Philadelphia’s folly vindicates New York Jets’ late season victories

After the Eagles’ embarrassing display on Sunday night, no one should fault the New York Jets for their pair of December victories.

The NFL playoffs are set to get underway this coming weekend and there is no shortage of storylines amongst the 14 participants. But the national conversation is focused on the four-win Philadelphia Eagles and their Sunday night excursion against the Washington Football Team.

Over the first 30 minutes of the 256th and final game of the NFL regular season, Philadelphia made it difficult for Washington to clinch their first division title since 2015. They even held a 14-10 lead until the final 20 seconds. The Eagles’ scoring was handled through the legs of Jalen Hurts, a rookie quarterback taking full advantage of relatively consequence-free football. His passing stats were nothing to write home about (7-for-20, 72 yards, and an interception), With two rushing touchdowns, Hurts was potentially on his way to an early signature moment: ending a division rival’s Super Bowl dreams, fantasies that would transfer over to the New York Giants upon a Washington loss. With the Eagles reportedly clashing with franchise face Carson Wentz, Hurts was in a position to get gameday experience and the joy of an NFL victory along the way.

But, to the bewilderment of the football-loving public and his own on-field constituents, Pederson pulled some of his starters…those who weren’t on the pregame injury list…headlined by switching subbing Hurts for Nate Sudfeld. A career journeyman more likely to appear in the third version of the XFL instead of the NFL in 2022, Sudfeld lost the ball on each of his first two drives. A stagnant Washington offense mustered only three points over the latter half-hour, but they still clinched the NFC East with a 20-14 victory thanks to an Eagle offense that only moved backward with Sudfeld in tow. It will be Washington, not the Giants, that will host Tom Brady and the Buccaneers in the last game of Saturday’s playoff festivities (8:15 p.m. ET, NBC).

Pederson’s gambit of defeatism has drawn the ire of not only the Giants (who only have themselves to blame for missing out on a playoff berth offered to them solely through divisional technicalities), but his own team. Lipreaders claimed that a visibly upset Hurts declared “it’s not right” as he watched Sudfeld (whose last NFL pass came in December 2018) take over. Running back Miles Sanders, one of the aforementioned injury departees, claimed that “nobody liked the decision” to pull Hurts. Jeff McLane of The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that two defensive players had to be held back when confronting Pederson about the decision.

The Eagles’ ultimate prize for the essential forfeit? The right to choose sixth in April’s NFL Draft in Cleveland, avoiding the three-slot drop a win would’ve obtained. Even with such valuable draft capital, a turbulent offseason awaits in The City of Brotherly Love. Wentz and his massive contract have to be moved, and he’ll likely be one of several staples from the team that made the victorious trek to Super Bowl LII.

Say what you will about the 2020 New York Jets…they didn’t do that.

Hurts’ benching swiped center stage in Week 17 compilation of football follies from the Jets, who finally bid farewell to Adam Gase after a listless 28-14 defeat at the hands of the New England Patriots earlier in the day. The meaningless visit to Foxboro was hardly the most football sin of Gase’s tenure but served as an appropriate end to a two-year term that produced only nine wins.

The Jets’ fortunes were among the most trivial of New York concerns in 2020, but it was still tough to bear from a football fan standpoint. Much like a doomed blockbuster, things went haywire right from the start. Some calamities were completely understandable in the wake of the ongoing health crisis, with linebacker C.J. Mosley opting out before the first snap of training camp. The cancellation of the preseason hurt the Jets more than most teams, denying a team with completely revamped blocking and receiving corps. Elsewhere, the climax of the Jamal Adams saga yielded two first-round from Seattle at the price of an All-Pro-sized hole in the secondary. Second-round deep threat Denzel Mims, among others, were lost to training camp injuries. Even before Le’Veon Bell’s unceremonious release in October, the most casual football observer could tell it was going to be a tough season for the Jets.

Sure enough, the Jets’ were more or less eliminated from the playoff conversation before the Yankees…maybe even the Mets as well. Once the season got underway, the promises of brutality became nightmarish realities. Bell’s departure only opened the floodgates for a veteran exodus, with the New York careers of Steve McLendon, Avery Williamson, Pierre Desir, and Gregg Williams all ending throughout the course of the season. The brutal start saw the Jets fall in each of their first 13 games…a number so garish even Rich Kotite’s doomed bunch manage to avoid it.

