BALTIMORE — John Harbaugh is the coach of the AFC’s best team and maybe the best in the NFL. But he couldn’t have been more complimentary about the Jets, and almost sounded concerned about facing them Thursday night.
“We see a team that’s won four of their last five games,” the Ravens coach said. “This team has found a winning formula. Sam Darnold is playing very well, making plays. He’s a very talented young quarterback. They have really good skill players. I think that they’re a winning team.
The record, of course, says otherwise. The Jets took a 5-8 mark into the game against the 11-2 Ravens.
The Jets have one more win than last season, but no one is calling it progress. The big picture is they’re out of the playoffs for the ninth consecutive season and have underachieved on so many levels.
This year was supposed to be different.
The Jets hired an aggressive offensive-minded head coach whose system was expected to put a lot of points on the board and bring out the best in Darnold.
They brought in a fiery and proven defensive coordinator who was going to make that unit nasty. They signed two marquee free agents — one on each side of the ball — who had a winning pedigree and were supposed to have major impacts.
In the end, only one of those things have happened. Gregg Williams has done a tremendous job with a banged-up defense.
Only two projected preseason starters have played in every game. Linebacker C.J. Mosley, a former Raven, has played in only two games after signing a five-year, $85 million contract.
Yet Williams is overseeing the NFL’s No. 2 run defense and was looking forward to trying to slow down MVP front-runner Lamar Jackson and the NFL’s No. 1 rushing game Thursday night.
“I’m a competition-aholic,” Williams said.
Adam Gase’s offense hasn’t had Williams’ type of success this season.
The Jets are 31st in total offense and 29th in scoring, and Gase hasn’t turned Darnold into the next great quarterback. There’s no doubt Darnold was set back by his bout with mono that kept him out for three weeks.
Gase also hasn’t utilized Le’Veon Bell in a way to maximize his skill and talents.
His role and production have fallen far short of expectations after the Jets gave him $52.5 million over four years. Bell has been neither a game-changing playmaker or security blanket for Darnold.
Bell may have lost a step after sitting out last season over a contract dispute with the Steelers. But the Jets’ offensive line has been a disappointment, and Gase hasn’t given Bell the touches he got in Piitsburgh.
Gase prefers a passing offense and using more of a running back by committee approach. Bell is someone who needs the ball and could be getting it from a different quarterback and team next season.
But with three games remaining in this season, the Jets hope to continue to make strides overall. Just as it was at this point last season, Darnold’s overall development is the most important thing the Jets can take into next year.
There will be changes all across the team, but Jets CEO Christopher Johnson said Gase would be back. Barring something unexpected, Darnold will get to start out at least one more season in Gase’s offense.
Going into his third NFL season and second with Gase, Darnold’s knowledge and understanding of the system should enable the Jets to move more quickly through some things in the offense during OTAs and training camp.
Darnold has shown signs of improvement since that fateful October night that he was “seeing ghosts” against New England. He has looked far more comfortable in the offense. Darnold has thrown nine touchdown passes and two interceptions over the last five games before Thursday.
But the Jets’ final three opponents can present plenty of challenges for quarterbacks of any experience level. The Ravens, Steelers and Bills rank in the top six in total defense and points allowed and are in the top nine in passing defense.
These games can only help Darnold’s growth.
“I feel like I’m recognizing things a lot better than I was last year,” Darnold said. “I feel like coverages and different pressures that teams bring, I feel a lot more comfortable there. I’ve made a jump to that degree.
“I feel like I can get a lot better in a lot of different areas. I’m going to continue to work on those things and make sure I continue to focus on that every single week.”
Griffin goes on IR. Ryan Griffin became the 17th Jet to be placed on injured reserve. The veteran tight end suffered an ankle injury early in last week’s win over the Dolphins.Griffin had a strong first season with the Jets. Signed just before training camp, Griffin caught 34 passes for 320 yards and five touchdowns. The Jets signed him to a three-year extension last month. Offensive linemen Brent Qvale was activated to fill Griffin’s roster spot.