The games mean nothing again, the playoff pipe dream went up in smoke in Sin-cinnati, and it is Wait ’Til Next Year again.
The winds of change will be howling again both in East Rutherford and in Florham Park, and it is not a stretch to envision as many as half of the faces and nameplates in the Jets locker room to be replaced by GM Joe Douglas.
You long-suffering Jets fans desperately want to believe in a better and brighter tomorrow 51 years and counting after Super Bowl III, and you will watch these final four games, beginning with the Dolphins on Sunday at MetLife Stadium, and these five figures, with an eye on 2020.
Sam Darnold: The second-year leap was interrupted by mononucleosis, of all things. But Darnold has gotten off the sick bed — seven touchdowns against just one interception in the last four games — and no one should be expecting him to see ghosts again. You will want him to finish 2019 the way he finished 2018 — six TDs, one INT over the final four, including a zero-touchdown game against Bill (Belicheck) The Unfriendly Ghost in the finale. Darnold has taken ownership of the offense. It’s his offense now.
“Instead of forcing some things and just trying to make some heroic play — first down, or second-and-six — he’s throwing the ball away and then making a great play on third down,” Ty Montgomery said, “or he’s throwing the ball away on first down or running on first down and making a great play on second down, and he’s just managing each drive, including knowing when to take a sack, when not to take the sack, things like that. That’s just some of the things I’m noticing.”
The next step, and here he will need help from Douglas and Adam Gase: Become a winner — Darnold is 8-14 as a starter, 1-6 against AFC East foes and 0-3 against the Dolphins with two TDs and seven INTs.
Adam Gase: Keeping the locker room together was encouraging, albeit aided as it was by Christopher Johnson rushing to his side after the Miami debacle.
“Very very very competitive guy, passionate guy,” Montgomery said. “Wears his heart on his sleeve. If he’s got a problem with something and he doesn’t say it. You’re gonna be able to see it on his face, and I can appreciate guys like that, just being honest, whether it’s being honest with their body language or being honest with their words. I think whenever anyone’s honest, it opens up the door for resolution.”
But his play-calling ran hot and cold, zigging when he should have been zagging with Le’Veon Bell, and a second loss to a second winless team in Sin-cinnati was a red flag that resurrected questions about his motivational skills. He has missed the playoffs three years in a row now as a head coach. The record is 27-34.
“Things didn’t work out for us this year,” Gase said Wednesday. “We couldn’t get things rolling in the right direction. We lose our quarterback for three games, it kinda set us back. We just could never keep a core group of guys healthy long enough to really gain that chemistry.”
True. But Mike Tomlin lost Ben Roethlisberger in Week 2 and Bell and Antonio Brown in the offseason and is in the playoff hunt with his third-string quarterback. That’s what an elite head coach does.
Quinnen Williams: He has yet to make an impact, and third-overall picks are expected to make an impact. His arrival sealed the fate of Leonard Williams, and guess which team is still searching for that long-lost pass rushing demon off the edge? Jachai Polite? Uh, no. And guess who has nine sacks for the Jaguars? Yup, Josh Allen. I was in favor of drafting Williams, the higher-rated player, but 23 tackles and 1.5 sacks aren’t enough. And, oh, by the way, Ed Oliver has four of his five sacks in his last three games, with 28 tackles. It is much too early for any buyer’s remorse, but not too early for long-suffering Jets fans.
Jamal Adams: Don’t expect him (left ankle sprain) against the Dolphins and maybe the Ravens on Thursday night, the question will be whether you should expect him to be a Jet in 2020. Long-suffering Jets fans better hope he is. I’d trade Bell, but Adams is arguably the best safety in the game, the heart and soul of Gregg Williams’ defense. But if his contract demands scare off Douglas, or Jerry Jones or somebody makes Douglas an offer he can’t refuse, then enjoy watching him while you still can.
Blessaun Austin: A big, long-armed corner and willing tackler, he’s barged his way into 2020 plans after an injury-plagued career at Rutgers. Watch him develop and keep your fingers crossed he can be everything that $72.5 million free-agent bust Trumaine Johnson was not. The cornerback cupboard is close to bare, but this kid won’t be afraid of Ryan Fitzpatrick targeting him.
“Not afraid to tackle, got really good ball skills, really good feet, he’s a good press corner, he has a high level of confidence and that’s what you gotta have playing the position,” Montgomery said. “Even in practice he’s not letting up. Whenever I talk to him, he speaks with confidence as if he knows what he’s gonna do. He’s realistic, he’s definitely not an arrogant guy, but if you ask him about his job on Sunday, he’s gonna tell you he’s gonna get it done.”
Wait ’Til Next Year, for the ninth consecutive playoff-less time.
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