Welcome to New York, Adam Gase! Having fun yet?
In fairness, let us first note that there have been worse Jets losses in the half-century since they last reached the Super Bowl, and even in the near decade since they last made the playoffs.
But it also is fair to say that as season openers go, losses do not get much worse than Sunday’s, when the Jets fell to the Bills, 17-16, at MetLife Stadium after leading 16-0 late in the third quarter.
It was the first game for their new coach, Gase, their new general manager, Joe Douglas, and their new star running back, Le’Veon Bell, and the first game of the rest of no-longer-a-rookie-quarterback Sam Darnold’s career.
And it was against a division opponent perceived as a relatively soft prelude to a treacherous stretch of schedule, played before a large, excited crowd that got up extra early to tailgate.
And other than a fumble on a multiple-lateral play as time expired, the Jets were plus-4 in turnover differential, an extraordinarily difficult position from which to lose an NFL game.
The only sliver of good news is that now that Gase’s honeymoon period is over 60 minutes after it began, how he handles the coming days and weeks will give us a good idea of his ability to lead the team for the long run.
The Jets did their best to strike a tone of disappointment rather than devastation, starting with Gase, but he also is not one to mince words.
He called his team “inept on offense.” He said of Darnold’s day, “We have room for improvement.” When given a chance to say something remotely positive about his kicker, Kaare Vedvik, he punted the matter to Monday.
“It’s never fun to lose,” he said. “That’s how everybody feels, everybody affiliated with our organization, all the fans. Nobody’s happy. You lose, you lose, whether it’s by one or by 50.”
Now comes the delicate task of making sure his team understands the errors of its ways while not losing confidence.
Hey, you never know. Three of the Giants’ four Super Bowl-winning teams lost their openers.
But Jets fans do have reason for concern. Gase, an expert on offense in general and quarterbacks in particular, seemed unable to solve a Bills defense that has its merits but also is coming off a 6-10 season.
Why were so many of Darnold’s passes tipped at the line? Gase said the Bills specialize in that.
Why were the Jets so unable to beat the Bills with deep passes? Gase said the Bills specialize in that, too.
And what of a defense that crumbled the minute linebacker C.J. Mosley departed with a groin injury?
“I felt like our energy died, man, and we weren’t playing team ball,” safety Jamal Adams said.
All of this could turn around quickly if the Jets rebound next Monday night against the Browns, of course. But in the shorter term, the Jets would do well to ignore the rest of us and move on quickly.
“We can’t let one game define our season,” Gase said, “because they’re going to line us up next week, and nobody is going to care if we won or lost the week before.”
Said linebacker Jordan Jenkins, “If you don’t pay us, if you don’t coach us, if you don’t have anything to do with us, we don’t care. Talk. Say what you want to say. At the end of the day, we’re just going to keep doing us. That’s it.”
That is the message Gase likely will preach, and that’s fine, as long as he also keeps it real regarding the day he and his players let each other and everyone else down.
It’s the kind of balance successful coaches must strike, somewhere between Adams saying, “It’s not the end of the world, it’s one loss” and defensive lineman Leonard Williams dejectedly saying this:
“It was just a bad start to the season when we had this game in the bag. It was a division game, which counts as double. We were close to closing this one out and having a great start, but we just let it slip through our fingers.”