The Jets lost another game today. This one hurt more than most. With the season on the line in a do or die situation, the Jets did not do. So they died.
The 2022 season is now over. Oh, sure, there’s another game next week, in Miami against the Dolphins. Perhaps there is some satisfaction to be gained from knocking the Dolphins off. Perhaps. But not for me. The meaningful games are over, thus the season is over.
The Jets promised meaningful December games this season. The Jets delivered on that promise. Every game in December was meaningful. So was the January game today. Unfortunately the Jets took the month off. After entering the month of December with a 7-4 record and challenging for AFC East supremacy, the Jets lost five straight games to go from contender to pretender. Meaningful games lose some meaning when you lose every one. It was a collapse befitting a team that has known more than its fair share of collapses over the years.
Looking back, the turning point of this season, if there was a turning point, probably happened way back in Week 7, in the Jets win over the Denver Broncos. The Jets lost Alijah Vera Tucker and Breece Hall to season ending injuries in that victory, and the team was never the same afterwards.
The team went into that Broncos game having something of a good offense for a change. The Jets scored 31 points against the Browns in Week 2. They scored 24 against the Steelers in Week 4, 40 against the Dolphins in Week 5, 27 against the Packers in Week 6. The Jets offense was … gasp … not offensive. Then came the injuries to Vera-Tucker and Hall in Week 7. Over the following 10 games the Jets scored more than 22 points just once, against a horrible Chicago Bears defense. They scored 6 points or less in three separate games. You just can’t win consistently in the NFL with that kind of offensive ineptitude. So the Jets lost. And lost. And lost. The defense was superb for most of the season, so the games remained close, until the last couple of weeks, when the defense started to collapse. But close was not enough. The losses mounted until the season was lost.
It is tempting to look at this as just bad luck. If only the Jets had not lost Vera-Tucker and Hall how different things might have been. This team might be going to the playoffs with better luck! Maybe. But one injured guard and one injured running back should not reduce a playoff team to rubble. The lack of depth hurt the Jets mightily. The lack of a quarterback may have hurt the Jets more.
As the season began there were hopes Zach Wilson might take a big 2nd year leap. Unfortunately, if anything, he leapt backwards. Joe Flacco proved once again he needs to hang up the cleats. Mike White inspired some hope with an outstanding three touchdown pass effort against the Chicago Bears after Zach Wilson was benched. Unfortunately White could not follow that up in any meaningfully positive way. In his next three starts White threw a total of zero touchdown passes and four interceptions, culminating in today’s disastrous outing. It seems clear at the very least that the Jets cannot count on Mike White to be a serviceable starting quarterback going forward. That is not to say it’s impossible White can ever develop into a starter, but that’s not an outcome anyone should be counting on. The last remaining Jets quarterback, Chris Streveler, is pretty clearly not NFL starter material.
Those are the quarterbacks the Jets went into this season with. I think Joe Douglas has to take some heat here that he thought that group was sufficient. If he goes into next year without making significant improvement to the quarterback room that would be a major mistake.
Speaking of Joe Douglas, the one thing above all else he was supposed to do for the Jets was build a top offensive line. Three years of free agency and three drafts later, that top offensive line is nowhere to be found. Yes, the injuries to Mekhi Becton were bad luck. However, it’s far from clear that an uninjured Becton would transform this line into a top unit. Douglas, a former offensive lineman himself, has spent major resources in free agency on the offensive line, and other than a single player, Connor McGovern, he has almost nothing to show for it. With so many top picks and substantial free agent contracts spent on the offensive line and mediocrity to show for it, we should begin to wonder if Douglas is the right man to build a top offensive line.
In addition, Douglas’ 2022 draft seems to be top notch, but the prior two drafts have not produced much in the way of better than average NFL starters. Without the enormous number of premium picks Douglas had in 2022 as a result of some shrewd trades, a situation unlikely to repeat, it is reasonable to wonder if Douglas is a great evaluator of college talent, and whether the Jets can expect better than average drafts going forward.
There is what you might call a holy trinity in building a consistent winning program in the NFL. The general manager, the head coach, and the quarterback all have outsized influence in the success of the program. The Jets pretty clearly do not have a particularly likely shot at a top NFL starting quarterback on the roster. Joe Douglas has done some good things through trades and just had a great draft, but the endless losing, the lack of depth, the lack of a credible quarterback, the lack of a top offensive line, all call into question whether or not the Jets have the right guy at general manager.
At head coach, Robert Saleh may or may not be the right guy, but there are some troubling issues. I can’t recall a single game where I felt the Jets clearly outcoached or had a superior game plan to the opposition. Under Saleh the Jets have become a competitive team, but as the games got bigger, the team got smaller. Saleh is clearly better than the previous guy, whose name must not be mentioned, but being better than an all-time disaster is not a feather in your cap. Presiding over an epic collapse just as the Jets seemed primed to finally make the playoffs is also not a feather in your cap.
So here we stand, at a crossroads. In terms of the football holy trinity, the Jets clearly lack the quarterback. The jury is still out on the general manager and the head coach. They have done some good things, and they are clearly better than their predecessors, but they may not be good enough.
As the Jets soon head into the offseason, I think a clear-headed view of the team makes this coming season an inflection point. If Douglas can find a credible starting quarterback and build a good offensive line, the Jets should have enough to finally return to the post-season next year. If Saleh is provided with those things, along with enough credible depth to survive a normal slate of injuries for an NFL team, he needs to show he can get this team to the playoffs and not crumble in crunch time. If the Jets fail to make the playoffs again next year, it may well be the case that the team will be cleaning house and all three of the holy trinity will be swept away in yet another Jets rebuild.
A lot rides on next season. Some of what I’ve seen this year makes me hopeful. For the first time in a long time the Jets have multiple difference makers on both sides of the ball. Garrett Wilson and Breece Hall look like they have the talent to be stars in this league, as do Quinnen Williams and Sauce Gardner. It’s been a long time since the team had this many potential stars. That’s exciting.
On the other hand, how long must we wait to see a top offensive line? How long must we wait for a good quarterback? How long must we wait for a head coach who gets the better of his counterparts? How long must we wait for depth that can overcome injuries to a couple of key players? Those are the questions that have me wondering if this current group will ever make the leap into perennial contender status.
The goal here is not sneaking into the playoffs as a wild card one year, just to break the streak. The goal is much more. The goal is to contend every year the team is not devastated by injuries. Do the Jets have the right team in place to make that happen? I don’t know. I’m not convinced they do. I’m not convinced they don’t. I think a year from today I will probably be convinced one way or the other.
As the 2022 season closes, not with a bang but a whimper, an absolutely crucial offseason awaits. Will the Jets evolve into contenders, or be exposed as pretenders? Jets fans await the answers.