NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — In the middle of a busy offseason marked by a drastic roster renovation, Mike Maccagnan insisted that the New York Jets would be competitive.
The general manager repeated that early in training camp, right when doom and gloom was being predicted for the team — with many fans and media wondering if there would be any victories to celebrate this season.
Well, so far, the Jets already have two, and most of Maccagnan’s less-than-popular moves have worked.
“I think we’ve surprised some people outside,” cornerback Buster Skrine said after the Jets’ 23-20 overtime win over Jacksonville on Sunday. “But inside, we’re not surprised that we’re winning games.”
It’s that defiant approach that has made the Jets’ ragtag bunch of veterans, no-names and inexperienced youngsters an intriguing opponent. Coach Todd Bowles has stressed a “One Team, One Goal” mantra — and the players have talked about an overwhelming sense of unity since the offseason.
“I would say the chemistry is high,” quarterback Josh McCown said during a conference call Monday. “I’ve felt that since I’ve been here and we’ve done nothing to take away from that. It’s probably one of the better places, for me, that I’ve been in 15 years.”
Winning can certainly breed that feeling, and there’s a chance for more next Sunday when the Jets take on the Browns (0-4) in Cleveland.
“We’ve said it all along, for us in the building, there’s an exterior narrative that goes out,” McCown said. “And then there’s the story that goes out that we’re trying to tell and that we believe in — and I do believe those are two different things.”
This team isn’t without its blemishes, of course, and bad losses at Buffalo and Oakland to open the season certainly played into the dismal prognostications.
The Jets are still looking for consistency and faster starts from the offense, some sign of a pass rush from guys such as Muhammad Wilkerson and Leonard Williams — who have no sacks — and being able to close out games. That’s why New York is taking nothing for granted heading into its matchup at Cleveland.
“We were once a winless club, and we know how that feels,” Bowles said. “We’ve only won two games. We’ve got nothing to get big-headed about. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
The Jets, particularly Maccagnan, took lots of criticism during the last several months for stripping the roster of several of its most recognizable names in favor of what became a less-expensive youth movement.
At this point, it’s tough to take the GM to task:
— Cornerback Darrelle Revis was replaced by Morris Claiborne, who had a terrific game Sunday while allowing no catches against the Jaguars and being targeted just once. Meanwhile, Revis hasn’t hooked on elsewhere.
— Safeties Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye, the team’s first- and second-round draft picks, have already established themselves as playmaking leaders on defense.
— Nick Mangold was cut, and Wesley Johnson has seamlessly taken over at center. Mangold remains a free agent.
— Safety Calvin Pryor was traded to Cleveland for linebacker Demario Davis, allowing the Jets to part ways with David Harris. Davis is second in the NFL with 40 total tackles, while Pryor is on IR with Jacksonville after being cut by the Browns for fighting with a teammate. Harris has barely seen the field with New England, despite the Patriots’ struggles on defense.
— McCown was signed to a one-year, $6 million deal in the offseason that was panned by many Jets fans who wanted Christian Hackenberg or Bryce Petty to compete for the starting gig. Neither proved himself in the summer, while McCown has been a stabilizing force for New York on the field and in the locker room. His 70.1 completion percentage ranks second in the NFL to only Kansas City’s Alex Smith (77.4)
— Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker were cut, leaving the Jets with an inexperienced group of receivers after Quincy Enunwa was lost for the season with a neck injury. But Marshall has done little with the Giants (16 catches, 139 yards, 0 TDs) and Decker has made minimal contributions to Tennessee (12 for 104, 0 TDs).
— Defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson was dealt to Seattle for wide receiver Jermaine Kearse right before the season. Richardson has 12 tackles and no sacks in four games, while Kearse is the Jets’ leading receiver with 18 receptions for 182 yards and two TDs.
— Other under-the-radar acquisitions have played significant roles: defensive end Kony Ealy (four passes defensed, one INT against the Jaguars); safety Terrence Brooks (two INTs last week against Miami and AFC defensive player of the week); linebacker David Bass (team-leading two sacks); and the return of wide receiver Jeremy Kerley (12 catches are second best on the team).
“It’s a credit to the coaches and management putting this group together,” McCown said. “Credit (the players) buying in and being for one another, so it’s encouraging. I think you can do a lot with that kind of connectivity and hopefully we can continue to build on that.”
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)