New York Jets: Grading Week 2’s loss vs. New England

robert saleh, jets

Zach Wilson’s struggles prevented the New York Jets’ offense from moving forward, but Sunday served as another good showcase for the defense.

New York Jets 6 (0-2)

Top Offesnive Performer: RB Michael Carter (11 carries, 59 yards, 2 receptions 29 yards)
Top Defensive Performer: S Marcus Maye (6 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack, 1 pass breakup)
Top Specialist: KR Braxton Berrios (4 returns, 95 yards)
Up Next: Sunday @ Denver (4:05 p.m. ET, CBS)

New England Patriots 25 (1-1)

Top Offesnive Performer: RB James White (6 receptions, 45 yards, 5 carries, 20 yards, 1 touchdown)
Top Defensive Performer: DB J.C. Jackson (3 tackles, 2 interceptions)
Top Specialist: K Nick Folk (4-for-4 field goals, 1-for-2 extra points)
Up Next: Sunday vs. New Orleans (1 p.m. ET, Fox)

Offense: D+

Whether it’s fair or not, the state of the Jets’ offense is going to be judged by Zach Wilson’s progress. Even the most optimistic Wilson prophet had their faith shaken on Sunday, as none of his four interceptions could be excused by a baseball-style official scorer. A struggling offensive line missing the services of Mekhi Becton did little to help out: a metropolitan comeback effort was stymied by four sacks of Wilson, all coming in the second half.

The struggles of Wilson masked some encouraging offensive progress: Michael Carter flourished in expanded duties despite the loss of Becton, earning 88 yards (59 rushing) from scrimmage in his second NFL contest. Ty Johnson maintained consistency with 50 yards on a dozen attempts. Carter and Johnson united to obtain half of the Jets’ 18 first downs.

In terms of passes that landed in the hands of Jets receivers, Braxton Berrios continued his strong start, earning a career-best 73 yards on seven receptions while Corey Davis (2 receptions, 8 yards) was held in check. Elijah Moore (4 receptions, 47 yards) hinted at his greater powers while the Jets continued to struggle with generating momentum amongst the tight ends, particularly when they got deeper in New England territory. Ryan Griffin and Tyler Kroft united for a mere 18 yards on a trio of receptions.

In another positive development, the Jets did earn 336 yards of offense on Sunday, besting their totals from all but two games from last season.

Defense: C+

Considering the awkward position Wilson’s turnovers left them in, the defense did commendable work on Sunday. Highlight reels will immortalize Damien Harris’ touchdown run that took several defenders into the end zone with him, but the makeshift unit put forth a respectable effort in their first Mac Jones experience. The 15th overall pick from April’s draft proceedings was limited to mostly dink-and-dunk endeavors, picking up only 186 yards on 30 attempts.

Linebacker C.J. Mosley started to resemble his Baltimore self, limiting his assignments to 20 yards on four receptions while picking up a team-best 10 tackles. Safety Michael Carter II allowed only 17 yards on five grabs. Quincy Williams appears to be another Joe Douglas waiver wire gem, allowing only 13 yards and earning a tackle in the backfield.

New York’s pass rush also upped its game, tripling its sack total from Week 1. John Frankin-Myers is the only Jets on the sack ledger in each of the first two weeks, having also forced a recovered fumble of Jones. Marcus Maye and Sheldon Rankins earned the other quarterback takedowns, all of which came in the first half. The Jets also forced three New England three-and-outs, up from one against the Panthers.

The Jets were once again beaten by multi-talented running backs: in addition to Harris’ arduous but well-publicized run to glory, the Jets were beaten for 65 yards and a score by White. It’s certainly a few notches down from Christian McCaffrey’s wild ride in Carolina, but worth keeping an eye on moving forward.

Special Teams: C+

Matt Ammendola returned to his regularly scheduled kicking duties on Sunday with Thomas Morestead in tow. Ammendola wound up accounting for all of the metropolitan scoring; he converted from 21 and 35 yards out but missed a 53-yarder in the third quarter. Wilson’s de facto arm punts limited Morestead to a single 45-yard attempt.

In addition to his offensive breakout, Berrios further solidified his prescience on the Jets’ return game, averaging just under 24 yards per kick attempt. His 38-yard return in the late stages of the third quarter set up Ammendola’s first field goal of the day.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

New York Jets: Attainable goals for Friday’s game vs. Philadelphia

zach wilson, jets

ESM’s New York Jets experts believe Gang Green should spend the preseason finale accounting for their defensive absences.

Never mind Labor Day. For New York Jets fans, the unofficial end of summer arrives when the Philadelphia Eagles show up on the preseason ledger.

The Jets’ late-summer showcase with the Eagles resumes on Friday night at MetLife Stadium (7:30 p.m. ET, WCBS). New York (2-0) has faced Philadelphia (0-2) in every preseason finale since 2001. The streak was interrupted only by the cancellation of last year’s preseason proceedings but resumes on Friday night in what goes down as the Jets’ only official home game of their 2021 exhibition showings (they were the designated road team in the opener against the Giants).

ESM’s Jets experts conjure up an attainable goal for Gang Green to fulfill as the preseason comes to a close…

new york jets, zach wilson

Geoff Magliocchetti: Keep the Offensive Momentum Rolling

Losing Carl Lawson for the year (and Jarrad Davis for at least the first five weeks) shouldn’t awaken the Jets from their dreams of development this season, but the first showing sans the former Bengal wasn’t pretty. Missing Lawson wasn’t the biggest issue against Green Bay last weekend…missing tackles and lost coverage battles were far more troubling…but the top unit still looked out of sorts against a Packers offense resting most of its starters (including top throwers Aaron Rodgers and Jordan Love).

The ultimate insult came when the Packer reserves ate up ten minutes of second quarter game time and embarked on a 19-play, 81-yard drive. Six of those plays were conversions on third or fourth down, including the touchdown that capped things off. Since that drive came with a good portion of the Jets starters on the field, the team faces some major questions.

The best defense could be…a good offense.

Even if their conquests have come against defensive reserves, it’s hard not to be enthused about the progress of the Jets offense, especially with Zach Wilson leading the charge. The team has drifted so far behind the times in this NFL dominated by offense: this is a unit that failed to reach a mere 300 yards in all but five of their games last season. Wilson has embarked on six drives this season: the Jets have scored on four of them and all but one has ended in opposing territory. The outlier produced a conservative punt on a one-yard fourth down at the Jets’ 49-yard-line.

Wilson has made the most of his summer opportunities. He has built chemistry with his receivers, namely Corey Davis (6 receptions, 88 yards) and Tyler Kroft (49 yards on a trio of receptions, including two touchdowns in Green Bay). He has responded well to adversity, erasing two deficits at Lambeau through responsive scoring drives.

