NY Jets: The Beginning of the end of a miserable 2020 season

EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - DECEMBER 27: Baker Mayfield #6 of the Cleveland Browns congratulates Sam Darnold #14 of the New York Jets after the Jets defeated the Browns 23 to 16 at MetLife Stadium on December 27, 2020 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - DECEMBER 27: Baker Mayfield #6 of the Cleveland Browns congratulates Sam Darnold #14 of the New York Jets after the Jets defeated the Browns 23 to 16 at MetLife Stadium on December 27, 2020 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images) /

The NY Jets’ dreadful 2020 season has almost reached its miserable end.

After 13 straight losses to open the season, the NY Jets have pulled off back-to-back wins against formidable contenders. What took so long for Adam Gase to lose the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes?

The most disturbing Jets question about this 23-16 victory over Cleveland is — why did it take until Game 31 of Gase’s tenure to see the creativity of a 43-yard wide receiver trick pass, a Darnold 30-yard touchdown pass, and a competent game by “unicorn” tight end Chris Herndon?

This season feels eerily similar to last year. Halfway through 2019, fans of the winless Jets were screaming for Adam Gase’s head on a platter. Then a trail of meaningless victories silenced the lynch mob and lulled ownership into a false sense of security.

Meanwhile, Gase maintains his cushy office in Florham Park because his over-performing roster has not quit on him. But this fanbase will never accept another year of “the quarterback whisperer.” Correct?

Gase deserved to walk the plank after his shocking admissions of failing both ownership and the franchise quarterback. Now this organization has lost out on the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes. The Jets will feel Gase’s damaging effects for the next decade or more.

In terms of player development, Mekhi Becton was, earlier this season, considered the most devastating rookie in the NFL. But the behemoth left tackle has hit a wall as of late that one can only hope means that he is still slowed by his early-season shoulder injuries.

Another Browns “failure” against the NY Jets

The NFL media gave Baker Mayfield a free pass before this MetLife showdown, with his four most productive receivers ineligible due to COVID-19 exposure.

That’s ironic, given that Sam Darnold and Joe Flacco played a lot of this year without Breshad Perriman, Denzel Mims, or Jamison Crowder.

The Browns played sloppy and subpar like — the Browns. Cleveland knew that they had to run the ball — so the NFL’s No. 3 rushing offense combined for a paltry 39 yards on just 15 carries.

Instead, Mayfield threw a career-high 53 attempts to Ja’Marcus Bradley, Marvin Hall, and Andy Janovich. But he lost the game with three costly fumbles, including one stripped by Tarell Basham with a minute remaining, deep inside the Jets’ red zone.

Going into the year, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams looked cocked and loaded with weapons like Jamal Adams, C.J. Mosley, Avery Williamson, Steve McLendon, Pierre Desir, and currently-IR’d Quinnen Williams.

In this showdown, interim defensive coordinator Frank Bush delivered the season’s best defensive showing with a front-seven of Nathan Shepherd, Folorunso Fatukasi, John Franklin-Myers, Frankie Luvu, Bryce Hager, Neville Hewitt, and Tarell Basham. Along with causing those three fumbles, the unit combined for four sacks.

All seven players deserve 2021 training camp invites. Hager, who spent his first five seasons as a reserve with the Los Angeles Rams, has been one of Joe Douglas’ better under-the-radar acquisitions.

In this game, he led the team with five tackles. It is also notable that Gregg Williams undrafted free agent proteges Bryce Huff and Lamar Jackson have not played a down under Bush.

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Secondary is primary for the NY Jets

The secondary remains problematic. But you can rest assured that the general manager will expend draft and free agent capital on this part of his roster overhaul.

At safety, they must prioritize bringing back defensive leader Marcus Maye (the free-safety should command $10-14 million per year). It seems Bush has found a suitable strong safety in cornerback Arthur Maulet, who is also set to hit the open market.

The duo plays far stronger than Maye’s early-season partner Bradley McDougald (the IR’d ex-Seahawk had a 40.1 PFF rating; Maulet in his two games at safety, 68.7).

Third-rounder Ashtyn Davis (53.0 PFF) was supposed to sit and watch — and until his recent injury, played like he wasn’t ready to play. But he did noticeably improve every game.

