EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — This is an antacid week for the tortured souls who root for the New York Jets. It has nothing to do with the big meal on Thursday and everything to do with the franchise’s DNA.
This should be a time to appreciate the team’s first three-game winning streak since 2017, to compliment coach Adam Gase for the turnaround and to marvel at quarterback Sam Darnold‘s maturation. The Jets (4-7), only three weeks removed from Gase Watch, have a chance to play their way into the playoff conversation.
And yet …
There’s uneasiness because the Cincinnati Bengals (0-11) are next on the schedule, and the Jets have been known to spoil things with an unthinkable loss.
“A lot of people always try to bring up the past, like, ‘Oh, in the past, this happened. In the past, that happened,'” linebacker Jordan Jenkins said after Sunday’s 34-3 domination of the Oakland Raiders. “You know what? In the past, half this team wasn’t here. Everyone likes to make us pay for the sins of the past. We had nothing to do with it. It’s a totally different team, a totally different mentality. We have guys who have bought into doing things the right way.”
If Jenkins is right — if the Jets truly are a born-again team — they should beat the Bengals and Miami Dolphins (2-9), setting up a fascinating Week 15 game at the Baltimore Ravens on a Thursday night. You can do a lot with a hot quarterback, an aggressive, overachieving defense and a coach who suddenly is pushing the right buttons — the main reasons the Jets no longer are a train wreck.
A closer look at why the Jets are relevant again:
Gase finally starts guru-ing: When the Jets’ record dropped to 1-7, the outside noise was so loud that CEO Christopher Johnson felt compelled to give Gase a vote of confidence — yes, only eight games into his coaching tenure. That’s never a good sign. Gase responded to the adversity in a positive way and kept the team from fracturing. Tight end Ryan Griffin called him “the rock of this team.”
Gase isn’t beloved by the fan base — understatement of the year — but he has a certain moxie that makes him seem oblivious to the criticism. He can be stubborn at times, but he has a plan and he sticks to it.
“Coach Gase usually isn’t a fan of the media,” center Jonotthan Harrison said with a laugh. “He just kept telling us, ‘Just drown out the noise, just drown out the noise.’ If you read too much into [the criticism], it can get into your head.”
Gase was hired, in large part, because of his reputation as an offensive guru. Finally, after eight games of brutal offense, he’s showing why Peyton Manning always gives him a glowing recommendation. On Sunday, Gase kept the Raiders off-balance with his playcalling, even calling a gadget play for the third straight game — a double reverse, flea-flicker to wide receiver Robby Anderson for 31 yards.
The Jets have scored 102 points in their past three games. They had only 96 in the first eight.
Darnold exorcised the ghosts: After a midseason slump, Darnold has seven touchdown passes and only one interception over the past three games. Each week is a growing experience. After throwing a horrible interception last week against the Washington Redskins, he got mad, not down. He beat himself up as he walked off the field and immediately gathered the offense on the sideline, taking ownership of the mistake and vowing never to do it again. Coaches and teammates were impressed with how he took control. He’s usually quiet by nature.
On Sunday, Darnold didn’t make any killer mistakes, as he seemed to be cognizant of throwing the ball away and using his legs to get out of trouble. His decision-making, the one thing that sometimes gets him into trouble, was nearly flawless. He’s also seeing the field so much better in recent weeks; he connected with nine different receivers on Sunday. He should be able to maintain his mojo against the Bengals and Dolphins, two of the lowest-ranked defenses.
Only one month removed from his “ghosts” game against the New England Patriots, Darnold is playing the best ball of his career, easily the best three-game stretch of his 21 starts. (Mononucleosis? What mono?)
Better pass protection: Darnold was getting hit so much earlier in the season that it affected his mechanics — i.e., happy feet. The offensive line, which has started six different combinations because of injuries, was a laughingstock. Not anymore.
With only one original starter (left tackle Kelvin Beachum), the line allowed only one sack against the Raiders — and that was a coverage sack. Think about that for a second: The Jets are playing with four backups on the line, and yet they’ve managed to solve a major issue. Guards Tom Compton and Alex Lewis, and Harrison in the pivot, have done a nice job off the bench.
Their one-name defense: The Jets have only one star — safety Jamal Adams — and yet the defense has been playing out of its mind. You can’t run on these guys. Over the past three games, they’ve allowed only 145 rushing yards and 2.5 per carry. With a pair of third-stringers starting at cornerback, Arthur Maulet and rookie Bless Austin, the Jets confused Derek Carr so much that coach Jon Gruden pulled him late in the third quarter.
“I think the big thing they do is they do a great job with Adams and their disguise package,” Gruden said. “They have a good nucleus of players. They’re a lot better than people think on defense, let me tell you.”
The Jets earned Oakland’s respect. Next up: Bengals rookie quarterback Ryan Finley, a turnover machine.
Now the Jets have to prove that the past isn’t the prologue.