Time will tell how the Jets, and their 31 NFL compatriots, approach the third preseason game under the adjusted, shortened summer format. Under the previous quartet, the third game was often treated like a dress rehearsal, with starters playing most, if not all, of the first half. Head coach Robert Saleh was vague on his starters’ playing time during joint practices with the Eagles this week but stressed his desire to see a lot of Wilson. It won’t be “more than a half”, per team reporter Ethan Greenberg, but Saleh believes that there’s a prime opportunity for the newcomers on offense to make of the most of the final tune-up of what’s been a successful preseason.

“I want to play (Wilson),” Saleh said in Greenberg’s report. “I do, so we’re talking about it. But right now, I’m leaning towards playing at least the starting offensive line, quarterback, and a majority of the defensive payers…We got a ridiculously young team and they are growing and learning and all of these experiences are so important to them. I feel like they’ve gotten so much better from the first day of camp until now and to pull off now, I think we’d be doing them an injustice.”

If the Jets emerge from this preseason feeling good about themselves, the offense is providing a majority of those good vibes. Keeping up the offensive is more important than ever with so many question marks filling up slots on the defensive depth chart.

Friday also presents a big opportunity for some players to secure premier roles on the team. Who will be the top rusher? Veteran and two-time Super Bowl participant Tevin Coleman is currently slotted in the top rushing role on the official depth chart but Michael Carter, Ty Johnson, and La’Mical Perine have each looked strong at different points of the summer. The backup quarterback debate has yet to be resolved as well. Mike White has been quiet if not consistent but sustained a rib injury in Green Bay last weekend. James Morgan has struggled and veteran Josh Johnson has yet to see the field.

Brendan Carpenter: Fill the Hole Jarrad Davis Leaves Behind

Well, it’s here. The final 2021 preseason game and, believe it or not, there is still one important question that needs answering: what’s going to happen at linebacker behind C.J. Mosley?

The linebacking situation seemed set. It was going to be Mosley and Jarrad Davis manning the main two inside spots. However, with Davis going down for about two months, there’s a hole. The news wasn’t wanted by anyone, but with the injury comes new opportunities for other players. These opportunities could be exciting too, as rookies Jamien Sherwood and Hamsah Nasirildeen will have prime chances to impress.

Sherwood, Nasirildeen, and the veteran depth at linebacker (i.e. Blake Cashman, Noah Dawkins) need to help create some post-Davis clarity on Friday night. If the Jets linebackers can show some ability to make impactful plays and stand tall with the added adversity, it’ll end the preseason on a relatively high note. Well, as high as it could be now.

Expect the linebackers to rotate in and out frequently and to get a glimpse of everything they have to offer. Hopefully, they will be able to achieve the goal of clarity somewhat quickly.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Zach Wilson passed his first test as a New York Jets QB

new york jets, zach wilson

Parts of the New York Jets’ visit to Wisconsin were downright nightmares. But Zach Wilson’s showing has the team buzzing.

For all intents and purposes, the New York Jets’ business trip to Green Bay resembled Michael Scott’s visit to Winnipeg (ironically, the local of another squad branded with aerial endeavors). Sure they got an important job done: Michael made a sale to an international client while the Jets emerged with a 23-14 preseason victory at Lambeau Field on Saturday.

Yet, each trip left the protagonists a bit hollow and empty inside. Michael’s awkward encounter with the hotel’s concierge left him longing for his lost lover Holly Flax. The Jets, meanwhile, come home without several crucial names on defense: marquee offseason arrival Carl Lawson was carted off the field during a joint practice with the Packers, as was undrafted secondary rookie Zane Lewis. Neither will see the field in a 2021 regular season contest In the exhibition showcase itself, fellow newcomer Jarrad Davis likewise needed the cart to leave the field after sustaining an ankle injury in the second quarter. The former Detroit Lion is projected to miss the Jets’ first five regular season games.

Michael’s conundrum was solved through the magic of television: he and Holly married upon his departure from the series two seasons later. The Jets, on the other hand, are engaged in a playoff drought that has outlived The Office‘s nine-year run. That streak has festered in part due to a lack of a franchise quarterback and poor defensive efforts.

Another poor defensive effort awaited on Saturday, the only segment of the Jets’ Wisconsin visit where stats were officially recorded. The Jets faced a Green Bay team that rested most of their offensive starters. Few expected to see Aaron Rodgers in action but even his indirectly controversial successor Jordan Love was likewise absent, leaving perennial camp body Kurt Benkert to primarily oversee the operation. New York’s defensive starters played deep into the second frame, but a Green Bay unit that more resembled the (Michigan) Panthers than the Packers still earned two touchdown-scoring drives. The latter trek was the ultimate insult: the Packers embarked on a 19-play, 81-yard drive that ate over 10 minutes of clock.

So why are the Jets bursting with momentum after the trip to Titletown? Zach Wilson.

zach wilson, jets

Wilson, the Jets’ lastest savior under center, was coming off a perfect showing against the New York Giants. It was perfection earned not through a statistical sense (6-of-9, 63 yards on two drives that ended in Giants territory) but rather an emotional sense that quelled concerns about his highly publicized struggles in camp and intrasquad scrimmages.

Yet, there was a little something missing in the most recent Snoopy Bowl, a Jets tradition that has taken up residency no matter where the team lingers: adversity.

With the Giants likewise sitting their starters and the Jets’ defense at full strength, last weekend lacked a sense of danger. No one wants to be on the wrong end of the scoreboard in any NFL contest, even one whose box scores are likely eradicated on the flight home. The Jets perfectly took care of that problem against the Giants. They never trailed at any point and allowed Wilson to work. Holes in the system looked like a good fixer-upper instead.

But the Jets faced some good old-fashioned adversity against Green Bay, primarily through a lackluster defensive showing. After Wilson’s first drive yielded a Matt Ammendola field goal, it took Green Bay’s reserve only eight plays to waltz 75 yards into the end zone. The Packers faced only one third down on the drive…the one-yard attempt that led to Kylin Hill’s rushing touchdown.

Wilson obviously wasn’t brought into play defense so there isn’t much he can do to help the unit. All he can do is take care of his own business and take advantage of whatever opportunities are afforded to him. He didn’t let a single one go to waste on Saturday.

When the defense earned a quick stop after a Braden Mann punt pinned the Packers inside their 15, Wilson had a prime opportunity to move the ball and potentially earn his first scoring drive. They were poised to start at their own 45, but a holding penalty shifted them back 10 yards.

That was of little concern to Wilson, who handled the setback with the maximum preseason swagger. Wilson spent his third drive of the day further fostering the connection between he and Corey Davis, particularly through two strong throws at the end of the first quarter. Two hook-ups totaling 41 yards set the Jets up in the red zone, allowing Wilson to remove “first unofficial NFL touchdown” from his offseason checklist.

