Last week I was a bit taken aback by the reaction Jets fans had to the team’s loss in Denver. Don’t get me wrong. There was nothing redeemable about the way the team played against the Broncos. I was just shocked by how hopeless many viewed the franchise.
An 0-3 start after a 2-14 season and a decade without the Playoffs isn’t fun. Still, Denver is a notoriously difficult road venue, and the first two weeks the young Jets showed some hopeful signs, even if you had to look closely to see them. The team played a good second half and showed fight in the opener against the Panthers rather than the total no shows we saw through much of 2020. A week later against New England the Jets lost by 19, but that was really about the rookie quarterback having a nightmare game. Much of the team played well.
It might be a cliche, but things are never as bad as they seem at their worst. Some cliches are true. That one is.
The Jets probably won’t have a winning record this season, but some of the doomsday scenarios I listened to this week such as an 0-17 record or averaging 6 points per game on offense through an entire season were just not plausible.
The Jets needed a win in the worst way, and they got it. This win was no fluke. The Jets were the better team.
Yes, the Titans were without their top two receivers. Guess what. Injuries are a part of the game. I don’t see other teams giving back wins when the Jets have been without key players most of the year.
This also wasn’t the cleanest performance by the Jets. There were a number of breakdowns and mental errors. There were too many dumb penalties. The team also seemed unable to make the play necessary to seal the victory. Zach Wilson missed an open Corey Davis just before the two minute warning on a pass that could have allowed the Jets to line up in victory formation. In overtime the Jets were forced to settle for a field goal after an inexplicable bootleg call on third and goal from the one yard line. Between the final moments of regulation and overtime, the Titans converted no less than three fourth downs on plays where a stop would have ended the game. Two of these fourth downs were set up by sequences where Tennessee had 3rd and 20 and 3rd and 11 respectively.
In many ways this Jets victory resembled the team’s rookie quarterback, not a finished product, still with a lot to learn but still full of potential and a sky high ceiling.
This was the first game in his NFL career where Zach Wilson asserted himself. At this point I think there are two Zach Wilsons. You have Zach Wilson the pocket passer. This version of Zach is very green. He doesn’t have great field vision, and his processing needs to speed up. Then you have Zach Wilson the schoolyard football player. This Zach doesn’t panic when he sees pressure. He buys himself time, keeps his eyes down the field, and throws strikes to generate big plays. Sometimes he even directs his receiver to change his route midplay. This wasn’t a perfect game for Wilson, but the 297 yard, 2 touchdown outing shows why he was regarded so highly when the Jets picked him. He makes plays most quarterbacks can only dream of making.
The rest of the team followed his lead. Corey Davis bounced back from a couple of rough games. After creating an interception by slipping out of a break and failing to haul in another pass that hit him in the hands early, he responded with 4 catches for 111 yards, and a touchdown. The chemistry we heard so much about in training camp between Davis and Wilson reemerged. Keelan Cole also made his presence felt with 3 catches for 92 yards, and Jamison Crowder returned to the lineup with 7 receptions, including a touchdown.
On the defensive side of the ball, some of the numbers don’t look pretty, but they don’t tell the story of the game. The Jets defensive line controlled the trenches, registering 7 sacks of Ryan Tannehill and holding Derrick Henry in check through the first three quarters. The unit kept the Jets in the game in the early going as the offense got off to a slow start. Linebackers CJ Mosley and Quincy Williams flew to the ball, combining for 25 tackles, a pair of sacks, and 3 tackles for a loss. Quinnen Williams threw up a monster stat line with 7 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 QB hits, and another tackle for a loss. John Franklin-Myers added a sack and a pair of tackles for a loss. A cornerback group led by Bryce Hall, who increasingly looks like a player, took advantage of Tennessee’s shorthanded receiver group, stifling Ryan Tannehill, who averaged just 6.1 yards per attempt.
There certainly will be more losing ahead for the 2021 Jets and more growing pains to endure. When those days come, remember a game like this and know that there is potential here. Things might be as bad as they seem during the most difficult days.