FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The Jets put in a lot of time during their bye week trying to correct a major problem. They hope all their work won’t be like their first quarters this season — pointless.
The Jets are the only NFL team to not score a single point in the first quarter this season. They’ve trailed at halftime in all five games they’ve played.
Robert Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur spent last week poring over film, game scripts and play-call sheets, looking for the things to tweak and fix to end this troubling trend. They made ‘subtle’ changes, including to the practice schedule and are ready to see if they can strike fast and strike first Sunday against the Patriots.
"We feel good about it," Saleh said. "We’ll see Sunday. Got to put up or shut up."
If the Jets (1-4) put up and score early and play from ahead they might be able to snap an 11-game losing streak to the Patriots, which is tied for the NFL’s longest current skid. The Jets also have dropped 12 straight at Gillette Stadium where New England (2-4) is 0-4 this season.
The Jets’ struggles don’t end with the first quarter. They’re the NFL’s worst scoring team, averaging just 13.4 points. Their one first-half touchdown and 13 total points before halftime are both league lows. The Jets have been outscored by 62 points before intermission.
But the Jets are confident that they addressed the issues and starting with this game they will be more effective and efficient on offense.
"We got a lot of things figured out," receiver Corey Davis said.
Davis said it’s "MEs" or Mental Errors that are killing the Jets, especially at the start of games. He said eliminating them would give them "a fighting chance." But it starts with execution.
Over the last four games, the Jets have run an average of just 6.8 plays in the first quarter and gained 16.3 yards. Zach Wilson is 4-for-11 passing for 27 yards and two interceptions. The Jets have just two first-quarter first downs in that time.
Teams often can sustain drives early in games because they’ve scripted the first few series and practiced them all week. LaFleur said he scripts the first 24 plays every game, and it can go in any order. But he’s flexible enough to make some changes.
"We looked at it hard," LaFleur said. "I’ve looked at myself hard to figure out how we can get this offense jump-started, how we can get Zach going where he feels real comfortable like he has after that first quarter.
"Over the bye week I gave it to my wife. I said you pick the opening script and we’ll roll from there."
At least LaFleur hasn’t lost his sense of humor. But seriously, changing some of the play calls, getting the NFL’s worst rushing attack going and involving other players like dynamic rookie Elijah Moore and the tight ends could lead to some first downs and spark the Jets.
LaFleur also could take a page from the Patriots’ book on how they’re using rookie quarterback Mac Jones. Most of his passes have been short ones, screens, drop off to the backs. The Jets haven’t done that nearly as much as as expected.
Wilson admitted the Jets might feel "a little bit" of tension to make something happen and that adjusting how they prepare or doing something different pregame could make a difference. He also said if the Jets move the football early, they might feel a huge weight lifted from their shoulders.
"The goal is to start the game feeling relaxed, and not feeling that tension from the start," he said. "Just moving the chains and having positive plays to start the game is what we need.
"Really, what I think is killing us, is the seven plays a quarter. It’s hard to do much when that’s all you’re having. So, we’ve got to do a better job of taking advantage of our opportunities and being able to put something together."
How the Jets have struggled in the first quarter of their first five games this season:
Jets Category Opponents
42 Total plays 92
0 Points 30
22 Rush att. 38
68 Yards 185
3.1 Avg. 4.9
18 Pass att. 50
5 Comp. 37
2 Had Int. 0
34 Yards 359
102 Total yds. 544