New York Jets: 3 lessons to learn from Sunday’s resurgent opponent

joe burrow, bengals

MetLife Stadium’s Sunday showdown features two downtrodden franchises, but one paces the AFC. What can the New York Jets learn?

Going through the respective histories of the New York Jets and Cincinnati Bengals is an exercise in futility and annoyance.

Nothing more needs to be written about the Jets’ 50-plus year championship drought, one only complemented by the longest active playoff drought in the NFL, a record they’re in absolutely no danger of losing at 10 years and counting. Cincinnati, meanwhile, is close behind (along with Denver and undefeated Arizona) at five years. but it’s been a full-on three decades since the Bengals have won a mere playoff game. The team is also the only member of the former American Football League that hasn’t captured a championship in the AFL or the merged NFL. Cincinnati’s relatively small-town settings away from the New York spotlight have perhaps helped them avoid the jokes and memes often sent the Jets way in reference to their lack of gridiron accolades.

Yet, as the star-crossed franchises prepare for a Halloween showdown at MetLife Stadium on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS), the Bengals are the toast of the AFC. If the season ended today, the Bengals (5-2) would be the owners of the sole postseason bye on the conference bracket. Energized by the collegiate champion duo of Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase, Cincinnati made a big statement through a one-sided victory in Baltimore last weekend. Their two losses, one of which was an overtime loss to the mighty Green Bay Packers, have come by a combined six points.

It’s not like there was any advance warning from Bengals: they won 13 games over the past three seasons and there was significant concern about their young superstars. Burrow was coming off a devastating knee injury sustained 10 games into his rookie season while the arrival of Chase carried the red flags of drops and not being an offensive lineman who could protect the young quarterback. As the second half of the season nears, the Bengals will likely be among the most popular choices among those in charge of flexible scheduling.

Conventional football wisdom suggests that the Bengals are prime prey for a trap game against the reeling Jets (1-5), but even the most optimistic Jets fan…that poor, poor soul… is dreading the Halloween nightmare that lies ahead.

The Jets are fresh off a 41-point defeat at the hands of the mediocre New England Patriots. New York won’t even have the services of its young franchise quarterback to work with, as a strained PCL will keep Zach Wilson out for at least the next two weeks. Gang Green will go into the aerial battle with Mike White, who will make his first NFL start while Joe Flacco prepares for his New York rearrival.

If anything, the Jets can take several lessons from a brother in futility…

A good tight end brings a right end

One of the Bengals’ veteran breakout stars has been tight end C.J. Uzomah. The seventh-year pro already turned himself into a popular, eternal Cincinnati trivia answer last season when he caught Burrow’s first touchdown pass before a torn Achilles ended his season prematurely. Uzomah’s receptions have been some of Cincinnati’s biggest energizers: of his 17 receptions, 10 have gone for either first downs or touchdowns. He was appropriately one of the biggest stars of the Bengals’ win over the Ravens on National Tight Ends Day, earning 91 yards on three receptions, two of which were good for long touchdowns.

Burrow believed he had something strong brewing with Uzomah in limited collaboration last year.

“I think he was our top target through two weeks last year…unfortunately, (he) went down with a knee injury early but we really clicked from the beginning with each other,” Burrow said, per Kelsey Conway of Cincinnati.com. Head coach Zac Taylor added in the same report that Uzomah has “found his spot”.

“Joe has a lot of confidence in him,” Taylor said. “He always makes plays when his number is called.”

The Jets are cursed with a laundry list of issues, so much so to the point where their tight end woes have almost been forgotten about. Their necessary removal of Chris Herndon netted them a fourth-round pick but Tyler Kroft, Ryan Griffin, and Trevon Wesco (a combined 110 yards through six games) have done little to pick up the slack. Tight end should undoubtedly be high on the Jets’ offseason to-do list, whether such help comes from free agency (a list that, in fact, includes Uzomah) or the draft (SEC standouts Jalen Wydermyer and Cameron Latu are among the options).

Find and establish a defensive identity

The Jets’ defense was one of the few silver linings about the first four games. What the unit was able to do with a hodgepodge of final camp cuts, day three draft selections, and rookie free agents was admirable, especially considering the awkward spots that offensive turnovers and struggles created for them. The pass rush (confirmed to be missing the services of former Bengal Carl Lawson for the whole season) was particularly impressive, earning 14 sacks through the first four games. That success was personified through a four-year extension via a four-year extension (featuring $30 million guaranteed) for John Franklin-Myers.

But consecutive no-shows have rendered the defense guilty in the ongoing struggles. They were able to salvage a poor first half performance against Atlanta in London with two turnovers but the brutality in Foxboro was all kinds of ugly: Sunday marked the eighth time in franchise history that the Jets allowed at least 550 yards a game and the first time since 1995’s season opener that they allowed at least 50 points in a game. The pass rush, which could’ve helped for the team’s identity for the future, has been non-existent over the past two games: they’ve earned one sack in that span, earned by Del’Shawn Phillips in New England when all was lost.

The struggles on defense have prevented the Jets from leaving the strong footprint in the trenches that Robert Saleh hoped would shape the team’s identity as they emerged from the post-London bye.

