Signs of Life
Damn, doesn't it feel good to know that you're probably not the worst team in the NFL? I mean, the Lions still have a worse record and had one before the Jets beat the Texans, but it still felt like this team was worse than both of them up until the final score of today's game came in at 21-14 Jets.
Okay, was the win definitive? Not really. Yes, a 7-point victory tends to be decisive, but it's not like the Jets were putting on a show on both sides of the ball to prove that their offense is better than the Texans' defense and vice versa. Don't get me wrong; I'm definitely pleased that the Jets won this game and I'm not picky about the quality of the win, but this game proved that the chasm between the two teams isn't nearly as wide as I had expected it to be in the preseason (where I regarded it as a free win). It's disheartening to realize it, but it's true; the Jets are not that much better than a team that doesn't want to win (queue callbacks to the 2019 Dolphins game at MetLife where the Jets totally should have lost).
With this win, I can confidently state that the Jets are not the worst team in the league. This is important, as it was the only bar I needed this team to clear (low bar, I know) for this season to be considered a success for the team as a whole. Zach Wilson's struggles (and I'll get to them in a moment) notwithstanding, this team has shown improvement over the 2020 iteration. Not having Adam Gase as your coach goes a long way, but be honest now; it was looking a little dicey for Saleh and co. up until this win. With the victory, the Jets are no longer on pace for the worst point differential in franchise history. They're on pace for the second-worst margin, but, you know, better than the worst from 1976 (in 14 games) and 2020 (in 16 games).
I made a bit of drama about this in my first ever post on this forum (which you should definitely go read and tell all your friends about), expressing my concern about the future of the regime in the wake of the 45-17 loss to the Bills. This season has certainly not gone according to plan, but I was prepared for a season of 4 wins at the end of August, and I'm not going to shy away from it now; if the Jets get to 4 wins and Wilson doesn't look like the worst QB in the NFL, I can consider this season a success. I doubt the Jets will lose every game the rest of the way and only win 3 games (and if that does happen and you're reading this after the fact, then forget it, this season was a failure), so in the wake of a successful season, I'm ready to declare my support for this team's future.
Has Joe Douglas done a good job as GM? No, not really. In fact, I'd argue that he has done very little to actually improve this team for the long haul, but I am also willing to state that there have been legitimate reasons for his failures. Chiefly, working with limited resources in his first full offseason in 2020, he at least did his part to attempt to improve the team in the short-term and the long-term through FA and the draft respectively. The Jets 2020 FA class is subpar and the 2020 draft may be terrible, but there has been marked improvement from that offseason to this offseason.
I will be the first to admit that I was not a fan of the Jets 2021 FA class, as I was only in full support of three signings (Corey Davis, Curry and Coleman). The 2021 draft, however, has been very good for this team's long term prospects, showcasing at least three long-term starters in Vera-Tucker, Moore and Carter, and three good depth pieces in Echols, Carter II and Nasirildeen. Douglas needs to have another hit of a draft next year, no matter where their picks are (and I know that there are some Jets fans who have given up on the season and are only looking forward to next offseason), so a class like this one gives me some confidence that he can do it. If he doesn't and the 2022 class resembles the 2020 class, then we'll cross that bridge when we get to it. Again, though, I'm ready to give my support; Joe Douglas should be this team's general manager next year.
Maybe you already came to this conclusion before me, or maybe you were just acceptant of the very slim likelihood that the Jets would actually be willing to fire him after the first year of the rebuild. If so, congratulations, I'm very happy for you. If not, there's probably very little I can say that will convince you of otherwise, in which case, I'm sorry, I'm very sad for you. Like it or not, Douglas has earned another offseason to work his magic (assuming the Jets finished with 4 wins).
And Robert Saleh, too, has earned the right to come back next season. Was he good today? No, but he wasn't a net negative like he has been recently. Baby steps, I know, but baby steps are still steps in the right direction. Besides, if I said Douglas can come back but Saleh couldn't, that probably also meant that Douglas had to go too since he hired Saleh and put his full support behind him. Sorry, Rex Ryan (who has changed his tune since his fiery comments from a week ago, so he doesn't really need the notice, but whatever), but Saleh is at least getting another year.
There have been some missteps, though; the process to getting here was a very bad one. The Jets said that Wilson was fully healthy in the leadup to this game, but Wilson admitted in the post game press conference that was not the case. I resent this team's injury handling (to be clear, at the time of writing, there have been no reports of Wilson re-aggravating his injured knee) dating back to the 2019 offseason when Douglas first arrived. Three Jets players filed injury grievances against the Jets that year, something that Douglas needs to be held accountable for as much as Gase. The team also bungled the injury management to Le'Veon Bell (though that was all Gase's fault), Mekhi Becton and Sam Darnold when they got injured during the 2020 season, and the only reason why no grievances were filed by any of them were that they all wanted to play and got hurt (or more hurt) while playing.
