Sure, the injury-depleted New York Jets (3-4) kept things competitive for the better part of three quarters against a Minnesota Vikings team one tough loss from last year’s Super Bowl. But in the end, Kirk Cousins and company blasted Gang Green, 37-17.
No one thought the New York Jets had a chance to win this game. Kirk Cousins thought so much of the Jets’ offseason fully guaranteed free agent offer that he used Gang Green as leverage for his $90 million contract in Minneapolis.
The Jets secondary was missing three key contributors: Marcus Maye, Trumaine Johnson, and Buster Skrine. Sam Darnold couldn’t throw to Quincy Enunwa (ankle injury, out indefinitely) or Terrelle Pryor (his waiver following a minor groin tear means there was more going on than meets the eye). Then early in the game, Maye’s replacement Doug Middleton went down with a shoulder injury, and starting running back Bilal Powell tweaked his neck. “Next man up” indeed.
Football is a game of field position and ball security — battles that Gang Green lost mightily. The Jets started most of their drives inside their own 20, while the Vikings often got the ball in Jets territory. The defense played well enough to win, but the offense was missing too many skill players — and they and the special teamers made far too many miscues. You can’t ask a rookie QB to succeed under such conditions. Not to mention that winter is coming, and the California kid was clearly affected by the 40 mph gusts.
Last season, the Jets started 3-3 before unraveling, 5-11. This Sunday, they visit boisterous Soldier Field, to face a rising Chicago Bears team that fought admirably in two straight losses to the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins. Here are five Judas Priest-related cold hard truths to consider moving forward.
5. Down in Flames
What was so frustrating about this loss was that yet again, mistakes and penalties prevailed. Sure, Minnesota has a superior roster, but that was not the story. Four turnovers, eight penalties, untold bad passes and dropped receptions, and overall poor decision-making, have become the hallmark of the leadership of this team’s defensive coordinator parading as a head coach. If this Jets team came ready to play, they sure had a strange way of showing it.
The opening two minutes were as bad as it gets. New York won the opening toss and deferred, to open with their strength on defense. Ex-Colts LB Tarell Basham, on his first play with Gang Green, was offside on the opening kickoff. Then on the first play from scrimmage, Middleton delivered a senseless 15-yard penalty.
With first and 10 on the Jets 46, the Vikings ran for 9 yards. Then they converted on a three-yard pass thanks to three missed tackles. A Jets blitz on the following play resulted in a Cousins 34-yard strike TD to D2 Minnesota-Mankato tryout player turned NFL star Adam Thielen. On the ensuing kickoff, Chris Herndon got flagged, calling back the return. Yikes!
On the other hand, check out Sam Darnold’s first TD drive — the Jets one great moment of the game. GM Mike Maccagnan must’ve loved watching his first-rounder nail a 35-yard wheel route to seventh-rounder Trenton Cannon (the Virginia State product led the team with four receptions for 69 yards).
Sam followed that pass with a long crossing route to 2015 free agent deep threat Robby Anderson (3-44) that put the Jets in the red zone. The next play was a 13-yard TD strike to 2018 fourth-rounder Herndon (4-42) — six plays, 86 yards. Such possessions win ball games.
Which Jets show up for the remainder of this season remains to be seen. All we know is, enough time patting themselves on the back for “nice efforts.”
Next: 4. The Sentinel
4. The Sentinel
Sam Darnold is a stud. The rookie certainly had his worst game as a pro — his timing was off and there were plenty of weak passes. But what he does on the field, having just reached legal driving age, displays a wisdom beyond his years. Fear not, Jets fans, your QB savior is far ahead of schedule.
Darnold’s not afraid to make the throws. Of his three INTs, two were not his fault. There were tipped balls and awkward routes with receivers he’s barely practiced with. He’d make a throw and get leveled, and pop back up. He never blamed the harsh elements or the miscues of others; he displayed leadership, owning it in front of a blustery media.
There are many question marks regarding this offensive line. Fans voiced their displeasure with the pass protection, and Darnold spent much of the day running for his life. But how many times did the Jets staff simply not adjust when the Vikings lined up seven defenders on their five linemen? Sixteen carries for 49 yards and untold dropped passes cannot be blamed on the bullies.
