EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The worst season in New York Jets history has been a combination platter of bad football, bad coaching and off-the-field controversy. But here’s the thing about rotten seasons: Every one needs a defining moment — a Butt Fumble or a Fake Spike — something that will cause players, coaches and fans to groan and shake their heads years later.
That was the year that (insert screw-ball play or dumb decision).
The 2020 Jets didn’t have that moment. Until Sunday. Until defensive coordinator Gregg Williams called one blitz too many, resulting in a crushing 31-28 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders (7-5) at MetLife Stadium.
Only one conclusion can be drawn in the aftermath of Loss No. 12: The Jets, the laughingstock of the NFL, don’t know what the hell they’re doing. Even when the players do their jobs and deliver a spirited effort in an utterly hopeless and meaningless situation, their coaches manage to undermine the cause. That Jets CEO Christopher Johnson hasn’t fired anyone yet truly is one of the biggest riddles of our time.
“It’s hard to fathom losing a game like that,” Jets quarterback Sam Darnold said after Raiders wide receiver Henry Ruggs III toasted rookie cornerback Lamar Jackson for a 46-yard touchdown with five seconds left in the game.
On the 50-year anniversary of a similarly miraculous Raiders victory over the Jets — how eerie is that? — the Jets showed nothing much has changed in the past half-century. On Dec. 6, 1970, Daryle Lamonica took a third-and-10 snap with 8 seconds left and threw a 33-yard touchdown to Warren Wells — a Hail Mary that was tipped by a defender in the end zone. The Raiders won, 14-13, keeping alive their playoff hopes.
On Dec. 6, 2020, Derek Carr took a third-and-10 snap with 13 seconds left and threw a 46-yard touchdown to Ruggs to keep alive their playoff hopes.
Karma hates the Jets.
History doesn’t say whether the Jets’ defensive coordinator in 1970 sent an all-out blitz at Lamonica, but that’s exactly what Williams did with the game on the line. He called a Cover-Zero blitz, rushing eight, leaving three in man-to-man coverage and having no safety to protect the deep middle. It would have been a risky call with an experienced group of defensive backs, but the Jets had two rookies at cornerback — Jackson and Bryce Hall, with veteran safety Marcus Maye in “man” coverage in the middle.
It was a reckless call. It was uniquely reckless. According to ESPN Stats & Information data, which goes back to 2006, it was the first time a team sent six or more rushers in the final 15 seconds of regulation when leading by four-to-eight points and being more than 40 yards from the end zone.
The situation called for a soft zone — a prevent defense, if you will. The Raiders had no timeouts left. If Carr had completed a pass in the middle of the field, there’s a good chance time would have expired. He had to throw to the end zone or find a quick completion that went out of bounds to stop the clock.
This was a time to be conservative, but Williams scoffed at that idea and dialed up an eight-man rush. Thus, the Jets became the first team this season to use an eight-man rush in the final 30 seconds of a game, per NFL Next Gen Stats.
“I just felt like we could’ve been in a better call in that situation,” a visibly frustrated Maye said, repeating it several times in his postgame interview.
That the criticism of Williams came from Maye is noteworthy. He’s a captain, but he’s a mild-mannered player who never has uttered a controversial word during his four years with the team. He’s the ultimate company man. This is more turmoil for the Jets, whose poor play has been overshadowed by off-the-field dysfunction.
A week ago, coach Adam Gase tap-danced when questioned about the offensive playcalling — a regular “Who’s on first?” routine. Now there’s another playcalling controversy, but it’s not “who,” it’s “what.” As in: What was Williams thinking?
Williams wasn’t made available after the game; coordinators speak to the media later in the week. The Jets should’ve made an exception because this calamity screamed for an explanation. Gase said the objective was to create pressure on Carr, but he didn’t sound like he believed what he was saying. They didn’t need pressure; they needed coverage.
Gase had no input on the strategy because he has nothing to do with the defense; he lets Williams run the entire show, deciding who plays, who sits and what plays get called. Williams is the head coach of the defense, Gase leads the offense (no matter who calls the plays). It’s an inherent flaw in the Jets’ coaching dynamic, one that has existed for nearly two seasons.
ESPN reporter Rich Cimini says Ty Johnson is emerging as a fantasy starter after a big game vs. the Raiders.
In many ways, the Williams blitz/Ruggs touchdown epitomized the sad state of the team. This is a young team, shy on talent, with marginal players in the starting lineup — many of them on defense. It’s up to the coaches to put them in the best position to succeed. Williams didn’t do that. He asked a rookie free agent — Jackson, who has one of the worst cornerback ratings in the league — to cover the ultra-fast Ruggs, a first-round pick who has star potential.
Carr said he was stunned by the all-out blitz, which generated no pressure on him. He calmly delivered a strike, 54 yards in the air, to a wide-open Ruggs, who created 2 yards of separation on a double move, per NFL Next Gen Stats.
Same Old Jets.
Darnold was asked if players are “pissed” at Williams, and his response was telling: “It is what it is.” Translation: They were furious.
Williams is an aggressive coach whose mentor was the late Buddy Ryan, who had a saying about the risk-reward nature of blitzing: One band will end up playing, but you don’t know which one.
The only song that should be playing for the 2020 Jets is “Taps.”