“I think we all stand in lockstep with Joe (Douglas), in terms of we’re going to be identified upfront,” Saleh said, per notes from the Jets. “Our D-line has been extremely effective. (It’s been) very, very good playing with a lot of energy, a lot of just overpowering teams, overpowering their opponent. I think (that identity is) starting to get established.”

Cincinnati, meanwhile, believes that they’ve succeeded in establishing their own defensive identity, one generated through physicality, resiliency, and football smarts.

“That’s one thing that we know we are: We’re a tough team. We give everybody our best shot,” first-year Bengal Chidobe Awuzie said of the unit, per Kaelen Jones of The Ringer. “I think the most important thing is proving  (we can compete with the top teams) to ourselves and…building an identity as a team, as a defense.”

“Everybody (has) their football smarts and intelligence,” safety Vonn Bell, in his second year with the team, added through notes with the team. “We’ve just been bonding, and it’s just been gelling together. We’re playing together. It’s a great feeling.”

Find a time and place to use weapons

A hidden subplot of Sunday’s game is the connection between Jets receiver Denzel Mims and Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson. The Jets had a chance to take Wilson in the late stages of the second round of 2020’s draft, but chose Mims with the 59th overall pick. Wilson, the Wyoming linebacker, went six picks later as the first pick of the third round. He has gone on to become one of Cincinnati’s defensive leaders while Mims has inexplicably struggled to gain snaps.

As owners of the top pick in each round of the 2020 draft, the Bengals took advantage: the selections of Burrow and Wilson sandwiched the choosing of Tee Higgins at the top of the second. Cincinnati’s staff, headed by the offensive minds of Taylor and coordinator Brian Callahan, has managed its assets well. Higgins has been a strong depth option alongside slot weapon Tyler Boyd. A strong rushing attack headed by Joe Mixon has been well complemented by spell option Samaje Perine.

Enough also can’t be said about the confidence bestowed in Chase, who has shot up the 2021 Rookie of the Year power rankings. It’s apparent there is a strong rapport between Chase and receivers coach/former All-American Troy Walters, one that has played to the Bengals’ benefit.

Walters, for example, never lost faith in Chase despite some early struggles and now believes that he has only scratched the surface of what he can accomplish at the professional level. The eight-year NFL veteran has noted that Chase has kept their chemistry and routines going despite reaching other-worldly levels of production.

“Nothing has changed. A lot of times when guys have success they stop doing what got them there. But he’s putting the time in all the days before Sunday. He’s got the routine down of how to be a pro,” Walters said of Chase, per team reporter Geoff Hobson. Referring to Chase’s 201-yard outing against the Ravens, it was apparent that Walters’ guidance helped him stay the course after he was frustrated by early Baltimore coverages.

“He wasn’t complaining or griping,” Walters said. “He understood his time was going to come. His average shows when he gets the ball in his hands, he can make some magic.”

Sunday’s game begins an 11-game stretch of uninterrupted football for the hapless Jets, one that will serve as de facto research and development for the future. If the Jets do anything over this final stretch, the coaching staff needs to find ways for young weapons like Mims and Elijah Moore to contribute on a more extensive basis. The team has, in fact, done a solid job of allowing rookie Michael Carter to establish his identity on the game’s rushing antics. It’s time

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Who Ya Got Wednesday: New York Jets vs. Cincinnati Bengals

mike white, michael carter, jets

Do the undermanned, Zach Wilson-free New York Jets stand a chance against the surprise AFC North leaders? ESM’s experts debate.

  • What: Cincinnati Bengals (5-2) @ New York Jets (1-5)
  • Where: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ
  • When: Sunday at 1 p.m. ET
  • Watch: CBS
joe burrow, bengals

Geoff Magliocchetti

Those partaking in 2021 NFL regular season action have been waiting for the other shoe to drop on Cincinnati, the current owners of the AFC’s only bye.

But last week’s shocking win in Baltimore proved that the Bengals are here to stay. If not for two narrow losses to interconference competition, they could’ve stuck alongside Arizona in the ranks of the unbeaten. All this and more spells doom for the next team to run into them…and that just so happens to be the hapless New York Jets.

Such circumstances, as well as the state of the Bengals’ woebegone hosts, set up the perfect recipe for a trap game. But the Jets were barely prepared to give the mediocre Patriots a challenge, and that’s when they had the services of their franchise quarterback. The Bengals will have their share of non-believers, but this isn’t their week to talk.

New York football is in dire straits. Right now, the Jets’ goal is to bide their time until Wilson comes back, to get their train of development back on track. Last week’s six-plus touchdown loss to the Patriots was all too reminiscent of the defeats suffered in the Adam Gase era. This week has the potential to get ugly with the Bengals looking to decimate their doubters. There’s a chance for the defense to redeem themselves after a 551-yard, 54-point allowance…and with Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase, that’s no guarantee…but not much else for sickly Gang Green.

Bengals 27, Jets 3

Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Brendan Carpenter

The Jets will not win this week against the Bengals. I know it, you know it, we all know it.

There are numerous injuries plaguing the team right now, highlighted by Zach Wilson who could be sidelined up to four weeks with a strained PCL. No one wishes an injury on a player, but the time spent sitting back, watching, and learning could help the young QB. Having Joe Flacco back in the mix to help him helps as well.

