CHICAGO – The Jets caught a big break, but they didn’t do anything with it because they couldn’t do anything with the football.
Sam Darnold didn’t have Khalil Mack breathing down his neck at all Sunday. The Bears' disruptive and premier edge rusher didn’t play because of an ankle injury. Yet for the second straight week, Darnold struggled to move the Jets down the field, and they lost, 24-10, to the Bears at Soldier Field.
“It’s frustrating,” Darnold said. “We just got to play better.”
The Jets didn’t turn the ball over, but they totaled just 207 yards and 12 first downs. Thirty-seven of those yards came on their last possession, after the game had been decided. Darnold was 14-for-29 for 153 yards and one touchdown.
Imagine if Mack had played.
After winning two in a row, the Jets have dropped two straight and sit at 3-5 at the midpoint of the season. This is the third straight year the Jets have been 3-5. There's no doubt they’re consistent under Todd Bowles, and not in a good way. But the players didn’t want to hear "same old Jets" talk.
“It’s not the same old Jets,” defensive end Leonard Williams said. “There’s a different feeling in the locker room. There’s a different atmosphere when I come to work. Even after this loss, it’s not like guys are hanging their heads or fighting with each other or pointing fingers. We have each other’s back.”
That’s important if the Jets are going to turn things around in the second half of the season. Several players talked about next week being a “must win” in Miami. But first the Jets have to get healthy and correct plenty of things.
“It’s not the end of the world,” linebacker Brandon Copeland said. “We still have an opportunity. If we had played half of our division schedule and we lost all of those games, then yeah, it would be getting away from us. We have a lot of opportunity ahead of us.”
The Bears (4-3) weren’t at their best. They averaged 35.7 points in their prior three games. But they made the plays the Jets couldn’t, including a 70-yard catch-and-run touchdown by speedster Tarik Cohen in the first quarter.
Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky was 16-for-29 for 220 yards and two touchdowns. He didn’t kill the Jets with his legs, but he did rush for 51 yards and some critical first downs. Jordan Howard ran for 81 yards and a touchdown.
The Jets are undermanned on offense and it showed. They were without their two top receivers -- Quincy Enunwa (ankle) and Robby Anderson (ankle) -- and lost starting running back Bilal Powell last week to a season-ending neck injury. But the Jets didn’t help themselves at all. They had five false-start penalties and ran for only 54 yards.
“I think the biggest thing for us is staying in manageable down distances,” Darnold said. “Not getting false starts. Not getting penalties. It’s about being in manageable down distances so we can get in third-and-manageables and we’ll roll from there.”
The Jets scored their only touchdown when there was 11:10 left to make it a one-possession game. Darnold found rookie tight end Chris Herndon in the left corner of the end zone for a 16-yard score that cut their deficit to 17-10. Herndon is becoming a favorite target of Darnold’s. It was the third straight game Herndon has caught a touchdown pass.
Another rookie, Deontay Burnett, had a 29-yard reception on the drive. The throw was nearly intercepted, but Burnett, Darnold’s college teammate at USC, showed great concentration to come down with the ball.
The Jets needed a stop to stay in the game, but they showed little resistance on the Bears’ next series. Chicago went 79 yards on eight plays, capped by Jordan Howard's 3-yard run that put the Jets in a 24-10 hole with 7:08 left. Howard also had a 24-yard rush and Trubisky a 12-yard scamper on the drive.
“That hurt,” Williams said. “Our defense was doing pretty good for the whole game. That’s self-inflicting. That’s something we have to realize, that those are the moments we have to close. It’s the big defining moments like that when we have to step up.”
When the Jets got the ball back, they did nothing with it, and punted on fourth-and-13 from their 37.
Despite their overall ugly game, Bowles had an interesting message to the team, telling them he was very proud of the way they fought and stuck together.
“It was one of the first games the entire year that we stayed together and fought collectively,” Bowles said.
The remark was interesting because the Jets played well in their three wins and played complete games.
“We did do a phenomenal job sticking together,” safety Jamal Adams said. “At the end of the day, it’s not enough. We got to do more as a team. We got to find a way. We’ve got to get back on track and get a win.”