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Vikings 27 Jets 22: Pain

NFL: New York Jets at Minnesota Vikings Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

2022 for the New York Jets is shaping up to be the type of season where the team will either make or miss the Playoffs by a razor thin margin. If the Jets make the postseason this year, they will likely look back at tight victories over Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Buffalo as moments that ended the NFL’s longest postseason drought. If, however, the team falls short it will be a long offseason looking back at squandered opportunities. The loss to the Patriots two weeks ago will be at the top of the mind. So will today’s game where the Jets lost 27-22 to the Vikings to fall to 7-5.

I think a loss like this is the most excruciating type of defeat. In the first half, it felt like the Jets were heading to a blowout loss. It isn’t fun being run out of the building, but in lopsided games a fan can at least waive the white flag mentally at some point. Once you are able to accept defeat at some point in the third quarter, you become numb to each subsequent miscue.

A game like this is way worse. At every point when you are about to resign yourself defeat, something happens to renew hope.

We are past the point of moral victories. I’m not going to sit here and tell you to be proud that the Jets stood toe to toe on the road against a 9-2 opponent. That would ring hollow. It’s good that we aren’t setting the bar so low anymore, but competitive football is not a solace for this loss.

Clearly there are things the team can build upon.

The Jets were the better team in the second half of this game. A defense which had a rough first half found its form. Bam Knight breathed more life into the run game than any back we have seen since Breece Hall went down. Garrett Wilson continued to look like a budding superstar, registering another 8 catches for 162 yards.

Mike White shook off a tough first half, and did just almost everything needed to lead the Jets to a comeback win. I certainly am not ready to suggest that Mike White is the long term solution for the Jets at quarterback. There were some plays he left on the field in this game. That said, this was another piece of evidence that he can run the offensive system effectively. I continue to believe the Jets quarterback situation is not up in the air in the short run. Unless something drastic happens, Mike White should continue to start.

And should the Jets get repeat performances like these, they should win plenty of games down the stretch.

It is in some way frustrating that the team could lose with so much good to take away.

What is even more frustrating is the lack of a single culprit. There are numerous things that could have swung this game.

As is frequently the case when an NFL team loses, the offensive coordinator will come under the microscope. Mike LaFleur will probably not deserve as much blame as he will get. The Jets’ failures were primarily those of execution, not playcalling. That said, I’m sure LaFleur wants less blame than he deserves. The Jets scored one touchdown in eight trips to Minnesota territory. There certainly are fair questions to be asked about the degree to which LaFleur depended on gadget plays and long developing horizontal designs in the red zone. With under 2:00 left in the fourth quarter, the Jets also failed to punch in a score from the 1 yard line. Some of the calls in that sequence might deserve scrutiny, especially going to an empty set on fourth down.

On that play, Braxton Berrios was the intended receiver on a pass he should have caught. The game was in his hands, and he did not deliver. Like LaFleur, Berrios surely deserves some of the blame for this loss, but it would be unfair to put too much of it on his shoulders. There were plenty of other things that could have swung this game.

The defense that was so good in the second half, had a difficult first half. While the Vikings were not producing a ton of explosive plays, nobody on the Jets side could make a play on a key down. Minnesota went 7 for 11 on third down in the first half. Some credit has to go to the Vikings. Kirk Cousins was tough and took some big hits in the pocket to deliver accurate passes. Justin Jefferson is clearly a superstar level player. Still the Jets couldn’t finish off a drive. There were issues at linebacker and safety as has so often been the case when the defense has struggled this year, but even normally reliable cover guys like Sauce Gardner and DJ Reed had uncharacteristic hiccups. The defense finally responded but only after it had put the Jets in a 20-6 halftime hole. There also was an isolated terrible second half drive. Right after the Jets had scored to cut the Minnesota lead to 5, the Vikings went through the Jets defense for 76 yards on 7 plays for a touchdown. This series saw the Jets mess up run assignments and have zone miscommunications. This defense dominated for a large stretch of the game, but their poor stretches played a major role in the defeat.

The offense had its own issues. We already touched upon failures in scoring range, but there were broader problems. The offensive line struggled for long stretches. Going back to White, I think this game overall was a positive for him. He did get off to a slow start, though. His receivers were not helping him out through the first half. A number of White’s throws in the opening two quarters were a bit off target but catchable. Who deserved blame? White or his receivers? The answer is both. White could have thrown more accurately, but his receivers could have hauled in passes that still arrived in a catchable location. This was true of Corey Davis whose early miss popped into the air and turned into an interception that spotted the Vikings an early field goal. It was especially true of Tyler Conklin who failed to come up with 3-4 key White passes that hit him in the hands in key moments against his former team. White also narrowly missed an open Garrett Wilson on deep ball in the fourth quarter that would have resulted in an easy touchdown.

Perhaps what makes this game most frustrating is how almost all of the culprits had large tangible good stretches. Really any of these things could have swung the game. If one goes differently, the Jets are winners, and these failures are afterthoughts.

Things didn’t go that way this week, however. Now the Jets must find a way to recover from a painful defeat.