The Jets’ attack was a historically awful mess on Sunday. You can not deny or overdo it or apologize, even if there were reasons for it.
Worst of all, quarterback Zach Wilson took a step back at the worst time, in a 27-10 loss to the Bills at Highmark Stadium that tarnished some of the goodwill he had built up in recent weeks.
But since this is the last time we will see these guys in a game that counts until September, it was also OK for Jets fans while covering their eyes to look between their fingers and see a glimmer of hope on the horizon.
Really, that was it. Do not be afraid no matter how much you have been through the last half century, scars that understandably make it hard to believe in good things.
The NFL and CBS gave the Jets a sweet start time in the late afternoon for Week 18, which obviously had nothing to do with them. They visited the Bills, who sought to win the AFC East before their insane, frigid fans.
It’s good television, which the Jets traditionally are not. But as they have done on other occasions down the stretch, they made a turn out of it.
The underplot here is rookie head coach Robert Saleh and his team – including rookies who led the Jets in passing, rushing and reception this season – watching and learning, with a view to moving on to relevance next season.
In Week 17, it was Tom Brady, Spirit of AFC East Quarterbacks Past, who led the Buccaneers on a dramatic, late, winning touchdown drive at MetLife Stadium in a game in which the Jets played well but lost, 28-24.
On Sunday, it was the Spirit of AFC East Quarterbacks Present, Josh Allen, who played big games when it mattered most, but for much of the day struggled to solve the Jets’ lively defense.
The big question for the Jets was: How would the Spirit of AFC East Quarterbacks Future fare in their presence?
Wilson was good against Brady, but had a long, long day against Allen, except for a 40-yard finish to Keelan Cole, who made the score 10-7 in the second quarter.
He was 7-for-20 for 87 yards and was fired eight times when the Jets scored 53 yards, the lowest number in franchise history. At times it was his linemen who were to blame, at times he was to hold on to the ball for too long.
Wilson lamented some “boneheaded” play he made, especially when he took a sack that turned a 39-yard field goal attempt into a 49-yard touchdown.
“I was just trying to do too much,” Wilson said. “In my head I think ‘Make a play!’ But I just have to do my job, I have to throw the ball away.”
It was a disappointing setback after Wilson’s performance play had pointed up in recent weeks. But at least he managed to get through another game without turning the ball.
Wilson was bad, but he worked without any running game to speak of, had little passing protection, and when Jamison Crowder left in the second quarter with a calf injury, he was without his top four wide receivers.
He also faced the league’s top-ranked defense on a windy, wet day in a hostile atmosphere.
Saleh said he would not let Sunday’s flop affect his view of Wilson’s season. “I think his development over the year has been spot on,” Saleh said.
Finally, the Bills put it away in the fourth quarter as the leading 13-10 took possession on their own 49-yard line, with Allen running 32 yards to trigger a touchdown drive that made it 20-10 with 8:21 left.
The Jets’ attack was powerless to respond.
“Ultimately, it’s about winning, period, and winning four games in this league is not good enough,” Saleh said, “but at the same time, we all knew this was going to be a roller coaster ride of a season with the youth movement, which we have had. ”
Losing to the Bills was the final exam for 2022.
“Obviously we have a long way to go if we want to close the gap with Buffalo and New England and Miami, for that matter,” Saleh said. “The gap will close, and it will close with time and development.”
The time has come for this season. See you in September.