FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Maybe if the Jets ask very nicely Nick Sirianni will publicly disparage Nathaniel Hackett.
That seemed to be the secret to last week’s victory, right?
Talking to the players after Sunday’s game in Denver you’d have thought that the most important part of their relatively successful game plan was simply trying to “win for Hack,” as tight end C.J. Uzomah put it while both heading onto and coming off the field. They were all keenly aware of what that particular day meant to their offensive coordinator who was not only returning to the city of his disastrous one-year stint as a head coach, but staring across the field at his replacement, Sean Payton, whose preseason comments about his tenure and the Jets as a whole went far beyond critical.
They were flammable, even. It became clear as the game progressed that the fire they fueled was one deep inside the Jets’ themselves.
Assuming Sirianni and the rest of the Eagles are smart enough to avoid reigniting that same fuse, the Jets are left relying on something else to inspire and drive them while hosting this Sunday’s game against last year’s Super Bowl participants from Philadelphia. The residue from that bitter contest, though, may be something positive the Jets can carry with them moving forward.
The shared experience between Hackett and the players a few days ago now — the victory, the 407 yards and 31 points, the celebration, the hugs, the game ball, all of it — was special. Hackett admitted so on Thursday in his first public comments since then before quickly noting the often-cited 24-hour rule to which NFL coaches instinctively defer.
But whatever happened between Hackett and the Jets last week certainly shouldn’t be relegated to a one-day event. It has the potential to become an inflection point in the growing relationship between the first-year coordinator brought here to direct an offense led by a familiar quarterback who lasted all of four snaps, and a team that he barely knew seven months ago that now has proven it has his back.
Hackett knows that, too.
“Whenever you are in a system with the same people, there is this amazing trust that is always grown between the coach and the players,” Hackett said. “When you look across the league and the teams that are doing really well, a lot of it is because they have all been together for a really long time. Any time you have any of those things [like Sunday] I think it brings guys closer.
“It’s great because it bonds us for the rest of the season.”
Uzomah, on Thursday, insisted there was already a strong connection between the coach and players.
“We want to play for them in general, we want to win for them,” he said. “In that instance, there was just a little more passion with that. But, yeah, maybe it brings us closer together.”
That bond will only be as strong as the way the Jets play, of course. For most of the last two games that has been at a surprisingly adequate level. Since falling behind 17-0 against Kansas City in Week 4 the Jets have outscored their opponents 51-27 and gained 700 yards.
After early stumbles making adjustments to carry on without Aaron Rodgers and essentially rewire the entire system for Zach Wilson’s abilities — and limitations — the Jets seem to have landed on some sort of identity.
“The last two games we’ve seen a couple things open up a little more,” Hackett said. “It’s something we want to continue to build on.”
It includes relying on a defense that has scored 11 points in the last two games, running the ball a lot (Breece Hall and the offensive line take care of that), leaning into Wilson’s physical skills and athleticism, and hoping that the quarterback’s gaffes that seem to have an Old Faithful predictability to them will not doom the entire operation. That last part bit the Jets against Kansas City when Wilson fumbled a shotgun snap midway through the fourth quarter and the Jets never got the ball back; they were able to overcome his halftime brain freeze that cost them points and a late interception that gave the Broncos a chance to potentially take the lead in Denver.
Hackett was quick to say that the win in Denver was not about him and his grudges with the Broncos.
“Any time you win a football game you are absolutely ecstatic and to be honored with that is an amazing credit to our entire team,” Hackett said. “I just called the plays. Those guys went out and executed it. I’m grateful for how they played.”
He even pshawed the idea that whatever galvanization took place did not occur on a single afternoon.
“I think everything jells us, from every meeting and every second we spend together to anything that happens off the field and on the field,” he said. “Corrections on the field. Fighting. Celebrating. There are so many things.”
It’s fairly clear, though, that the Jets’ offense, from personnel to coaches, went to Denver as a still uncertain mix of talents and ideas mingling about each other in the football equivalent of a speed dating event. It emerged from the game amalgamized into a single being.
The beef with Payton and the Broncos has been settled. The Jets won it. It’s over. Now they can only hope the relationships that came out of it hang around a while.