Jets players, coaches enjoy feel-good moment with their first win of season, even if it was costly
Yay? Or nay?
Let’s start with this, Jets fans: Almost everyone who follows football feels your conflicted pain, because in a purely pragmatic world Sunday’s 23-20 mega-upset of the Rams might turn into a franchise-altering catastrophe.
But the key word here is "almost."
That is because while long-term concerns such as drafting a potential star quarterback are of great interest to folks such as fans, journalists, owners and marketers, the young men who play the game don’t look at it like that.
Nor do the people who coach them, especially when said people will be out of a job in two weeks.
It is what makes the twisted alchemy of "tanking" so complicated, and what made the Jets’ detour to Bizarro World at SoFi Stadium so weirdly compelling.
There is a good chance that by winning their first game in 14 tries the Jets cost themselves a chance to draft Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, owing to the NFL’s strange way of breaking draft order ties.
But such thoughts do not enter the minds of people busy hitting 300-pound opponents — or running away from them.
Professional athletes are proud, hyper-competitive creatures who would not have gotten this far if they were anything other than that. Also, winning and playing well happens to be their job.
Coach (for now) Adam Gase and quarterback (for now) Sam Darnold had the same reaction when asked after the game about that No. 1 pick and how much Jets fans covet it.
"Our job is to try to go out and win every week," Gase said.
Said Darnold, "It doesn’t affect us. We’re focused on one job every single week, and that’s winning a game. Anything other than that, we’re not focused on."
Unlike much of what is said in postgame sports quotes, the sentiment was sincere.
Again: There is nothing wrong as a fan with being disappointed by a seemingly counter-productive outcome such as Sunday’s. It’s natural, and rational.
But on a human level it was impossible not to feel good for the coaches and players after they avoided the ignominy of finishing 0-16.
Near the top of that list goes Frank Gore, the 37-year-old back who scored a touchdown on a fourth-and-1 run and clinched the game with his one reception of the day.
"Good thing we had a Hall of Fame running back in there who seems to make plays at the right time," Gase said, in an apparent shot at the many who have accused him of overusing Gore.
"I’m happy," Gore said. "I had good years, I had bad years, I had tough years . . . this has been a tough one. One thing I can say: I never went 0-16."
Many memorable things happened to make the upset possible, including an offensive game plan that neutralized the Rams’ fearsome pass rush and a defensive plan that frustrated the Rams in the first half.
Quinnen Williams continued to establish himself as the Jets’ best player before leaving with a head injury. J.T. Hassell blocked a punt to set up a field goal. Bryce Hall made a one-handed interception to set up another field goal. Mekhi Becton made a huge block on Gore’s touchdown run.
Punter Braden Mann made what might have been a game-saving tackle on a long return. Marcus Maye broke up a long, potentially game-turning pass play.
When the Jets went to their "Victory" formation in the final two minutes, Gase kept Darnold informed about the proper procedure, because it had been a while.
"I’m happy for our guys," Gase said. "If you watch them work every day and see how hard they compete in games, they deserve this. They deserved it a while ago."
Gase said Rams coach Sean McVay called him one morning last week at 4:15 a.m. Pacific Time to praise him for how hard his players continued to work despite all the losing.
On Sunday, while a long-term prize might have slipped out of reach, a short-term reward was all that mattered to the men wearing green.
Said Gore, "I’m going to enjoy this today and have a good Christmas."
The Jets and Jaguars are both 1-13, but if the teams finish with identical records Jacksonville would win a tiebreaker for the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft based on playing an easier schedule. The remaining games for the two teams:
Week 16 vs. Chicago
Week 17 at Indianapolis
Week 16 vs. Cleveland
Week 17 at New England