Jordan Jenkins understands that the expression of lament dates to a time long before he got to the Jets. In fact, “Same Old Jets” predates the second-year linebacker’s time on Earth.
Jenkins, 23, understands how deep the roots go for the three-word expression that captures decades of frustration, but he insists that this year’s team shouldn’t be lumped in with the woebegone teams of the past. He believes that even though the results may not reflect it, his deeply felt conviction eventually will translate into a team worth appreciating.
“We’re not the same old Jets,” he said. “This is a new Jets team, and we care about one another and we care about the future of this program.”
Jenkins offered his assessment a few minutes after yet another disappointment in the form of a 14-7 loss to the Chargers on Sunday at MetLife Stadium. There certainly is a case to be made that “Same Old Jets” applies to a team that has lost eight of its last 10 games, but he insists that beneath the record lies a team that eventually will blossom into a winner.
“I know what we have on this team, the caliber of athletes we have, the type of players we have, and I know the mentality of every guy in this locker room,” he said. “It’s just different. I’ve been on teams in college, and I know I don’t have much experience in the pros, but I’ve been in different locker rooms where it’s been individualized. Had a lot of great athletes on teams, but we weren’t really a team. At times that showed, and we got gashed out there on the field back in the day.”
This team, he argues, has a chemistry that someday will translate into a group that will replace decades-long disappointment with legitimate hope.
“This is a different locker room,” he said. “Now people are going to say, ‘No, we don’t give a crap. You guys are the Same Old Jets.’ But you know what? No. We’re not having it. We know what we’ve got in this locker room. We’re changing things.”
This is a Jets team that, as currently constituted, doesn’t stand much of a chance against just about anyone. With Bryce Petty having replaced Josh McCown at quarterback, the offense is incapable of sustained scoring, and it therefore was no surprise that they came up with only one touchdown against a Chargers team that remains in playoff contention. But even with McCown, this year’s team has always been about next year, about what happens when general manager Mike Maccagnan has another year of the draft and free agency to add to a solid core that has emerged from last year’s roster housecleaning.
There’s nothing to be learned from what happens next week in the regular-season finale against New England. This is all about projecting what’s ahead, and what happens when the Jets either sign a high-caliber free-agent quarterback such as Kirk Cousins or draft a blue-chip college passer such as Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Baker Mayfield or Josh Allen.
This year’s team, which has been competitive in nearly every game, has shown enough promise to make observers think there are at least some encouraging signs. Many of the young defensive players added through the draft the last three seasons — including Jenkins — have emerged as a solid nucleus around which to build. Find a long-term answer at quarterback and more depth at running back and wide receiver, and this can be a playoff-contending team in the not-too-distant future.
“We don’t have any me-first guys in this locker room,” Jenkins said. “We have guys who generally care for one another. When one of our brothers is down, when one of our brothers makes a mistake, we try to elevate our play to make up for that.”
That might not be enough to convince skeptical Jets fans who have been through so many iterations of this team that they’re left with justifiable distrust. And we’ve seen plenty of feel-good teams on paper devolve into utter catastrophes on the field. Even after they find a quarterback they’d like to build around, the Jets could be in for other calamities.
But Jenkins isn’t the only voice inside the Jets’ locker room that speaks well of the future for this team. Others echo his optimism.
“It’s about laying the foundation for next year,” rookie first-round safety Jamal Adams said. “That’s what it’s about.”
“This is a good football team,” cornerback Morris Claiborne said. “We have been having some tough breaks here and there, but if this team keeps fighting and keeps the will to continue getting better, I feel like the sky’s the limit. But this is a good football team . . . a young good football team at that.”
The answer eventually will reveal itself, but until then, Jenkins can only ask that fans take it on faith that this team someday will be worthy of your appreciation, and not simply another in a long line of “Same Old Jets.”