The union between Wilson and Davis is a collaboration between two players that are looking to prove different things at the NFL level. Wilson is trying to erase the stigma of not only being a high-profile draft pick from a mid-major program but that of being the New York Jets’ franchise quarterback. Davis, meanwhile, is another mid-major pick from the top five that’s eager to prove he can be a long-term difference-maker in the league. Every time the former Tennessee Titan has been ready to take a vital step in that journey, a situation beyond his control surfaces. A hamstring injury took out a sizable part of his rookie season while a brief stint on the COVID-19 list prevented him from reaching his first four-digit yardage season.

Davis believes the early chemistry he has created with Wilson will help each of them accomplish their goals through a collaborative effort.

“We were setting a tone, but still have some work to do,” Davis said of the Jets’ offense, per team reporter Jack Bell. On his relationship with Wilson, Davis remarked that a lot of “huge strides” have been made.

“I think Zach is a lot more comfortable in the pocket, he’s been more accurate,” the receiver said. “I’ve been getting open and creating space to try and make it easier for him.”

Yet another obstacle awaited Wilson as he tried to lead the Jets into the red zone: a penalty for an ineligible man downfield on a completed pass to Jamison Crowder forced the unit to deal with a dozen-yard second down. When a similar situation arose against the Giants last week, Wilson was able to at least afford the Jets the opportunity to fail on fourth down. He took things a step further on Saturday, finding Tyler Kroft for an 18-yard score, his first in the NFL.

This being the Jets, there was little time to relish the good feelings. The march of the Green Bay reserves featured five third down conversions and an additional new set of downs was earned through a successful fourth down try. It would’ve been understandable for them to hold Wilson out for the rest of the afternoon, let him “live” to fight another day. But when Corey Ballentine’s strong return placed the Jets 30 yards away from another touchdown, another opportunity lingered and Wilson took full advantage.

All it took for the Jets to capitalize was two six-yard runs by Ty Johnson and Wilson’s second scoring toss to Kroft, this one from 18 yards out. A lamentable first half of football for reasons both beyond and within their control ended with the Jets leading the Packers 17-14 before backups on both sides dominated the remainder of the game.

Thanks to Wilson and a little help from his friends, the Jets’ defensive woes are a mere subplot rather than the main attraction. While the showing against the Giants was perfect in a symbolic sense, his outing against the Packers was literally flawless…well, almost. His Saturday passer rating of 154.7 was just short of a so-called perfect 158.3…but the Jets were perfectly fine with that.

Head coach Robert Saleh, for example, was pleased with the way Wilson handled his first true taste of NFL adversity, an intangible perhaps unmeasurable by any part of the passer rating equation.

“I thought he had good command,” Jets coach Robert Saleh said, per Andy Vazquez of USA Today. “I thought he was under control. I thought he handled pressure well. He was good in and out of the huddle. He’s progressing. And just like his bad days, this was a good day, and it’s just another day. And he’s got to continue to stack up and take the good with the bad and find ways to get better.”

Of course, the road doesn’t end with the second preseason game, even the Jets did somewhat use Saturday as the dress rehearsal often reserved for the third preseason game under the old four-exhibition format. Untold challenges lie ahead, but Wilson’s performance and ability to make the best of stressful situations is exactly what a franchise in desperate need of stability needed.

Wilson has passed his first NFL test. The longer it keeps the Jets out of the watchful stare of tweeters and analysts looking to pounce on Gang Green to earn a few clicks, the better.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

New York Jets: 3 stars from Saturday’s preseason win at Green Bay

new york jets

Offense took center stage on Saturday, as Zach Wilson found Tyler Kroft for two scores in a New York Jets victory.

Zach Wilson earned his first two unofficial touchdown passes as a New York Jet on Saturday, each going to Tyler Kroft, while Corey Davis established a connection with the young quarterback through a 70-yard showing on four catches. The Jets’ rookie quarterback completed 9-of-11 passes overall for 128 yards, playing four drives in a 23-14 victory over the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.

Despite a tough showing from the defense in their first post-Carl Lawson injury showing…the ultimate insult being a 19-play, 81-yard scoring drive from the Packers’ offensive reserves…the Jets are likely enthused over their Saturday showings on offensive and special teams. Matt Ammendola converted three field goals, while Corey Ballentine set up the latter touchdown drive with a 73-yard kickoff return. Young men in the secondary managed to provide late defensive redemption, as Brandin Echols and Lamar Jackson each stole a pass from Kurt Benkert and Jake Dolegala respectively.

ESM bestows three game balls from the summer triumph…

Honorable Mentions

  • RB Michael Carter: 10 carries, 52 yards
  • S J.T. Hassell: 5 tackles, 1 sack
  • CB Brandin Echols: 3 tackles, 1 interception
  • KR Corey Ballentine: 1 return, 73 yards
  • K Matt Ammendola: 3-for-3 field goals

3rd Star: WR Corey Davis

4 receptions, 70 yards

After he was granted one series in the Snoopy Bowl last weekend, Davis was granted some extended time to work with Wilson in Green Bay. The two further strengthened their connection to the tune of a game-high 70 yards, including two big ones at the end of the first quarter that set up the Jets’ first touchdown.

“We’re definitely getting (chemistry),” Davis said of his connection with Wilson, per Jack Bell of NewYorkJets.com. “We’ve made a lot of huge strides the last week and a half, two weeks. I think Zach is a lot more comfortable in the pocket, he’s been more accurate. I’ve been getting open and creating space to try and make it easier for him.”

2nd Star: TE Tyler Kroft

2 receptions, 36 yards, 2 touchdowns

It’s been a while since the Jets have had a consistent red zone threat at tight end, perhaps dating back to the days of Mickey Shuler (although there have been brief flashes of brilliance, like Dustin Keller and Anthony Becht). Kroft could turn out to be a valuable diamond in the rough signing if he keeps this up and appears well on-pace to usurp the starting tight end role from Chris Herndon.

1st Star: QB Zach Wilson

9-of-11, 128 yards, 2 touchdowns

Wilson’s success undoubtedly comes with the caveats that he’s doing this against reserve defenses in the preseason, but it’s hard not to feel excited about what he’s been able to accomplish this summer (especially when his shortcomings in camp practices and scrimmages made national headlines).

The most inspiring portion of Wilson’s Saturday showing was perhaps his ability to respond to adversity and pressure. With the Jets’ defense going through a tough outing and his pockets collapsing, Wilson held his own and didn’t fall victim to any sacks. His first touchdown pass to Kroft came shortly after a Jets penalty bestowed the offense a dozen-yard second down. Such command of the offense impressed Jets head coach Robert Saleh.

“I thought Zach had good command, he was under control, he handled the pressure well, he was good in and out of the huddle,” Saleh said, per team reporter Randy Lange. “He’s been going through his progressions and he’s been pretty good at that.”

The Jets will round out their preseason slate against the Philadelphia Eagles on Friday night at MetLife Stadium (7:30 p.m. ET, WCBS). 

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Three reasons why the New York Jets can make the playoffs

new york jets, zach wilson

It won’t be easy…but it can happen. ESM has three ways the New York Jets can pull off the unthinkable in 2021.

The world was a different place the last time the New York Jets partook in an NFL playoff game. It was a freezing January evening in Pittsburgh, as the Jets fell one step short of their Super Bowl dream for the second consecutive season in the AFC championship contest.

At that time, MetLife Stadium didn’t exist…well, the building itself was there, but it was free of corporate sponsorship under the identity of New Meadowlands Stadium. A basketball team called the Nets was no longer stationed at the arena next door…then known as Izod Center…but they still played under a Garden State branding. At the cinema, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was a mere three movies old and the idea of expanding the Star Wars galaxy was merely fanfiction.

In short…it’s been a while. The Jets’ playoff drought now stands at a decade, a record inherited when the Cleveland Browns clinched a spot last season. What’s scarier is that the second-most dire active drought has made to only five years, a dubious distinction shared by Arizona, Cincinnati, and Denver.

Conventional wisdom suggests that the trend isn’t ending any time soon. The Jets are trapped in a division where one reign of terror in New England gave way to another in Buffalo. Their conference’s wild card landscape isn’t any more forgiving, as established contenders pepper the other divisions. Even their own rivals in the East, Miami and New England, will be back with a vengeance. Combine that with a first-year head coach and franchise quarterback working with a mostly new cast and it’s difficult to see the Jets make major headway in the win/loss columns. Many observers agree that the Jets got better this offseason…but it comes with the caveat that the 2020 season was so brutal that there was nowhere to go but up.

But…ESM is going to look at things a little more optimistically. We have three ways the Jets’ improvements can lead to a long-awaited postseason revisit:

New York Giants, Corey Davis
Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Not Sorry, Wilson

This time last year, the Jets were going into the 2020 season with an offensive cabinet that left much to be desired. Year three of the Sam Darnold era was expected to rely upon a first-round washout (Breshad Perriman), a Le’Veon Bell who was constantly denying that he was arguing with Adam Gase, and an assortment of veteran reserves in the skill positions. A rare silver lining of hope, Denzel Mims, missed almost all of the summer preparation with hamstring issues. Darnold was also working with his third different center in three NFL seasons. Needless to say, the Jets’ offense played a major role in their two-win downfall and Darnold posted the worst numbers of his career.

Granted the second overall pick in April for their troubles over the fall, the Jets opted to start from scratch (again). Before they used that premier pick on one of the touted quarterbacks of the draft…later revealed to be BYU’s Zach Wilson…management did all they could to retroactively atone for the mistakes of the Darnold era. What they’ve assembled for Wilson is, at least on paper, is better than anything Darnold had to work with.

Corey Davis, coming off a career-best year in Tennessee, is the projected top target. Free agency endeavors also brought in Keelan Cole, who tallied 2,242 yards over the last four seasons despite endless quarterback turnover in Jacksonville. They’ll welcome back Mims and reliable slot target Jamison Crowder and when Elijah Moore fell to their grasp with the second pick in the second round at the draft, they immediately pounced. At running back, they found a potential day three draft gem in Michael Carter and signed Tevin Coleman a two-time Super Bowl participant with something to prove, to a one-year deal. Though questions linger at tight end, vis a vis Chris Herndon, they did add red zone option Tyler Kroft to the fold as well.

Wilson will also be able to take in the benefits of a revamped offensive line. Mekhi Becton was well worth the risk of passing on several elite receiving talents last season. He’s now joined by USC protector Alijah Vera-Tucker, who indirectly comes from a pick used in the infamous Jamal Adams trade (a pick acquired from Seattle was traded to Minnesota to move up the board). New York enjoyed a late-offseason surprise in the form of the consistent tackle Morgan Moses, who is expected to take over on the right side.

The depths to which the Jets sank on offense last season (only six games over 300 yards, nine games with 14 points or less) should be impossible to reach at the NFL level. But those called upon are reliable names with championship panache. If the newcomers rise to their potential, the Jets could reopen the scoring floodgates and repopulate East Rutherford’s end zones.

Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Pressure Treated

Perhaps no intermission interview during a hockey broadcast is complete without the phrase “pucks on net” being uttered, to the point it’s become a bit of a meme. The football equivalent could be “pressure the quarterback”.

The NFL is undoubtedly a league ruled by offense, evidenced by its inflated scoreboards. But, every so often, we’re reminded that defense wins championships. MetLife Stadium’s turf knows about the concept better than anyone, playing host to the Seattle Seahawks’ 43-8 dismantling of the historically explosive Denver Broncos offense in Super Bowl XLVIII. Even the might Patrick Mahomes isn’t immune to the dangers of a strong pass rush. The Kansas City Chiefs are 44-10 (including postseason) with Mahomes as their starter; half of those losses (a 7-5 mark overall) have come when he’s sacked at least three times. One of those losses came against Todd Bowles’ relentless rush in last year’s Big Game.

The Jets’ downfall has only been exacerbated by a lack of pressure. They’ve applied pressure on only 21.4 percent of opposing dropbacks over the past two seasons, ranking 25th in the league in the category last season…a bit perplexing for a unit overseen by Gregg Williams. When you’re trapped in a division that bestows you two guaranteed matchups with Josh Allen for the foreseeable future, having a fearsome pass rush will be vital.

New York plans to start from scratch again with head coach Robert Saleh and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich in tow. The team is set to run a 4-3 base for the first time since the Herm Edwards/Donnie Henderson days. They spent the offseason bolstering the front seven in an effort to prepare for the transition.

For better or worse, the Jets’ most impactful free agency signing for not only the coming season but for the next few years could likely become Carl Lawson. The narrative behind Lawson is that his on-field influence goes far beyond the number in his sack column (no more than 5.5 after 8.0 in his debut campaign out of Auburn in 2017) and he has the less conventional numbers to prove it.

Though the Jets recently announced some their defensive breakouts won’t be available for the start of training camp, it’ll be interesting to see what Quinnen Williams, Foley Fatukasi, and John Franklin-Myers can do for an encore with a little extra help. The transformation in the front seven further continued with the arrival of Jarrad Davis, whose finest gridiron hours have come in 4-3 sets with the Florida Gators and Detroit Lions. While Davis has struggled to live up to his first round billing since Teryl Austin and Jim Caldwell were dismissed from Detroit, he has kept his pressure numbers consistent. A return to a familiar 4-3 setting could help him up the ante not only as a backfield invader but as a a leader as well. Championship contenders Sheldon Rankins and Vinny Curry have likewise joined the fold.

