Sunday’s game against the Patriots at MetLife Stadium was supposed to be a litmus test for the Jets. It was supposed to be a chance to see how they measured up against the five-time Super Bowl champions; to see if they had closed the gap to challenging Tom Brady and Bill Belichick in the AFC East any time soon.
It would be a credible test because Sam Darnold would be 10 games into his rookie season as the franchise quarterback, and young building blocks such as Jamal Adams and Leonard Williams would be solidifying the defense. Todd Bowles, in his fourth season as head coach, would have his players and his system firmly in place.
Instead, as they enter the first meeting of the season between the two teams, the gap between the Jets and Patriots resembles something like the Grand Canyon.
When Rex Ryan became the Jets’ head coach, he aimed his bravado squarely at the Patriots and said he wasn’t going to kiss Belichick’s (Super Bowl) rings. Now there are more rings to kiss, while the Jets are coming off one of their worst defeats in franchise history.
The Pats lead the AFC East (again) at 7-3, while the Jets are polar opposite at 3-7 after losing 41-10 to the lowly Bills two weeks ago at Met Life Stadium. The Jets trailed 31-0 at one point against the Bills and quarterback Matt Barkley, who was signed two weeks earlier and making his first start in two years.
“That was a loss I did not expect to happen,” Jets linebacker Avery Williamson said. “We definitely want to prove we’re not that type of team and not that type of defense.”
The Jets are regressing more than improving. Instead of stability, there is uncertainty. Bowles’ job security has never been more tenuous, and a coaching change is likely if the Jets don’t finish the season strong. That would mean hiring another new coach to try to resurrect the franchise to the point at which it can compete against the Patriots, who have been a model of consistency since Belichick resigned as “HC of the NYJ” and took the job in New England.
“Bill Belichick has worked hard to get his system to where it’s at,” said Jets receiver Quincy Enunwa. “It’s all about guys buying into that system.”
Whether the Jets are buying in remains questionable. They have been inconsistent this year, looking impressive in wins over the Lions, Broncos and Colts, while being dreadful in losses to the Browns, Vikings and Bills.
“It’s a tough season,” Williamson said. “It hasn’t gone the way we expected. At the end of the day we have to continue to work and continue to grind.”
Darnold, who was to go head-to-head with Brady for the first time, probably isn’t going to play as he continues to recover from a strained foot he suffered in a 13-6 loss to the Dolphins on Nov. 4.
The Darnold-Brady showdown will have to wait, but really won’t have any meaning until the Jets become playoff contenders. At this rate, Brady may not even be around and Darnold could be in his fifth or sixth season under his second head coach and who knows how many offensive coordinators.
A bye week has given the Jets time to rest and reflect, but whether that proves beneficial won’t be known until Sunday. It will take nothing less than their best performance of the season to avert their fifth straight loss to New England.
“It was definitely much-needed, especially after the last loss,” Williamson said of the bye week. “We’d been in a routine for 10 weeks. Getting away and being able to relax a little bit was really good.”
Rested and ready, this was supposed to be a game to prove the Jets were on the rise. Instead, they’re trying to avoid another crash landing.