Yet…pulling a “Pederson” never seemed to be under consideration.

Indeed, there were plenty of times where the Jets fulfilled Adams’ most damning departing declaration…that the Jets “didn’t want to win”. Any 2-14 season is one for the football hall of shame and the Jets lost half of their games by at least three possessions. But any gameday decision was made with a win in mind. Granted, some decisions were questionable at best…the 37-year-old Frank Gore’s run tally perhaps at the forefront…but the modern Jets were never interested in a reward that some of them might never get to see.

“There’s been a lot of adversity,” Gase admitted to Andy Vazquez of NorthJersey.com after the first of two wins, a 23-20 triumph over the Los Angeles Rams. “The fact that it’s this late in the season, the way that they kept fighting, the way that they stuck together and found a way to play a good game in all three phases was something that our guys should have been excited about.”

That was obvious as the season went on and the Jets inched closer to 16-game imperfection. Observers tried to tell the team that losing, however, was good for them. Inclusion amongst the likes of the 2008 Lions and 2017 Browns was a small price to pay to be at the top of the draft board. All the Jets had to do was take a few losses toward the end of the year…something that, on paper, shouldn’t have been hard to do. Following their Week 10 bye, the Jets battled teams either in the thick of the playoff picture or finding their footing in tough times. The epitome of brutality came in when Adams and the Seahawks dominated the Jets to the tune of a 40-3 shellacking in the Pacific Northwest.

All the while, professional and amateur pundits alike, perhaps partly fueled by the theory that the concept of “LOL Jets” gets clicks, encouraged the team to complete the 16-game goose egg in the win column. Such an “accomplishment” would’ve allowed them to outright clinch a spot at the top of the 2021 draft board. Their lone competition, the Jacksonville Jaguars, appeared to embrace the Pederson method when they benched Gardner Minshew’s potential for the journeyman efforts Mike Glennon. The Jaguars perhaps only avoided such calls for tanking through a 15-game losing streak after kickoff weekend and the theory that prime Joe Montana himself could take over under center in Duval County and still struggle to win ball games.

The Jets’ participants still refused to justify the mere notion. Following the embarrassment at Seattle, they knocked off a pair of playoff-bound teams, the Los Angeles Rams and Cleveland Browns. These Christmas gifts were met with only disdain from the fanbase and observers, who torched the Jets for the sin of winning a game when a date with destiny in the form of Trevor Lawrence awaited. The woebegone Jaguars “took care” of business, headlined by their Glennon gambit, losing their final games in anticipated one-sided fashion. 

It didn’t matter to the Jets.

Already a ludicrous notion from the outset…asking professionals to intentionally toss contests in pursuit of an award they’ll never sow…players went for the jugular when it came to those who called for tanking.

“If you wanted us to lose, you’re not a real fan, honestly,” first-round rookie Mekhi Becton told SNY’s Jeane Coakley after the 23-20 win in Los Angeles. “We wanted the win and we got it. That’s our goal right now. We want to go get another win.”

That mission was accomplished the following weekend, as the Jets prevented their equally star-crossed brothers from the midwest from clinching a playoff spot, topping the Cleveland Browns 23-16. Cleveland was

Simply put, one (rightfully) thrashing the Eagles is a hypocritical move if they also criticized the Jets for going all-out in their final hours.

The era of Gase is one that many Jets would like to eradicate from their memories, Men in Black-style. But it was never one where the Jets outright sacrificed a shot at victory. It’s shameful that it’s something to be proud of these days, but Week 17’s action produced a green aura of defeatism on Sunday…this time, the Jets weren’t involved.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: Three Stars from Sunday’s finale at New England

The New York Jets’ 2020 season ended on an appropriately sullen note, as they fell to the New England Patriots in a snowy slog.

If there was ever a perfect day to end the 2020 New York Jets’ season, it was an overcast, cold, snowy, sloppy day at Gillette Stadium…where the Jets were on the wrong side of the scoreboard.

Cam Newton put up 322 yards of total offense and threw for three scores in the New England Patriots’ victorious season finale, topping the Jets by a 28-14 final in a meaningless game in Foxboro. The Jets (2-14) were paced by 84 receiving yards on a trio of receptions by Breshad Perriman. In what could his final game as the Jets’ franchise quarterback, Sam Darnold threw for 266 yards, a touchdown, and two interceptions.