Questions, of course, still linger in the secondary. For example, Marcus Maye and Ashtyn Davis (the latter recovering from surgery) are respectively on the Non-Football Injury and Physically Unable to Perform lists, further depleting a safeties group desperate for answers. But the Jets are going to make life a heck of a lot easier for themselves if they can make quarterbacks feel uncomfortable again.

Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Meet the New Boss

Say what you will about the Todd Bowles era: its final chapters were penned in poignancy, as players were disappointed not for themselves, but that they let a strong football mind and a man of great character down. They sang of Bowles’ praises to the very end and many were upset to see him let go after the 2018 season.

Those warm feelings didn’t seem to translate to the ousting of Bowles’ successor. When the woebegone Gase was let go after two disastrous seasons, there was an aura of “good riddance”. The players’ relative silence on the matter spoke volumes, though fans were more than happy to chime in.

The hiring of Saleh, most recently the overseer of the lauded San Francisco 49ers’ defense, comes at an interesting time on the pro football timeline. It’s a move made as the league values offense, posting scoreboards that flirt with those from the defunct Arena Football League. One would also foresee an offensive mind coming in with a new franchise quarterback to mold and develop.

Yet, the players’ response to what Saleh is advertising could slowly signal the return of good vibes to Gang Green football.

Saleh had a tall task to deal with upon his arrival: convince outsiders and prospects that a two-win team that the internet turned into a football meme bank had something to work with, something that hinted at a championship climb. What he did was immediately get to work, adopt a catchy yet inspirational mantra that quickly caught on to players and fans alike, and slowly got momentum back on the green side of the New York football bridge.

What Saleh (along with general manager Joe Douglas) did this offseason was from a free agent unit of not exactly what the Jets were looking for, but finding parts that they needed. Lawson brings pressure, Davis brings knowledge of the 4-3. Saleh mostly avoided stocking up on former Bay Area pupils but the major holdover (running back Tevin Coleman) brings knowledge of offensive boss Mike LaFleur’s system and what it takes to compete for a championship. Wilson’s offensive cabinet is stocked with no true No. 1 receiver, but a series of skill players eager to proves themselves…which could well describe the state of the Jets as a whole in this point in time. Financials likely played a large role, but Saleh’s plan was apparently able to convince Jamison Crowder (by far the most consistent offensive weapon over the last two seasons) to stick around for at least one more season.

Saleh himself has admitted on several occasions that his New York restructure and tenets  are going to take some time to fully install. Votes for Coach of the Year might be more realistic at this point…after all, it won’t take much to improve upon the horrors of 2020. But faith in the right coach is capable of doing some incredible things.

Do you think the New York Jets can overcome the odds and end their postseason drought? If so, how can they do it? Follow @GeoffJMags on Twitter and continue the conversation.

New York Jets: A training camp battle at every position (Offense)

As the New York Jets inch closer to training camp, ESM looks at the offensive roster battles to watch at every position.

Competition has always been a staple at summer camp. But if you’re headed to Florham Park, leave the archery materials at home.

The New York Jets are eight days away from descending upon One Jets Drive for their training camp activities. Once camp commences, they’ll have several positional struggles to solve before Week 1 kicks off in Carolina. ESM takes a look at each spot on the depth chart, sizing up a major battle that should be solved over camp practices and the coming trio of preseason games.

Our primer begins on offense…

 Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Backup QB: James Morgan vs. Mike White

Barring an epic disaster, the Jets will go into Week 1 with second overall pick Zach Wilson as their quarterback. Sitting the star rookie behind a veteran for a year has become a lost art in the modern NFL, even if Kansas City’s Alex Smith-to-Patrick Mahomes transition kept the concept alive for a few more years.

The Jets, though, are apparently planning to go in the completely opposite direction: no one in their quarterback cabinet has thrown a pass in an NFL regular season game. Immediately thrusting Wilson into the starter’s role is one thing, but backing him up with two veteran questions marks is another entirely. But head coach Robert Saleh apparently doesn’t see an issue.

“If you just bring in a veteran who doesn’t know anything about your scheme, he’s learning just like the rookie is,” Saleh told Max Goodman of Sports Illustrated. “There’s a match that has to happen. There’s a scheme familiarity that has to happen.”

That, of course, begs the question why the Jets didn’t go after someone like fellow former 49ers Nick Mullens, but it’s probably redundant at this point. Until further notice, the backup job comes to Morgan and White.

Morgan probably has the inside edge, if only due to his status as a Joe Douglas draft pick. Chosen in the fourth round of 2020’s virtual draft, the Florida International hasn’t even worn a game jersey yet due to the cancellation of last summer’s preseason. White entered the NFL as a fifth-round pick of the Cowboys in 2018 and has been on and off the Jets’ practice squad over the last three years. By going with someone inexperienced, it’s clear the Jets aren’t going with the “mentor” route for their backup quarterback. The winner will be judged on late summer showings and their performance in preseason games could be particularly intriguing.

 Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Spell RB: Ty Johnson vs. La’Mical Perine vs. Josh Adams

The primary rushing duties could become a battle as the season goes on. Veteran newcomer Tevin Coleman will probably at least start as the top option before giving way to rookie arrival Michael Carter. It’s fair to assume that Coleman, who worked with new offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur in San Francisco, has the early edge though Carter has reportedly impressed New York brass during his first spring sessions.

In training camp, however, there are more immediate, desperate matters to attend to, namely answering the question of who will be the third back.

Behind the Coleman and Carter tandem lies a trio of young projects that could’ve gained more clarity had Adam Gase not become obsessed with a Frank Gore farewell tour. Though injuries and a late placement on the COVID-19 list turned Perine’s rookie season into a wash but Johnson and Adams, spare parts from Detroit and Philadelphia respectively, impressed when called upon, uniting for 411 yards on 83 carries, good for an average of nearly five yards an attempt.

The battle between this trio isn’t a matter of playing time, but will determine roster spots. Even though he’s a Douglas draft pick (also chosen in the fourth round), Perine could be in the wrong place at the wrong time. His north/south style may not fit in  LaFleur’s preferred systems that value agility and athleticism, creating a wrong place at the wrong time situation. Meanwhile, the re-signed Adams has worked with Douglas before, sharing a single season with the Eagles.

Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Top Slot WR: Jamison Crowder vs. Elijah Moore

Over the past two seasons, Jamison Crowder has been far and away the Jets’ most consistent offensive weapon. Through that endeavor, he has become one of the NFL’s most reliable slot options. But does the fact he’s been a reliable weapon in woebegone New York say more about Crowder or just how dire the Jets’ situation has become?

