The Jets have stepped back from the abyss and avoided complete misfortune by following a three-game meltdown against the Patriots, Jaguars and previously winless Dolphins with back-to-back victories for the first time in more than a year.
So at least there’s that.
At 3-7, there’s no realistic path to the playoffs, but there is still meaning to the Jets’ last six games. With a newly issued vote of confidence from CEO Christopher Johnson, Adam Gase can continue to prove that Johnson didn’t err by taking his coach off the hook so quickly. And with recently hired general manager Joe Douglas eventually working on an offseason roster reconstruction, he can get a better read on exactly what he needs based off how his team performs the rest of the way.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. The Jets did win two games, yes. But they beat two of the worst teams in football, getting past the 2-8 Giants in a 34-27 win and beating the Redskins, 34-17, Sunday afternoon at FedExField. The Redskins are a burned-out shell of a team that is 1-9 and lurching toward one of the worst records in franchise history.
So the winners ought not get too full of themselves, even if Sam Darnold did have a splendid game with a career-high four touchdown passes and the defense had its way with overmatched rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins.
Unlike the previous week against the Giants, when Darnold suggested the Jets were capable of getting on a roll and even thinking about a playoff run, he returned to his one-week-at-a-time mantra after routing the Redskins.
The Jets made the mistake after beating the Cowboys last month in believing that perhaps they had produced a franchise-defining moment. A week later, they were smacked back into reality by the Patriots in a humiliating 33-0 home loss. That was the start of a three-game slide that culminated with a low moment in franchise history in Miami, where the Jets couldn’t even beat a winless team.
But if they want to believe that they have begun to right the ship with back-to-back wins over teams with a combined record of 3-17, then let’s see what happens when they face a more competent opponent on Sunday at MetLife Stadium. The Raiders (6-4) are very much in the AFC playoff mix, and while they may not be as good as some of the Raiders teams of old, they are only a half-game behind the first-place Chiefs in the AFC West.
That the Raiders are even thinking about the playoffs this season is a monumental surprise. They were horrendous last season in Jon Gruden’s return to the sideline, they were lambasted for trading valued pass rusher Khalil Mack, and they swung and missed — so, so badly — by acquiring mercurial wide receiver Antonio Brown from the Steelers. Brown never even made it to the regular season before being released, and it appeared the team was in utter disarray.
But Gruden has done a terrific job in keeping this team competitive, and there is a legitimate chance for them to compete for a postseason spot, if not the AFC West title.
If the Jets can beat the Raiders, then maybe these wins over the woebegone Giants and Redskins were a legitimate harbinger of better days ahead. If Gase gets the better of Chucky, then the Jets can start believing in themselves much more than simply by beating two teams that were done by the halfway mark of the season.
Darnold won’t look too far ahead.
“For us, it’s continuing the process,” he said Monday. “All the guys came in today and put some really good work in, like we have the last couple of weeks. It’s continuing our routine and making sure we don’t break from that and understanding it’s another opponent and we’ve got to come out with the right mindset.”
A win over the Raiders would put the Jets at 4-7, with very winnable games against the winless Bengals on the road and the Dolphins at home. Win them all, then the Jets would go into a Thursday night matchup against the resurgent Ravens at 6-7, having won five straight.
There’s no way the Jets beat the Ravens in Baltimore if Lamar Jackson plays like he has through most of the season, so it’s unrealistic to think they’d get very far against a legitimate Super Bowl contender. But confidence is contagious, and the Jets would at least go into that game looking at themselves a lot differently than when they were 1-7 and teetering on the brink of collapse.
Gregg Williams’ defense is playing inspired football and Darnold has recovered from his midseason wobble with two straight quality performances. It’s still not going to be good enough for a playoff run this year, but it does lay an important foundation for next year and beyond.
The Jets will find out soon enough if beating a couple patsies is the start of something meaningful, or whether the Raiders will make them realize their ceiling is mediocrity.