The Jets end this season with their lowest win total since 1996, when they won a single game under Rich Kotite. New York also endures their fifth consecutive sweep at the hands of the Patriots (7-9).

For the final time this season, ESM issues the game balls, as multiple eras come to their potential end in Florham Park and East Rutherford.

3rd Star: WR Breshad Perriman

3 receptions, 84 yards

Last season, Perriman earned himself de factor WR1 duties with a strong finish to the regular season. It wasn’t as impressive this time around, but he provided the Jets a strong potential parting gift by serving as their deep ball threat in Foxboro. This comes after he was kept off the stat ledger in last week’s win over Cleveland.

2nd Star: RB Josh Adams

11 carries, 47 yards, 1 TD, 2 receptions, 11 yards

It truly is a shame that, with all due respect to Frank Gore, that consequence-free football in Florham Park and East Rutherford wasn’t dedicated to exploring the Jets’ rushing future. During their brief time together, Adams and Ty Johnson formed a dynamic pair, and it was the former who wound up scoring the final touchdown of this wretched season. He and Johnson united for 92 yards in New England (4.2 average carry) after previously putting up a collaborative 178 in the infamous December loss to Las Vegas.

1st Star: TE Chris Herndon

7 receptions, 63 yards, 1 TD

The case for keeping Sam Darnold often covers the ridiculous amount of turn over he has experienced in only three years at the New York helm. No receiver remains from his rookie campaign, with the exception of the tight end Herndon. Darnold’s former rookie camp roommate had struggled to replicate the success of his rookie season, hampered by injuries and other calamities. But Herndon managed to recapture a little bit of his 2018 spark toward the end of the season, capping things off with a game-best in receptions and a touchdown in each of his last two games.

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

New York Jets: RB Frank Gore to miss finale in New England

After making history on Sunday, top rusher Frank Gore will miss the New York Jets’ season finale against New England.

Frank Gore’s season, and potentially his NFL career, has come to an end after making history.

The veteran rusher will not play in the New York Jets’ season finale on Sunday against the New England Patriots (1 p.m. ET, CBS). His season in green ends with 653 yards on 187 carries, two of which went for scores. Gore took on a larger workload this season following the release of Le’Veon Bell, starting the past 14 games.

Gore left last weekend’s win over Cleveland with what was initially reported to be a chest injury. Head coach Adam Gase later revealed that Gore had instead suffered a lung contusion.

“That’s going to be one of those ones where he will not be available for a few weeks, which obviously with one game left, he won’t be able to finish that last game,” Gase said, per notes from the Jets. As for Gore’s NFL future, Gase remarked that he hasn’t had those types of conversations with the running back yet. “I think Frank’s always going to kind of worry about that when the time comes and if he wants to play again, he may try to do it.”

During Week 16’s win over Cleveland, Gore, 37, hit the 16,000-yard mark for his career, joining Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton as the only rushers in NFL history to reach that plateau. Gore holds the NFL record for most games played as an NFL running back (241) and Sunday’s finale will mark only the third time since 2011 that he has had to miss due to injury.

Speaking about his future to ESPN’s Rich Cimini, Gore said “I’ve got to be real with myself, how teams think about my age. They might not want a 38-year-old running back on the team”.

Gase has faced criticism for increasing the aging Gore’s role in the offense, often at the expense of ignoring younger rushers like La’Mical Perine, Ty Johnson, and Josh Adams. Gore’s 187 carries are his most since 2017 but his average of 3.5 yards per carry is a new career-low.

Nonetheless, Gase praised Gore for his veteran leadership and the calming effect he has had on some of the younger players.

“I think as far as what he’s done this year, helped keep these guys together, showing guys the right way to do things,” Gase said. “I think he’s been great for that running back room, with the amount of young players we have in there.”

“I think the young players just in general on the whole team, seen him working day in and day out, understanding no matter what your record is, how you’re supposed to come to work, how you’re supposed to go through practice, how you’re supposed to play the game, I can’t say enough as far as what he’s done leading by example.”

Gore entered the league as a third-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers in 2005, one of seven active picks remaining from those selections. He has also spent time with Indianapolis, Miami, and Buffalo. Gore’s finest performance as a Jets likely came against the Los Angeles Rams earlier this month, when he capped off a 59-yard day with a touchdown that proved to be a major role in the winning margin and a fourth-quarter reception that helped the Jets (2-13) seal the deal.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags