basic tenet of offensive success has only added to the brutality of a losing streak that reached a dozen on Sunday afternoon, when the Jets fell to the Las Vegas Raiders by a 31-28 final in the most heartbreaking of fashions.

A late defensive lapse prevented the Jets (0-12) from breaking their losing streak, but one of their rushers was finally able to get back to the century-mark on the ground. Over two years after Crowell’s moment in the green spotlight, Ty Johnson got the Jets’ ground antics going with a 104-yard showing on 22 carries. Assisting Johnson was an equally strong effort from Josh Adams, who need only eight opportunities to reach 74 yards.

The unlikely tandem rose to the occasion when Frank Gore was forced to leave the game for a concussion evaluation. Rookie La’Micael Perine also missed Sunday’s proceedings after leaving last week’s visit to Los Angeles with an ankle ailment. With 28 more yards coming from Gore and quarterback Sam Darnold, the Jets earned 208 rushing yards on the afternoon, by far their best effort of the season.

“I think they did a great job, considering we were looking to rotate all three of those guys,” head coach Adam Gase said of Johnson, Adams, and Gore, per Randy Lange of NewYorkJets.com. “(Johnson and Adams) did a really good job of going in there and being ready to go. We gave them some good holes and they hit ’em. It was good to have a guy get 100 yards rushing and to get 200 yards on the night. It wasn’t enough.”

With a rising number of injuries and a de facto sense of freedom to experiment with the postseason no longer a concern, the Jets have seen several reserves make significant contributions in their valiant efforts to earn a win. Prepped for Sunday work against Las Vegas with Perine out, Johnson and Adams took advantage of their newfound opportunities.

Johnson, 23 is in the midst of his second NFL season, joining the league as Detroit’s sixth-round draft pick out of Maryland. The Jets claimed him less than 24 hours after he was released by the Lions in October. While used sparingly, he notable earned a 34-yard gain in the Jets’ Week 6 visit to Miami, one of their rare positive outputs in a 24-0 defeat.

The rusher earned 28 vital yards on one of the Jets’ final drives, one that set up Darnold’s four-yard scoring run and the subsequent two-point tally earned by Denzel Mims. Johnson himself would help the Jets complete their comeback from a 24-13 deficit in the final quarter and score what probably should’ve been the game-winning touchdown, a one-yard punch partially set up by Javelin Guidry’s forced fumble.

“It was just waiting on the moment,” Johnson said in Lange’s report. “It’s just putting in the work and whenever the opportunity shows, just run with it. The coaches gave me an opportunity and that’s what I did with it.”

Alas for Johnson, his shining moment came in one of the more painful chapters in Jets history, lost in a defeat that pushed the Jets closer to imperfect infamy. Johnson’s disappointment was evident during his postgame statements.

“(100 yards is) cool and all. My family’s happy and a lot of people were messaging me this and that. But at the end of the day, we didn’t get the win. I wanted to get the win, that’s point-blank. It’s a blessing. I appreciate the guys giving me the opportunity, the guys on the line, out on the perimeter. I appreciate the hell out of them. I just wish at the end of that we came out with that W.”

Adams’ New York resume was slightly more accomplished in the lead-up to Sunday. The Notre Dame alum had previously worked with general manager Joe Douglas during the pair’s shared time with the Eagles in 2018. Philadelphia added Adams as an undrafted free agent and he wound up tallying 511 yards in his abbreviated season, 10th-best amongst rookie rushers.

The Jets brought Adams in during the 2019 season and he has been on and off the Jets’ active roster ever since. He too was struggled to gain a spot in the New York rotation but notably scored a touchdown in the Jets’ 2020 opener in Buffalo.

Adams earned several chunk yardage plays during Sunday’s proceedings, his longest carry going for 38 yards late in the first half. Alas, his efforts were likewise wasted, as the Jets were forced into a turnover on the very next play, run in a first-and-goal situation. New York would later cash in on Adams’ efforts at the onset of the fourth quarter, when he went 18 yards on the first play from scrimmage en route to Darnold’s score (his second of the season, tying him for the team lead with Perine).