Mike White is now expected to make his first NFL start Sunday against Cincinnati. It’ll be interesting to see the gameplan with White under center, as he cannot do some of the things Wilson can. In all honesty, that may help offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur. It seems, at times that LaFleur is caught up in the possibility of Wilson making big plays, instead of giving him easy options. So, it may be easier for him this weekend. Of course, that’s not all on LaFleur, but it could potentially be a factor.

The defense will be another story. With injuries piling up, especially to the linebacker group, the middle of the field will not be fun to watch. Blake Cashman, Hamseh Nasirildeen, and Jamien Sherwood now all find themselves on IR. C.J. Mosley and Quincy Williams are both questionable for the game as well. Who will play linebacker? I genuinely don’t know.

Joe Burrow and rookie standout Ja’Marr Chase may set all new kinds of passing/receiving records Sunday. As a result, a score prediction seems unnecessary. But here’s one anyway:

Bengals 35, Jets 7

quincy wilson, jets

Dylan Price

The Jets host the Cincinnati Bengals this week in a game that assuredly will be spooky. Cincinnati is currently the top team in the AFC and have taken a big step forward in recent weeks. Joe Burrow looks exceptional and Ja’Marr Chase is playing at an unbelievably high level. Trey Hendrickson and the Bengals’ pass rush is efficient and effective. Simply put, this resurgent team is a well-rounded unit. How far the Bengals go from here, nobody can project, but Zac Taylor has undoubtedly turned this team around this year.

The Jets are trending downward and fast. Mike White makes his first career NFL start Sunday and the odds are stacked against him. He didn’t play well coming in on Sunday in relief and a good game from him would be surprising. New York’s secondary faces a receiving corps that can come at them from all angles, and if the pass rush doesn’t assert itself early and often, Burrow will slice them up all day.

I don’t foresee this being a good game for the Jets, so look for an early exit if you’re going to the game Sunday. You might have time to head home and enjoy the Halloween festivities rather than watch the horror movie on turf.

Bengals 42, Jets 10

New York Giants
Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

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Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Joe Flacco could help the New York Jets’ offense salvage its season

Joe Flacco’s return allows the New York Jets a chance at offensive development and reconciliation for its young core.

At best, Joe Flacco’s New York Jets tenure will be commemorated when Twitter users facetiously play the “legends” game. Favorite examples amongst users in the tri-state area, for example, include “Boston Bruins legend Brian Leetch”, “Orlando Magic legend Patrick Ewing”, or “Los Angeles Sparks legend Teresa Weatherspoon”.

Even if his destiny lies in competing with Brett Favre and Michael Vick for a roster spot on the “Wait He Played for the Jets?!?!” team, Flacco is back for more metropolitan endeavors. After 11 publicized and discussed seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, the MVP of Super Bowl XLVII is now making his fourth move in three years. His latest was confirmed on Tuesday, as he’s going back to the Jets in a trade that sent a conditional sixth-round pick to his former employers in Philadelphia.

Flacco arrives just in time to potentially save the Jets’ 2021 season.

Allow me to go full Mora before you flock to the comment section: don’t talk about playoffs. Ending the NFL’s longest active playoff drought was a remote possibility when this season started and it’s probably a downright impossibility now. Despite another pre-Halloween elimination, the Jets (1-5) are once again offered a macabre gift: a de facto extension of the preseason.

Their remaining 2021 slate features 11 consequence-free opportunities to get the ball rolling on the future. These games, starting with Sunday’s visit from the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals (1 p.m. ET, CBS) are experimental research and development sessions, auditions to see who can stay for the supposedly good times ahead. If they win, it’s a pat on the back. Losses are no big deal as long as the effort was high and draft position is gained.

Such an opportunity would’ve been a godsend for a struggling rookie quarterback like Zach Wilson. Lowered stakes would provide much-needed relief from his freshman season, one where he could make mistakes in a relatively controlled environment. He could take chances, throw deep, and find ways to build chemistry with a young, developing group of receivers without the burden of a potential playoff trip weighing him down.

Then came the injury.

Wilson will miss the Jets’ immediate future after leaving Sunday’s disastrous visit to New England early with what was originally described as a knee injury. The ensuing MRI revealed a sprained PCL that came with a two-to-four week timeline for his return. Under the supervision of backup Mike White, the Jets’ offense got off to a promising start, scoring on two of his first three possessions. Alas, White’s NFL debut spiraled out of control as New England’s lead widened, and he ended the day with 202 yards and two interceptions as well as a touchdown on his first professional pass to Corey Davis.

White performed admirably for someone who was, realistically, never supposed to see a regular season snap. But the 2018 draftee did nothing to vindicate the Jets’ rather bizarre decision to draft to retain him as the primary backup. It’s not like White was a touted college prospect (chosen by Dallas on the last day of the 2018 draft), had a heroic preseason (a career 71.5 passer rating over three summers), or had a connection to the new coaching staff.

mike white, michael carter, jets

There were plenty of opportunities for the Jets to bring in a veteran understudy that could double as a mentor: Brian Hoyer was brought in for a workout but re-upped with the Patriots instead. Nick Mullens worked with offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur in San Francisco as a serviceable fill-in but he went to the Eagles and now lingers on Cleveland’s practice squad. The Jets brought in the well-traveled Josh Johnson in the late stages of the summer, but he’s been relegated to the practice squad and holds no gameday value to Wilson.

