By Ernie Palladino
» More Ernie Palladino Columns
The Jets played hard Sunday. They may continue to do so all season. All the way to Sam Darnold, in fact.
For all his team’s faults during the 21-12 loss to the Bills, at least Todd Bowles won’t have to worry about effort. Quarterback Josh McCown kept trying right to the end, right until Micah Hyde intercepted his desperation throw toward Jermaine Kearse with 1:35 to go and the Jets with no timeouts.
And the 38-year-old quarterback did move his team at times, particularly on the lone touchdown drive that ended with McCown sneaking over from the 1 in the third quarter.
The problem is that the game Jets fans saw in Orchard Park is probably an example of the best of what the Jets have to give. That bodes well for those willing to write off this entire year for a shot at USC’s gifted quarterback, regardless of whether Darnold is a guaranteed winner in the NFL or not.
For those actually looking for wins, not so much. Especially when one takes into account the fact that the Bills are also in the middle of a major rebuild. They have lost talent. They have Tyrod Taylor, a middling quarterback who took a $10 million salary cut to stay on the team. And they have 30 new faces on the 53-man roster.
It is obvious that LeSean McCoy cannot carry the Bills’ offense all season, though his 110 yards on 22 carries were sufficient to open enough holes in the Jets’ defense for Taylor to move into range for two touchdown passes, the second of which to Andre Holmes provided the ultimate winning points.
The point here is that the Jets were good enough to hang with a fellow potential cellar-dweller until Mike Tolbert‘s fourth-quarter rushing touchdown afforded the Bills their insurmountable cushion. But next week the Jets’ story may read drastically different as they travel to Oakland for the Raiders, an experienced team with an accomplished quarterback in Derek Carr that is favored to win the AFC West.
The Jets will fight. They left little doubt about that. But they could get blown out just the same.
Bowles’ players did offer some encouraging signs — for the win-oriented, that is. Wide receiver Robby Anderson got himself a bunch of effort points in the fourth quarter as he tried to wrestle the ball away from Jordan Poyer that McCown launched downfield as he was being chased from the pocket. The two caught it simultaneously, but Poyer gained control as they went to the ground. Still, Anderson kept fighting and yanked it from the safety’s grasp.
Replay eventually confirmed that Poyer possessed the ball when he hit the ground. Still, good on Anderson for putting up a fight.
McCown’s touchdown drive also was high on effort. Kearse and ex-Giants tight end Will Tye, two late pickups, took instrumental roles with respective catches of 12 and 22 yards, and ArDarius Stewart’s eight-yard grab fell just short of the end zone. A third-and-goal throw to Bilal Powell had him reaching for the pylon but fell short, setting up McCown’s fourth-down plunge up the middle.
But the two-point conversion pass failed miserably to leave the Jets down 14-12.
There was Juston Burris’ end zone interception that killed the Bills’ initial drive. That play ultimately prevented an early blowout situation. And there was the 52-yard field goal that Chandler Catanzaro nailed in the second quarter to go along with the 48-yarder he hit a few minutes before.
But the bottom line was that the Jets simply didn’t have enough offensive firepower, defensive pass rush, and overall stamina to overtake a team that could wind up in a battle with them to stay out of the AFC East cellar.
That’s bad news for fans hoping for improbable success.
But it’s great news for the Darnold watchers.
Follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino