ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — The Jets ended the season with a very ugly and uneven performance. But they walked out of rainy New Era Field and into the offseason with a victory and the belief that they’re not far from becoming a playoff team.
The Jets haven’t reached the postseason for nine straight years, but Adam Gase’s first season as Jets coach concluded Sunday with a 13-6 win over the playoff-bound Bills.
“The main goal was to get in the playoffs,” Jamal Adams said. “It didn’t happen. This game right here was our start of next season.’’
The Jets underachieved in many areas, but after a 1-7 start, they went 6-2 in the second half of the season and finished 7-9.
“The way we finished is something that hasn’t happened the last [three] years I’ve been here,” linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. “I feel like it’s definitely going to carry over because watching teams that you beat and teams you felt like shouldn’t have been in the playoffs, watching them play is going to leave a sour taste in everybody’s mouth.
“Some guys said it’s the last time. We’re not trying to sit out of the playoffs anymore.”
It was another atrocious offensive performance, and the rain and cold weather definitely contributed. But Gregg Williams’ defense forced three turnovers and kept the Bills out of the end zone.
Buffalo (10-6) had the No. 5 seed in the AFC playoffs locked up, so coach Sean McDermott rested many starters. The Bills held out receivers John Brown and Cole Beasley, running back Devin Singletary, tight end Dawson Knox and top corner Tre’Davious White. Quarterback Josh Allen played only two series, and Matt Barkley finished the game.
It didn’t matter that the Jets were facing mostly second- and third-string players on both sides of the ball. They were 1-for-3 in red-zone chances and didn’t get in the end zone until early in the fourth quarter.
Sam Darnold threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Jamison Crowder that put the Jets up 10-3 with 13:31 left. The only touchdown of the game was set up by a 20-yard end-around by receiver Vyncint Smith to the Bills’ 1.
Darnold was 23-for-36 for 199 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He had tight end Daniel Brown open in the end zone for a potential touchdown in the first half, but Brown couldn’t hold on to the low pass as he tried to make a sliding catch.
Le’Veon Bell totaled 77 scrimmage yards (41 rushing, 36 receiving). He was barely involved offensively in the second half, but he got five touches on the series that put the game away.
It ended with a 47-yard field goal by Sam Ficken with 2:05 left that put the Jets up 13-3. Ficken missed two earlier field-goal attempts.
“I just told those guys after we scored the touchdown, we’re going to need one more to close this thing out,” Gase said. “They got it done when we needed them to.”
The Jets had playoff aspirations, but injuries and offensive ineptitude were the story of their season.
Darnold missed three games after contracting mononucleosis after the Jets’ one-point loss to Buffalo in Week 1. In the same game, they lost middle linebacker C.J. Mosley to a groin injury late in the third quarter.
Mosley, whom the Jets signed to a five-year, $85 million contract, ended up playing in only two games. He was one of 20 Jets placed on injured reserve.
Williams’ defense handled all the changes and adversity far better than Gase’s offense, but Gase helped keep the team together and focused on playing competitive and winning football late in the season when there was little to nothing at stake.
“To be able to finish strong and show a bunch of resiliency throughout the last half of the season was awesome,” Darnold said.
Now general manager Joe Douglas and Gase have some difficult decisions to make with the roster.
Among their notable free agents are Jenkins, Robby Anderson and Kelvin Beachum. They also have to decide if Bell is a part of the future. The speculation remains that they will explore trades for him.
The Jets have holes in many areas that need addressing — edge rusher, offensive line, cornerback and receiver among them. But if they can keep the core together, they think they’re close to turning the corner.
“Everybody is going to be watching the playoffs and we’re going to have a bad taste in our mouth,” Adams said. “But it’s just going to feed us. We haven’t been to the playoffs in a while. Hopefully next year it changes.”