Posted by: Mike Cornelius | December 10, 2020

The Jets Find A New Way To Lose

What were the Jets thinking? That was the question a New York Times headline writer chose to splash above the paper of record’s report on the latest debacle for the NFL’s most woebegone franchise. Like so many misadventures that have gone before, last Sunday’s snatching of defeat from the jaws – nay, from deep in the throat – of seemingly certain victory was entirely of the Jets’ own making. But depending on one’s perspective this miscue was either so stunningly inept or so egregiously arrogant as to distinguish itself even on the lengthy list of Gang Green blunders. Move over, Mark Sanchez butt fumble.

With but a few not necessarily well-advised exceptions, fans of all sports have had to endure long months without being able to cheer their heroes in person. That meant there were not thousands in the stands at MetLife Stadium Sunday afternoon, as the clock wound down with New York leading the visiting Las Vegas Raiders 28-24. Almost three hours earlier, the Jets had scored on the game’s first possession, a 12-play, 74-yard drive capped by a short toss from quarterback Sam Darnold to wide receiver Jamison Crowder. New York then managed to stay no worse than tied until late in the first half, when Las Vegas QB Derek Carr needed just five plays to march the Raiders 66 yards, the last 38 of which were covered by Darren Waller, who raced down the sideline after catching a quick pass from Carr at the line of scrimmage. That put Las Vegas ahead for the first time, 17-13, and the Raiders expanded their lead with another touchdown on the opening drive of the second half.

Had all those empty seats been occupied by green-clad Jets faithful, more than a few probably would have picked that moment to get an early start home. For while there was still nearly half a game to be played, those fans would have been painfully aware that their team came into the game winless in eleven starts, the only NFL franchise without so much as a single victory at the three quarter mark of the schedule. Given that record, it would have been natural to assume that asking the Jets to overcome a deficit of eleven points was beyond reason.

Yet against those seemingly huge odds, New York surprised. After the two teams twice traded three-and-out possessions, Darnold engineered one of his more impressive drives of the season. Staying almost entirely on the ground, the Jets went 96 yards in nine plays, with their quarterback running around right end for the final four yards and a touchdown. A successful two-point conversion brought New York within three points at 24-21 as the third quarter ended. Then the home team recovered a fumble in Raiders territory and capitalized on the short field. Suddenly, with five and a half minutes to play, the Jets were on top, 28-24.

Las Vegas used most of that time on a drive that ultimately came to nothing, going from their own 25 all the way to New York’s 9-yard line. But with the clock now inside the two-minute warning, the Raiders opted against a chip shot field goal, eventually running out of downs, and turning the ball over. From there one New York first down would likely have sealed the first win of the season, so naturally an offense that had driven the ball effectively several times during the game now went nowhere. Three runs by Ty Johnson netted five yards, and the ensuing punt gave the Raiders the ball at their own 39-yard line.

But with a four-point lead and just 35 seconds left in the game, all the Jets defense had to do was protect against the deep pass. Carr threw under the secondary on first down, moving the ball over midfield to the Jets’ 46. And so, the moment arrived. From the sidelines, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams sent in the order for a Cover-0, an all-out blitz by New York defenders, leaving minimal pass coverage in the secondary. If the situation was made for a prevent defense, guarding the necessary attempt by the Raiders to pass deep, the call by Williams was the antithesis. Carr took the snap in the shotgun, dropped back even further as Jets defenders swarmed forward, stepped up as the Las Vegas linemen turned the pass rushers to the outside, and launched a long pass down the left side. Half a football field away, Henry Ruggs III had streaked by the lone defender assigned to him, undrafted rookie cornerback Lamar Jackson. Ruggs was wide open and in full stride at the 2-yard line when the ball arrived, and two steps later he was in the end zone with the winning touchdown.

Depending on one’s choice of pundit, the defensive play by Williams was the worst, dumbest, or laziest call of the weekend, season, or since the beginning of recorded history. The criticism extended from the media right into the Jets’ locker room. Safety Marcus Maye told reporters, “that situation, just has to be a better call. We got to execute, but you got to help us out at the same time.” Meanwhile social media lit up with fans speculating that the Jets might have tried to lose to protect their position at the top of the order for next year’s NFL Draft.

This being the Jets, if tanking had been the intent the play would surely have resulted in the blitz getting through and Carr being sacked as time expired, thus preserving the victory and negating the Machiavellian purpose. It’s far more rational to conclude that the play call was exactly as it appeared, which is to say surpassingly stupid. Williams was fired on Monday, and given a history of difficult relationships with fellow coaches at various stops, plus his admitted role nearly a decade ago in offering New Orleans Saints’ defenders bounties for injuring opponents, the emerging consensus is that he may well have spent his last game on an NFL sideline. But the speed with which Williams was cut loose, and the extent to which head coach Adam Gase went to blame his former coordinator for New York’s woes made clear that the team’s dysfunction runs deep.

Two things Gase does well are deflect criticism and avoid responsibility, skills that were on full display this week but are not generally associated with strong and effective leaders. Fortunately for Jets fans the Gase era should conclude soon after this season’s final game. While the team’s history suggests yet another coaching change is no guarantee of brighter days to come, at least fans can rest easier knowing there’s no longer any chance of Williams taking over. With some luck, the day might even come when Jets fans can again look forward to a trip to MetLife Stadium. For now, they remain one of the very few fan bases for whom the pandemic restriction against attending games is truly a silver lining to a very cloudy year.


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