By Jason Keidel
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The Jets must be the most enigmatic team in pro football.
They were supposed to be historically horrible. Yet they were 3-2, giving the New England Patriots all they could handle, thwarted by one of the worst replay calls in NFL history.
Then they traveled to Miami and dominated the Dolphins, taking a two-touchdown lead into the fourth quarter Sunday. Even better, the Dolphins lost their starting quarterback, Jay Cutler, making the 28-14 bulge seem insurmountable.
Yet the Jets, as they have done too many times over the years, found a way to gag a game they had in hand, a result in haunting syndication with this franchise. But the problem with these Jets is we expected nothing of them, so how can we rip them for results we essentially predicted?
It’s of no consolation to Jets fans, but the fact is they played a very good football game for over three quarters. They caught Miami off guard with clever running. They threw the ball all over the field to hardly a hearty group of receivers named Anderson, Kerley and Kearse. They continue to get a surprise bump from resurgent tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and modest contributions from an ageless Matt Forte.
On defense, they had three sacks and two interceptions. They play hard on seemingly every play, a testament to Todd Bowles, whom we all thought was a dead coach walking, despite the fact that his team — beyond the defensive line — doesn’t have a single star on it. Or at least one that rated higher than 86 on “Madden NFL ’18.”
And that’s really it. The issue is not that the Jets lack technique or tenacity or some small defect that can be coached out of them. They just don’t have that much talent or the kind of playmakers who put this kind of game away. And even still, they played well enough to win, making the Jets maddening, as well as 3-4 and firmly in last place in the AFC East.
The only inexcusable mistake was Josh McCown’s interception with 47 seconds left in the game, which allowed Miami to kick the field goal that gave them a 31-28 lead. Frankly, the word “mistake” doesn’t frame it. It was the kind of play that would make Christian Hackenberg blush. Someone of McCown’s age and NFL wisdom should never make that throw in a thousand NFL games.
Yet McCown is the perfect emblem of the Jets paradox. He had a wretched win-loss record before signing with Gang Green. But he’s actually played admirably and had a hand in all four of the Jets’ touchdowns Sunday (three passing, one rushing). Then he made that throw, which you couldn’t even justify in a video game.
Even with the galling interception, McCown finished with a passer rating of 108.4. But he threw it.
Everyone is making this about Matt Moore, about how Jay Cutler’s infectious apathy has kept the Dolphins — like every team Cutler leads — in gridiron shackles. Maybe that’s true. Moore does seem more than capable, though he’s always the last option in Miami. But the Jets had no business blowing this game. They held the Dolphins to 53 yards rushing, but they surrendered 304 passing yards, making Moore look like John Unitas.
It’s a sportswriter’s job to provide context, to tell you what happened and why. Unless we’re talking about the New York Jets, a team that’s never had its own stadium, that hasn’t had a franchise quarterback since Joe Namath, that stretches the limits of logic every year. If anyone tells you they not only love the Jets but also understand them, they’re lying.
The only thing we know is that the Jets play the Atlanta Falcons next Sunday. Beyond that, it’s between you and your conscience, clergy, or deity of choice.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel