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Are the Jets or Giants Off to a More Disastrous Start Through Week 2?

Sam Darnold has mono. Eli Manning has been benched. And both teams have lost to the Bills. Let’s break down the state of New York football with our Helmet Catch–Butt Fumble Matrix.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

In August, I unveiled the inaugural edition of the Helmet Catch–Butt Fumble Matrix, a system designed to track any developments—good, bad, or inexplicably weird—involving the Giants and Jets. This seemed necessary on the heels of an offseason that included the trade of Odell Beckham Jr., Adam Gase’s bizarre introductory press conference, and the surprising selection of Daniel Jones with the sixth pick in the 2019 NFL draft. I figured this formula would be a way to keep up with the teams all season long. Beyond that, I figured it would provide me with a space to crack jokes as the two New York–adjacent franchises stumbled through a fall full of incompetence, failure, and uniquely hilarious types of embarrassment.

After I pitched this idea and my editors assigned it, I had one main concern. I live in perpetual fear of being wrong online, and agreeing to write a series about not just one, but two football teams being embarrassing seemed like it was risky. What if one of the teams turned out to be good? Wouldn’t I look stupid? Would I just stop writing the posts and hope that nobody noticed? Would fans of that team ever trust me, or our website, again?

Two weeks into the season, I cannot believe I had doubts. The Jets and Giants are both 0-2, with three of those losses coming by double digits. Somehow, both teams lost home games to the Buffalo Bills, officially ceding the entire state of New York (and New Jersey, for that matter) to the squad from the banks of Lake Erie.

The Giants straight-up suck, having not looked close to the level of either of their opponents. The Jets looked competent for three quarters of Week 1, racing out to a 16-0 lead against the Bills, only to have everything fall apart in a typically Jets-ish blur. This was partially the product of self-imposed problems, and partially the product of cruel and unusual developments that couldn’t have possibly happened to any other team.

The idea of tracking the teams’ failures turned out to be entirely necessary: Before writing this week’s update, I was genuinely unsure which of the two was having a more embarrassing season to date. As a reminder, my extremely scientific formula rewards each franchise with Helmet Catch points for any positive development and Butt Fumble points for any negative development. Through Week 2, there have barely been any positive developments.

OBJ’s Double Dose of Embarrassment

Week 2’s Monday Night Football game somehow lumped the foolish failures of the Giants and Jets together in a maelstrom of incompetence. The evening revolved around Beckham—the once-in-a-generation wide receiver who combines ludicrous speed with perhaps the best hands in football history—and his return to the Meadowlands as a member of the visiting Cleveland Browns. Beckham used to be on the Giants, until they traded him in March because he has a personality. (It couldn’t have been because they thought a package including first- and third-round draft picks and Jabrill Peppers was worth as much as OBJ, or because they thought it was a good idea to eat $16 million in salary cap space.)

Beckham’s new team was playing the Jets, a matchup made all the more interesting by the presence of first-year Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Williams may be best known for his ability to keep getting NFL jobs despite his involvement in the Bountygate scandal and his knack for coaching defenses which top out at average. His schematic trademark is asking one safety to play 20 or more yards off the line of scrimmage, a strategy that gives his teams a last line of defense in theory but allows the opposing offense to play 11-on-10 football in practice. His presence was relevant because he served as the Browns’ interim head coach last year after Hue Jackson was fired, and because Beckham said that Williams ordered players to target him with dirty hits during a previous game.

Williams responded to OBJ by doing basically the last thing any defensive coordinator should do: He gave a fiery press conference intended to bait an opposing player. Williams hit Beckham with an “Odell Who?” suggesting that the wideout must not be dynamic if the Giants traded him away.

See what I mean about the maelstrom of incompetence? Here we have the Jets’ billion-decibel fart of a defensive coordinator pointing to the Giants’ brain-optional decision-making as hard evidence for his own correctness, seemingly unaware that it’s a bad idea for an assistant coach to spend his days trash-talking hypertalented players on upcoming opponents.

Williams’s press conference was like when Drake was dumb enough to record a diss track about Pusha T; OBJ’s performance Monday was the sports equivalent of “YOU ARE HIDING A CHILD.” Remember how I said Beckham has perhaps the best hands in football history? He made a beautiful one-handed catch on the Browns’ opening drive:

Remember how I said Beckham is ludicrously fast? He burned the Jets for an 89-yard touchdown on a simple pitch-and-catch. As it turns out, having a safety stand 20 yards downfield isn’t a great last line of defense if it gives a player like Beckham an undisturbed head start.

Maybe Williams truly believes that Beckham isn’t dynamic, which would be dumber than pretending that he doesn’t just to impress some media members. Regardless, OBJ got to Who? Williams in his postgame press conference.

Beckham’s response, while perfect, was easy to predict. I preferred Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield’s response, as he simply shook his head and muttered “Jesus ...” upon finding out that his former coach had spent the week dogging his new go-to receiver. Beckham also got the last laugh against the Giants, saying it felt good to finally win at MetLife Stadium.

It feels unfair to keep punishing the Giants for the Beckham trade in this matrix. Then again, perhaps it’s the type of thing that deserves consistent shaming, so after OBJ reminded the world that he could’ve been lighting up the Meadowlands in blue instead of brown, I’m handing the Giants 0.25 Butt Fumble points. The Jets should feel deep shame for employing a defensive coordinator who is not only bad at his job, but also stupid enough to spend his days spitting weak bars about opposing stars. They should feel shame for letting Beckham gallop unopposed all the way from Secaucus to Ho-Ho-Kus, too. For Williams’s piss-poor performances against Beckham both on and off the field, I’m giving the Jets 1.0 Butt Fumble points.

The Jets’ Self-Imposed Kicker Woes

Having a bad kicker is not a sign of a poorly run football team. Some good teams have bad kickers, like the 2018 Chicago Bears; some bad teams have good kickers, like the 2018 San Francisco 49ers. (There’s a common thread, but that’s for another story.) Even hiring a great special teams coordinator makes little difference: Those guys are experts in designing kickoff returns and punt blocks, not in the intricate mechanics of kicking. There are far fewer than 32 great kickers on the planet, and all of them are liable to turn bad at a moment’s notice. If you have a good kicker, cherish him.

And that’s why the Jets’ lack of a good kicker has earned them an entry in this post. The Jets had a good kicker—Jason Myers, who earned a trip to the Pro Bowl in January after finishing a spectacular season in which he hit 33 of 36 field goal attempts, including 17-of-19 from 40 or more yards. The Jets let him leave in free agency to join the Seattle Seahawks.

It would be one thing if the Seahawks had offered Myers the largest contract of any kicker in NFL history and the fiscally responsible Jets balked. I mean, it’d still be embarrassing, since the largest kicker contract of all time pays Justin Tucker $10 million less than the Jets pay their second-best guard, Brian Winters, but it’d at least be understandable.

Except that’s not what happened. The contract Myers signed with Seattle pays him $3.8 million per year, the 13th-highest average annual salary among NFL kickers. The Jets cheaped out not because Myers sought a one-of-a-kind, cap-wrecking offer, but because they refused to give him a middle-of-the-pack deal that arguably undervalued his performance as one of the league’s premier kickers in 2018. They weren’t even pinching a significant number of pennies.

The Jets’ first Myers replacement, Chandler Catanzaro, suddenly retired after a bad preseason game at the age of 28. (This, at a position where 46-year-olds sometimes fight retirement.) They then turned to Kaare Vedvik, a Norwegian whose preseason with the Vikings went so poorly that they cut him barely two weeks after trading away a draft pick to acquire him. In Vedvik’s only game in the green and white, he failed to make a single kick. He missed a 45-yarder (which can be hard) and an extra point (which is not so hard), and the Jets never sent him out for a third attempt. New York lost that game, 17-16. They didn’t just downgrade from a good kicker to an average one; they downgraded from one of the best kickers in the league to a player incapable of hitting even the simplest kicks. Myers, for the record, is 7-of-7 on extra point tries so far this season.

The Jets cut Vedvik after Week 1 and replaced him with Sam Ficken, who hit his only attempt against the Browns. But the damage was already done. The Jets’ decision to avoid spending midtier money on a top-tier kicker saved them a handful of dollars, but cost them a whole football game. And not just any football game, but the season opener; instead of fans staying optimistic about the season, they resigned themselves to the notion that bad things would happen to the Jets once again.

This was an entirely unforced error—a rare high-risk, low-reward situation that ended with an easily foreseeable failure. For this preventable fiasco born from ineffective penny-pinching, I’m giving the Jets 1.25 Butt Fumble points.

Sam Darnold’s Mono Diagnosis

The Jets garnered confused looks from around the sports world when it was announced on Thursday that quarterback Sam Darnold would be sidelined with a case of mononucleosis. Mono is, admittedly, a funny reason for a star athlete to have to miss games. For starters, most cases of mono are found in children, since it’s a virus that you can generally get once in life, and many of us are exposed to it before adulthood. And because the virus is primarily transmitted through saliva, it has a reputation of being spread by kissing. Plus, it’s not particularly serious, as mono carries little danger of long-term health complications and the most well-known symptom is fatigue. So the jokes came naturally: The Jets QB was going to miss a month because he has a smooching-borne illness known for making middle-schoolers tired.

I mean, how can you not laugh at this ESPN graphic of Darnold mean-mugging mono?

However, I must bang an unpopular drum: I don’t find Darnold’s case of mono to be that funny. While mono isn’t common in athletes, this happens every once in a while. 49ers guard Jonathan Martin missed a month of practices with mono in 2014; Denver Nuggets forward Juan Hernangomez missed the early part of the 2017-18 season after a bout with mono; St. Louis Cardinals reliever Kevin Siegrist came down with mono during the 2016 season; golfer Jordan Spieth had his preparations for the 2018 season wrecked by a case of mono.

While writing this article, I’ve learned that that mono runs wild in the tennis community. John Isner missed the French Open and Wimbledon in 2009 with mono. Roger Federer had mono in 2008, Andy Roddick had it in 2010, and Petra Kvitova had it in 2015. Robin Soderling, who famously beat Rafael Nadal at the 2009 French Open, retired following a yearslong bout with mono. And there are more examples! My working theory is that tennis players are predisposed to mono because they often start playing in pro tournaments as teenagers instead of going to high school.

So, yeah, athletes can get mono. While the Jets’ predicament is uncommon and mildly funny, it’s not unheard of, and it’s not like they could’ve done anything to prevent it outside of exposing Darnold to mono immediately upon drafting him to prevent in-season flareups, much like how parents used to organize chickenpox parties to get all their kids exposed at once. For this development, I’m sending the Jets 0.25 Butt Fumble points.

The End of the Eli Era

The Danny Dimes era is upon us! After two dismal weeks of play by Eli Manning, the Giants have made the emotionally fraught decision to bench the best quarterback in franchise history and see how good the rookie they drafted is. I still don’t think Daniel Jones will be that good, in spite of his stunning preseason numbers, but hey—at least we’re going to find out!

When the regular season started, Jones sat on the sideline doing sudoku puzzles and honing his visor tan while the Giants lost by multiple scores for the sake of letting Eli Manning play out his 48th year as New York’s starting quarterback. In theory, the logic for starting Manning was that the Giants wanted to win now, and thus couldn’t afford to play their developing QB at the expense of risking on-field victories. But that wasn’t a fair assessment of the situation, as the Giants haven’t regularly won with Manning over the past few seasons. He’s cooked. Through two games, he averaged 6.2 yards per attempt with two touchdowns and two interceptions. It was dumb enough that the Giants were prioritizing the present-day outlook of a doomed team; it was even dumber that they were doing so with the belief that this guy was the one who would help them win.

In Week 1, the Giants fell behind the Cowboys 35-10 and then sent Manning out for three more series, 17 snaps that could’ve gone toward Jones’s development. Manning took the field for his last drive with the Giants down 25 points with 5:14 to go, and used his veteran wile to cut the deficit to 17 with 2:46 remaining. After that, the lead was clearly deemed insurmountable, as Jones got into the game with 1:46 left on the clock, allowing him to take five whole snaps. (The drive ended in a fumble.) In Week 2, the Giants went into halftime trailing 21-7, and apparently never considered bringing Jones in. Manning was still on the field to throw his second pick with less than four minutes left in the fourth quarter.

However, after just three weeks, the Giants have come to their senses. Jones will make his first start Sunday in Tampa. This probably pisses off the team’s owners, who care more about Manning than putting forth a competitive product, but it needed to be done. Every snap Jones gets will not only help him develop, but also help the Giants understand exactly what they have in him.

I’m giving the Giants 0.25 Butt Fumble points for being oddly stubborn about Jones to begin with, but erasing that with 0.25 Helmet Catch points for making the choice to move on.

