A 6-2 stretch looks hopeful on paper, but the New York Jets’ second half only forces fans to ponder what might have been.
Images of the 2019 New York Jets more than likely won’t grace the stubs of season ticket holders, nor will their exploits be talked about with revere in the MetLife Stadium game day parking lots.
A decade full of calamities ended on a rather appropriate note. The 2019 season was full of silliness and chaos, both self-inflicted and unavoidable. With all said and done, however, the season’s numbers have shockingly hinted at the previously unthinkable: improvement.
The Jets (7-9) won’t enter the offseason with the burden of double-digits in the loss column for the first time since 2015. That partly in thanks to a 6-2 stretch in the season’s second half, a period capped off by a sloppy 13-6 win in Buffalo on Sunday afternoon.
One of the league’s longest playoff droughts nonetheless continues. Only the lowly Cleveland Browns (17 years) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (12) are nursing longer streaks of dubiousness from the Jets (9). But members of the Jets believe the final eight games could be the precursor to better days in this latest chapter of New York rebuilding.
“Going 6-2, that’s not luck. You don’t do that. It takes a group of guys that became galvanized and stuck together,” general manager Joe Douglas said during his season-closing statements this week. “What we’ve got to do, the hope, I won’t even say the hope because hope’s not a strategy, the plan moving forward is, that this is a launchpad for us.”
It’s perfectly fine for the Jets to feel that way. Making the playoffs was a gargantuan task as it was, with New England’s AFC East monopoly continuing and young squads from Buffalo and Tennessee taking the wild cards. Wins are nonetheless wins and it’d be downright cruel to dictate the Jets’ feelings after a season rife with rumors and discontent.
But in the broad sense of it all, there is probably a hidden, painful feeling that well could define this recent period: frustration. The 6-2 finale just shows what might’ve been when it came to the 2019 Jets.
The last eight games could be well dismissed as a mirage generated by subpar competition. After all, half of the victories (Washington, New York Giants, Miami) came against teams that will choose in the top five of this spring’s NFL Draft. But true hope has been found in a pair of victories that might’ve developed the AFC playoff picture. Wins over the Oakland Raiders and Pittsburgh Steelers helped keep those teams out of the Titans’ wild card slot.
But the Jets could’ve affected the playoff chase in a way that benefitted the most important parties of all: themselves.
The difficulty of the Jets’ opening stanzas was a talking point ever since the schedule’s spring release. Maybe they could’ve mustered more than just a single win over the Bills, Browns, Eagles, and Cowboys (the yearly pair of meetings with the Patriots remain foregone losses), but at least defeats of that caliber were understandable.
Typical Jets kookiness nonetheless ensued. Sam Darnold’s mononucleosis diagnosis opened the social media floodgates to sophomoric memes. Rumors around the trade deadline caused hurt feelings. But there were fleeting silver linings coming mostly from a Gregg Williams-led defense. The season’s final decalogue, littered with also-rans and mediocrity, was the perfect chance to build and grow. A dark gift was granted after the Jets 1-5 start was granted in the form of a young team under a first-year coach getting free research and development as the never-ending rebuild continued.
On paper, the 6-4 finale is indeed something to look on with pride. But it could’ve been more, much more, in the immediate future.
The Jets wound up missing the postseason by two games behind sixth-place Tennessee. Looking back, there are three games the Jets are going to desperately, angrily, wish they had back.
A 42-21 loss to the mighty Baltimore Ravens? Understandable. They appear to be the new class of the conference, after all. Defeats against Jacksonville, Miami, and Cincinnati… a combined 13 wins among them? That’s a trend any franchise would have trouble recovering from.
In these games, the Jets not only lost…they were badly outplayed. The loss in South Beach, the first win for a woebegone Dolphins team many accused of tanking, began with the Jets embarking on an 80-yard touchdown drive. Removing a 76-yard field goal drive that featured Miami mostly in a prevent set (as if that didn’t describe just how dire the Jets’ situation was), the Jets gained just 158 yards for the remainder of the afternoon. That included three second-half drives that tallied 11 yards.
Three consecutive wins followed the Miami defeat. The Jets even took last-second revenge in December with a 22-21 win. Sandwiched, however, was a 22-6 loss at the hands of the Cincinnati Bengals. With that, the Jets became the first team in NFL history to lose to a pair of teams that entered a game at 0-7 or worse.
The fact the Jets were able to recover from such defeats was a miracle in itself. It’s indeed a bit of a positive you can take out of such a season. Seven wins, after all, were good for the Jets’ best tally since reaching double-digits in 2015.
But a 6-4 final stretch, showcasing the type of team the Jets could’ve been all season. Making the playoffs was a pipe dream, but the mere possibility that it was there should’ve been a win.
Instead, the Jets are forced to look back on a strong stretch with regret. Time will only tell if it’s a mirage en route to the oasis of winning, or the real deal. Good times were to be had, as talent revealed itself on both sides of the ball. Yet, this is a stretch tainted with the lingering questions of what might have been.
Only in New York, folks. Only in New York.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffMags5490