The record isn’t what the Jets want it to be, even if three wins in the first half of the season was beyond what most outside observers could have expected after such a dramatic offseason housecleaning. But even at 3-5 coming into Thursday night’s game against the Bills at MetLife Stadium, Jermaine Kearse remains relentlessly optimistic about where this team eventually can go.
Key word: eventually.
“I look at us, and we’re not far off,” the 27-year-old receiver said. “It just takes doing the little things right. Once we can correct that stuff, I really, truly believe we can flourish.”
That may sound like a counterintuitive assessment about a team that was coming off three straight losses, especially from a player who already has won a Super Bowl and been to another with the Seahawks. But Kearse insists his enthusiasm about the Jets is neither misplaced nor misguided.
“We’re still learning as we go, and that’s not an excuse,” said Kearse, who went into Thursday night’s game with 29 catches for 342 yards and a team-high four touchdowns. “I hate to say that, because at the end of the day, we want to win football games, and everybody feels that way. But as I look at us, we’re still in the process of learning how to win, learning how to win consistently, learning how to finish.”
That the Jets have been competitive through most of the season is a testament to how far they have come, given the tumultuous roster turnover coming into the season. That they failed to maintain leads the previous three weeks against the Patriots, Dolphins and Falcons shows how far they need to go to become a legitimate playoff contender.
Kearse preaches patience, as difficult as that may be to maintain in a world in which impatience has never been greater.
“As bad as we want to be winning during this process,” he said, “we just have to keep our eyes forward, don’t let any negativity into our thoughts, our organization, because we really do have a good football team.”
Of that, there isn’t a shred of doubt — even if it’s not yet reflected in the won-loss record.
“I see it. I see it every day,” he said. “I experience it every day. I’m around it every day. We’ve got the right guys here to win football games, to be phenomenal. It’s frustrating, because we’re not winning right now, but it’s a process, and we have to just continue to learn to enjoy this process. Take nothing but positives from it, even though it’s hard to do that.”
Kearse himself has been a major reason why there should at least be a sense of cautious optimism moving forward. Since coming to the Jets just before the start of the season in a trade for disgruntled defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, he has provided excellent leadership in addition to solid play in the passing game. That leadership is really important at such a formative stage of the Jets’ roster-building process.
“Just because I came from a Super Bowl-winning team doesn’t mean I’m the greatest athlete in the league,” he said. “I still have to do things to get better. I still have things I want to work on. So I’m just as big a part of it as anyone in this locker room. I’m standing out there with those guys, and I’m going to keep fighting for those guys. It’s frustrating to lose, but at the end of the day, we’ve got to stick together and keep pushing forward together.”
Even though the Jets are mathematically alive in an AFC playoff race that figures to be intriguing in terms of wild-card possibilities, Kearse is mindful of not looking too far ahead.
“We can’t look further than what we’ve got coming up, because that’s when you start losing your vision, losing your focus,” he said. “We have to have a championship mindset. We have to dig deep into ourselves and look at each other in the eye and be ready to compete.”
He knows the results might not be there in the immediate term, but he is convinced that there are good things ahead for his new team. In Kearse’s mind, it’s not a question of if, but when.