This team should not be playing Wilson if he's not healthy. Seriously. I don't think that should be controversial. There is no competitive advantage (and even if there was, so what?) to hiding an injury to your rookie QB in a lost season because you want him to play against a bad defense. There were moments during this game- particularly after the final sack on Wilson- where it did appear that Wilson was favoring his knee. That is a terrible look for a team notorious for chewing up and spitting out QBs for fun, not for food. Wilson needs to play this season, but not at the expense of his health.
With that said, however, I'm going to go by the team's expectation that a hurt Zach Wilson was the team's best option at starting QB today and examine his performance, and hoo boy, it's not good. Wilson was bad today, let's just say it. His numbers (14 of 24, 145 passing yards, 0 passing TDs and 1 INT) just about tell you the story. His QB rating of 58.5 is his third-worst this season, and I'd argue that he was worse in this game than in the Broncos game (which is his second-worst ahead of only the first Patriots game). In the Broncos game, he was let down by atrocious play-calling by Mike LaFleur and brutal drops by his receiving targets. In this game, LaFleur put together an adequate game plan and Wilson had maybe one drop, and that was on Ryan Griffin not being able to corral an off-target throw in the end zone. I don't blame Wilson for that off-target throw to Griffin because I don't expect any QB to be able to regularly make that throw, but he was pretty consistently off-target in this game.
He had 14 completions, but it feels like half of them were on throws where the receiver had to either reach behind himself, leap off the ground or lay out for it. Come back to me with the proper numbers if you think I'm way off about this, but you'd be hard-pressed to convince me that Wilson played well or was not given the proper means of success in this game.
For one thing, 46 of his yards (nearly a third of them) came on a single pass to Berrios that was 4 yards downfield. Take it out and Wilson has fewer than 100 passing yards in this game. At least another 22 yards came on passes in the backfield to Moore and Griffin, and that's just my recollection off the top of my head; it's entirely possible that another third of his yards were on backfield and sub-5-yard completions. This is something that we all ridiculed Mac Jones and the Patriots for when they were 2-4, but they've won six straight games and are currently expecting to go to the playoffs with their rookie QB at the helm.
Second, his pass protection was a lot better than his 4 sacks might tell you. Two of his sacks were totally on him not being able to get the ball out (especially that last sack, where he held onto the ball in his own end zone and refused to throw it away, running out of bounds for a loss and taking a completely avoidable hit to his knee). A third sack was one where he absolutely needed to both see the pressure coming (because it was coming in the B-gap and he was looking in that general direction) and get rid of the ball by not just staring down Elijah Moore. The other sack was not his fault, as he was essentially in the middle of his play action fake when he was hit, so that one was bad. Beyond that, however, the Jets pass protection was laudable today; the only other noteworthy pressure I remember was the one where his helmet got ripped off his head, so I believe that the OL did a good job today, and Wilson needs to do a better job supporting the team that is supporting him.
This is not me deciding that Wilson is a bust. It's okay to both root for Wilson and acknowledge that he needs to play much, much better than he did in this game. His 4 yard touchdown run was his best play of the game, and kudos to him for lowering the shoulder and executing a great dive into the end zone. Beyond it, however, I honestly can't remember any moments where I was glad he was playing. He misfired repeatedly to open receivers and made some poor decisions with his reads, though the latter mistakes thankfully lessened in the second half. These are things that cannot continue, even in a rookie season. Not every rookie gets to suck as much as they want; just ask Josh Rosen.
No, I'm not actively seeking Wilson's replacement so soon into his Jets career, but I'll tell you this much; I've been a fan of Kenny Pickett a lot longer than I've been a fan of Zach Wilson. Wilson needs to show that he belongs on an NFL team, and if he doesn't do that in the final six games of the season, then there will be serious concerns about him entering his sophomore campaign in 2022. He can mitigate them with at least average performances down the stretch, and I really hope he does, but this game did not give me any confidence that he will. The Texans have one of the worst defenses in the league (even with their about-average passing defense), and his return from injury will not be seen as a triumphant one.
I need him to be better than this, because I know he can be. The Titans game was a long time ago, but believe it or not, Wilson is above the age of 14 and was not only there, but playing in that game. I know Wilson can be better than he was today (and again, if he's injured, he should not be playing). He doesn't need to completely replicate what he did in that game, but he needs to be much closer to average than awful.
This team- after getting blown out in five of their last six games- has finally shown signs of life, not just for the present like with the Mike White game, but for the future. I don't want the Jets to simply have a pulse, though, as that's not what a team needs to have to be taken seriously. This team needs to awake, alert and ready to challenge any other team that they meet in their final six games, and that starts with Zach Wilson answering the call.
Let's go Jets.