Simply put, the Flacco rearrival is making up for lost time.

A backup quarterback has two purposes on an NFL roster: hold an off-field role in terms of creating learning opportunities and chemistry and provide emergency services if the unthinkable happens to the starter. Simply put, do not be the reason the team loses a game. Such a gambit has been an awkward endeavor for the Jets, who haven’t had anything of value to play for in a long time.

The closest thing they’ve had to glory days in the new century have been complemented by the veteran contributions of guys like Mark Brunell and Josh McCown. Their statistics weren’t legendary but they left a sizable impact on the would-be franchisee men in front of them. Brunell formed a strong bond with Mark Sanchez while the best numbers of Sam Darnold’s career were earned under the supervision of McCown.

But wins and losses weren’t at stake for the Jets at this point in time. The real concern is the development of their young weapons set to lead them into the next generation. With Flacco, there’s hope that they can get some forward momentum.

The Jets spent this offseason stocking their offensive arsenal in preparation for Wilson’s arrival. Bringing in the big guns like Allen Robinson, Chris Godwin, and Hunter Henry was probably out of the question for a two-win team but they nonetheless acquired a talented group of both veterans (Corey Davis, Keelan Cole) and rookies (Elijah Moore). Questions can be raised about how the Jets have used these weapons…Denzel Mims’ 2021 season, or lack thereof, has been particularly ridiculous…but if New York wants to make any offensive progress with Wilson out, White wasn’t going to be the answer.

While White is the likely starter for Sunday’s visit from the Bengals (and, per ESPN’s Rich Cimini, the planned thrower until Wilson gets healthy), it’s more likely that any professional impact he’ll make will come in another XFL/USFL reboot rather than the NFL. An experienced, accomplished name like Flacco can work with these young receivers and help their development stay on course.

It’s not like Flacco is an inactive slouch as he reaches the twilight of his NFL career. We’re certainly no longer having the infamous “Is Joe Flacco Elite?” debate, but he was arguably responsible for the Jets’ best offensive outputs of the 2020 season. Of note, Flacco’s 128.7 passer rating tallied during a Monday night defeat at the hands of the Patriots last November was the best earned by a Jets quarterback since the 2016 season. Though the Jets lost each of his starts, Flacco at least helped the team gain some offensive traction.

Despite his limited time in green, before temporarily changing his shade for the summer and early stages of fall, Flacco left an impression on the New York landscape.

“I think you saw it, I think everyone saw it, how well he throws the football,” then-Jets offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, now with the Arkansas Razorbacks, said after the New England game in a postgame report from Andy Vazquez of NorthJersey.com. “This guy, he’s gifted that way, and he did some really nice things for us. He’s really accurate. I do think this guy is a starter in this league, and we’re very fortunate to have the quarterback situation we have right now…That’s why Joe was brought here.”

Even before Wilson got hurt, 2021 was meant to be a year of development, growth, baby steps for the fledgling Jets. The injury puts them in danger of losing that as well. With Flacco arrives the rare chance to pick up a win, even if the rewards aren’t immediately reaped.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets’ lack of on-field progress disfigures offseason work

New York Jets, Joe Douglas

Trading off the faces of the franchise is working to the New York Jets’ benefit, but the on-field yields have made them impossible to enjoy.

The New York Jets’ most fruitful endeavors of the 2021 season came in Week 6. By perhaps no coincidence, that week of action marked the Jets’ annual bye week.

The 2021-22 NFL playoff bracket was never going to be the primary criteria for judging the Jets’ season. This year’s AFC environment was already packed to the brim with established division favorites: the Jets’ own East division is set to be dominated by a Western New York overlord for the foreseeable future. Tennessee has taken over the South as expected while pleasant surprises have emerged in Cincinnati and Las Vegas.

The wild card picture features expected contenders like the Ravens, Chargers, Browns, and Steelers. In Kansas City, the two-time defending conference champion Chiefs are shockingly fighting for their lives. Asking a two-win team to launch themselves into that conversation, no matter how much they changed during the offseason, was always a very tall ask, one not even worth asking. Appearing in the “in the hunt” column on the postseason charts NFL broadcasters break out around the holidays was probably going to be the best-case scenario for the team.

Nonetheless, there was much to gain in year one of the shared Robert Saleh/Zach Wilson era, the official start of Joe Douglas’ general manager tenture after he installed his own head coach and quarterback. Progress was the name of the game and it would’ve been hard to take steps backward from the final years of the Adam Gase era. The Jets were left in such dire straits from Gase’s two-year watch that there was no way for them to fully fill all the boxes on their offseason checklist, but Douglas did a solid job nonetheless.

But the biggest moves of Douglas’ offseason were done not in the name of the present, but the future. Douglas officially left his mark on the organization through the trade of previous franchise quarterback Sam Darnold, paving the way for Wilson’s arrival. In return for a quarterback with a career 78.6 passer rating and an unforunate injury history, Douglas was able to secure a second and fourth-round pick from the Carolina Panthers. Darnold’s departure came nearly nine months after fellow franchise face Jamal Adams was shipped off to Seattle for each of the Seahawks’ first-round picks over the next two drafts.

Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

For the time being, Douglas’ deals look like the finest New York-based robbery since Clive Owen and Co.’s heist in Spike Lee’s Inside Man. Adams may have earned his desired big contract but has failed to stop Seattle’s Russell Wilson-free descent. His first playoff experience was a Wild Card disappointment that failed to stop an injured Los Angeles Rams passing tandem of Jared Goff and John Wolford. Seattle’s ugly Monday night loss to New Orleans currently positions the Jets in the eighth slot of the current 2022 draft board, one of the two appearances within the first octology.

Meanwhile, Darnold became instant comedic fuel for those seeking a cheap laugh at the Jets’ expense: as his Panthers started 3-0 (wins coming against the Jets, Saints, and Texans), many were ready to put him in Canton for his services of making Gang Green look even more inept. Carolina has since dropped four in a row, the latest loss being a listless 25-3 defeat at the hands of the lowly Giants. Darnold was benched for de facto XFL MVP P.J. Walker in defeat and the Panthers reportedly remain interested in the services of the burdened Deshaun Watson, a sweepstakes Douglas smartly reclused himself from.

Per Tankathon, the Jets are slated to visit the podium four times over the first 45 selections if the current pace continues. That alone should make the team smile and emerge from the 2021 campaign with good feelings.

Alas, what’s happening on the field makes it absolutely impossible to appreciate the yields off of it.

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

The Jets (1-5) are somehow finding rockier bottoms than those reached under Gase, much like how Gase “accomplished” dubious distinctions Rick Kotite’s doomed groups managed to avoid. New York’s new futility was best personified through their most recent defeat, a 54-13 shellacking at the hands of the New England Patriots.

Few remnants of the New England dynasty linger since Tom Brady flew south, but their monopoly over the Jets is a troubling leftover: of the Patriots’ ten wins earned in the post-Brady era, four have come against the hapless Jets. East Rutherford’ portion of the 2021 meetings was equally ugly, as the Jets failed to visit the end zone in a 25-6 defeat. A week later, they were on the wrong end of a shutout in Denver, the tenth scoreboard blank in the NFL since 2019. Of those no-shows, the Jets have been responsible for three of them.

In further Sunday struggles, the 54 points were the most scored by a Jets opponent since the team let up 56 to those same Patriots in 1979. It was also the eighth time in franchise history that the Jets let up at least 550 yards in a game since opening weekend of the 1998 season. Unlike that overtime thriller in San Francisco, no divisional title/AFC title game appearance awaits at the end.

What New England did on Sunday is what, frankly, the Jets should be doing. Nobody is expecting them to light up the scoreboard on a weekly basis (nor should they) but the Jets’ lack of on-field progress is disturbing. Solace can be gained from the fact that the team is well-set for the future…the elevator ride up the draft board is the sweetest form of gridiron schadenfreude…but it’s hard to get excited when the on-field product suggests that there’s still so much to work on.

Douglas’ drafts have also done little to inspire faith in the draft day rewards. Sure, his primary picks (Mekhi Becton, Alijah Vera-Tucker) have provided a solid foundation for the wall in front of Wilson. But addressing the entire body of work is a new exercise in football frustration and futility.

Take his original class in 2020, for example. Becton has been strong but has spent most of this season on injured reserve (along with sixth-round punter Braden Mann). Nothing more needs to be written about second-round weapon Denzel Mims’ lack of snaps (his 20 on Sunday were a season-best). Jabari Zuniga (3rd) and James Morgan are already gone while Morgan’s fellow fourth-rounders La’Mical Perine and Cameron Clark have united for a single snap this season. While there’s hope for secondary defenders Ashtyn Davis and Bryce Hall, they haven’t made any of the missed opportunities worth forgetting: for example, Jeremy Chinn, Logan Wilson, and Antonio Gibson went within the immediate ten post-Mims picks. The already pointless selection of Morgan is even more bizarre considering Gabriel Davis went to Buffalo three choices later.

It’s great that the Jets have accumulated such valuable draft capital…but does that mean much when the on-field product still wallows in gridiron shame?

Granted, there’s still time for the Jets to come out clean on the other side of this season: arguing about the fates of Saleh and Wilson (who is missing at least the next two weeks with an injury) is pointless: even the Jets won’t be so impatient to give up on them after one year. Another macabre gift has been bestowed in the sense that the Jets’ season is so far gone and already removed from the postseason that they have 11 consequence-free opportunities to stage free research and development for the future, starting with Sunday’s visit from the AFC North leaders from Cincinnati (1 p.m. ET, CBS).

Douglas arrived in one of the most thankless jobs in professional sports. To his credit, he’s making the best of it through not only his draft board maneuvering but late summer cuts that have created a professional future for themselves (i.e. Quincy Williams, Ty Johnson). Trading off the franchise faces and his action on the offensive line was refreshing after years of Mike Maccagnan-supervised negligence. To say Douglas has the best intentions would perhaps be the understatement of this young season.

But if good intentions served as championship criteria, everyone would be undefeated.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Defending champion Chiefs praise New York Jets as Week 8 matchup looms

No one was more complimentary to the New York Jets than their Sunday opponent, the defending champion Chiefs.

It’s hard enough for New York Jets fans to say anything nice about their team these days. Their upcoming opponents, on the other hand, were more than happy to offer pleasantries.

