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The Jets Won a Game, but May Have Lost Their Future Because of It

New York beat the Rams 23-20 on Sunday and simultaneously fell out of poll position for the no. 1 pick—and Trevor Lawrence

Getty Images/AP Images/Ringer illustration

The biggest winner of Sunday’s Jets-Rams game was not the Jets, who beat L.A. 23-20 to win their first game of the season. Instead it was Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, the presumptive no. 1 overall pick in the 2021 draft.

Before Sunday, Lawrence was all but destined to go to New York, a winless team that somehow seemed to get worse and worse by the week. With the victory, though, the Jets fell out of first place in the race to the bottom, and now their future franchise QB will likely go to the 1-13 Jaguars—a team that’s nearly as dysfunctional as the Jets, but has only two decades of nearly uninterrupted mediocrity on its résumé, rather than five. Plus, Florida has no state income tax—a win for Lawrence’s bank account.

Typically, when a team wins its first game of the season, fans celebrate. But Lawrence is considered a generational quarterback prospect—the most highly anticipated player to come out of the draft since Andrew Luck in 2012. Losing out on him is a disaster for New York. Just look at how fans responded to the team’s tweet announcing the victory:

The result was devastating for the Jets, but the game was ugly for the Rams. New York took an early lead in the first quarter, and the Rams never closed it. And when the game was on the line, the Jets turned to one of the oldest players in the league to seal the victory. With under four minutes remaining, New York holding a three-point lead, and the ball on the Jets’ 37-yard line, head coach Adam Gase looked to 37-year-old Frank Gore to deliver crucial carries of 3, 8, and 4 yards. And when the Jets were faced with a third-and-6 that could have clinched the game, Darnold found the veteran back for 6 yards, capturing a first down and bringing the game to the two-minute warning. The Rams were without timeouts and could only watch as the Jets took the victory formation for the first time all season.

The Rams made mistake after mistake in this game. Down three points in what became their final drive of the contest, they faced a third-and-4 just outside of field goal range. The Jets, who relieved defensive coordinator Gregg Williams of his duties on December 7, did not attempt some kind of bold cover zero–blitz tanking maneuver. Instead, it was the Rams who made the head-scratching decisions. Quarterback Jared Goff attempted a deep pass to running back Cam Akers, which fell incomplete. Then, on a do-or-die fourth down, Goff attempted another deep pass, this time to tight end Gerald Everett. That one, too, was off the mark. Needing just a handful of yards, the Rams went for it all and came away with nothing.

L.A. committed another crucial error just two plays earlier. On a second-and-6 from the Jets’ 39-yard line, Akers burst through the New York defense on a well-designed run play. The 22-yard gain put the team in the red zone and seemed to set the Rams up to at least tie the game with a chip-shot field goal, if not take the lead with a touchdown … until the yellow flag came out. Tight end Tyler Higbee was called for an illegal block, the ball came back, and the Rams’ drive stalled.

Those late-game miscues wouldn’t have been so disastrous had the Rams not dug themselves into a 13-point hole in the first half. In the first two frames, Goff threw an ugly interception, Johnny Hekker had one of his punts blocked, and the offense went 0-7 on third down. By the time the Rams found their footing in the second half, they needed to play near-perfect ball to win.

The Jets, meanwhile, deserve some credit—or scrutiny, considering this win is more like a loss for the franchise. The Rams came into this game with the third-best defense by DVOA, while the Jets had the league’s worst offense. Yet New York marched down the field with a 13-play, 74-yard opening touchdown drive, had another 11-play, 72-yard touchdown drive to begin the second half, and followed that up with a nearly identical 10-play, 72-yard field goal drive. Sure, they had another six drives that gained fewer than 10 yards, but the success they did have was hugely surprising for such an underwhelming unit.

The Rams can still reclaim the no. 1 spot in the NFC West next week with a win against the Seahawks, but the Jets are no longer in direct control of their draft position. They now own the same 1-13 record as the Jaguars, who lost 40-14 to the Ravens on Sunday, and they’re behind Jacksonville only because the Jags have an easier strength of schedule, which acts as the tiebreaker with New York. So the Jets need the Jags to win a game in the next two weeks (they play the Bears and Colts), or they will end up with the no. 2 pick (at best), and virtually no shot at Lawrence. It’s the type of result that could alter NFL history, should Lawrence live up to the hype.

If the Jets end up with the no. 2 pick, they are likely looking at Ohio State’s Justin Fields, a great quarterback prospect who would have plenty of attention in any other year. But Fields isn’t Lawrence, and the no. 2 pick isn’t the no. 1 pick. In winning the battle, the Jets may have lost the war.