This is why sports: It’s Nov. 3, the Jets are 1-7, their first-year coach looks hopelessly overmatched after a humiliating loss to the previously winless Dolphins, their second-year quarterback has shown disturbing signs of regression, their Pro Bowl strong safety feels betrayed, and the season is devolving into what could be one of the worst in franchise history.
And now? It’s 21 days later, and after receiving two votes of confidence from CEO Christopher Johnson — the first to the players and the next to the media — Adam Gase now has authored three straight wins, each one better than the last, to get the Jets to 4-7 after Sunday’s 34-3 thumping of the Raiders.
Sam Darnold played splendidly again. He appears fully recovered from his pre-Halloween meltdown against the Patriots with seven touchdown passes, two rushing touchdowns and one interception in his last three games.
Jamal Adams is over being angry at the Jets taking calls about a potential trade and is playing like the best safety in football.
With upcoming games against the winless Bengals and a home rematch against the two-win Dolphins, it’s certainly within the realm of possibility that the Jets will go to Baltimore for a Dec. 12 Thursday night game at 6-7 and not entirely out of the playoff picture.
Why sports? That’s why sports.
“That’s a testament to Coach Gase,” tight end Ryan Griffin said after Sunday’s tour de force against the Raiders, who came into the game at 6-4 and within striking distance in the AFC West race. “It’s New York. We’re not winning. Tough couple games there.”
More than a couple. The Jets began the season with four consecutive losses, and after a surprise win over the Cowboys, they lost three straight games and seemed at a dead end. The criticism was relentless . . . and justified. But Johnson saw enough resilience from Gase during the nightmarish run to accept the slings and arrows from fans after making a public proclamation that the coach was safe.
They beat a bad Giants team and a bad Redskins team to at least salvage something. Then they demolished a legitimately good team in the Raiders. It has the Jets feeling better about where they’re headed.
“We just shut the noise out and went back to work,” said Griffin, who was signed to a three-year contract extension on Saturday and had a touchdown catch against Oakland. “That’s the rock of this team, heading back to our practice facility and just working on us.”
The way they played on Sunday, the Jets could have beaten most teams. Darnold was on point from the start and completed 20 of 29 passes for 315 yards and two touchdowns, along with a rushing touchdown. The defense smothered the Raiders, as David Carr had only 127 passing yards and a pick-6 before being taken out in the fourth quarter. And after building a 13-3 halftime lead, the Jets blew it open with a 21-point third quarter.
This wasn’t just beating up on NFC East bottom-feeders in the Giants and Redskins. This was embarrassing a much-improved Raiders team that appears to have turned the corner after a difficult first year back for Gruden in 2018. This was legit.
It most likely is too late to make the playoffs, and even thinking about playing into January would require the Jets to run the table. It’s unrealistic to think they’ll beat the Ravens in Baltimore next month, and finishing the season with eight straight wins stretches the imagination just a bit too much.
But it is important that they’ve recovered from the first-half horror show, which was best exemplified when Darnold was so overwhelmed by the Patriots that he admitted to “seeing ghosts” as he was being picked apart by the defending Super Bowl champs.
A coach in his first year of a rebuilding program is always challenged, and Gase is no exception. Much of the blame for his team’s 1-7 start can be attributed to injuries and Darnold’s case of mononucleosis, but much of the blame rested with Gase, whose inability to overcome the challenges that all teams face was at the heart of the team’s earlier failure.
But they now look like a highly functional team capable of competing with just about anyone. It may be too late to reach the postseason, but it’s not too late to lay a sturdy foundation for what lies ahead. And if they do what they’re supposed to do the next two weeks, when they get a crack at a Super Bowl-caliber team in Baltimore, they will be riding a five-game winning streak.
It would be another chance to see how good they really are. And a chance for Darnold to shoo away the ghosts he saw the last time he performed in the prime-time spotlight.