Expect to hear the names of free-agent safeties Anthony Harris (Vikings), Justin Simmons (Broncos), Jalen Mills (Eagles), Jaquiski Tartt (49ers), Jayron Kearse (Lions), and Keanu Neal (Falcons). Day 2 draft targets should include Pittsburgh’s Paris Ford and Florida State’s Hamsah Nasirildeen.

The Jets moved on from disappointing cornerback Pierre Desir, in large part, to see what they had in Bryce Hall and Blessuan Austin.

Hall flashes the makings of a 10-year pro. Austin still gets punished trying to cover bigger receivers and tight ends, but he could contribute to an ascending franchise.

Cornerbacks worth pursuing include Rasul Douglas (Panthers), Levi Wallace (Bills), and Xavier Rhodes (Colts). Richard Sherman (49ers) missed most of this season with injuries and production issues, but he’d bring focus and attitude to this young unit.

Two mid-draft possibilities are Israel Makuamu of South Carolina and Washington slot corner Elijah Molden.

Sam the man?

Once again, the most significant question mark regarding this franchise is at the quarterback position. Darnold (58.3 PFF) played another clean game and didn’t give it away with turnovers (that honor went to Mayfield).

Yet, many of the same lingering questions remain. You get the idea that any internal decisions about Darnold have already been made.

Crowder could play on any team in this league, the rookie Mims shows promise, and you could only imagine Andy Reid or Bruce Arians utilizing the shifty Braxton Berrios. But Darnold throws to one of the NFL’s worst wide receiver units.

Gase signed off on replacing Robby Anderson — the one wide receiver Darnold had developed deep chemistry — with Perriman, and the two have exhibited no chemistry. Douglas will likely look to target Darnold’s USC-mate JuJu Smith-Schuster or the Titans’ Corey Davis.

Darnold’s porous offensive line has improved, to slightly below average. Much credit goes to improved guard play.

A believable Douglas offensive line rebuild will include the aggressive pursuit of Washington guard Brandon Scherff and the return of right tackle George Fant, guard Josh Andrews, and recent waiver claim, Pat Elflein.

Late first or second-round draft capital should be expended on the interior offensive line, like Tennessee’s Trey Smith or USC’s Alijah Vera-Tucker.

On the one hand, Darnold has been the ultimate team player, in that he’s had every right to throw his coaches or teammates under the bus. But while he couldn’t excel without weapons, he didn’t rise above either. There are 32 QBs in the NFL, and Darnold currently ranks No. 33 in scoring.

Regardless of upcoming draft moves, Douglas may want to consider tearing up this year’s Darnold deal and pick up his fifth-year option as part of a team-friendly contract in the $20 million range. That move would also increase his currently low trade value.

The Jets will also need a veteran backup, either returning a healed Joe Flacco or a more robust move like signing Andy Dalton. There is also the assumption that fourth-round project QB James Morgan will require another season of carrying the clipboard.

Gase’s coach-speak about Morgan’s deficiencies mirror what previous regimes said about Tim Tebow and Christian Hackenberg.

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Feel the Draft

The draft process’ problem is that Combine and pro days are geared toward making the quarterbacks look good.

So if the Jets don’t love Ohio State’s Justin Fields, BYU’s Zach Wilson, or North Dakota State’s Trey Lance, they can’t take them. If they reach for an “okay” QB, that would be an even further regression from Darnold. It would set the franchise back another 3-5 years.

You can’t help but love the tape on Wilson. He’s got a Drew Brees attitude, kind of like BYU legend Jim McMahon. But the highest-ranked team that his Cougars played against this season was Coastal Carolina.

Mac Jones of Alabama is rising fast in the draft and may not be available late first-round when the Jets get their second first-rounder via Seattle. Kyle Trask of Florida is another one of those guys with pedestrian tools but all he does is win. But he may be more Brady Quinn than Tom Brady.

This puzzle is why they pay Joe Douglas big money.

Suppose you believe what you read, and take into account Douglas’ Baltimore-inspired style, the Johnsons will reluctantly fire Gase, and Douglas will offer the job to his friend, Ravens assistant Don “Wink” Martindale — no relation to the same-named 80s TV game show host (who booked the Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl).

This Martindale, a burly former truck trucker and radio DJ, schooled to coach by the Ryan brothers, would hire his friend, Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott.

Next. NY Jets: 3 reasons why Adam Gase won’t be fired during the season

This week’s final game will be emotionally fascinating. Bill Belichick will want to put yet another hurtin’ on his former employers — and in doing so, would happily outlive the Adam Gase error.