By Jason Keidel
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The first half of the Jets-Dolphins game featured the kind of plodding boredom you’d find in a Big Ten game from the 1970s. The only news was the Jets taking their first lead of the season — on a field goal, of course — in Week 3. It spoke to the biblically bad offense we all predicted, projected or promised for the 2017 season.
But not only did the Jets keep their lead, they increased it, and shocked fans watched it balloon to 20-0 after three quarters.
Stop the presses. The Jets won a football game. And we didn’t have to wait until Christmas, Thanksgiving or even Halloween to see it. In the absurdly sweltering swamp of the Meadowlands, a day befitting July 24 far more than Sept. 24, the Jets (1-2) vaporized the Miami Dolphins (1-1), in a game that may not have flashed much aesthetic beauty, but wins in the NFL have their own, inherent splendor.
And there has to be a certain sweetness for Jets fans in knowing that their club won a game before their more celebrated roommates, the New York Football Giants.
The CBS broadcast team gushed over Jets quarterback Josh McCown, how he zipped the ball during the week’s practice, how the pigskin never scraped the ground on passing plays. And, frankly, it showed Sunday. McCown’s record may have been 2-12 over his last 14 games, but his passes were strong, crisp and accurate. He showed the poise and power of an All-Pro QB, completing 18 of 23 passes for 249 yards with one touchdown and zero interceptions.
And with each point Gang Green scored, the more bleak the game got for Miami, which was stuck in the muck of the Jets’ rabid defensive line. New York stuffed, stopped and crunched Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi as he hit the line, holding the all-world back to 16 yards on 11 carries (a 1.5 average). When Miami dropped back to pass, the Jets stalked, harassed and bruised quarterback Jay Cutler all game.
Pundits gave the Adam Gase-Jay Cutler tandem glowing reviews leading up to the season, assuring us that this accidental remarriage would yield dazzling results based on their time together in Chicago. But, frankly, Cutler looked like, well, Cutler, finishing the game completing just 26 of 44 passes for one TD and one interception.
Not that Cutler was entirely to blame. Once the Jets jumped on Miami, Cutler had to throw more, and the Jets’ defensive line played like we’ve expected the last few years, sacking the Dolphins’ QB three times and pummeling him many more. If not for a bonehead taunting penalty by Jamal Adams and a useless TD pass from Cutler to Parker, the Jets’ defense would have played a perfect game.
In fact, there was little the Jets did to suggest they were either tanking or a team flirting with being the worst in recent NFL history. On offense, they played with balance, with 103 of their 352 total yards coming on the ground. They didn’t make the scalp-scratching errors that have painfully defined them for so long. And, perhaps as refreshing as any stat, they played with passion and intelligence. Not only did they whip the Dolphins from whistle to gun, it was clear they wanted this game more than Miami did. It wasn’t the kind of high-flying, high-scoring, scoreboard-spiking game that defined this rivalry during the Dan Marino era and beyond, but surely a 20-6 win felt better than any 45-41 loss.
Good for Gang Green, who stuck it back in our faces. This game was a big TD spike at all the blowhards — including yours truly — who wrote their epitaphs before the season started, comparing their offense to the 1992 Seahawks and wondering sardonically where the wins would be found over the spread of 16 games.
Are the Jets still a joke? A bad team that beat an overrated team? Or is Gang Green a little better than we thought? The fact that we must ask the question means they’re already better than we predicted. And with one win they would actually be .500 after a month — something no one predicted.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel