After a tough start, Sam Darnold and the New York Jets are one victory over the Oakland Raiders shy of 2019 NFL relevancy.
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ—Football is a funny game. One week, a lone individual is the goat. (No kids, this goat doesn’t equate to “greatest of all-time.”) The following week, he’s flying high, showcased all over the internet thanks to a phenomenal outing or clutch play that lifted his squad.
Hello, Sam Darnold.
The week-to-week nature of the brings out the worst and best in professional football players. From catching glimpses of ghosts to tearing up the New York Giants and Washington Redskins, the California kid understands the nature of the beast.
It’s why, although the New York Jets currently sit at 3-7, the overall record can never serve as a priority. Only the Oakland Raiders are important at this moment.
“It’s just about taking it one week at a time,” Darnold explained after Thursday’s practice. “If we do that, we have that mindset, then you can never get too high or too low, whether you win or you lose. If we truly truly have the mindset of taking it one week at a time, it doesn’t matter.”
It’s also why, if the Jets capture a victory on the organization’s Star Wars day at MetLife Stadium, suddenly, the squad is 2019 relevant.
A quick glance at the AFC playoff picture provides plenty of evidence.
At 9-1, the New England Patriots are primed to capture another AFC East title. Why even mention such a casual accomplishment at this point? The 8-2 Baltimore Ravens enjoy a three-game buffer in the AFC North.
The 7-4 Kansas City Chiefs and 6-4 Oakland Raiders are currently clashing out west and the 7-4 Houston Texans’ latest Thursday night victory gives them a one-game lead over the 6-5 Indianapolis Colts.
- Patriots (9-1)
- Ravens (8-2)
- Texans (7-4)
- Chiefs (7-4)
- Bills (7-3)
- Raiders (6-4)
- Colts (6-5)
- Steelers (5-5)
- Titans (5-5)
- Browns (4-6)
- Jaguars (4-6)
- Chargers (4-7)
- Broncos (3-7)
- Jets (3-7)
Don’t, for one moment, put any cash down on the Jets sneaking into the tournament. The team’s infrastructure just isn’t there, as discussed by ESNY for several years.
Until a real offensive line and four-man conventional pass rush are built the proper way (through the draft), this team is going nowhere.
But the difference between 3-8 and 4-7 is massive and the latter provides the Jets an opportunity to make relevant noise the rest of the way. A mere two games would separate the Jets from a playoff spot (6-5 Raiders, 6-5 Colts and possibly 6-5 Steelers and/or Titans).
For it to happen, however, Jon Gruden’s squad must be conquered.
Luckily, many of the matchups favor New York. One, in particular, is the Jets’ No. 1 ranked rush defense assigned to slowing down the Raiders’ ninth-ranked rushing attack.
Of course, this means Gregg Williams will have his guys primed to put a halt to Josh Jacobs’s attempt to run wild.
“The guy (Jacobs) has played as well as you could ever ask a rookie to play,” Jets head coach Adam Gase said following Friday’s practice. “The amount of yard he’s had, the amount of yards after contact, we talked about it earlier in the week, he’s got the most missed tackles in football, the guy is doing a great job.”
Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams agrees on the Jacobs front, yet also knows what it takes to shut down a ground attack.
“He is very solid,” Williams said. “He is very well-coached, and I knew a lot about him when he was at Alabama. I love that story.
“Well, in order to play very strong run defense, you’ve got to play 11 guys together. The hardest thing for me to do anymore is to watch high school and college football with people not understanding how to play run defense and how you have to go about restricting the field and playing knock-back. We don’t catch and react. We’re an attacking defense.”
Jacobs has tallied 923 yards and seven scores on the ground for an impressive 4.8 yards-per-carry, furthering the point that these aren’t your regularly-laughed-at Raiders.
They’re a tough team with an old-school mindset that sells in a new era. Darnold and the Jets will undoubtedly earn this one (should they come out victorious).
“The Raiders, they looked really good on tape,” Darnold said. “They’ve been looking good on tape most of the games that they’ve played. So again, it’s going to be a really good challenge for us. It’s going to be a fun game and we’re having fun this week preparing for them.”
At 4-7, no ticker-tape parades will be scheduled. No Super Bowl rings will magically appear. What the Jets are fighting for, at this very moment, is an actual season worth fighting for.
A win over the Oakland Raiders this Sunday will grant the New York Jets just that, exactly what they want … relevancy—at least for now. After all, this is the NFL. Nobody knows what next week will bring.