Jamal Adams was out of breath. He was hyperventilating. His voice was leaving him, too, getting hoarse by the second.
The Jets had just completed their 27-23 comeback win over the Bills late Sunday afternoon and the second-year safety, the first player to run off the field and up the tunnel, stood just inside the doorway to the visitors’ locker room and — one by one — he greeted every single teammate and coach as they entered.
“YEAH!’’ Adams screamed.
“That’s what I’m talking about.’’
“I love you guys.’’
And on it went.
The Jets hadn’t won a game since Oct. 14 — misery stretched across six consecutive losses and a bye week. They’d scored three offensive touchdowns in the previous five games. They blew a 16-0 lead to the Titans a week earlier in Nashville. Their head coach, Todd Bowles, a popular figure in the locker room, is almost certain to be fired at the end of the season.
Make no mistake: The Jets arrived at Buffalo in a dark place.
But by the time Adams had ushered every one of his teammates and coaches into the locker room and the door was closed, the sounds heard from outside the walls were memorable in that they represented the most jubilant sounds you’ll ever hear from a 4-9 team that’s about to miss the playoffs for the eighth consecutive season.
That elation is what athletes play for. It’s their drug of choice (suspended linebacker Darron Lee’s preferences notwithstanding).
That feeling, too, is what the fans of these teams root for … except all of the armchair draft experts who cynically found themselves agitated by the Jets’ victory because, for the moment, it weakened their draft position from No. 3 overall to No. 5.
Those fans know who they are, because a good number of them are residing in my email inbox, ranting about a meaningless victory possibly screwing up the Jets’ 2019 draft.
This, sadly, has become as much a motivation for fans of struggling teams these days as rooting for their team to win.
“Suck for Luck.’’
“Suck for Sam.’’
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Tank for this or that potential high draft pick.
A few weeks ago, when the Giants finally won a game after their 1-7 start, some Giants fans were grousing, ticked off that the Giants beat the 49ers because they had their wandering eyes on the possible No. 1 overall pick.
The Giants have won four of their past five games after dismantling the hated Redskins on Sunday. Are Giants fans still pissed off? If they are, then they’re not really Giants fans.
Here’s the thing for all of the wannabe draft mavens: Do you even really know whom you want in the draft and whether that player will even become a game changer for your team?
Giants fans want a franchise quarterback to replace Eli Manning. Does anyone even really know whether there’s one in this draft, and do any of them warrant being a No. 1 or 2 overall pick?
Players and coaches play to win. They play for the moments of euphoria the Jets experienced Sunday afternoon, with Adams wildly greeting everyone at the doorway as if they’d all just won the Pick 6 lottery on a shared ticket.
“It just felt good,’’ cornerback Buster Skrine said. “What’s it been … seven games? Everything is better when we win. Everything.’’
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I walked with Jets linebacker Brandon Copeland out of the stadium to one of the team buses and was particularly struck by something he said. Recognizing the big picture with the Jets having already been eliminated from playoff contention, Copeland sounded almost apologetic about winning Sunday.
“Fans might not like it,’’ Copeland said. “We don’t like our record either. But all we can focus on is today and now, and [Sunday] we had fun out there. It was a beautiful thing.’’
If you’re a Jets fan who watched your rookie franchise quarterback Sam Darnold deliver the first fourth-quarter comeback victory of his career and didn’t think it was a beautiful thing, then you’re not a Jets fan at all.
Trust me: Darnold experiencing what he did Sunday — brushing off the rust from not playing for three games while out with a foot injury, hurting the same foot on the first offensive possession, sitting out a series and then returning to help the Jets win — was worth a lot more to the future good of the franchise than dropping a couple of spots in the draft order.
That’s part of the reason Adams stood at the doorway of the locker room.