In January, after his first season as the Jets’ coach, Robert Saleh said closing the gap with the rest of the AFC East would be a priority.
No surprise there, given that the Jets are 0-12 within their division over the past two seasons, one under Adam Gase and one under Saleh.
That is no way to return to the postseason after a drought of more than a decade.
“The quickest way to the playoffs is to win your division, right?” Saleh said on Monday. “That’s the one thing you’ve got control over.”
Saleh said it is a goal so important that it is written on the team’s internal message board: “Own the East.”
The Jets have fashioned a 2-2 start against an all-AFC North schedule, and it now is time to see what they can do where it counts most. On Sunday, they will host the Dolphins, who are tied for the early division lead with the Bills at 3-1.
“If you’re trying to become that playoff team, you’ve got to be great in the division, and this organization and this team hasn’t won in a while within the division,” Saleh said.
“If we want to take that next step as an organization, we’ve got to do better in our division, and that’s basically what ‘close the gap’ means.”
The Dolphins will be without injured starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, but they have an experienced backup in Teddy Bridgewater to get the ball to formidable weapons that include receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle.
“We’re in a heck of a division with New England, Miami and Buffalo, three freakin’ really, really good football teams,” Saleh said. “We’re looking forward for the opportunity to play Miami.
“They’ve got weapons all over the place. They’ve got a hell of a head coach [Mike McDaniel], and it’s going to be a fun game.”
The Jets tried to acquire Hill in the offseason in a trade with Kansas City, but Hill preferred Miami, and that is where he landed and signed.
“Sure, we would have loved to have him here,” Saleh said, “but I think things happen for a reason.”
Asked on Monday why he preferred the Dolphins over the Jets, Hill simply cited “state taxes.” (Specifically, the lack thereof in Florida compared with New Jersey.)
The Jets will go into the game on a high after second-year quarterback Zach Wilson made his season debut against the Steelers and smoothly engineered a fourth-quarter comeback.
“He was very electric,” safety LaMarcus Joyner said on Monday. “It was great.”
Asked what he learned most about Wilson, tight end Tyler Conklin said, “How slippery he is. There were times in that game where you’re scrambling and you’re like, ‘How is he still running around?’
“It’s just his ability to extend plays and on top of that make throws while he’s extending that play.”
Wilson has four career victories, none against the AFC East.
After concluding the 2021 season with a 27-10 loss to the Bills in Buffalo, Saleh said, “Clearly, we have a long way to go if we want to close the gap with Buffalo. And New England and Miami, for that matter.”
On Monday, defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins said, “We’re taking the necessary steps that we want to take to continue to be a better team and continue to take over this division. We just have to continue to make that progress, understanding that it’s not going to happen overnight.
“It’s not something that we can just flip a switch and it happens. Understanding that we have all the talent we need, we just as a team need to take the steps consistently and improve throughout the course of each week and throughout the course of the season to continue to close that gap.”
The Jets' two-season, 12-game losing streak against AFC East opponents:
Sept. 19: New England 25, Jets 6
Oct. 24: New England 54, Jets 13
Nov. 14: Buffalo 45, Jets 17
Nov. 21: Miami 24, Jets 17
Dec. 19: Miami 31, Jets 24
Jan. 9: Buffalo 27, Jets 10
Sept. 13: Buffalo 27, Jets 17
Oct. 18: Miami 24, Jets 0
Oct. 25: Buffalo 18, Jets 10
Nov. 9: New England 30, Jets 27
Nov. 29: Miami 20, Jets 3
Jan. 3: New England 28, Jets 14