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Steelers fans left throwing in their towels  

Sam Darnold, here eluding Steelers linebacker Ola Adeniyi,

Sam Darnold, here eluding Steelers linebacker Ola Adeniyi, was 16-for-26 for 183 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions in a 16-10  victory on Sunday at MetLife Stadium. Darnold was sacked twice and fumbled three times, but only one of them was recovered by Pittsburgh. Credit: Lee S. Weissman

It was Fan Appreciation Day at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, which was a little awkward, given that more than half the fans being appreciated were wearing black and gold and/or waving Terrible Towels.

But that’s OK. If Jets executives, coaches and players want to set a goal for themselves this offseason, they could do worse than remembering the scene at their final home game of 2019.

Because the best way to avoid having your stadium overrun by fans of the visiting team in late December is to make sure you do not come to late December with a record of 5-9.

The good news for the Jets is that after Sunday’s 16-10 victory over the Steelers, there was legitimate reason to believe them when they followed a long late-season Jets tradition of insisting that they are close to getting it together.

Sample quotes:

“We’re not that far away, man,” Jamal Adams said.

“I think we’re not too far away,” Sam Darnold said.

They have won five of their last seven, after all, and they have a talented core that before the season had many predicting good things. (One hapless Newsday sportswriter even picked them to win the Super Bowl.)

Now they have some victories to show for it.

There were troubling things about the latest win, even though by design the offense mostly was asked not to mess things up while coordinator Gregg Williams unleashed his defense on a terrible Steelers offense.

No. 1 on that list was a so-so outing by Darnold, who in his second season continues to neither prove he is the answer at quarterback nor disprove it.

He was 16-for-26 for 183 yards with a pretty touchdown pass to Robby Anderson, and he had a fumble that led to the only Pittsburgh touchdown.

“We just have to make sure that sack fumble doesn’t happen,” coach Adam Gase said. “Sam can help us getting the ball out there, and he knows it.”

Darnold’s ups and downs still are acceptable, but if they continue into Season 3, they will start to become unacceptable.

For now, though, the Jets have managed to take a season that at its midpoint was a debacle and found hope.

Fourth-year linebacker Jordan Jenkins, unsolicited by reporters, brought up the fact that he never has won as many as six games in his NFL career. Wait .  .  . really? Sure enough. Yikes!

But six wins it is, with a chance to finish 7-9 against a playoff-bound Bills team with no practical incentive to win.

Le’Veon Bell, who is in his first season as a Jet, said that with a new coach and new players, combined with a spate of injuries and illnesses, patience was a virtue.

“When all that happens, it’s going to take time to kind of get the ship sailing in the right direction,” he said. “Now it’s good to see the ship turn a little bit. That’s all I’ve been preaching.”

Steelers fans always travel well, but doing so becomes easier and less expensive when the home team’s fans lose interest.

Jets players mostly did their best not to admit being offended, and Gase said that after initially using a silent count to deal with the crowd noise, he decided to switch to a normal, audible cadence.

Jenkins, though, did hear Pittsburgh fans loudly and clearly and answered them after the Steelers fell short.

“I had a few words for them, and a couple of gestures that aren’t pretty nice,” he said.

So the Jets and their appreciative fans got the last word. “I love it,” Jenkins said. “I love when people talk trash. That makes the game more fun.”

It will be even more fun when Jets fans have a reason to show up in Week 16 and keep other teams’ fans home.

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