Breece Hall has played in nine games so far in his short NFL career, but he’s not really a Jet. That title has to be earned, and there is only one way to do so. He must be christened in action against the Patriots.
His dunk will happen on Sunday.
That’s when the running back who was on his way toward winning last year’s NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year before a torn ACL in Week 7 derailed his season and robbed him of participating in those critical matchups with New England in two of the ensuing three games will finally get to face an opponent he’s been hearing all about since the moment he was drafted to New York.
What a difference that should make for a team looking to end a ridiculously long 14-game skid against the Patriots.
“Ooh, I’m excited to have him this time, I’ll tell you that much,” tight end Tyler Conklin said. “He’s a huge difference maker. It’s hard to explain Breece, but obviously we all see how special he is on the football field, his ability to turn nothing into something and give a spark. He gave us so many sparks even in that Buffalo game by making a play that looks like it should be 4 yards into 80. You can’t make up for that. It’ll be awesome to have him back for this rivalry.”
It’s not hard to imagine those two sickening losses to New England which helped define the disappointment of the 2022 season would have ended in the Jets’ favor had Hall not been injured and unavailable, had the running game that was averaging 156.3 yards per game in the three games before facing the Patriots been able to muster more than the 51 and 59 yards it scrounged in those two defeats.
Hall’s presence alone would have taken some of the pressure off Zach Wilson who wouldn’t have had to throw as often. Maybe he wouldn’t have been intercepted as often, either.
Perhaps everything would have changed: The playoff drought, the need to acquire a Hall of Fame quarterback, the very identity of the franchise. It’s not hyperbole to suggest all of it seemed to have hinged on Hall’s knee injury.
Now that he’s back, maybe things actually will change for the better.
Hall said he remembered those two games against the Patriots. He was in a suite in MetLife Stadium when the Jets lost, 22-17, and watching on television at home three weeks later when they lost at Foxborough, 10-3.
“I was just hoping our team did well,” he said of those experiences from afar. “Obviously we had some offensive struggles in those games.”
Struggles he certainly would have been able to help overcome.
This week, he’ll finally suit up and get to make an impact on the result.
That’s assuming he gets more than the four carries he had last week against Dallas. He was frustrated enough by the lack of opportunities in that game that he posted four football emojis on social media before quickly deleting them shortly following the game. He said he was “just interacting with people” and it wound up “with everybody making it way more than what it should have been.”
“At the end of the day I’m here, I’m another guy on the team, and I am trying to do my 1/11th when I am out there,” he said Thursday.
The Jets coaches have blamed the lack of overall offensive snaps in that game (46 in just 17:45 of possession time) and the lopsided score in the second half for abandoning the running attack.
“Anytime that you have that small amount of plays — I think we had about 13 plays before we got into that first two-minute [drive] — it’s hard to get anything going,” offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said Thursday. “We had a really good plan that we wanted to actually execute and if you don’t get plays, you can’t do that.”
There is little doubt Hall was part of those plans last week.
Even less doubt he will be part of them this week.
The Jets are still not comfortable using Hall at full capacity. There are “pitch counts” for him, and he’ll split reps with Dalvin Cook, too.
“He’s coming along,” Robert Saleh said this week. “He’s progressing really well, his body looks good, he’s fresh, so he’s definitely moving in the right direction.”
“I feel pretty close to being back to what I was last year,” Hall said of the health of his knee. “I’m just thankful to be able to be out there every week.”
The Jets will be thankful to have him out there this Patriots week in particular.
“Every time I step out on the field I want to be the best out there,” Hall said.
He might well have been had he gotten to play in those two games against New England as a rookie.
He’ll get his first shot to prove that against them on Sunday.
He’ll emerge as a full-fledged Jet no matter the result. And if he plays as large a role in a possible win as his teammates and others believe he can, he’ll be something even more than that.
He may be the player who forever changes the direction of the rivalry that has gnawed at this organization for the better part of this century.