Up in Buffalo, nothing could be worse for the Jets than what went down in their own building to the south. MetLife’s other tenant, otherwise known as the New York Football Giants, made a mockery of a football Sunday with a sad surrender near their end zone that Joe Judge would try turning into the soundest of battlefield ploys.
Even the Jets, so creative over the years in finding fresh ways to hit rock bottom, couldn’t sink as low as the Giants did against Washington. That was the beauty of their late-afternoon kickoff in Week 18. The Giants had earlier finished 4-13 by humiliating themselves with the most shocking pair of quarterback sneaks in modern NFL history, opening the field for the Jets to finish 4-13 with their dignity intact.
As it turned out, the Jets showed only a little more resistance against the 10-6 Bills on the road than the Giants did against 6-10 Washington at home. Buffalo won, 27-10, and held the Jets to an all-time franchise-low 53 total yards. Fifty-three!
At least the Jets didn’t run any give-up plays.
“We’ve got a long way to go to close the gap with Buffalo,” Robert Saleh said, “and with New England and Miami for that matter. … The gap is going to close, and it’s going to close with time.”
Hey, the Jets still don’t know what they have in Robert Saleh, because they still don’t know what they have in Zach Wilson, who played Sunday without three receivers he needed on the field. Wilson fired a pretty 40-yard touchdown strike to Keelan Cole, but also missed on 13 of 20 passes against the league’s best pass defense, threw for 87 total yards, and got sacked eight times.
Entering another grim Black Monday, the terms of NFL engagement have never been more clear. The coaches who have good quarterbacks survive, and the coaches who have bad quarterbacks don’t.
Does Saleh have a good quarterback for the long term, or just another guy?
“Zach has improved with his decision-making, and the game has started to slow down for him,” said former Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum, who was in the organization when Vinny Testaverde, Chad Pennington, Brett Favre, and Mark Sanchez played the position. “I don’t think his athleticism is elite, but he’s definitely a good athlete for the position. … He has a chance to be a winning quarterback in the NFL.”
Just a chance, as the No. 2-overall pick?
“I think he has a chance to be pretty good,” Tannenbaum said.
Wilson played a better brand of football near the end of the season, no question. He cut down on his turnovers and nearly beat Tom Brady. He was faster with his reads, faster with his throws, and more willing to use his legs to cover for the flaws in his game.
But then again, he set an awfully low bar earlier in the year. Young quarterbacks are usually all over the place, and their performances often don’t provide accurate portraits of what their primes will look like. Sanchez won four postseason games on the road in his first two seasons to twice play for the AFC championship and the Jets’ first trip to the Super Bowl since January of 1969.
“And it didn’t portend how he played for the rest of his career,” Tannenbaum said.
The Jets have been looking forever for a long-term keeper at the sport’s most critical (by far) position, and Wilson will have to outplay Josh Allen and Mac Jones on a consistent basis to become that player. He said the other day that he’s up to the task. If he isn’t, then the people banking on him the most — Saleh and GM Joe Douglas — will pay the price on a different Black Monday to come.
And what a shame that would be for a fan base that has been waiting so long for an opportunity to not only take over the AFC East, but to take over the New York market. The Giants have won four Super Bowls and have played in five since the Jets last appeared in the big game. Just when it looked like they’d seized the market with their two straight trips to the AFC title game, the Jets failed to walk Rex Ryan’s talk on Christmas Eve in 2011 and lost to a 7-7 Giants team that would run the table and win the Super Bowl for the second time in five years.
Both franchises have been awful ever since, appearing in a grand total of one playoff game in 20 combined seasons. Both have gone 22-59 over the past five years, and despite their favorable draft positions, neither knows if it now employs a legit franchise quarterback.
But the Giants will hire a new GM and should hire a new coach. They never should have let Dave Gettleman make it to the end of the season, and to Sunday’s pregame “festivities,” for a farewell he absolutely didn’t deserve, not after he spent most of his reign hiding from public accountability for his blunders.
The Giants are the bigger big-city mess, for a change. In the battle for New York, they have given the Jets of 2022 and beyond an opening the size of Central Park.
Shame on Douglas, Saleh, Wilson, and company if they fail to capitalize on it.