Douglas and Co. spent the offseason upgrading their receiving corps and that included the slot depth chart. Drafting Moore with the second pick of the draft’s second day was seen as a steal by many and he seemingly arrived at the perfect time. The Jets were due some sizable cap savings upon Crowder’s release or trade and they could’ve easily had Moore take over. Instead, they restructured the final year of Crowder’s deal to focus on guaranteed money and will keep both of them in tow for Wilson’s first deal.

Crowder faces a bit of an uphill battle to get his snaps back, as he missed almost all spring activities during his contract dispute. There should still be an opportunity for him amongst the Jets’ revamped receiving corps but it’ll be tough to hold off the rise of a touted rookie.

. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Starting TE: Chris Herndon vs. Tyler Kroft 

Entering his fourth year in New York, Herndon is a rare relic in green. Nothing, however, has lived up to the production of his rookie season (502 yards on 39 receptions) as the more recent stages of his career have been beset by a suspension, injuries, and inconsistency.

Though Herndon somewhat began to resemble his rookie self in the latter stages of last season, the Jets sent him a message this offseason. While they avoided the pricier options on the free agent market (i.e. Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry), they added goal line option Tyler Kroft from Buffalo and re-upped with Daniel Brown. During minicamp, Herndon saw his first team reps go to Kroft and Ryan Griffin. Connor Hughes of The Athletic claimed that Herndon “struggled” to adjust to the new offensive playbook, playing a role in his demotion.

It’s been a while since Kroft was the primary option at tight end, last doing so in Cincinnati during the 2017 campaign. The Rutgers alum re-established himself as a reliable short-yardage and red zone target last season in Buffalo. Time will tell if the Jets turn over the full-time tight end reins to Kroft, or even give Griffin, Brown, or undrafted rookie Kenny Yeboah (11 touchdowns over the last two seasons at Temple and Ole Miss). But If Kroft’s signing even merely lights a fire under Herndon, it will have been well worth it.

 Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Offensive Line: RG Greg Van Roten vs. Newcomers

A Long Island native (Rockville Centre, to be precise), Van Roten was destined to make a difference in New York. While he endured a bit of an up-and-down season in terms of production, he partook in literally every snap over the Jets’ first 11 games and emerged as a leader and voice of reason when the team’s 2020 affairs became particularly dire.

With the Jets’ left side fortified with Mekhi Becton and Alijah Vera-Tucker, the focus turns to the right. Morgan Moses is a reliable one-year solution on the outside, while Van Roten appears to have a good grip on the interior. But the Jets brought in some interesting depth options, including the New York Islanders’ most celebrated new fan, Dan Feeney. Incumbent top left guard Alex Lewis is also set to move over to the right side, while one also can’t forget Cameron Clark, a 2020 fourth-rounder who spent last season preparing to make the transition from tackle to guard.

But Van Roten, who has shockingly tallied only a single accepted penalty in his NFL career, believes that the arrival of Saleh and LaFleur should help provide stability.

“They hire Saleh and it just feels like a weight has been lifted and hope has come back into the building,” Van Roten said, per team reporter Jack Bell. “All we ask for is a fresh start in this league and no one is happier than the Jets. Now we’re on page one, so let’s write this year’s chapter.”

Which offensive training camp battles will you keep an eye on? Follow @GeoffJMags on Twitter and continue the conversation.

New York Jets 2021 offseason recap: Tight ends

New York Jets, Chris Herndon

The New York Jets added a goal-line target, but will they regret their failure to add competition for Chris Herndon?

Following the conclusion of minicamp activities, the NFL offseason is officially over. The next time the New York Jets convene in Florham Park, they’ll be getting ready for preseason and regular season action for the 2021 campaign. 

With the offseason in the rearview mirror, ESM looks back on the green offseason that was, position-by-position. In part four, we analyze the Jets’ tight ends…

Sep 20, 2020; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA;New York Jets tight end Chris Herndon (89) is tackled by San Francisco 49ers cornerback K’Waun Williams (24) during the first half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

How It Started

The 2020 season marked Chris Herndon’s third official year on an NFL roster. It was, technically speaking, only his second professional campaign as injuries and a suspension limited him to 18 snaps the year before, robbing him of a true sophomore season.

Yet, Herndon was a New York antique by Sam Darnold’s service standards: the 2018 fourth-round pick out of Miami was the only player on the Jets’ most recent opening day roster that caught passes during the departed franchise quarterback’s rookie season.

One could wax poetic about what that fact says about New York management in the new decade, but looking back toward that rookie season shows what Herndon is capable of. Despite working with a rookie Darnold and aging backup Josh McCown, Herndon led all rookie tight ends with 39 receptions and was second in the same group in yardage (502, 50 behind Baltimore’s Mark Andrews).

Alas, a suspension for a substance abuse policy violation and hamstring woes made his 2019 season a wash, and he failed to recapture the glory upon his reinsertion into the lineup last year, earning only 287 yards on 31 receptions. The early stages of his season were defined by a series of brutal drops, but things got better once things got truly dire for the Jets. Over the final three games (during which the Jets amassed a 2-1 mark), Herndon put up 145 yards on 14 receptions (17 targets). He also scored in each of the Jets’ final two games.

To his credit, Herndon blamed no one but himself for his struggles, even as some tried to pin his issues on his usage in Adam Gase’s systems.

“I feel like I’ve been used fairly,” Herndon said in October, per ESPN’s Rich Cimini. “It’s a team game. I can’t sit after every game and be upset and mad and try to point fingers. This time last year I wasn’t even on the field, so at this point, I’m honestly just thankful to be out there.”

The tight end group as a whole failed to make much of a dent in the Jets’ offensive woes. Veterans Ryan Griffin and Daniel Brown united for 117 yards on 11 receptions. Meanwhile, injury issues prematurely ended the Trevon Wesco experiment at fullback.

Nov 24, 2019; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills tight end Tyler Kroft (81) warms up prior to a game against the Denver Broncos at New Era Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

How It’s Going

The Jets apparently have enough trust in Herndon to pocket their wallet, especially when looking at the foreign market. New England, for example, spent over $56 million combined in guaranteed money on Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry. The Jets mostly kept things small, re-signing Brown to another year at just over $1 million and adding rookie free agent Kenny Yeboah after the draft.

Their big arrival in the tight end room is former divisional rival Tyler Kroft, as the former Buffalo Bill was added on an affordable one-year deal ($2 million). The Rutgers alum has developed a sizable NFL career as a goal-line option, which will undoubtedly help an offense that earned touchdowns on a league-worst 42 percent of its red-zone possessions last season. But is Kroft suitable competition for the primary role? He hasn’t been the starting tight end since 2017 in Cincinnati.