Murphy’s Law personified, the Jets’ season from the depths of the football underworld gets scarier just in time for Halloween, as they’ll take on the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday afternoon at Arrowhead Stadium (1 p.m. ET, CBS).

Kansas City’s first Super Bowl title in five decades might be enough to give Jets fans the slightest hope they can end their own championship drought, but this season has shown that New York is further from a championship than East Rutherford is from Paris of the Plains. The Chiefs’ title defense has gotten off to a strong start, as they sit atop the AFC West with a 6-1 mark. Patrick Mahomes has returned to the fold, but he surprisingly was responsible for only one touchdown in their most recent victory over Denver. New on-field studs have risen, including rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire (the NFL’s second-leading rusher behind Derrick Henry) and a defense that has forced 13 turnovers (second-best in the NFL behind Cleveland).

Those factors and more have inflated the spread for Sunday’s match, with many expecting a massacre. FanDuel currently lists the Chiefs as 19.5-point favorites, and their attempts to cover may be one of the few attractions for viewers outside of Kansas City and New York. Jets fans may hold a macabre interest in the performance of Le’Veon Bell, the running back dismissed from the Jets just 17 games into a four-year, $52.5 million contract. Bell made his debut in red last weekend, earning 39 yards on six carries in the win over Denver. The stage could well be set for an embarrassment of epic proportions.

But if Kansas City is indeed taking the Jets lightly, they certainly haven’t shown it in the lead-up to Sunday.

The most jaw-dropping comments came from Kansas City defender Chris Jones. According to ESPN’s Adam Teicher, Jones referred to the Jets as “a very good football team”, an idea that “people tend to forget that because they haven’t won a game.” Per video from SNY, Jones had further praise for his quarterback prey Sam Darnold, remarking that “he doesn’t get the credit, but he’s a very, very good quarterback.”

Chiefs head coach Andy Reid only added to the toasting of the Jets, even offering kind words to his embattled counterpart Adam Gase.

“We look forward to the challenge of playing the Jets. They’re a good football team, well-coached,” Reid said, per Charles Goldman of Chiefs Wire. “This league is all about parity. That’s what the league strives for. It’s never as good as you think and it’s never as bad as you think. Whether it’s driven by the gambling or the media or whatever it’s driven by that presents those numbers… I don’t pay attention to them first…I go off of what I see on tape.”

“Every week, somebody gets picked off that was one of these ‘favorites’ or whatever. So you go back and you focus on your agenda. You study the opponent, you respect the opponent and then you get yourself right and make yourself get better every week. If you lose focus on that, then you have a problem in this league. These are good football players and good coaches, the best in the world, right? You don’t lose focus on that.”

It’s bulletin board material for sure, though perhaps more of an inspiration kind rather than antagonistic.

But competition will nonetheless ensue at Arrowhead, where the Jets haven’t won since 1998. It will be a game driven by revenge, not only from Bell’s point of view but perhaps from that of the deadly Mahomes as well. 

The Texas Tech quarterback was on the board when the Jets chose sixth in the 2017 NFL Draft. But the Jets instead went with LSU safety Jamal Adams, who would later go on to share MVP honors with Mahomes at the 2019 Pro Bowl in Orlando. Adams spent three strong years with the Jets but his time in New York came to an unceremonious end this offseason, vocally demanding a trade in the latter stages of the summer. The Jets eventually granted Adams’ request with a trade to Seattle, six months after Mahomes and Chiefs topped San Francisco in Super Bowl LIV in South Beach.

Mahomes took the time to recall his positive experiences during that draft process with the Jets this week, though his words may only cause Jets fans more pain than reassurance.

“I definitely thought there was interest there,” Mahomes said of the Jets, per Pete Grathoff of KansasCity.com. “Whenever you get on those visits, you know they’re pretty interested in doing their due diligence, so I mean I definitely thought there was some interest there. At the time they drafted a great player in Jamal Adams so you can’t really argue with that one.”

Though the aging Josh McCown would start the 2018 season, the Jets were apparently convinced that their quarterback of the future was already on the roster, likely through 2016 second-round pick Christian Hackenberg. But the Penn State product never appeared in an NFL game and was later let go in 2018. Hackenberg would spend time in Cincinnati and Philadelphia’s systems before flaming out with the Memphis Express of the Alliance of American Football.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

The Buffalo Bills’ ultimate test comes on Sunday against New England

The somewhat reeling Buffalo Bills have a golden opportunity to pass the ultimate test against the New England Patriots.

Wide right. No goal. New England Patriots.

The preceding phrases have struck fear into the heart of Western New York sports fans for years on end. In the case of the first two, the smallest of consolation could be granted through time, as they were single-game incidents that continue to build distance from the next generation of supporters. The latter case, however, is a twice-yearly ordeal, a painful, yet necessary endeavor on par with jury duty or inventory at a retail job.

The Buffalo Bills’ rivalry with New England was even but uneventful in the 20th century (New England led 41-38-1 in a series that dated back to 1960), but the tide turned with the rise of Tom Brady in 2001. Since Brady faced the Bills for the first time, a 21-11 New England triumph at the late Foxboro Stadium (in what became Rob Johnson’s final start as a Bill), the Patriots own a ridiculously one-sided 34-4 advantage in the series.

Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not enough that the Patriots have straight-up owned this yearly pair, but the way they’ve done it could be constituted as outright bullying. Former Bills (Antowain Smith and Stephon Gilmore among them) have played central roles in the team’s demise. The method of defeat has featured increased creativity. In 2006, a Ty Warren sack of J.P. Losman became a difference-making safety in a 19-17 loss on opening weekend. A 2009 Monday night tilt saw the Bills lose a 24-13 lead over the final three minutes of game time.

There have been several potential “turning point” of the rivalry. A 31-0 Buffalo shellacking in the 2003 season opener threatened to end the New England dynasty before it truly got rolling. One of Ryan Fitzpatrick’s earliest miracles was the erasure of a 21-point deficit in 2011. But, for the most part, even the Buffalo victories were nothing to celebrate. A win in the 2014 season finale came with most New England backups on the field, the starters resting for yet another playoff run. The Bills did the unthinkable with a 16-0 shutout two seasons later, but it included the massive asterisk of having Brady sit out due to his Deflategate-induced suspension.

At long last, the winds of change have finally descended upon the AFC East. The Bills situated themselves perfectly to succeed when New England finally fell, and their efforts have paid off with a 5-2 record that has them destined toward prime playoff positioning in the conference. This season has been the reaping of meticulous planning by the Bills in their attempt to usurp New England’s throne, a quest partially assisted by Brady’s sojourn to Tampa Bay.

Buffalo has accomplished much over the past three seasons. The team has developed a defense to be reckoned with, found a franchise quarterback, and become a destination for big-name talent from elsewhere…salvation after building a playoff drought that nearly became old enough to legally purchase a six-pack of Flying Bison.

Much has been accomplished over the past three seasons, but there are many lofty goals that have proved elusive. A playoff win is one, but they can’t be gained until winter. First thing’s first…beat the Patriots on Sunday afternoon in Orchard Park (1 p.m. ET, CBS).

The turbulent transition of power of the AFC East cannot be completed otherwise.

The ultimate changing of the guard could’ve come last season, when a meeting in the penultimate week of the campaign decided the modern division’s fate. Such a battle had made its way to 21st-century national television…a 56-10 New England win in Buffalo was notably flexed to Sunday night during the former’s undefeated regular season run in 2007…but this game in an unusual timeslot carried enormous importance. Chosen to partake in a Saturday night spot at Gillette Stadium, the winner would have prime position in the chase for the AFC East. The title was routine for New England but could’ve made a return trip to Buffalo for the first time since 1995.

Buffalo had previously played the Patriots well in the first portion of the yearly pair, a 16-10 defeat at what was then New Era Field. It was a game they had to end without the aforementioned star under center, Josh Allen, who was sidelined with an injury. The opportunity to strike was perfect: the Bills had previously succeeded in their first taste of true prime time action, topping the Pittsburgh Steelers in a flexed Sunday night game six days prior. With the Bills at 10-4, their first accumulation of double-digit wins since 1999, and New England reeling from losses to Houston and Kansas City (not to mention dealing with another camera-induced controversy from their win in Cincinnati a week prior), the time to strike seemed perfect.

Inklings of a team of destiny appeared to be on display throughout the evening. The Bills were playing Patriot games to throw New England into a state of chaos. An unusual receiver scored a touchdown, with Dion Dawkins playing the role of Mike Vrabel. The Buffalo offensive charge was led by coordinator Brian Daboll, a former New England tight end coach who oversaw some of Rob Gronkowski’s finest hours. Daboll’s unit oversaw a 53-yard scoring hookup between Allen and John Brown, one that gave Buffalo a 17-13 lead for a good portion of the second half.

Alas for the Bills, further Patriot-induced heartbreak awaited in the game’s latter stages. New England scored the final 11 points of the game, the majority of which were earned on Rex Burkhead’s one-yard score with just over five minutes to go. With the exception of a 30-yard hookup between Brady and Julian Edelman, a major of the drive comprised of short, but methodically effective, rushes spearheaded by Burkhead and Sony Michel. The opposing defense forced Buffalo into a pair of three-and-outs while the deficit was erased, and stopped Allen’s would-be heroics through relentless pressure and a fourth-down spot just 15 yards away from the tying tally. Celebrations of the Patriots’ 11th consecutive division title soon commenced, relegating Buffalo to wild-card purgatory through a 24-17 victory.

Even in defeat, players and analysts saw the Bills’ respectable performance against the team that routinely tormented them as a potential sign of things to come. But Buffalo’s leaders, like Allen and cornerback Jordan Poyer, weren’t interested in making excuses or relishing symbolic wins.

“We knew we had to finish the game,” Poyer said of the honorable defeat, per Nate Mendelson of BuffaloBills.com. “He’s the greatest quarterback to ever play the game and we knew they were going to come back and try and strike. Like I said, they just made more plays than we did today. I’m proud of our guys today, but in the end, there are no moral victories.”

“It’s one of those games you learn from. “If you don’t learn from it, it’s a complete loss,” Allen added, according to Nicole Yang of Boston.com. “It (stinks). Obviously, they’re an AFC East division rival, and that’s their consecutive whatever it is year winning the division. We got to find a way to get over that hump.”

