Crushing moments where the Jets’ season went sideways

The Jets’ season ended with a bang in Seattle on Sunday, but the reality is that the season was over long before the Jets’ trip to the Pacific Northwest.

The Jets were poised to end the NFL’s longest playoff drought, but a five-game losing streak spanning December and January will carry them into the postseason. How did it happen? What went wrong?

The Jets will be looking for those answers throughout the long offseason. They find many reasons. The offense has scored just four goals in five games. The defense gave up some big drives. The injuries hit the offensive line. The quarterback’s play has ranged from good to terrible.

But when I look at what happened with the Jets, there are three moments when I look at what went wrong. Here’s a closer look:

Oct. 23 vs. Broncos, Empower Field, second quarter

The Jets found a winning formula during their four-game hitting streak in October. They played great defense, ran the ball and made sure the quarterback didn’t turn the ball over. That formula worked for them again on this day in Denver. Breece Hall broke off a 62-yard field goal in the first quarter, and defense Brett Rypien and Denver’s offense led the way.

New York Jets linebacker Alijah Vera-Tucker (75) during an NFL preseason football game against the New York Giants, August 27, 2022, in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Aliyah Vera-Tucker’s season-ending elbow injury changed the composition and effectiveness of the Jets’ offensive line.

Then, in two games, everything changed. On third-and-6 from the 50-yard line with 9:57 left in the second quarter, Zach Wilson threw an incomplete pass to Jeff Smith. It was an imprecise play, but offensive lineman Aaliyah Vera-Tucker was clutching her right elbow with her left hand in obvious pain.

Vera-Tucker was one of the stars for the Jets in the early months of the season. Vera-Tucker moved from left tackle to right tackle after the Jets signed Laken Tomlinson in free agency. Vera-Tucker then played on the left as injuries set in. Then he moved to the right to fill the hole there. Vera-Tucker was a standout at all three positions and looked like he was headed for a Pro Bowl season. But that elbow injury he suffered while blocking a pass ended his season and changed the Jets’ offensive line. They were never the same after Vera-Taker went down. There were other issues, but losing the best player on the line was a killer.

The Jets fumbled the ball after a punt and recovered it after a Broncos fumble. On first down, Hall lined up to the left side and tackled him. He clutched his left knee and was carted off to the locker room after suffering a season-ending ACL tear.

Hall was having a breakout rookie season and, if healthy, would have been one of the favorites for Rookie of the Year. He was also the most explosive player in the Jets offense. He could turn a 3-yard dash into a 60-yard dash in one move. The Jets offense doesn’t have anyone who can do that right now. Two months after playing his last game, Hall remains the team’s leading rusher.

New York Jets running back Breece Hall, #20, walks off the field with an injury during the first half of the game against the Denver Broncos at Empower Field At Mile High on October 23, 2022 in Denver, Colorado.
Breece Hall averaged 5.8 yards per rush attempt before his season ended with an ACL injury in Denver.
Getty Images

For the Jets, those back-to-back offensive plays made all the difference. The crime never recovered. The Jets won that day 16-9, but in retrospect it may have been their biggest loss.

Nov. 20 vs. Patriots, Gillette Stadium, postgame

Wilson had a terrible game in the 10-3 loss to the Patriots. He only threw for 77 yards and looked confused and ineffective the entire game. But that’s not what people will remember from that day. In the postgame interview room, Wilson damaged his image more than he ever did on the field. At the end of the interview, he was asked if he felt the offense let down the defense, which gave up just three points.

“No. No,” said Wilson.

The session ended with that response, and there were immediate echoes within the Jets organization. The Jets defensive players were not happy. Wilson had to apologize a few days later, but the damage was done.

Jets head coach Robert Saleh replaced Wilson with Mike White, a move he might have done differently, but Wilson’s postgame words went over the line.

Jets quarterback Zach Wilson talks to the media after a 10-3 loss to the Patriots on Nov. 20, 2022.
Zach Wilson’s reluctance to take the blame for his poor performance against the Patriots didn’t sit well with many of his teammates.

There had been doubts about Wilson before that day, but this response seemed to confirm the worst rumors about Wilson’s lack of leadership. The move to reserve him changed the trajectory of the organization. Wilson was no longer the future of the franchise. The No. 2 overall pick was benched and became the No. 3 quarterback with seven games remaining in his second season.

The team returned the next week with White at quarterback, but something changed that day in Foxboro. The mojo hasn’t felt good since.

It was also a devastating loss for a team that was confident of ending a seven-year losing streak to the Patriots. Instead, Marcus Jones ran back 84 yards for the game-winning touchdown with five seconds left to crush the Jets.

The post-match situation made matters worse.

Dec. 11 vs. Bills, Highmark Stadium, third quarter

The Jets bounced back after Wilson played White under center. They beat the Bears, followed by close losses to the Vikings and Bills, losses that felt like moral victories because of how close they were and who the opponent was.

But with 4:45 left in the third quarter of the Bills game, White went back and threw a complete game intended for Tyler Conklin. Bills linebacker Matt Milano ran through the middle of the Jets’ offense and poked White in the ribs. The blow was so hard that White split in half.

A terrible blowout in Buffalo injured Mike White, and the Jets were without a quarterback they trusted.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

White went to the locker room, X-rays came back negative, and he returned to the game in a 20-12 loss.

The real shock came after that, when further tests revealed that White’s ribs were broken. The Jets kept the news under wraps for a few days, but then announced Wilson’s start against the Lions on Friday. It sucked the life out of the Jets.

They lost two games with White, but believed in him through those losses. The Lions and Jaguars – two teams that played well but were beaten – came home on the schedule. Jets lose both games; Wilson played well against Detroit, but was terrible against the Jaguars and was booed off the field at MetLife Stadium.

The Jets were now reeling and you knew the season was over. They had little hope of going to Seattle, but White didn’t play well, probably still feeling his broken ribs.

When the Jets do an autopsy of the season, these are the three moments they’ll look back on for a long time.

What advice did Geno give Zack?

Fox television cameras caught Geno Smith and Zach Wilson having a long chat and hug after the game. No one understands what Wilson is going through better than Smith. Smith has had some wild ups and downs as the Jets quarterback, and at times was not a fan favorite. He was benched for Michael Vick in his second season, though he regained the job and had his best game as a Jet in the 2014 season finale.

Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith (7) looks to pass against the New York Jets during the third quarter at Lumen Field.
After spending the first four years of his career with the Jets, Geno Smith traveled to the Giants and Chargers before finding success with Seattle.

You want to know what advice Smith gave Wilson and whether Wilson can follow it. It was great watching Smith on Sunday. He didn’t shred the Jets defense, but he had his moments. He looked composed and in control. He also showed maturity by resisting the urge to take any jabs at the Jets after the game.

It took Smith four different teams and 10 years in the NFL to reach his potential. The Jets can only hope the light bulb turns on for Wilson sooner rather than later.

Such are the statistics

New York Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur watches during practice Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022, at the Atlantic Health Jets practice facility in Florham Park, New Jersey.
The Jets have had one of the NFL’s worst offenses in offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur’s two seasons.
Corey Sipkin

The Jets offense is one of the worst in the NFL … again. It’s been a rough decade for the Jets in many areas, except on offense. Here’s a look at where the Jets have ranked in points and yards per game over the past decade:

2022: 27th, #22 in yards (offensive coordinator: Mike LaFleur)

2021: No. 28 in points, No. 26 in yards (Mike LaFleur)

2020: No. 32 in points, No. 32 in yards (Dowell Loggains)

2019: No. 31 in points, No. 32 in yards (Dowell Loggains)

2018: No. 23, 29th in yards (Jeremy Bates)

2017: No. 24 in points, No. 28 in yards (John Morton)

2016: 30 points, 26 yards (Chan Gailey)

2015: 11th in points, 10th in yards (Chan Gailey)

2014: 28 points, 22 yards (Marty Mornhinweg)

2013: No. 29 in points, No. 25 in yards (Marty Mornhinweg)

Source: Pro Football Reference


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