But minicamp offered an interesting twist: according to Connor Hughes of The Athletic, Herndon worked primarily with the second-team group during the spring sessions. Kroft and Griffin earned the top reps, and even Yeboah reportedly took some snaps. Herndon has indirectly responded by, per Jordy Fee-Pratt of SI.com, voluntarily partaking in Tight End University, a Nashville-based tight end summit hosted by George Kittle, Travis Kelce, and Greg Olsen.

It’s interesting to see the Jets work in non-Herndon names at the tight end spot. But are they working in the right names? One would probably feel more comfortable with such experimentation if they added a veteran name like newly minted Seahawk Gerald Everett.

Nov 17, 2019; Landover, MD, USA; New York Jets tight end Daniel Brown (87) celebrates with Jets tight end Ryan Griffin (84) after catching a touchdown pass against the Washington Redskins in the first quarter at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Are They Better Off?

Again, the Jets’ unwillingness to shell out the big bucks for a tight end probably says more about deep of a hole they dug themselves in other spots (i.e. wide receivers) than it does about their full trust in Herndon. New York, according to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, made an attempt to add Smith but dropped out of the bidding for financial reasons (Smith later earned a four-year, $50 million deal from the Patriots).

But the new staff has made it clear that they have plans for Herndon…he just has to earn his opportunity to partake.

As training camp ended, new offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur (who previously worked with the elite Kittle in San Francisco) was asked about Herndon’s prospects going into the 2021 campaign. LaFleur offered sympathy for Herndon, as his system will be the third in three seasons for the fourth-round pick (who is a rare leftover from Todd Bowles’ final season). A summer of opportunity awaits.

“It was documented last year just how he came on towards the back half and had a good rookie year that put him on the scene,” LaFleur said, per notes from the Jets. “He’s a talented dude…He missed a little bit of time with some things but it’ll be huge for him when he gets back and rehears this system, talk to him again, and gets in there with pads and we’re out there in those unscripted periods where he has a chance to go out there and make those plays.”

Elsewhere, the signing of Kroft should improve the goal-line situation while Yeboah (11 touchdown receptions over his last two college seasons) could prove to be a diamond in the rough. But since the uncertainty that lingered in the form of Herndon has only amplified, it’s hard to give the Jets a truly strong grade for this offseason’s adjustments, at least for the time being.

Final Offseason Grade: C

Should the Jets have added more competition for Herndon? Continue the conversation on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets announce new batch of jersey numbers

The New York Jets’ draft and free agency classes all received their metropolitan numerals for the 2021 season.

The New York Jets’ free agency and draft classes received their official numbers for their first seasons in green on Monday. ESM looks at what the newcomers will be rocking once the season gets underway…

No. 23 Tevin Coleman

Coleman wore 26 in prior stops in Atlanta and San Francisco, but it’s probably best for the Jets to avoid rushers wearing No. 26 for a while after the Le’Veon Bell debacle.

Notable No. 23’s in Jets History: RB Shonn Greene, DB Shafer Suggs

No. 25 Brandin Echols

Echols, a sixth-round pick appears to be sharing No. 25 with rusher Ty Johnson, as the 26 he wore at Kentucky is taken by fellow defensive back Elijah Campbell.

Notable No. 25’s in Jets History: S Kerry Rhodes, RB Scott Dierking, S Calvin Pryor

No. 29 Lamarcus Joyner

Joyner will be wearing a number previously borne by fan-favorite rusher and returner Leon Washington, who’s now on the Jets’ coaching staff.

Notable No. 29’s in Jets History: WR Bake Turner, RB Bilal Powell, RB Adrian Murrell, RB Leon Washington, DB Donnie Abraham

No. 30 Michael Carter II

Another former bearer of 26, Carter takes over the 30 worn by Bradley McDougald last season. He’ll also have the Roman numeral “II” on the back of his jersey to separate himself from the offensive Michael Carter.

Notable No. 30’s in Jets History: RB Brad Baxter, DB LaRon Landry

No. 32 Michael Carter 

Running backs are allowed to wear single digits under the NFL’s new uniform mandates, but Carter opted to multiply it four. He follows in the footsteps of Super Bowl champion and green rusher Emerson Boozer.

Notable No. 32’s in Jets History: RB Emerson Boozer, RB Blair Thomas, RB Leon Johnson

No. 34 Justin Hardee

It’s a tough break for anyone who hoped the Jets would bring back Brian Poole, but the special teams standout Hardee will keep the number he had during his prior endeavors in New Orleans.

Notable No. 34’s in Jets History: RB Johnny Hector, RB LaMont Jordan

No. 41 Jason Pinnock

Pinnock’s No. 15 from Pittsburgh has been taken over by someone he’ll presumably cover come training camp, receiver Lawrence Cager. His new digits were worn by Matthias Farley last season and best known from a Jets standpoint as the numbers Matt Snell wore in the Super Bowl III triumph.

Notable No. 41’s in Jets History: RB Matt Snell, S Buster Skrine

No. 43 Del’Shawn Phillips 

Phillips wore No. 46 in his first season in Buffalo but moved on to 43 last season. He’ll apparently stick with those numerals as he moves on to another New York football journey.

Notable No. 43’s in Jets History: DB Michael Brim

No. 44 Jamien Sherwood 

With 44 last worn by the New England-bound Harvey Lagni, the defensive back-turned-linebacker Sherwood takes a traditional number as opposed to the single digits now available.

Notable No. 44’s in Jets History: RB John Riggins

No. 45 Hamsah Nasirildeen

Another converted secondary member who made the move to linebacker, Nasirildeen also makes the move to 45, as the 23 he wore at Florida State was taken by Coleman.

Notable No. 45’s in Jets History: DB Earlie Thomas, CB Otis Smith

No. 52 Jarrad Davis

The new Jets’ linebacker’s number from Detroit and his college days in Florida (40) is now worn by Javelin Guidry, but there’s a strong group of both linebackers and lineman that have previously repped his new digits.

Notable No. 52’s in Jets History: LB David Harris, C John Schmitt, C Mike Hudock, LB Pepper Johson 

No. 58 Carl Lawson

Lawson may be changing from tiger stripes to green and black, but he’ll be wearing a familiar number leftover from his Cincinnati days. 

Notable No. 58’s in Jets History: LB James Farrior

No. 65 Corey Levin

Levin is one of the newcomers on the Jets. If/when he takes the field in an NFL regular-season game for the first time since 2018, it’ll be in a different number, as he wore 62 during his time in Tennessee.

Notable No. 65’s in Jets History: OL Joe Fields, G Brandon Moore

No. 67 Dan Feeney

Undrafted rookie Teton Saltes has Feeny’s No. 66 from his days as a Charger, so he moved one up, perhaps indirectly emulating some other notable veteran blockers in Jets history.

