As bad as the Jets have looked during an 0-3 start — and it has been nothing short of brutal — there is at least a plausible explanation for the losses.
Their first opponent, the Bills, are coming off a playoff run in 2019 and look to have a decent shot at not only getting back to the postseason, but maybe reaching the AFC Championship Game and, with a little help, possibly the Super Bowl.
The 49ers are the defending NFC champions and are four years into the Kyle Shanahan era, a well-oiled machine even with backups.
And the Colts, who have arguably the best offensive line in football to protect aging Philip Rivers, are in bounce-back mode in 2020.
But the Jets are out of excuses for this one. If they can’t beat the 0-3 Broncos at home on Thursday night, then there is almost zero chance this season will be anything other than the dumpster fire it looks like now.
You can’t beat Josh Allen, Shanahan or an improved Colts team, that’s one thing. You can’t beat a team that is going with Brett Rypien in his first NFL start, is without All-Pro pass rusher Von Miller, Pro Bowl defensive lineman Jurrell Casey, starting right tackle Elijah Wilkinson and wide receiver Courtland Sutton, then there is simply no bottom to the dysfunction swallowing this team.
Calling this a must-win is an insult to the phrase, because must-wins normally involve a team with a chance at doing at least something meaningful. But if Gase can’t pull his team together against a Broncos club that is in even worse shape, then there’s little chance the coach will last beyond this season. Reports already have swirled that Gase could be gone much sooner than that, although team owner Christopher Johnson, who only two weeks ago expressed confidence in his coach and said Gase has "a brilliant offensive mind," might at least be willing to give Gase some more time.
After all, Johnson lauded Gase for keeping last year’s team together after a 1-7 start by winning six of their last eight games. And does he simply want to make defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who hasn’t distinguished himself either this year, an interim head coach the rest of the way without giving serious consideration to keeping him longer than that? Keep in mind, too, that in-season coaching changes in the NFL are rare, especially with the Jets. Only once before in their history did they fire a coach in-season, and that was way back in 1975, when Weeb Ewbank's successor, Charley Winner, got the gate after nine games. A year later, Lou Holtz quit after 13 games.
But if Gase isn’t competitive against a brutally bad Denver team, especially now that it looks like the Jets coach will have his offense largely intact after a brutal run of early-season injuries, then it’s anyone’s guess how much longer Johnson might give his coach.
Look, we all knew this would be a season of adjustment, especially with so much roster turnover under general manager Joe Douglas. The offensive line is entirely different from the one that started last year. Skill-position players are almost entirely new. Le’Veon Bell got hurt in the first half of the first game. The defense is without its best player from the last three seasons, Jamal Adams.
The fact that the Jets lost their first three games ought not to be a huge surprise, since the Bills, 49ers and Colts have far better rosters. The non-competitiveness against all three teams is what really stands out.
You can be a bad football team, and the Jets certainly qualify. But if you’re coached well enough, even with inferior players, you can at least deliver some blows to your opponent and show some fight. The Jets have done nothing of the kind, and that’s on the coaches.
"There’s moments in the game[s] where we feel like we have to just get over that hump . . . and something happens to where we let it avalanche on us," Gase said. "That’s the point of the game we’ve got to put a stop to and then find a way to actually use momentum to our advantage."
The losses have featured increasing ineptitude each week. After losing 27-17 to the Bills, they were beaten 31-13 by the 49ers and then 36-7 by the Colts, who returned two Sam Darnold interceptions for touchdowns. Darnold’s confidence is shot.
But he at least has a chance to right himself in the coming weeks, starting with the Broncos. The Cardinals are up next at home, and then it’s the Chargers on the road before the Jets face a brutal stretch against Buffalo, New England and defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City.
Darnold needs to find a semblance of rhythm, and there’s no better opportunity than against the injury-ravaged Broncos. But if he and Gase can’t even beat a team in worse shape, then this nightmare of a season will continue. And it almost certainly will claim Gase as its biggest victim.