New York Giants could look into Devin Mccourty this offseason.
Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Brady is gone, but the opportunity lingers for the Bills, whose prosperity lies at a crossroads. They got off to a red-hot start at 4-0, but endured consecutive losses to contenders from Tennessee and Kansas City…each in newly customary primetime slots. The Bills got back into the win column last weekend against the New York Jets, but had to rely on six Tyler Bass field goals after failing to reach the end zone. With the winless Jets and the Miami Dolphins more or less focusing on the future with the transition to Tua Tagovailoa, the AFC East appears to be the Bills’ to lose.

It’s great that the Bills sit at 5-2, situating themselves handsomely in terms of the premature AFC playoff picture. They’re taking care of business and ensuring that they don’t have to be scoreboard-watching in December. Yet, as long as items remain unchecked on Buffalo’s to-do list of returning to respectability, questions and doubts will likely follow them. Failing to visit the end zone against the lowly Jets (even if the defense allowed only four green yards in the second half) is only going to raise more quandaries over whether they truly deserve to be counted amongst the NFL’s elite.

“We have to find ways to finish in the end zone,” Allen said, in a report from WBEN-AM. “It has to be better on my part. A couple of penalties pushed us back and put us in a bad position. Shout-out to T-Bass for making those field goals and getting us the win.” In the same statements, running back Devin Singletary mentioned the need to “get back to the drawing board” and described Sunday’s win as “rough”.

There’d be no better way to get back on track than exorcising the New England demon.

The mere thought seems impossible, but the matchup with the Patriots presents rare ground…a trip game. New England enters with a 2-4 record, reeling from the worst kind of uncharted territory in the Bill Belichick era. The Patriots have lost three consecutive games (their first such ledger since 2002) and the most recent defeat was almost Jets-ian in nature. Their 33-6 loss at the hand of the San Francisco 49ers was the worst margin of the Belichick era at Gillette Stadium and provided little if any bright spots in terms of growth and developments. It’s only perhaps added to Brady’s legacy. Whereas the Patriots have faltered under Cam Newton (whose fast start was stifled by a positive COVID-19 diagnosis), Brady has performed well enough in Tampa to warrant the NFC’s Offensive Player of the Month Award.

But the fact of the matter is that Brady isn’t the Bills’ problem anymore, at least not until slated to play the Buccaneers in 2021. In fact, Brady wasn’t even the Bills’ biggest problem during the most recent editions of their yearly pair. Over the last six get-togethers between the divisional rivals…all of which went the Patriots’ way…Brady only broke 300 yards once and threw only four touchdowns in that span. The real enemy has been the defense, which has held Buffalo to no more than 17 points in each of those past six showdowns. Allen has partaken in three of them…and has thrown five interceptions.

Veteran receiver Stefon Diggs, a newcomer to the Bills-Patriots story, but he knows just how important it will be to master the New England defense. He knows what it’s like to be neutralized by the unit, being held to 49 on five receptions (most of it coming on a 24-yard grab in the first half) in the Minnesota Vikings’ 24-10 loss to the Patriots in December 2018.

“They’re fundamentally sound, Diggs said, per Dante Lasting of BuffaloBills.com. “They do a lot of things well on defense, they are active, they have some great players and they’re smart. All the guys play as a unit, everybody’s always on the same page, they are big on communication, and everybody’s in the right spot so it’s definitely a challenge for us. It’s something that I look forward to for our offense to go out there and try to execute at a high level, make some plays, and fly around. It’s more so that we have to execute better than they do. They do a great job, have a great scheme, and have great coaching staff so it’s definitely going be fun.”

Furthermore, the Patriots show no signs of giving up divisional rights with a battle. Enough living, breathing cautionary tales have been written about declaring the Patriots dead in the Belichick era. Sure, a lot of those redemption chapters have been authored by Brady, but nobody needs to prove their mettle less than Belichick. Brady missed almost the entirety of the 2008 campaign, and that still didn’t stop Belichick-supervised destruction with Matt Cassel leading the way under center in a traditional sweep…one of which was a 13-0 shutout to complete an 11-5 ledger in the season finale.

Defensive captain Devin McCourty was blunt yet confident after the San Francisco debacle in analyzing just what the Buffalo game means to the Foxboro dwellers.

“They’re first in the division. We’re 2-4. So I definitely wouldn’t call us the team to beat this year,” McCourty said in a report from Nick Goss of NBC Sports Boston. “I know, me personally, I talk about it every year, it doesn’t matter what’s happened here in the past. I’ve always said that when you talk about the Super Bowls won in the early 2000s, that doesn’t have anything to do with us. Super Bowls after 2010, they have nothing to do with us.”

“I would say right now, we’d be crazy to think coming into the game that we’re the team to beat. They’re No. 1. They’re gonna be a huge challenge for us on the road. The top team, we’ve got to really bring our A-game coming off three straight losses. I think, for us, our backs are against the wall. We’ve got to go out there and play well.”

McCourty is right in his analysis; the past means nothing as the Bills-Patriots Rivalry enters its sixth decade. That message apparently has resonated through the New England locker room.

If it hasn’t in Buffalo, the clouds of questions over the Bills’ place in this evolving NFL world will continue to hover over Orchard Park more dangerously than that of any snowstorm.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags