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The Jets Are Finally the Best at Losing

New York’s long-suffering football team is no longer just pretty bad—they’re finally bad enough to claim the first pick in next year’s draft

AP Images/Ringer illustration

For the first time in years, I’m proud of my New York Jets. You can’t lose to us. We won’t let you. Just take a look at what happened on Monday night: That come-from-ahead loss against the hated Patriots was some of the best clutch execution the Jets have managed in years.

New York entered the fourth quarter with a 10-point lead. From that point on, they lost as efficiently as possible. The Jets allowed back-to-back-to-back scoring drives and ran only four offensive plays in the final period. On each play, the Jets’ individual players appeared to be trying their best—but somehow as a unit their actions were perfectly calibrated for losing. Just look at them committing a 12-men-on-the-field penalty to give the Patriots a first down.

The Pats ended up kicking a field goal, but the unnecessary pre-snap penalty was indicative of the Jets’ unstoppable will to lose. And on the very first play of the Jets’ next drive, Jets backup quarterback Joe Flacco threw an absolute bomb of an interception, a hopeless heave into double coverage. Sometimes we compliment quarterbacks by saying they made a throw only their receiver could’ve caught. Well, this was a throw only the defender could’ve caught.

The Patriots took the ball and scored a game-tying touchdown. With under two minutes remaining, the Jets went three-and-out in just a minute and two seconds—even throwing a nice incompletion on third down to stop the clock and leave the Pats all three of their timeouts. And with eight seconds left and the game tied, the Jets played some of the softest coverage imaginable, allowing Cam Newton to complete a pass to Jakobi Meyers that got the Patriots into field goal range.

The best part of that play? The way the Jets defenders all sprinted over to get a hand on Meyers to make absolutely sure the refs would whistle the play dead with time remaining on the clock. Their efforts were not in vain: There was just enough time for Jets legend Nick Folk to kick a game-winning field goal.

In 2011, Folk made a last-second game-winning field goal that pushed the Jets past the Colts in the playoffs; Monday night’s kick dropped the Jets to 0-9—and made me cheer as loudly as I’d cheered during a Jets game since.

The Jets are done being Bad, But Not Bad Enough. They’ve finished either 4-12 or 5-11 in four of the last six seasons. That won’t cut it this year. The Jaguars are 1-7, have the toughest remaining schedule in the league, and are currently starting a rookie named Jake Luton who they picked in the sixth round at QB. They’ll likely finish 1-15. If the Jets want to get the first pick and Trevor Lawrence, one of the best quarterback prospects anybody has ever seen, they cannot afford to win.

And right now, they’re crushing it. They’re clearly the worst team in the NFL, having been outscored, cumulatively, by 147 points. That makes them almost twice as bad as the next-worst team by point differential, the Dallas Cowboys, who have been outscored by only 86. The Jets are getting doubled up every game, scoring just 13.4 points per game (dead last in the NFL) and allowing 29.8 (27th in the NFL.) Their DVOA through Week 8 was minus-45.2, which would be the ninth-worst mark in NFL history. The Jets have covered the spread only twice in nine tries—and the spreads have gotten pretty big. They traded away their best defensive player (Jamal Adams), cut their best offensive player (Le’Veon Bell), and their second-best defensive player (C.J. Mosley) opted out of the season. They made sure to trade away starting defenders Steve McLendon and Avery Williamson before the deadline. No player on the roster who has played more than 15 snaps has a Pro Football Focus grade over 83. I can’t remember the last time the Jets were the best at anything, but this team is truly the best at losing.

For all the talk of the Jets as a franchise of failure, they’ve rarely bottomed out. The Jets have had the top pick in the NFL draft only once, when they selected Keyshawn Johnson in 1996. (They also got the top pick in the 1997 NFL draft, but traded out of the top spot, allowing the Rams to take Hall of Famer Orlando Pace.) Since 2000, the Jets have picked between third and ninth a stunning nine times. Those nine players have combined to make six Pro Bowls—three by left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson, and three combined by Leonard Williams and Jamal Adams, players the team traded away before they finished their rookie contracts.

The Jets’ refusal to be slightly worse has cost them. In 2007, the 3-12 Jets beat the 4-11 Chiefs in overtime of Week 17 on a walk-off field goal in overtime. This bumped the Jets from the second pick to sixth; New York wound up drafting Vernon Gholston (who started only five games with the team) when they could’ve had Matt Ryan, an MVP who is currently leading the NFL in passing yards 13 years into his career. (I was at that game against the Chiefs. The wind chill was zero and I stayed until the end. I, like an absolute idiot, was actually happy we won.) In 2018, the 3-9 Jets beat the 4-8 Bills on an Elijah McGuire touchdown with 1:17 remaining. The Jets eventually finished 4-12 instead of 3-13, winding up with the third pick instead of the first. The top two picks in the draft were legit superstars Kyler Murray and Nick Bosa; the Jets wound up with Quinnen Williams, who is OK, I guess.

I understand the criticisms of tanking, especially the seasons-long suckfests initiated by the finance bros in charge of the Browns, 76ers, and Astros. Tanking is anti-sports meant to take advantage of a loophole that rewards losing. But having watched 4-12 teams—multiple—and now watching an 0-9 team, I can assure you: The latter is so much more fun. Each week feels meaningful. I get legitimately excited on Sundays to see what will happen. There is something truly soulless about a team losing simply because they’re bad even though they’re trying to be good—and that’s the way the Jets have been for most of my life. This year, they’re losing because it’s good to lose—and that means they’re actually playing for something. There’s hope in the tank, and I haven’t felt hope as a Jets fan in years.

I’ve never had the chance to root for the best team in the NFL, but this year, I’m rooting for the Jets’ Opponents—and buddy, let me tell you. The Jets’ Opponents are the best damn team in NFL history. We can’t lose.