It was all in front of the Jets.
An upset victory over the Buccaneers, a two game winning streak, a fifth win of the season, a third win against a probable Playoff team, and a respectable 4-5 home record were all within the team’s grasp.
A banged up yet feisty Jets team led the defending Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24-10 more than halfway through the third quarter.
They led 24-20 with just over 2:00 left in the fourth quarter. Tampa Bay had 93 yards to go for a touchdown and no timeouts, but as he has done on so many late afternoons in the Meadowlands in the last two decades plus, Tom Brady tore through the Jets defense with a late touchdown drive to win the game. Brady hit Cyril Grayson for a 33 yard touchdown with 15 seconds left in the game to deliver Tampa Bay with a big victory and send the Jets to their 12th loss of the season.
The Jets squandered opportunities to win the game. On the verge of taking complete control of the game in the third quarter up 14 with the offense rolling, Tampa Bay converted a 3rd and 20 into a first down. The Bucs later scored a touchdown.
Still the Jets held the lead halfway through the fourth quarter and put together an impressive drive. On the verge of putting the game away with a 24-20 lead, the team faced a fourth and two from the Tampa Bay 7 yard line. Robert Saleh decided to go for it instead of kicking a field goal to extend the lead to 7.
I am sure the decision will be questioned extensively over the next 24 hours. I agreed with it. The Jets had a chance to end the game with a first down and the Buccaneers out of timeouts. Beyond that, the Bucs would need a touchdown either way. By going for it, Tampa Bay would have to drive the field to get that touchdown opposed to likely getting it around the 25 with a field goal. Of course the tradeoff is that a touchdown loses the game if you are stopped on fourth down and only ties it if you kick the field goal (although the Bucs did go for a two point conversion after their eventual score that perhaps renders the conversation moot).
You could probably argue it either way, but you can’t complain in hindsight just because of what followed. At the time I wanted the Jets to go for it. Had they made it, we would be hearing about how much guts Robert Saleh had to deliver his team a win.
What I can’t defend is how the Jets handled the fourth down play. In what has become a troubling theme during the year, the team was very slow to get lined up on a critical play and had to burn a timeout. Then with the benefit of time they inexplicably ran a quarterback sneak on fourth and two. It will be interesting to hear what exactly happened on the play. Did the coaching staff lose track of the yardage needed? Did Zach Wilson think he saw something? What exactly happened there?
This led to the unfortunate sequence that lost the Jets the game.
While this was a painful defeat in many ways, there certainly were positives to take from this game. This was a patchwork Jets team on the field. Numerous key contributors were out, and the offense took an even bigger hit after losing Michael Carter early in the game.
Still the team stood toe to toe with the defending Super Bowl Champions.
Perhaps the best development from today was Zach Wilson. In my view this was his best game of the season. Wilson’s performances have for the most swung between “terrible” and “not terrible.” We rarely have seen “good.”
Even in his previous best game to date against Tennessee, he made things happen on a bunch of broken plays. This was the first time I thought he has looked completely in command of the offense. He seemed to be anticipating rather than thinking. He broke from the pocket not as a first option but to extend plays when his protection broke down. The trademark accuracy from BYU that has been absent for most of the season returned, and we saw some pinpoint tight window passes.
It has been a difficult and disappointing season for Zach Wilson. Jets fans have been through this before and should be wise enough to put one game into the bigger picture. That said, we needed to see a game like this before the season ended. We are past the point where 2021 can be salvaged, but at last we got a game that can show us signs of big promise for the future. This was what the Jets wanted when Wilson was selected with the second overall pick.
Even more impressive, he did it with an offense full of backups and journeymen. Braxton Berrios had another good game and has been playing out of his mind lately, but there isn’t much else on this unit. I worried it would make legitimate success difficult for Wilson. He managed to overcome it.
You can be happy that Zach Wilson showed progress and an undermanned Jets team showed such fight. You can be upset they failed to finish the deal. You can be all of the above (the category I think I fall into).