It’s a confusing time to be a New York Jets fan. Normally, being a Jets fan has just made me sad, so confusion is actually a huge improvement.
We expected the 2017 Jets to be bad. Some of us expected them to go winless. Some of us, um, hoped that the Jets would go winless, producing a dumpster fire of a season that could help this franchise land the no. 1 pick in next year’s draft to jump-start a rebuild. But the Jets have a three-game winning streak, sit at 3-2, and are tied for first place in the AFC East. They can take the outright division lead with a win over New England on Sunday.
How should Jets fans feel about this? Is this team worth getting excited about? Or do these wins really amount to failures to lose? I haven’t figured it out yet. There are four loud voices arguing in my head, and I’d like to introduce you to all of them.
1. The Jets Still Aren’t Good, and We Shouldn’t Get That Excited
Let’s take a look at this three-game winning streak. First came a 20-6 victory over a Miami team led by semi-alert multimillionaire Jay Cutler. The Dolphins have managed only three combined offensive touchdowns through four games under the catatonic leadership of semi-alert multimillionaire Jay Cutler, and it’s nice that the Jets limited them to six points. But this is the same Miami team that got shut out by the Saints in Week 4. These are the Saints’ starting cornerbacks.
Next came a 23-20 overtime win against the Jaguars. Jacksonville is surprisingly competent this season, bolstered by a strong secondary and rookie running back Leonard Fournette. But as much as I believe in the young Jags, the phrase New York’s signature win was a three-point overtime victory over the Jaguars is not exactly awe-inspiring.
And Sunday brought a 17-14 win over the Browns. The Browns should have won this game! Cleveland rookie DeShone Kizer became the first player in eight years to commit multiple turnovers inside an opponent’s 5-yard line. His squad lost by three points. The Browns are the worst team in the league by a few miles, and the Jets needed them to repeatedly open fire at their own feet to squeak out a win.
The easy part of the Jets’ schedule is now over. New York played both the Browns and Jaguars because of an NFL scheduling rule that pits every team against two others that finished in the same place in the standings in different divisions the year prior, in the interest of parity: The Jets finished last in the AFC East in 2016; the Jags and Browns finished last in the AFC South and AFC North, respectively, so the Jets played the Jags and Browns. That rule is meant to help bottom-feeders accumulate wins. But a team gets only two of those games, and the Jets have already played them.
The opponents that the Jets have faced so far are a combined 10-14; the 10 teams remaining on their schedule are a combined 31-19. The Jets still have to play the 5-0 Chiefs, both teams that took part in the most recent Super Bowl (the Falcons once, the Patriots twice), and both teams that played in the Super Bowl before that (the Broncos and Panthers). There’s only one sub-.500 team (the Chargers, in Week 16) left on the Jets’ schedule.
Head coach Todd Bowles and Co. had a few winnable games early and somehow got to three wins, with two coming by the skin of their teeth. I’m not sure whether they have three winnable games the rest of the way. The fun is probably over.
2. Hey, but This Is Fun
Rooting for my favorite teams to lose is a mind-set I’ve rebelled against for the majority of my sports fandom. I remember being happy when the 3-12 Jets beat the Bills on a late kickoff return in the 2005 season, a loss that ensured that New York couldn’t draft Reggie Bush or Vince Young. I remember being happy when the 3-12 Jets beat the Chiefs in overtime in 2007, a result that bumped the team from no. 3 (Matt Ryan) to no. 6 (Vernon Gholston) in the 2008 draft order. I have rooted for teams to win games they should have lost, because I generally enjoy winning.
Entering this fall, though, the Jets’ futility had sapped me of that mind-set. The team had been too bad too often, and worse, they’d been stupid. There had been nothing to get excited about for so many years. Even the things I did get excited about—holy cow, Ryan Fitzpatrick threw 31 touchdowns! We might make the playoffs!—ended … poorly. So I decided to get excited about losing, in the hope that it could eventually create something better.
But seeing the Jets scrap and battle for wins over the past few weeks has served as a reminder of what’s fun about sports. Did those wins hurt the team’s long-term goals? Yeah, probably. But maybe we shouldn’t focus so much on long-term goals when we watch our favorite teams. Maybe we should remember that football is here to entertain us and enjoy the wins when they come, even when they come against Blake Bortles or the Browns.
3. The Jets Need to Get More Aggressive About Tanking
That last paragraph I wrote is utter garbage. It’s the Mark Sanchez Thanksgiving Game of paragraphs. Of course winning is fun. That’s why the Jets should try to lose every damn week this fall, so they have a legitimate chance to do it on a consistent basis and someday make the playoffs instead of providing these briefly inspirational but ultimately damaging upsets three or four times over the course of a 16-game schedule.
This Jets team remains hopeless. It probably needs six more wins to reach the postseason. In no way is that plausible. Going 8-8 or so would be nice if the relative success of this year’s team meant anything to the future success of the franchise. But most of the players on this roster don’t factor into the Jets’ long-term plans.
Do you know how many Jets starters Pro Football Focus grades as “elite,” “high quality,” or “above average?” Zero. Every single starter is ranked as “average,” “below average,” or “poor.” Everything still needs to be fixed.
Bench quarterback Josh McCown. He’s 38. He’s the best quarterback on the team, but do you think he’s going to lead the Jets into the playoffs in 2023 from his wheelchair? New York has two young quarterbacks in Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg, and at the very least, the front office needs to determine whether they’re good enough to keep around so it can decide if it makes sense to use its 2018 first-round pick on a passer. It’s time to lose or learn something. The Jets will never get anywhere doing what they are, using second-round picks on players like Geno Smith and Hackenberg while other teams take franchise quarterbacks like Deshaun Watson.
There was a plan here, getting rid of veterans like Sheldon Richardson, David Harris, Eric Decker, and Brandon Marshall. They’re messing that up. With three wins, the Jets have already all but guaranteed that they won’t pick first overall next spring. If they get up to four or five wins, they’re going to miss out on even more elite prospects. Tank now, or forever hold bad picks.
4. I’m All in on These Soon-to-Be–Super Bowl–Champion Jets
Watch the 97-yard touchdown drive that McCown led in the fourth quarter of last Sunday’s win over the Browns: He went 6-for-6 passing for 83 yards, capped by a touchdown throw to Jermaine Kearse, whose connection with McCown is electric for some reason. The Jets signed a career-backup QB with a history of bad performances for garbage teams because they wanted to be garbage. Instead, he is evidence that miracles happen all around us.
Watch this touchdown run by Bilal Powell in Week 4 against the Jaguars. It doesn’t make any sense, and it gave the Jets seven points in a game that they won by three.
I love the Jets defense, which has held four of its five opponents this year to 21 points or fewer. The pass defense, especially, owns my heart: With experienced cornerbacks Buster Skrine and Morris Claiborne and rookie safeties Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye, it’s way ahead of where it should be right now. This group isn’t just competent: It’s good.
I rewatch Jets highlights and, like an idiot, I begin to believe. The AFC East is finally wide open, thanks to a Patriots defense that apparently challenges itself to allow more points than Tom Brady and the offense can score. As I watch the Patriots get lit up week after week, I sometimes think: Could Josh McCown pick apart that defense? At the exact second that I’m typing this, I think the answer is yes.
Hell, the entire NFL is wide open: It’s being trampled by a team that starts Alex Smith and a third-round running back out of Toledo. Nobody’s doomed. Not even the unstoppable football juggernaut New York Jets.