The Jets were seconds away from their first win of this awful season, seconds away from removing themselves from a group that no one wants to join.
Instead, they’re four losses away from history after a gut-wrenching, heartbreaking defeat that left safety Marcus Maye questioning and criticizing the defensive play call on the biggest play of the game.
Derek Carr threw a 46-yard touchdown pass to rookie Henry Ruggs III with five seconds left to give the Raiders a stunning 31-28 victory over the hopeless Jets on Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
That dropped the Jets to 0-12. "Everybody’s disappointed," coach Adam Gase said. "To lose a game like that, our guys work way too hard to go through this [expletive]."
The Jets erased an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter and went ahead 28-24 with 5:34 left. It was a brutal ending to a game in which the Jets fought so hard to win and even harder to give it away, especially considering the coverage call on that fateful play.
Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams called for "Zero Cover," which is always a dangerous call but even more so with the Jets playing rookie cornerbacks. The blitz is designed to pressure the quarterback, but it leaves the defensive backs exposed to one-on-one coverage.
Williams called an all-out blitz and left undrafted rookie free agent Lamar Jackson in one-on-one coverage with Ruggs, the 12th overall pick in the 2020 draft.
Ruggs got behind Jackson, Carr lofted the pass and Ruggs caught it in stride for a touchdown that ripped out the Jets’ hearts.
"It stings pretty bad," linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. "It just hurts. That’s all I can say, it hurts."
"Heartbreaking," said running back Ty Johnson, who rushed for 104 yards and scored the Jets’ go-ahead touchdown on a 1-yard run.
Maye was one of only three players who was in coverage on that play. The other two were Jackson and rookie safety Bryce Hall.
Maye, a captain, didn’t hold back about Williams’ call.
He said Jackson shouldn’t have been put in that position. Maye said about eight times during his nearly 4-minute, 30-second video conference that "it could have been a better call" or some variation of that statement.
"We just played the call that coaches called," Maye said. "We got to execute. But you got to help us out at the same time and get a better call in that spot."
Williams was not available to explain the defensive call because coordinators are not made available after games.
Carr’s reaction: "I couldn’t believe they all-out blitzed us. I was thankful."
Sam Darnold had one last shot after the Jets got the ball at midfield with five seconds left. His Hail Mary pass was batted down just short of the end zone.
Darnold completed 14 of 23 passes for 186 yards and two touchdowns, both to Jamison Crowder, and also ran for a touchdown. But he turned it over three times — two fumbles and an interception.
Carr threw for 381 yards and three touchdowns. The Jets couldn’t contain tight end Darren Waller, who caught 13 passes for 200 yards and two scores.
The Jets, who entered with the worst offense in the league, trailed 24-13 and started the final drive of the third quarter at their own 4-yard line, but
they took it 96 yards, mostly on the ground. Darnold scored the touchdown on a 4-yard run with 10:22 remaining in the game.
The Jets went for the two-point conversion and Darnold was picked off, but the Raiders were flagged for pass interference. The Jets converted the second try as Darnold hit Denzel Mims to make it 24-21.
The defense came up big on the next series. Rookie cornerback Javelin Guidry forced a fumble by Ruggs and Maye recovered at the Las Vegas 44. The Jets turned that turnover into the go-ahead touchdown.
They seemed to have the Raiders on the ropes, but Guidry was flagged for defensive holding on third-and-5 and Maye was penalized for defensive holding against Waller on fourth-and-8 from the Jets’ 21 just before the two-minute warning.
The Jets came up with a stop anyway. On fourth down from the 9, Carr hit Hunter Renfrow in the end zone, but there were offsetting holding penalties and the down was replayed. This time Carr underthrew Nelson Agholor in the end zone.
The Jets celebrated wildly on the sideline, but it proved to be premature.
They took over with 1:37 remaining and needed a first down to run out the clock, but they went three-and-out and punted.
Las Vegas took over at its 39 with 35 seconds left. That proved to be just enough time, especially with the defense the Jets ended up playing.
Carr hit Waller for a 15-yard strike on first down. The Raiders hurried to the line of scrimmage and Carr spiked it. On second down, Carr overthrew Agholor in the end zone.
On third down, if Williams had had the Jets play prevent defense, they might have celebrated their first victory. Instead, their decision to blitz and leave Jackson with no help against Ruggs prevented them from winning, and they’re four losses away from history.
"You’re in this league long enough, you see games like this," Gase said. "You don’t want to be a part of them, I know that.
"These players deserve better than going through that."