By Jeff Capellini, WFAN.com
Anybody feel like catching the ball? How about tucking it away? Anybody?
The Jets’ wide receivers are doing an already struggling rookie quarterback no favors. While it’s true Geno Smith made a lot of dumb decisions and would not have won many target shooting contests during Thursday night’s extremely winnable loss up in New England, his comrades out wide and in the slot did very little to boost the confidence of the guy occupying the most important position on the field.
In fact, the wideouts set NFL receiving back about 50 years.
Please don’t use the weather as an excuse. The nightmare that was the 13-10 loss to the Patriots wasn’t just about slippery conditions. Before a single drop of rain fell there were some guys out there masquerading as professional football players. Blame general manager John Idzik if you want for supplying a suspect at best quarterback situation with inadequate weapons, but at the end of the day the lack of concentration by the individuals involved showed that this season will likely be about more than just the development under center.
That’s because we at least know Smith has ability.
I didn’t understand the concept of keeping Clyde Gates over Braylon Edwards back then and I certainly don’t understand it now. I read rationale’s that ranged from Gates’ blinding speed to his athleticism to his kick and punt return prowess as the reasoning for keeping him over Edwards.
Those reasons were as ridiculous then as they are now.
Gates dropped one pass in the end zone and another later in the first half that should have ended with the Jets getting 14 points. Those miscues changed everything and set the tone for what was to come.
The first drop toward the end of the first quarter ruined what up to that point had been a very nice drive engineered by Smith. The Jets marched from their own 20 all the way to the Patriots’ 9 in a little less than five minutes. But on 3rd down, Gates couldn’t hold on to a nicely tossed pass just inside the goal line. Initially, he appeared to have it, but upon further review, he did not complete the catch when he went to the ground.
You knew at that point it was going to loom large in the final analysis.
Early in the second quarter Smith got the Jets moving again, but his long pass down the seam to Gates on 3rd and 7 from the New England 41, while just slightly under thrown, appeared to carom off of Gates’ upper body and hands. Again, Gates makes that catch and the Jets are in business. Instead, they had to punt and eventually ended up going into the half down 13-3.
Considering the fact that the Patriots did not score again, it becomes a lot easier to say those two plays, perhaps more than all the other snaps combined, were the reasons why the Jets are not 2-0 right now.
I don’t think it would be a stretch to say Edwards makes those plays. As a Jet, he certainly had the resume to suggest he would have. And just from a responsible decision-making standpoint, guys with experience are nine times out of 10 the ones you go to when you absolutely have to have something. Gates may end up doing some good things going forward, but the idea of keeping him over Edwards was and remains silly. We’ll probably never know the reasons why Gates got the nod, but at least we know his amazing concentration had nothing to do with it.
Then there’s the curious case of one Stephen Hill, the second-round draft pick last year out of Georgia Tech who had all of 28 receptions in his final season and 49 receptions and nine touchdowns for his college career.
All he had done in his short time with the Jets up until Thursday night was drop passes, get angry, drop more passes, and stew. Now you can add fumble to that list.
Hill, who finished with four grabs for 86 yards, gave the Patriots an early gift. On the first play of the Jets’ second possession, he hauled in a perfectly thrown 30-yard strike from Smith, took a few steps and then somehow got the ball kicked out of his hands. To be honest, even with all my years of watching the Jets stumble and bumble around various fields, I had never seen that before. Devin McCourty picked up the ball and zig-zagged his way 44 yards to the Jets’ 8, leading to a field goal following a nice stand by Rex Ryan’s defense.
Hill may be a physical specimen, but he’s not catching up to the rest of the league mentally. And the Jets absolutely need him to. By default he may catch 80 passes this season, but that doesn’t mean he’ll become reliable. At some point the light needs to go on in his head, or the Jets’ passing game is never going to get where it needs to be.
If there was a positive from the receiving corps Thursday night it came from Santonio Holmes. Though he’s still nowhere near 100 percent following last season’s foot injury, Holmes was more involved against New England than he was in Week 1 against Tampa Bay, catching three passes for 51 yards, including a 27-yarder.
The Jets really need to hope Holmes gets healthy. When he’s on the field doing what he does best, he has the ability to not just make plays but to become, perhaps more importantly, a catalyst to help build Smith’s confidence. If the Jets are forced to go forward with Hill leading the way there’s no telling how many stalled the drives we’ll see.
Smith threw three interceptions in the fourth quarter, almost certainly because the Jets were trailing and he felt he needed to make plays. His accuracy was hit or mess all night, but if his wide receivers had just seized the moments they had been presented with earlier the odds are none of the picks would have happened. Divide up the blame however you want, but the Jets are going to have a very difficult time being even mediocre, no matter how good the defense ends up being, if these receivers don’t come to Smith’s aid.
This quarterback is going to struggle. I think everyone knows it. But when counted-on targets like Gates and Hill repeatedly show that they might not belong on an NFL field either, where exactly are the Jets?
There’s no question the Jets are going to remain a work in progress for the foreseeable future, but right now all that work doesn’t look like a labor of love. It looks like a continuous struggle.
It’s painful to watch this team on offense. But, then again, it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. You’re just left wondering if it will ever end.
Read more columns by Jeff Capellini and follow him on Twitter at @GreenLanternJet
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