I thought the Jets’ season was on the line entering Sunday Night Football against the Kansas City Chiefs. It’s not that a 1-3 start necessarily is the end for an NFL team. It was more the journey the Jets were taking.
After throwing away a winnable game against the New England Patriots, this felt like a team in crisis. All of the classic signs of cracks in the locker room were starting to show. You had players losing their composure on the sideline. The first anonymous insinuations in the media of locker room trouble surfaced. Aaron Rodgers even reportedly felt the need to address the team about avoiding finger pointing.
Of course the context of last season also plays into it. The 2022 Jets clearly had locker room troubles centered on the lack of development of Zach Wilson. After a miserable Week 3 game against New England, history seemed to be repeating itself.
More tangibly, the offense wasn’t showing any signs of life behind the struggling Wilson. And while the defense was solid, it was not the dominant unit the Jets were hoping for. The defensive line, which seemed like a major strength, had generated only one sack in the previous two weeks. Even if all was well in the locker room, this was not looking like a team that was in any way capable of running off a series of wins. The Jets could not fall to 1-3.
In the first quarter of the game against Kansas City, it seemed like the concerns about a team falling apart at the seams were legitimate. The Jets defense was porous. The offense couldn’t even execute a jet sweep or a flea flicker without looking inept.
The Chiefs jumped out to a 17-0 lead. At that point I don’t think it was unfair to wonder whether the team had quit on its coaching staff.
The Jets quickly rallied. Bryce Huff got the Jets on the board by drawing a penalty in the end zone for a safety. Soon the defensive line had come to life.
Most significantly, Wilson played the finest football of his three year career. Perhaps for the first time since entering the NFL, he wasn’t just effective. He elevated his team by winning in the pocket, hitting receivers who were completely covered to move the chains.
The Jets ultimately fell short. There are a number of places you could look. Tyler Conklin failed to come up with a diving catch in the end zone in the first half. The Chiefs put together two drives in the fourth quarter, one of which led to a go ahead field goal. The other allowed them to run out the clock. On the latter of the two drives, Sauce Gardner was flagged on a controversial holding call which wiped out an interception. Still the Jets had no less than five other opportunities to get off the field on third down in that series.
The biggest reason the Jets lost was likely their first quarter performance. Even though they eventually rallied from 17 down, it was an enormous hole. To win the game, the Jets had to outscore the defending Super Bowl Champions by 18 over a 45 minute stretch.
The Jets outscored them by 14 over that stretch, which was a remarkable achievement, but they were just in too deep of a hole. The problem with putting yourself into that large of a deficit is everything needs to go right for you to win. Play it out from 17-0 down 100 times, and you lose almost all of them. There are even scenarios where you erase the deficit completely and still lose with a bad call going against you late in the fourth. A better first quarter almost certainly would have meant a win for the Jets.
That makes the game both frustrating and encouraging. It’s frustrating because the Jets squandered an opportunity for a statement win. It’s encouraging because for the final 45 minutes, they were far and away the better team.
I’m not a big believer in moral victories in the NFL. Bad teams play good teams competitively every single week. Major upsets are a way of life.
With the Jets against the Chiefs, I go back to what I said earlier. It’s how they got there.
That defense which was supposed to be a strength, smothered and frustrated the best quarterback on the planet.
The offense got the plays it needed. It also saw Zach Wilson flash the type of promise he has seldom shown in his two plus seasons. At the very least, we can surmise any cracks in the locker room will temporarily vanish. Nobody will have an issue with Zach Wilson starting in Week 5.
Sure, Wilson had a critical fumble, but even that isn't a huge deal in his development. If he had stared down a receiver at a critical point and threw an interception, that could be a worrying tendency likely to be repeated. Wilson isn’t going to drop many shotgun snaps. That was a one off situation that just happened to come at a bad time.
Of course narratives change by the week in the NFL. Heading into this game the Jets seemed hopeless. Now even at 1-3, they appear to have life. If they can build on it with a victory in Denver against a flawed Broncos team, this season could get interesting. With a loss, all of this good I am mentioning will vanish, and we will be right back to hopeless.
See you on Sunday to find out which it is.