The creativity well into which the Jets routinely dip their bucket and pull forth bleak ways to disappoint is, we have come to understand over the years, essentially bottomless. It is a vast reservoir of despair that never ever comes close to drying out. Whenever even one of their fans begins to think “it can’t possibly get worse than this” or, for some reason, dares enjoy a moment with a passing “this isn’t so bad,” a new chamber of pain is opened and the organization’s dubious fate quickly bubbles to the surface.
There were several such tastes of that abyss on Friday that doomed the team to a 34-13 loss to the Dolphins at MetLife Stadium, a fourth straight defeat that all but guaranteed they will be watching a 13th straight NFL postseason without participation in a few weeks’ time.
It’s hard to describe just how hard it is to manage a 17-play offensive drive that covers only 55 yards and results in zero points, but the Jets did just that. We don’t often see a quarterback scramble and slide and also take a sack on the same play, yet new starter Tim Boyle was undaunted and accomplished that rare maneuver by voluntarily hitting the turf for a 2-yard loss. The Jets couldn’t even get into a normal post-play scrum and come out of it without something unusual and super-catastrophic occurring. When Micheal Clemons attempted to point at a Dolphin and wound up clocking an official across the kisser, giving the zebra a bloody lip and resulting in Clemons’ ejection.
But one moment stood out even among those oddities and joined the team’s Rushmore of Repulsiveness, which includes such ghastly unforgettables as the Butt Fumble, the Fake Spike and the exit of Aaron Rodgers four snaps into the 2023 opener.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Fail Mary.
It’s a play that immediately earned its spot among the Jets’ greatest hits — hits that often land right in the collective solar plexus of the organization and its supporters.
“I’ve never really seen or been a part of anything like that,” Boyle said, echoing the disbelief shared by many of the players and coaches who witnessed or took part in the moment.
Here’s how it went down, all in the span of less than a minute of game play.
The Dolphins were ahead 10-0 when Brandin Echols intercepted a pass by Tua Tagovailoa and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown that made it 10-6 (the Jets, of course, missed the extra point) with 58 seconds left in the second quarter.
With the Dolphins driving, D.J. Reed made a terrific diving interception near midfield with two seconds left.
That should have given the Jets a decent amount of momentum heading into the locker room, but Boyle attempted a deep pass into the end zone from the Jets’ 49 that was intercepted at the 1 by Jevon Holland.
Oh, well. No big deal.
Wrong. Very big deal.
Holland began running with the ball. And running. And running some more. When he got to about the 40-yard line, tight end Tyler Conklin said he realized what might occur.
“I went ‘Oh,’ ” he said. “Felt pretty helpless right there.”
Holland was able to easily evade the lumbering offensive linemen, had a head start on most of the speedy receivers, and made Boyle look foolish with a juke inside the 10 before crossing into the opposite end zone for a touchdown just before Garrett Wilson could reach him.
It was this Jets season — perhaps their entire existence — boiled down in two seconds.
“I’ve never seen anything like that. It was crazy,” Reed told Newsday. “We definitely had the momentum. Going into the half 10-6 and coming off two picks, going back on defense would have been great. But that’s not what happened.”
The defense has done a pretty good job of not letting its understandable frustration with the offense show through, but this time Reed had no choice but to be critical of his teammates.
“The worst-case scenario is if we don’t catch the ball and they pick it, we have to get him down,” he said. “We just gotta get him on the ground. On the sideline I was like, ‘Tackle him! Tackle him!’ They just didn’t get him down. You look at the percentages of a Hail Mary being a pick-6, it just doesn’t happen.”
Only in this unholy Jets universe is it a mathematical possibility.
The Jets are such ripe soil for virtually unprecedented disasters that even the innocuous decision to call that pass fell into question by at least one player. While most understood and even appreciated the aggressive call, running back Breece Hall wondered aloud why the Jets didn’t just take a knee to make certain that momentum stayed with them. They probably would have been booed off the field for it, but at least it still would have been a one-possession game.
“We were kind of surprised we were going for the Hail Mary,” Hall said. “Whatever play the coaches call might not be the best play at the time, but if you can execute it, and we didn’t execute it.”
Robert Saleh stood by the decision to try to take a halftime lead. He said there was not a single voice from the staff on the in-game communication system that suggested otherwise.
It shouldn’t have been a second-guessing scenario. The Jets made it one. “You are hoping you can make a miraculous play and get a spark,” Conklin said, “and obviously it went the exact opposite way of that.”
One day many years from now, we’ll all be able to tell our great-grandchildren about the time the NFL first ventured into the Black Friday viewing window. We’ll talk about watching the Jets play the Dolphins in that strange confluence of retail commerce and sports broadcasting that was Amazon Prime.
And we’ll tell them about that play that no one could have ever seen coming . . . aside from every rightly pessimistic Jets fan who has ever wanted something to go right for the team, only to witness it crumble into anguish.
“I already erased the play from my mind, man,” Conklin said while trying to come up with some of the details afterward.
If only it were that easy to wipe it from the lexicon of sorrow the Jets are continuously spinning.