Lichtenstein: Forget Jets' 6-2 Finish, Throw This Season In The Trash   

Sam Darnold Remains A Mystery

Steve Lichtenstein
December 30, 2019 - 12:26 pm
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If you’re a Jets fan, the only way to characterize their 7-9 2019 season was one big waste.

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Another year, their ninth in a row, without a playoff berth. No. 51 without a Super Bowl appearance.

And no closer to attaining such lofty goals.

I can state that with confidence even after their 6-2 finish following Sunday’s 13-6 slog of a win in Buffalo that was more like a glorified exhibition. The Bills sat many starters, with quarterback Josh Allen exiting after two uninspiring series.

Before you go gaga over Gang Green’s performance in the second half of the season, let’s take a look at the six losing QBs of record:
• Daniel Jones (Giants)
• Dwayne Haskins (Redskins)
• Derek Carr (Raiders)
• Ryan Fitzpatrick (Dolphins)
• Mason Rudolph/Devlin Hodges (Steelers)
• Matt Barkley (Bills)

Not exactly an elite set. On that list, only Carr and Fitzpatrick rank at best in the average category of NFL quarterbacks.

Sam Darnold drops back to pass against the Buffalo Bills on Dec. 29, 2019, at New Era Field in Orchard Park, New York.
Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

The real story of 2019 is that by also losing to then 0-7 Miami and 0-11 Cincinnati in addition to sub-.500 opponents Jacksonville and Cleveland, the Jets wasted opportunities afforded by one of the easiest slates in the league. Next season, the NFC West should be far more challenging than the NFC East was in 2019.  

Also understand that there’s no such thing as a year-to-year carryover of success. The Jets will start the 2020 season at 0-0, just like everyone else. Heck, half the team could very well be comprised of different players. 

With regard to their most important player, quarterback Sam Darnold, you can also toss his second season on his rookie contract into the waste basket. We still don’t know who he is or, more importantly, who he can be. We can only have faith.

Darnold’s 2019 season mirrored his team’s. The Jets were ill-prepared for the three games he missed after Week 1 due to mononucleosis. Injuries to starters at other positions mounted. It took half the season for Darnold and the club to recover.

When Darnold returned, his play fluctuated. He often showcased his ability to make tantalizing throws on and off schedule, yet the campaign was also pockmarked by boneheaded decisions. He still flung too many passes into coverage and, other times, he took sacks when he had opportunities to get the ball out. 

Those blips might be common at Darnold’s age (22), but surely we expected a little bit longer of a leap in Year 2. His stats were only marginally better than they were in the same 13-game sample size as a rookie in 2018 — two more touchdowns (19 to 17), two fewer interceptions (13 to 15) and four points higher in completion percentage (61.9% to 57.7%). He took more sacks (33 to 30) and fumbled more often (10 to five) while there was no change in yards per attempt (6.9).

Again, some may want to use injuries as an excuse for his up-and-down performance. The Jets needed to field 11 different offensive linemen and nine different line combinations this season. Against the Bills, they were without three of their four best outside receivers and also their top two tight ends. Yet, I’d argue that the talent around Darnold on Sunday, with running back Le’Veon Bell and slot receiver Jamison Crowder as significant skill position upgrades, was at least as good as last season’s.

Besides, a new head coach with offensive acumen was supposed to take Darnold to where football is going this season. Instead, Adam Gase proved to be not much better of a play-caller than overmatched prior offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates.

The play-action pass to Crowder at the goal line for the Jets’ only touchdown Sunday was an excellent and timely design, but other drives stalled due to ill-advised calls. A wildcat on third-and-2 on the opening possession? If the Bills weren’t 100% sure that Bell was getting the ball, the formation confirmed it. Kicker Sam Ficken missed a 51-yard field goal after the inevitable stuffing of Bell.

Gase never really figured out how to maximize Bell’s gifts. The two-time first-team All-Pro had his worst NFL season in both rushing yards per game and average yards per carry. He didn’t receive a second-half touch Sunday until about five minutes were remaining, and that included three snaps from the goal line.

Speaking of Bell, we can’t forget the waste of money on all the Jets who played less-impactful positions (or none at all) this season. Prior general manager Mike Maccagnan dished out over $100 million in guarantees during the last free agency period. Somehow, there wasn’t enough in the budget for a real kicker, but that’s another story. I know, it’s owner Christopher Johnson’s money, not ours, but the cap-space allocations to such players had consequences on the product we watched on the field. The Jets ended up expending almost $66 million on players who landed on season-ending injured reserve and another $30-plus million in dead money, or about half their cap space when combining the two, per OverTheCap.com.

Of course, this was all Johnson’s fault for not having the gumption to jettison Maccagnan alongside coach Todd Bowles at the conclusion of the 2018 season. Maccagnan had free rein to draft another class (though this one may be more promising than his past bust-laden selections) and configure this very flawed roster.

Now, thanks to this meaningless late-season run, we’re probably stuck with Gase through at least 2020. Typical Jets — trumpeting wins when they don’t matter. It’s why this franchise has been trash for most of my life.  

For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Devils and Jets, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.

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