2021-22 was another rough year for NY Jets fans, but one major standout and surprise came in the form of a relatively unknown offensive coordinator in Mike LaFleur.
As the younger brother of Green Bay Packers head coach, Matt LaFleur, Mike got the nod for Jets OC after being an offensive intern for the Browns, an offensive assistant for the Falcons, and a passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach for the 49ers in his under-the-radar NFL coaching career.
But it is my opinion that after watching this season transpire, that the Jets may have finally struck gold after years of ineptitude and inadequacy at the management level of their offense.
The Jets had four quarterbacks under center for them in 2021, and all four of them appeared to demonstrate oddly-impeccable competence at various points in the year.
Starting with the obvious in Zach Wilson. Wilson, as the No. 2 pick in last year's NFL Draft, began his 2021 campaign 1-5, completing 57 percent of his passes, and posting an average passer rating of 66.1 over those six games.
He also threw just 4 touchdowns to 9 interceptions, took 19 sacks which rounds out to about three per game, and averaged 6.29 yards per passing attempt.
Wilson showed all the makings of a draft bust, but it wasn't until he got hurt and missed four games that the influence of LaFleur in this Jets offense began to shine through and provide hope for the organization.
And when Wilson returned in Week 12 against the Houston Texans, we were able to see even more clearly that this offense is indeed heading in the right direction.
Wilson's first game injured was a home game against the Cincinnati Bengals, where backup Mike White defeated the 5-2 up-and-coming Joe Burrow by throwing for 405 yards and three touchdowns with a passer rating of 107.9.
White then carried that momentum over to the next week, which was a Thursday night game at the Colts.
White went 7-for-11 and threw for 95 yards and a touchdown until he went down with an injury, to which newly-signed journeyman quarterback, Josh Johnson, relieved White and had a big day himself throwing for 317 yards and three touchdowns with a passer rating of 103.4 in a high-scoring losing effort.
All of a sudden, we had two guys come out of nowhere in Mike White and Josh Johnson who not only looked competent in the LaFleur offense, but, dare I say, THRIVED in it.
White came back the next week at Buffalo and got smoked pretty good throwing four interceptions in a 45-17 loss, but then Joe Flacco redeemed everybody the following week against Miami by throwing for 291 yards, two touchdowns, and a passer rating of 101.5 in a touchdown-margin loss to the Dolphins.
Three quarterbacks had filled in for Zach Wilson, and all had looked like world-beaters — as small as the sample sizes were. Then it was time for Wilson to return and take on the Texans in Houston.
Zach Wilson impressed the NY Jets upon his return from injury
That game was still pretty weak for Wilson posting a passer rating of 58.5, but he did rush for a touchdown and the team came out of there with its third win of the season.
Next week, the Eagles game was a first-half battle that got out of hand once the second half kicked off. But Wilson posted his best completion percentage of the year other than the Titans game he won, he rushed for another touchdown, and posted his second-best passer rating of the year of 83.9. That was also the last game of the year Wilson threw an interception in.
Week 14 against the Saints was another rough one, but Wilson again kept the ball safe and even posted a season-high in rushing despite it only being 33 yards.
Week 15 was another touchdown-margin loss to the Dolphins in which Wilson put up his second-highest total of the year of 24 points and threw for the second-highest yards per attempt on the year of 7.39.
In Week 16, Wilson then outlasted first overall pick, Trevor Lawrence, and the Jaguars to win 26-21 and notch the Jets' fourth win of the season. He completed nearly 64 percent of his passes (season-high) and posted his second-highest passer rating of the year (89.6) despite only throwing for 102 yards.
I feel his best performance was Week 17 against the Buccaneers where he went toe-to-toe with Tom Brady and nearly outright won the game. If it wasn't for a game-winning drive by Brady, which everybody saw coming, Wilson would've won that game and the Jets would've gotten their fifth win after a 2-8 start.
I've been tentative about Wilson since day one, but I have to admit the way he carried himself in that game was indicative of a quarterback who was becoming comfortable and poised in the pocket. More on that in a moment.
Finally, Wilson and the Jets got smacked around by the Bills in Week 18, and Wilson completed just seven passes on 20 attempts.
But the damage had been done to that point. LaFleur's offense had shown enough promise to send Jets fans into the offseason somewhat satisfied and eager to see what awaits them next year.
Down the stretch of this year, Zach Wilson improved his game. There is no doubt about that. As much as I want to say "pump the brakes," what I saw out of Wilson since Week 12 was, in my view, the most promising performance of any rookie quarterback this year.
Mac Jones in New England obviously had the better year, but how much of that was him and how much of that was Bill Belichick's system and coaching?
With Wilson, we saw a young quarterback........what's the opposite of "light it up?".........in the first handful of games. But then he came storming back after injury, he read defenses better, he made better decisions with the football, and he became more comfortable in the pocket.
My hypothesis, as a scientific fellow, is that LaFleur's system was absorbed immediately by the guys who had been around the league in Flacco, Johnson, and White because it was super simple and effective.
Wilson struggled at first, but once he saw three backups get in there and hone in on their skills, he was able to understand the system better and apply his newfound knowledge immediately upon return.
Quarterback play from Week 8-on for the Jets was pretty legit, outside of a few hiccups. The fact that four very different and random quarterbacks with four vastly different styles found their grooves in this new LaFleur system, demonstrates that the system itself is a recipe for success.
The Jets, in my opinion, have found an offensive guy that knows what he's doing for the first time in God-knows how long.
Going forward, I think Wilson is in good hands as far as the play-calling goes. But he also needs to continue to get himself better because, if his rookie season was any foreshadowing, it appears that pretty much anybody can thrive in this LaFleur system. So, he needs to continue to justify his value.
LaFleur is one of my favorite coordinators of the 2021 season, and the Jets should be very happy to have found him seemingly out of the blue. Perhaps he is the beneficiary of soft expectations, considering the Jets have been so terrible calling offensive plays for so many years.
But if it is truly turnaround time for the Jets franchise, Mike LaFleur is going to be at the helm of it.