Losses in the NFL come in all shapes and sizes. The worst teams in the league are generally at the bottom of the standings because they keep finding different ways to lose.
Prior to today one of the things that has set the Jets apart was the uniform manner of their losses. They had an 0-6 record entering today, and five of the losses told the same story. They weren’t competitive in any aspect of the game.
Sunday’s 18-10 defeat to the Buffalo Bills told a different story. The Jets were competitive. In fact, they seemed to be in control of the game through much of the first half.
The Jets changed play callers prior to the game. Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains took over for Adam Gase. The Jets only scored 10 points, but they did put up 186 yards of offense. Furthermore, they didn’t have a single three and out on offense. The narrative was easy to write. Switching the play calling worked.
My guess is the truth was more complex. Having the two starting outside receivers, Breshad Perriman and Denzel Mims, playing together for the first time likely helped the offense a lot even though Jamison Crowder was out with a groin injury. For the first time all year, the Jets had receivers playing who could win on the outside. Mims in particular was impressive with 4 catches for 42 yards on 6 targets. The Jets also did a good job controlling the trenches and running the football.
The defense was opportunistic. They allowed the Bills to move the ball into scoring range, but they held Buffalo out of the end zone. When the big play needed to be made, somebody made it. Tarell Bashman got a strip sack. Pierre Desir played good coverage on a key third down. The Jets got some luck on a missed field goal.
It felt like the Jets were in control as they drove with a 10-3 lead late in the first half. Sam Darnold then threw an inexplicable interception into heavy coverage. The Bills turned that into a field goal.
It felt ominous that the Jets only led by 4 heading into the locker room considering the extent to which they controlled the game.
An undermanned defense continued to play hard throughout the second half. They allowed the Bills to drive down the field consistently, but the Jets were clearly sacrificing small gains to prevent the big play. Every time Buffalo got into scoring range, the defense delivered the stop.
It certainly wasn’t a dominant performance, but with Quinnen Williams perhaps the only above average player on the unit keeping Buffalo out of the end zone entirely and holding them to 18 points was an impressive feat. Under any circumstances, that should be good enough.
The offense completely stalled in the second half, however. As the Bills kept chipping away at the scoreboard with field goals, the Jets offense couldn’t respond.
Loggains got most of the praise for the first half performance as it was happening. He probably got too much credit. Likewise he will also likely get too much of the blame for the second half failures where the Jets were shutout and produced an inexplicable 4 yards of offense.
Don’t get me wrong. He has to take some of the grief. After making an impact in the first half, the Jets made no effort to get the ball to Mims in the second half. He had one target and no catches. A system that builds much of its passing game around the slot receiver failed to adjust to its personnel with a backup playing in that role. Braxton Berrios was the most targeted Jet in the passing game in the second half.
There were also moments where the Jets called sequences of plays that couldn’t help but stall the drive. On one series the first down play was a bootleg where the quarterback’s passing progression went from Ryan Griffin to Trevon Wesco. After the predictable incompletion, the Jets ran Frank Gore up the middle on second and long. This is playcalling that sets up third and long and ultimately failure. (Ironically the Jets did hit a pass to Chris Herndon for a first down on third and 8, but it was called back on the penalty. They eventually punted after a three and out.)
It wasn’t all Loggains, though. The blocking completely fell apart in the second half. The right side of the offensive line in particular had major issues. Rookie La’mical Perine also struggled in pass protection. Those of us who rightly have called for less Frank Gore just will have to live with Perine’s growing pains in this area.
More distressing were Sam Darnold’s struggles. Darnold returned to the lineup after missing the last two weeks. He seemed to be putting together a solid performance prior to the interception. Things fell apart for him and the offense after that.
Darnold certainly can’t be blamed for all of the issues. However, when the offense stalls to this extent, the quarterback has to take some of the blame. Some of the protection issues came because the Jets were in the wrong blocking scheme, which partially falls on Darnold’s plate. There were other moments where he made blocking issues worse by his pocket movements or bailed too quickly. Many of his throws and reads were also just off.
There is no need to rehash the debates on coaching and the supporting cast. Given the situation the Jets are in, I think the burden is now on Darnold. The only way the Jets will be able to justify passing on a quarterback in next spring’s Draft is if he goes out the rest of the way and definitively proves the Jets have their answer. This performance in no way did that.
In some ways this week was different. Unlike previous games, the Jets were competitive. That’s life as a bad team in this league, though. While some of the particulars change from week to week, one thing stays the same. The team manages to lose.
Over the final nine games, the Jets will likely be competitive in some games. They will be blown out in some. The games will look different, but most will end with the other team scoring more points.
We know the head coach will eventually change. The way things are looking, the quarterback might as well.