Look, no one expected the Jets to be good overnight, and Zach Wilson’s development clearly is the overriding storyline to this season. Bottom line: This is all about Wilson and little else.
Yet that doesn’t mean this team can’t be better than it has turned out to be, and we now can say that’s mostly on a defense that has been woefully inadequate for too long. Defense may be first-year coach Robert Saleh’s calling card, but it has turned into an Achilles' heel.
Sunday’s 33-18 loss to the Eagles included some of Wilson’s best work in the first half — three touchdown drives and two scoring throws. This for a quarterback who hadn’t had a first-quarter touchdown drive all season, including his spotty performance in last week’s 21-14 win over the Texans after a month-long rehab from a knee injury.
But Wilson was betrayed by the defense against the Eagles. Especially early in the second half, when this still was a game.
Defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich had spoken during the week about how the team wanted to wash away the stench of last month’s 45-30 loss to the Colts, a team that runs an offense similar to the Eagles, who are coached by Nick Sirianni, Colts coach Frank Reich’s protégé.
Sunday's game may not have been quite as hideous as that Thursday night game in Indianapolis, but it was close. The Jets (3-9) surrendered 418 yards of offense against the Eagles, including 185 on the ground. Backup quarterback Gardner Minshew, who filled in when Jalen Hurts couldn’t go because of an ankle injury, picked apart the Jets’ defense in effortless fashion.
"Every week, you’ve got to step up and compete and prove your worth," Saleh said. "It’s a proving ground every time you step on the football field."
And the Jets failed the test again.
Leading 24-18 entering the third quarter, the Eagles went on a 14-play, 70-yard drive that culminated in Jake Elliott’s 32-yard field goal to make it 27-18. Fine. There’s still a chance.
Wilson didn’t help himself by going three-and-out, but the Jets’ defense failed again, allowing the Eagles to keep the ball the rest of the quarter in a 13-play, 41-yard drive that lasted 6:13 and ended with Elliott’s 43-yard field goal to put the game away early in the fourth.
"You’re looking at over an hour of real time where our offense was on the field for just a quick minute," Saleh said.
C.J. Mosley took things a step further, screaming into the abyss that New York football has fallen into during an emotional postgame screed. He talked about the team’s lack of respect among opponents, including the Eagles.
"Right now, teams are not respecting us," he said. "That’s well-deserved, whether it’s by self-inflicted wounds or the history of the Jets."
And there it is, encapsulated in one paragraph, the misery that has become such a dominant theme in the post-Joe Namath Jets.
As another season drones hopelessly toward its wretched conclusion, Mosley railed at the state of his team. He took it personally when the Eagles refused to shake hands after the pregame coin toss (although the Eagles' Fletcher Cox later posted a picture on Instagram in which Mosley has his arm around Cox in a pregame hug), when Cox made fun of Saleh as he beseeched the officials not to call a penalty, and when another football Sunday concluded with another loss in another season of gloom.
Yes, there have been injuries to key players such as defensive end Carl Lawson and safety Marcus Maye. But good coaches find a way with the players they’ve got, and Saleh and Ulrich have come up woefully short too often.
And for all of Mosley’s well-intentioned comments aimed at lifting his team, he has been a culprit, too. Case in point: His offsides penalty on a key fourth down in the third quarter was inexcusable, and he was beaten badly on Minshew's touchdown pass to tight end Dallas Goedert.
This is a bad football team, and bad teams find ways to lose games. Sunday was yet another to heap onto the legacy of losing that Mosley desperately wants to change. He knows the only way to make other teams stop laughing and start respecting them is to win. He vows to be ready when that moment comes.
It simply doesn’t feel as if it will be anytime soon.