Big nasty Brian Winters did a nice job pile-driving Sheldon Richardson (3.5 sacks over two years since departing Gang Green). It was another nightmarish game for free agent center Spencer Long. Sure, he’s dealing with hand injuries but he has no excuse for more mind-numbing penalties and that high snap to Darnold that caused an Isaiah Crowell fumble — no relation to the “Dude Wipes” spokesman’s devastating drop in a key late-game situation.
Are we witnessing the diminishing skill set of former Seahawks Jermaine Kearse, again with zero receptions, and a dropped gimme that stalled a promising opening drive? Is Charone Peake such a valuable special teamer that they need to line him up in the slot? Has there been a game this season that sixth-man blocker TE Eric Tomlinson didn’t commit a brutal penalty or drop a wide-open catch?
Next: 3. Victim of Changes
3. Victim of Changes
The injury-decimated defense did not perform terribly. They forced six punts in the first half, and kept the Jets in the game.
Number-four CB Darryl Roberts may be this team’s best cornerback; he is certainly their best tackler. Sure he whiffed on that opening Vikings TD, and in the end, got overwhelmed by Cousins, but his form against Stefon Diggs was excellent.
Jordan Jenkins excelled all afternoon at weak-side linebacker. Strong-sider Brandon Copeland‘s smackdown of a Diggs end-around for an eight-yard loss, was so disruptive that it nearly led to the Vikings getting called for a safety (we wuz robbed!).
Darron Lee excelled on a Cousins blitz, and got his fingers on a certain Diggs TD before halftime. But he and Jamal Adams whiffed badly on that Latavius Murray TD that increased the deficit to 17-7, and he quit on a fumbled backwards-screen to Diggs that could’ve altered the outcome. Lee embodies Bart Scott’s brutal assessment of these Jets defenders: elite athletes devoid of football acumen. Lack of field awareness — especially when the whistle never blew — is unforgivable.
Leonard Williams was disruptive, and spent considerable time in the Minnesota backfield. Third-rounder Nathan Shepherd was a force in the first half, and Henry Anderson continues to display mad motor. But ultimately, it was the lack of a sustained pass rush killed this game. It asked too much of the Jets depleted secondary to cover these Vikings star receivers for five-six seconds while Cousins sat back comfortably in the pocket.
Next: 2. Out in the Cold
2. Out in the Cold
Special teams killed the Jets all afternoon. As WFAN’s Joe Beningo put it on the radio: “Bro, the special teams played like garbage.”
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Sure, the wind played havoc with the kicking game — you saw that with the Vikings’ Dan Bailey’s perfectly executed 42-yarder that fell wide and short. Lach Edwards spent much of the afternoon punting from the swirling winds of the MetLife end zones.
He couldn’t handle one wind-abetted bad snap by Thomas Hennessy, which he shanked rugby style for an ugly 28-yarder. But the Aussie booter was not the issue on special teams.
Andre Roberts has had a great season, but perhaps it was asking too much of the veteran to both play receiver (2-21) and conquer the elements. He had some terrific returns, notable a 56-yard kickoff return to the Vikings 42.
But Roberts whiffed on and recovered two punts, including on a fair catch. Then he seriously misread two critical punts, one from Minnesota’s one-yard line that resulted in a 65-yarder, and then failing to fair-catch another that cost the Jets 15-20 yards, backed up to their own 8-yard line, down by just ten points. Trenton Cannon, the gunner on one punt, seemingly went out-of-bounds without being touched. That’s just not winning positional football.
Next: 1. Some Heads Are Gonna Roll
1. Some Heads Are Gonna Roll
No time to lick their wounds and feel sorry for themselves. After going 2-1 at home, this big road game in Chicago will be an excellent indicator of the shape of things to come.
Two years ago, the Bears got ridiculed for firing their coach and rebuilding around Mitch Trubisky. This offseason, they aggressive added tools around the young gunslinger — similar to what the Rams did for Jared Goff. Then before the season, they redefined their defensive front with the acquisition of human wrecking machine Khalil Mack. So the bar has been set for Maccagnan to bolster the armaments of young Sam Darnold.
As for Todd Bowles, we write the same thing over and over again. One week after wrecking the Colts, all the bad habits and poor communication reared their ugly heads in an ultimately winnable game against a superior roster.
Adjustments — in-game or at halftime — are rare. And clock management: how often do these Jets let precious time tick off the clock in key situations? Hopefully, everyone at One Jets Drive is viewing these remaining nine games as a do-or-die audition for the rest of their NFL lives. The fans have been patient, and deserve far better than what we saw Sunday against Minnesota.