Gregg Williams had a chance to be at least one key figure with the Jets to escape this catastrophic season with his reputation relatively intact.
Head coach Adam Gase and starting quarterback Sam Darnold? There is no guarantee that either will occupy such positions in the NFL again when all this is over.
But Williams, the defensive coordinator, still seemed to have at least some idea what he was doing. Many touted him as a logical interim coach if Gase did not make it to season’s end.
Then came Sunday, when a strategic decision in the final seconds against the Raiders at MetLife Stadium went so spectacularly wrong that it prompted safety Marcus Maye to utter publicly what everyone else was thinking.
"You just have to be in a better call," Maye said, a sentiment he repeated several times with slight variations to leave no doubt about his position, which involved calmly but bluntly ripping his coach in public.
Before continuing, it should be noted that many Jets fans were less than upset by the 31-28 loss, which dropped the Jets to 0-12.
That was even more the case when the Jaguars lost in overtime to the Vikings, 27-24, keeping Jacksonville (1-11) on the Jets’ heels in the race for the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
But still. Only the cruelest, most cynical fan would wish this sort of pain upon the players, who clearly are trying to win. That goes double for cornerback Lamar Jackson, an undrafted rookie who was hung out to dry by his coach.
The Jets were leading 28-24 in the waning seconds of a messy, wildly entertaining game when the Raiders lined up for third-and-10 at the Jets’ 46-yard line with 13 seconds left and no timeouts.
The situation seemed to call for some conservative approach that would limit Las Vegas’ opportunities. Williams, however, opted for an all-out blitz that left three defenders in single coverage with no deep help.
One of those was Jackson, who faced fellow rookie Henry Ruggs III, a first-round draft pick who ran a 4.27-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. That’s fast.
The result was predictably disastrous. Ruggs put a move on Jackson, then scooted past him down the left sideline, whereupon Derek Carr threw Ruggs the ball for the go-ahead touchdown with five seconds left.
"I just felt like there could have been a better call in that situation," said Maye, a veteran of four seasons who was playing with an otherwise raw secondary.
Regarding Jackson’s predicament, Maye said: "It’s extremely tough in that situation. We just have to be in a better call . . . We fought hard to put ourselves in position to win. At that point in the game, you just have to be in a better call."
Maye conceded that players must execute what is ordered and that it all happened too fast to question the strategy. But he also said the coaches "have to help us out" by not making unwise decisions.
He said he knows Williams has a reputation for aggressiveness, but this seemed a bit much. He said he felt bad for young Jackson "being out there on an island."
While Jackson gamely answered reporters’ questions and took responsibility for the play, Williams did not. NFL coordinators typically do not face questions after games but conduct interviews during the week.
Gase said he spoke to Williams about his thought process, but all he shared about it was this: "I mean, we were trying to create pressure. [Carr] hadn’t done well with it all game. That’s what happened. We had a couple of free runners [in the pass rush], but we didn’t get there."
The touchdown pass to Ruggs was not the only major defensive lapse. The Jets were baffled by how to handle Raiders tight end Darren Waller, who had 13 catches for 200 yards and two touchdowns.
"That’s Carr’s guy," Gase said. "It was tough to take him completely away. We gave him way too much, though."
Maybe the whole thing was just as well. The Jets showed their mettle, gave everyone an afternoon of quality entertainment and still emerged in position to draft Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence next spring.
The only real loser was Williams.