FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — As Robert Saleh recalled, the decision was a no-brainer.
There were eight seconds left in the first half of what would turn out to be a 27-22 loss to the Vikings. The Jets, trailing by 17 at the time, had fourth-and-3 at the Minnesota 42-yard line.
Go for it or send Greg Zuerlein out for a franchise-record 60-yard field goal?
“I didn’t think twice about it,” Saleh said before Friday’s practice, “until he lined up and I looked out there and [said], ‘Damn, that’s a long one.’ ”
No matter. In a micro sense, the 11-year vet repaid the coach’s faith by drilling the second of five field goals and cutting the deficit to 20-6. In a macro sense, the kick reinforced the organization’s decision to sign Zuerlein to a one-year, $2.75 million free-agent contract in March.
Entering Sunday’s game in Orchard Park against the AFC East-leading Bills (9-3), Zuerlein has been a significant factor for the pleasantly surprising Jets (7-5). He has made 23 of 27 field-goal attempts and 25 of 26 extra points. Of his four missed field goals, two were from 40 to 49 yards and the other two were from 50 yards or more.
“That speaks to his career and what he’s done throughout his career, and that’s why we brought him here,” special teams coach Brant Boyer said. “He’s done a really, really good job since he’s been here, and it’s exactly what we thought we were going to get as far as leg talent and everything like that.”
Over the course of his career with the Rams, Cowboys and Jets, Zuerlein has converted field goals at an 82.5% clip (287-for-348), including a 61-yarder for the then-St. Louis Rams in 2015.
“He makes it easy,” Saleh said when asked how having Zuerlein factors into his decision-making process. “You always have a fallback to get points, which is a big part of it.”
Boyer pointed out that Zuerlein has made kicks this season in less-than-ideal situations, and that could play a role Sunday, when a mix of snow and rain is expected.
“He expects to make every kick and he’s mad at himself if he doesn’t make them,” Boyer said. “That’s part of being a professional and he’s kicked as long as he has, and he’s done that for a reason.”
Mitchell out. Saleh confirmed an ESPN.com report that rookie offensive tackle Max Mitchell has been shut down for the remainder of the season with blood clots in his right calf and lung. According to the report, Mitchell has Factor V Leiden, a hereditary condition that can, if left untreated, lead to deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism. “It was shocking,” Saleh said. “You’re not expecting that. You’re expecting something different.” Saleh added of Mitchell, who was placed on the non-football injury list Wednesday: “It’s very unfortunate, but thankfully he’s got a chance to get healthy and get ready for next year.”