CLEVELAND – In addition to his role as a reliable run stopper, Steve McLendon has become a resident philosopher of sorts in the Jets’ locker room. One of the most congenial people you’d ever want to meet in the NFL, McLendon offered some interesting advice for his teammates to ponder as they tried to get back on the winning track after a lackluster 20-12 loss to the Dolphins on Sunday.
“I don’t count it as a loss,” McLendon said. “I count it as a lesson learned. In life, you learn lessons, not losses. The thing is we have to continue to trust the process. We know it’s going to be tough, that we’ll have some bumps in the road. We just have to trust it.”
There was plenty to learn from heading into Thursday night’s game against the seemingly improved Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium. For one, the Jets can’t afford to take any opponent lightly, as their poor showing against the Dolphins proved after a resounding 48-17 win over the Lions in Week 1. For another, they can’t afford the missed assignments and penalties that flared in the Miami game. Coach Todd Bowles must get a handle on those issues after too many similar instances last year.
To hear McLendon tell it, though, this is entirely up to the players, not the coaches.
“When we came back from the Monday night game, the coaches were already breaking down the Dolphins,” he said. “I left the facility at 4:30 in the morning, and they were still there. I came back at 8:43 in the morning, they were still there. So I know it means something to the coaches. It’s about the guys in this locker room, and we have to hold up our end of the bargain. That’s all we have to do.”
There was a similar sense of resolve around the Jets in this shortened practice week, and they’ll have to count on that to offset any ill effects from playing their third game in 11 days.
“Three games in 11 days is tough overall,” Bowles said, “but you got to rely on the mental part of it and then try to make sure they’re rested well physically and go from there.”
A game that may have appeared to be a layup suddenly looked daunting – a description of the Browns you’d have found laughable a year ago. But Cleveland, which was 1-31 in Hue Jackson’s first two seasons, played to a 21-21 tie with the Steelers in Week 1 before losing to the Saints, 21-18, in New Orleans.
It’s why McLendon was preaching a similar line he used after the Lions game, when he cautioned his teammates not to put more into the blowout than they should.
“If we can go 1-0 this week,” he said, “we’ll be all right.”
They got to 1-0 against the Lions, but that’s all it was, McLendon told his teammates in the exuberant locker room. So, no reason to apply any more importance to Sunday’s loss.
“I’ve been able to talk to a lot of quarterbacks, and they say that when they throw a pick, they let it go,” he said. “It has to be short-lived. We have to take the ‘quarterback effect.’ We have to forget it. Big hit, big loss, lesson learned. It’s time for a new week, a new season.”
The Jets’ quarterback is taking the same approach. Rookie Sam Darnold, who threw two interceptions against Miami, is ready to wipe the slate clean. And that means not dwelling on any personal storylines that went with the matchup.
No, Darnold insisted he wouldn’t be thinking about being passed over on the first draft pick by the Browns, who went with Baker Mayfield of Oklahoma. This was strictly business, and his business is the Jets.
“I’m just going to go out and play ball,” Darnold said.
It’s another chance for atonement after Sunday’s loss.
“We’re going to make mistakes,” McLendon said. “But the biggest thing is we get an opportunity to take our talents on the road again, focus and understand what our mission is and continue to carry it out.”