Last place in the AFC East is at stake when the Jets play the Dolphins on Sunday.
Miami was expected to be at the bottom of the division, if not the conference and the entire NFL. The Jets are another story.
The Jets (4-8) believed they at least would be in the playoff hunt at this point of the season. A loss to Miami (3-9), and the Jets officially will be eliminated from the playoffs for the ninth straight season.
And the Jets will fall to the bottom of the AFC East because the Dolphins will be 2-0 against them with a win. Let that sink in for a second. This season has been that bad for Adam Gase’s team, and they really want to avoid another low point.
“You got to remember we lost to them before,” linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. “It’s a revenge game. We know we play these guys twice a year. We lost the first one. They threw the first punch. Now we got to throw the second punch and finish it.”
The Jets are 0-4 in division. They could beat the Dolphins and still be eliminated from the playoffs with wins by the Steelers and Titans.
Making matters worse, running back Le’Veon Bell will not play due to an illness. He did not practice Thursday and Friday. And Jamal Adams, who has been the Jets’ best player, has an ankle injury that is expected to force him to miss a game for the first time in his three-year NFL career.
This is nothing new for the Jets. Injuries have been a big part of their tale of woe this season. So have humiliating losses and having to respond after one.
The Jets were drubbed 22-6 last Sunday by previously winless Cincinnati. That also was nothing new. In Week 9, the Jets were the first team to lose to Miami this season.
As bad as the loss to the Bengals was, it seems like the Dolphins’ defeat is sticking with them more because it’s a divisional rival.
“You got to look at it like they started the fight, they got the first lick in, now you got finish it,” Jenkins said. “That’s pretty much what this game is. You got to get the get-back. You can’t get swept. Getting swept by a team, it sucks. It’s just something that you got to finish it.”
The Dolphins, who were in tank mode, have shown some fight and pride starting with their victory over the Jets. Miami has won three of its last five.
Last week, they beat the Eagles with former Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing for 365 yards and three touchdowns. Fitzpatrick threw for 288 yards and three touchdowns against the Jets on Nov. 3.
“Personally, I feel like I’m better now than I’ve ever been,” said Fitzpatrick, in his 15th season as a pro. “In terms of what I’m doing, my focus and preparation and going out there with the group that I have, my confidence is at an all-time high.”
Unless the Jets can get to Fitzpatrick — they couldn’t last month — his confidence could be higher after this game.
The Jets’ secondary is banged up. Adams, cornerback Arthur Maulet and safety Matthias Farley are doubtful. Slot corner Brian Poole is out.
They could start rookie Bless Austin and Maurice Canady at the corners, with Marcus Maye and Darryl Roberts at safety. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams will do plenty of mixing and matching and moving guys around.
“He'll have to get creative this week, which I'm sure he doesn't mind,” Gase said.
The defense hasn’t been the issue as much as Gase’s offense. The Jets didn’t get in the red zone last week against Cincinnati. It was the third time this season they didn’t score a touchdown.
When they lost in Miami, the Jets scored a touchdown on the opening drive and didn’t get in the end zone again.
In that game, Sam Darnold made a bad decision deep in Dolphins territory and shot-putted the ball into a crowd and was picked off. Darnold has thrown just one interception in the four games since.
“I think I've gotten better since, for sure,” he said.
The Jets appeared to have gotten better as well with three straight wins before last week’s setback. But the Jets still have four games left.
“You got to be a guy that hates losing more than you love winning,” Jenkins said. “That’s sort of the thirst we got to have going into this game.”