The theme of free research and development may continue to be the one thing the Jets have left to play four as they mercifully enter the final quarter of this cursed slate. Such a stretch begins next Sunday in Seattle (4:05 p.m. ET, CBS).

Even as the Jets seem destined to choose passing sensations Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields with the top overall pick come April, the first dozen games have shown that the team is far from a quick quarterback fix to return to NFL relevancy. Their post-Bell rushing game will no doubt be scrutinized, especially with Perine potentially returning at some point in this stretch. While the Jets may be reluctant to spend a part of their sizable offseason budget (currently at just over $82 million in cap space) on another running back after the Bell departure, they’ll possibly look to upgrade with a veteran like Mike Davis or Phillip Lindsay to move forward.

Thus, Johnson and Adams could potentially have a shot to show the Jets that their rushing solutions may lie within and that they might be able to trim their offseason shopping list. The situation could wind up falling from their control…the current coaching staff has shown an uncanny loyalty to a 37-year old Gore…but their ongoing antics should give fans a reason to keep an eye on whatever remains in this season long-forsaken by football deities.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

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

The New York Jets snatched defeat from the clutches of victory, as a long, late touchdown doomed them to an 0-12 fate.

The masochistic cult of New York Jets tanking efforts enjoyed an early holiday present in the late stages of Sunday’s action.

Derek Carr’s 46-yard touchdown pass with five seconds to go landed safely in the hands of Henry Ruggs, whose go-ahead touchdown gave the Las Vegas Raiders a 31-28 victory over the Jets at MetLife Stadium. Carr and Ruggs’ late-game heroics doomed the Jets to an 0-12 record, though they took another step toward securing the top overall pick of the 2021 NFL Draft.

Despite the loss, the Jets tallied a season-best 376 yards of offense and enjoyed a stellar rushing day from Ty Johnson and Josh Adams, who united for 178 yards on the ground after Frank Gore left the game with a concussion.

ESM has a trio of game balls to dispense in valiant, but short, effort…

3rd Star: LB Neville Hewitt

12 tackles, 1 sack

Perhaps it says more about the modern Jets than it does about the veteran linebacker, but Hewitt has been one of the Jets’ most consistent contributors over the past three seasons. He has established himself as a strong depth option, and this has proven to be no exception. Hewitt has taken on a veteran leadership role as injuries continue to eat away at the secondary, and he rose to the occasion with 12 tackles and a sack of Carr. The tanking concept is completely irrelevant to guys like Hewitt, who might be playing for a long-term deal after joining the Jets on three separate single-year contracts.

2nd Star: QB Sam Darnold

14-of-23, 186 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT, 3 carries, 26 yards, 1 TD

As Jets fans clamor for the Endeavor for Trevor (Lawrence), Darnold made it clear on Sunday that he’s not going to relinquish his hold on the team’s franchise quarterback spot without a fight. His turnover problem (three on Sunday) continued to surfac, but he nonetheless came up big in leading the Jets back from a 24-13 fourth quarter deficit. Darnold also found Jamison Crowder for a pair of touchdown passes in the first half. These final hours will be crucial for Darnold to prove that he can still be the man of the future, perhaps under a new coaching staff. After all, the draft doesn’t begin or end with Lawrence or Justin Fields. Penei Sewell would perhaps be a strong blocking option in a high posting.

1st Star: RB Ty Johnson

22 carries, 104 yards, 1 TD

Johnson made New York Jets history on Sunday, earning the first triple-digit rushing yard game since Isaiah Crowell put up 219 against the Denver Broncos in October 2018. Claimed off waivers from Detroit earlier this fall, Johnson came up big when Gore was evaluated for a concussion. His 104 yards were a career-high since joining the league as a sixth-round pick out of Maryland last season, and he scored what probably should’ve been the game-winning touchdown just past the midway mark of the fourth quarter. If Gore is out for the remainder of the year, the development of Johnson and Adams (74 yards) should be an intriguing subplot to keep an eye on.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags