The Jets have been looking up at New England almost as long as Sam Darnold has been alive. But the Jets are under new leadership, one that’s trying to build a winning culture and perennial playoff contender that can ultimately beat the Patriots.
“We’re worried about dethroning those guys up North and winning the AFC East,” Sam Darnold said. “If we can do that, we’ll have a really good chance at the playoffs.”
The last time the Jets made the playoffs was eight years ago. Darnold was in grade school. Now the Jets believe Darnold’s arm, skills and overall makeup will help them end their postseason hiatus — and eventually their five-decades long Super Bowl drought.
But it could take some more time before they beat Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the Patriots. The process has just begun for the Jets.
The more-offensive minded Adam Gase replaced coach Todd Bowles, who was let go after a 4-12 finish last season. Gase brought in the aggressive and proven Gregg Williams to run the defense. General manager Mike Maccagnan also was fired and was succeeded by Joe Douglas, who helped build Super Bowl-winning teams in Baltimore and Philadelphia.
Same old Jets, not anymore.
“Everything seems different,” safety Rontez Miles, a Jet since 2013, said. “It just feels different. Everything feels different, in a good way. Change is good.”
The Jets made significant changes to the roster, too.
They signed elite playmakers on both sides of the ball in running back Le’Veon Bell and Pro Bowl middle linebacker C.J. Mosley. The Jets also acquired former Pro Bowl left guard Kelechi Osemele and convinced ex-Panther center Ryan Kalil to unretire.
The O-line is stronger and better equipped to protect Darnold and open holes for Bell and versatile back Ty Montgomery, an under-the-radar signing who will be a big part of Gase’s offense.
The offense should be creative and more up-tempo. The Jets will run plenty of no-huddle and use many formations, including both Bell and Montgomery lining up wide. Gase’s goal is to get everyone involved. New slot receiver Jamison Crowder join returning wideouts Robby Anderson and Quincy Enunwa to give Darnold more weapons.
“If we get the details right, I think we’ll be hard to beat,” Darnold said.
Darnold and the first-team offense had some impressive drives in the preseason, and that was without their projected starting offensive line and Bell.
Gase rested Bell, who sat out last season over a contract dispute with the Steelers, in the preseason. Bell got extra reps in practice to get him ready for his first football game since January 2018 when the Jets open on Sept. 8 against the Bills. But the Jets are brimming with excitement to unleash their new dynamic back.
“I can't wait to see what he does on a Sunday,” Gase said. “You can tell the guy is a special player and to see him on Sunday, that's going to be fun.”
Bell is eager to play his first game as a Jet and show that he and Darnold can be a great duo.
“I just can’t wait,” Bell said. “I want to be in there with him because I know how special he is, and I want to play with that. He’s a special player. I can’t wait to be out there and be special with him.”
The Jets hope the defense can be special under Williams and with Mosley, Pro Bowl safety Jamal Adams, Leonard Williams in a contract year, and rookie lineman Quinnen Williams. But Gregg Williams, known for his exotic blitzes and multiple looks and fronts that confuse offenses, will have to be at his mad-scientist best.
They lost inside linebacker Avery Williamson, their leading tackler last year, for the season to a torn ACL. Cornerback is a weakness, and the Jets still don’t have an impactful edge rusher. But Williams will try to mask those issues and shortcomings. He’s overseen seven top 10 defenses, and has this group believing it can be nasty and dominant.
Williams and Gase, both strong personalities and demanding coaches, created a very competitive atmosphere at practice with both sides taking pride in beating the other. They believe they have more than enough to beat other teams and finally end their playoff skid.
“It would mean a lot,” Leonard Williams said. “It would mean a lot for sure. I’m definitely tired of losing. The way our team is going now we’re going to be able to turn those close games into the wins and hopefully we end up in the playoffs this year.”
“We have good players, good schemes and we’re building a good culture here,” Darnold added. “If you have those three things the sky’s the limit.”