Post-Sam Sadness

Not all 32 NFL teams have good starting quarterbacks, let alone good backup situations, so it’s hard to criticize the Jets too heavily for failing to adequately prepare for what would happen if Darnold were hurt or otherwise incapacitated by smooching-borne illness.

However, the situation that befell New York on Monday night was particularly egregious. Darnold’s backup was Trevor Siemian, who once won a Super Bowl as a third-stringer and later made a Pro Bowl after five other QBs declined invitations. I have something of a personal obsession with Siemian: He was, and I’m not exaggerating, the fourth-best of the six quarterbacks who played for my college team, Northwestern, when I went to school there. As a senior, he had seven touchdowns and 11 interceptions. I can’t fully summarize the unique blend of pride and horror I experienced while witnessing the player who filled my Saturdays with existential ennui suddenly showing up as QB1 for my favorite pro team. It was like waking up in the middle of the night to see the same ghost I envisioned in nightmares throughout my childhood, except it was real and in front of me as an adult, and also picking up items off my nightstand and tossing them carelessly to ghost defensive backs.

Siemian was horrible. With an entire week to prepare as the starter, he went 3-for-6 passing for 3 yards. He completed no passes that traveled beyond the line of scrimmage and was sacked twice for a loss of 17 yards. In total, the Jets lost yardage when he dropped back to throw.

And then he hurt his ankle in the second quarter, ending the short-lived Siemian era in New York. Siemian has since been ruled out for the year. In came Luke Falk, a second-year quarterback out of Washington State who was recently promoted from the practice squad. Falk performed admirably, all things considered, completing 20 of 25 passes for 198 yards. The Jets failed to score with Falk, though, falling to Cleveland 23-3.

Again, it’s hard to expect much from backups. But the offense’s complete inability to move the ball with Siemian after having a full week to prepare feels symptomatic of larger problems. For failing to have anything resembling a backup plan, I’m handing the Jets 0.5 Butt Fumble points.

Fall of the Empire (State)

The Jets and Giants lost whatever dominion they had over their namesake state by dropping their respective home games games to the visiting Buffalo Bills, who are actually based in New York. The Jets built a 16-0 lead against Buffalo in Week 1, benefiting from four first-half turnovers, including a pick-six and fumble recovery by C.J. Mosley. (Way to make that free-agent signing look good!) Then Mosley got hurt, and everything fell apart, with Buffalo scoring 17 unanswered points to come away with the win. Don’t worry, though: You might think a massive fourth-quarter collapse in head coach Adam Gase’s Jets debut was a bad sign about how his career in New York will go, but luckily, Gase clarified to the media that the loss was actually the players’ fault, not his own. Phew! I was worried for a moment!

The Giants never got close to the Bills in Week 2, falling 28-14. Is it worse to lose a heartbreaker against a team that won six games last year? Or is it worse to get rocked from start to finish by a team that won six games last year? For now, just be aware that the Bills are now a third of the way to their 2018 win total, thanks to East Rutherford’s finest.

Bills quarterback Josh Allen had fun with his New York team sweeping the state of New Jersey:

I feel like these two games perfectly summarize the state of the Giants and Jets. The Giants are a truly crappy football team, lifeless on offense and easily exploitable on defense. They are saved from being part of the league’s-worst-team debate by the presence of the Miami Dolphins, a true tanking juggernaut. The Jets are better than the Giants, but still aren’t particularly good, and have a knack for milking all the comedic possibilities out of their failures. For barely belonging on the same field as the Bills, I’m giving the Giants 0.5 Butt Fumble points; for losing in comical, heartbreaking fashion, I’m giving the Jets 0.25 Butt Fumble points.

That brings the Jets to 4.25 Butt Fumble points on the season, and the Giants to 4.5 Butt Fumbles points. The race is heating up!

Can the Jets build off an encouraging Falk stat line? Will Gase continue trash-talking his own players while Williams trash-talks the best players on opposing teams? Will next week’s matchup between the Jets and Patriots necessitate an emergency Helmet Catch–Butt Fumble Matrix update? And how will Jones fare? Will he turn things around for Big Blue, or look like the QB he was at Duke and prompt fans to demand a lengthy Manning sendoff tour?

At this point, all hope of either team breaking into the positive portion of the Helmet Catch–Butt Fumble Matrix in 2019 seems lost. On the bright side, I’m no longer worried about this series being a bad idea.