Notable No. 67’s in Jets History: OL Dave Herman, T Kareem McKenzie, OL Damien Woody

No. 81 Tyler Kroft

In his return to New Jersey football, Kroft won’t have the No. 86 he wore at Rutgers (his Piscataway number now on fellow tight end Ryan Griffin) but he retains the number he’s worn in his first two NFL stops (Cincinnati and Buffalo) and it’s a number that has made a New York impact on both sides of the ball.

Notable No. 81’s in Jets History: DE Gerry Philbin, TE Dustin Keller

No. 84 Corey Davis

Davis will keep the number he wore at both Western Michigan and Tennessee. That’s rather appropriate, as the most famous wearer of 84 in his new team’s history is in fact a New York Titan.

Notable No. 84’s in Jets History: WR Art Powell

No. 88 Keelan Cole

With Davis taking over the No. 84, Cole’s moves four digits up to 88, emulating some of the more productive receivers in New York history.

Notable No. 88’s in Jets History: WR Al Toon, TE Rich Caster, TE Anthony Becht

No. 96 Jonathan Marshall

Henry Anderson’s old number wasn’t gone for long, as it’s been taken over by the former Arkansas captain who became the final pick of the Jets’ 2021 draft proceedings.

Notable No. 96’s in Jets History: DT Muhammad Wilkerson

No. 98 Sheldon Rankins

Undrafted standout Kyle Phillips wore No. 98 but he’s moving onto 93 to allow Rankins to keep the number he had during his six years in New Orleans.

Notable No. 98’s in Jets History: LB Anthony Pleasant, DL Kyle Phillips

No. 99 Vinny Curry

Curry has had a pretty accomplished NFL career, and he’s going to take over the numerals of some of the most storied defenders on the team.

Notable No. 99’s in Jets History: DE Mark Gastineau, DE Bryan Thomas, DT Steve McLendon, DE Hugh Douglas

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Buffalo Bills: TE Tyler Kroft tests positive for COVID-19

The reserve tight end will be held out of the Buffalo Bills’ regular season finale against Miami on Sunday afternoon.

The Buffalo Bills announced on Saturday that tight end Tyler Kroft has tested positive for COVID-19 and will be held out of Sunday’s Week 17 showdown against the Miami Dolphins (1 p.m. ET, CBS). Buffalo has not announced any close contact absentees, but the situation is subject to change. They did call up four players from their practice squad, including tight end Nate Becker.

Kroft, a 28-year-old Rutgers alum, returned to the lineup last Monday night during the Bills’ 38-9 victory in New England, having not played since November 8 due to a prior placement of the reserve/COVID-19 list after he was in close contact with cornerback Josh Norman. His last four absences were due to coaches’ decisions, with the Bills opting to use Dawson Knox, Lee Smith, and Reggie Gilliam. Kroft returned to the New England visit after Gilliam was ruled out with a knee/hamstring issue. During his two years in Buffalo, Kroft has been a bit of a red zone target, earning four touchdowns, including three this season. Of Kroft’s dozen receptions in 2020, only three have not become first downs.

Due to the NFL’s mandated ten-day isolation period for those who test positive Kroft will not be able to partake in Buffalo’s Wild Card playoff game next weekend.

With the Kroft moves, Buffalo also elevated the following from their practice squad…

TE Nate Becker

Becker has spent the past two seasons on the Bills’ practice squad after going undrafted out of Miami University at Ohio. He has yet to partake in an NFL game.

CB Dane Jackson

Jackson, a seventh-round pick back in April, has been on and off Buffalo’s active roster all season. He notably came up big during the Bills’ October victory over the Jets, earning his first career interception at the end of the first half that led to a field goal in an 18-10 win.

DE Mike Love

Don’t break out the Beach Boys tunes, though Love certainly knows about some tropical tunes after spending his college days at South Florida. He has been on and off the Bills’ practice squad over the past three years, partaking in a trio of games during the 2018 season.

RB Antonio Williams

Williams is elevated to the active roster, having spent most of this season on the Bills’ practice squad after joining as an undrafted free agent out of North Carolina

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Buffalo Bills announce COVID-19 related absences for Sunday’s game

Buffalo Bills CB Josh Norman has tested positive for COVID-19. Three players and an assistant coach will likewise miss Sunday’s game.

The Buffalo Bills announced on Saturday that cornerback Josh Norman has tested positive for COVID-19. Norman will thus not play in Buffalo’s Sunday visit to Glendale against the Arizona Cardinals (4:05 p.m. ET, Fox). Three players who were determined to be in close contact will also be held from the trip, as will defensive assistant coach Leonard Johnson. Among the missing players are CB Levi Wallace, S Dean Marlowe, and TE Tyler Kroft.

Norman was expected to make his return to the Buffalo lineup after missing three games to a hamstring injury. The absence of he and Wallace comes as the Bills (7-2) take on an Arizona team that tops the NFL in total offense (422 yards per game). Buffalo’s three primarily cornerbacks (Norman, Wallace, and Tre’Davious White) have been communally active for only a single game this season. Though listed second in their respective depth chart rows, Kroft and Marlowe have made strong contributions to the Bills’ success. Kroft leads all Buffalo tight ends with 119 receiving yards and is tied for the overall team lead with three touchdown receptions alongside Gabriel Davis and Stefon Diggs. Marlowe is perhaps best known for recovering the crucial fumble that gave the Bills a 24-21 victory over New England two weeks ago.

According to Josina Anderson, Norman took four nasal COVID-19 tests, with half of them being positive/negative. Anderson remarked that Norman “sounded strong” when they spoke.

“It is what it is,” Norman said, per Anderson. “I’m handling it. I’ll be fine.”

In the wake of the absences, Buffalo called up the following members of their practice squad…

LB Darron Lee-Best known as a former first-round pick of the New York Jets, Lee earned a Super Bowl ring through the Kansas City Chiefs’ trek to the title last season. He was signed to the Bills’ practice squad on November 2.

CB Daryl Worley-Worley inked a one-year, $3 million deal with the Dallas Cowboys last offseason, but was released after their slow start and failing to find a trading partner. He earned 14 tackles over seven games in Texas, starting four games.

WR Jake Kumerow-Kumerow was part of the Green Bay Packers’ final training camp cuts in September, but he was signed by the Bills three days after his release to join their practice squad. Kumerow previously partook in last Sunday’s Buffalo win over Seattle, earning 16 snaps.

S Josh Thomas-An undrafted free agent out of Appalachian State, Thomas has played in one game with the Bills thus far, earning a tackle in their 24-21 win over New England in Week 8.

CB Dane Jackson-The Pittsburgh alum was the final pick of the Bills’ draft proceedings in April (239th overall). He earned second-team All-ACC honors last season and forced four fumbles a year prior in his junior campaign. Jackson previously stepped up for an injured Norman against the New York Jets in October and earned his first career interception.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags