The Jets are very young, and they are very raw, and they are very much in the business of developing that young and raw talent. When a team cannot sell winning, of course the next best thing for it to sell is hope.
Just not this week.
Just not when an NFL team will actually show up in MetLife Stadium in worse shape than its two adrift tenants.
The 2-12 Jaguars all but make the 3-11 Jets and 4-10 Giants look like credible, well-organized hopefuls. The Jags are a clown show on the rebound from Urban Meyer, a wretched excuse for a leader who never should have been hired in the first place. They have turned a generational talent and No. 1-overall draft pick, Trevor Lawrence, into the kind of below-average quarterback his Clemson teams used to pound into submission on any given Saturday.
The Jets need to beat this team. Around 4:15 p.m. Sunday in East Rutherford, Robert Saleh cannot face the media and start talking about all the valuable learning done in defeat that will help the Jets accomplish meaningful things down the road.
Saleh needs to be talking about all the plays that gave his team its fourth victory of the season.
“Winning is always first,” Saleh said Monday. “Always, always, always first.”
Tell that to a fan base that has watched the Jets lose 68 of their 94 games over the last six seasons. In more than 70 percent of the games played since Todd Bowles went 10-6 (and missed the postseason) in 2015, the Jets have scored fewer points than their opponents. That’s why theirs feels like the longest rebuilding project in human history.
As a rookie head coach, Saleh doesn’t have to answer for the vast majority of his franchise’s futility. He looks and acts and talks like a guy who you’d want to play hard for, but his record so far is what it is, and so is Zach Wilson’s. The kid picked right after Lawrence in the draft has largely carried himself off the field better than he has on it, handling big-city scrutiny and criticism with apparent ease.
But when asked after Sunday’s defeat in Miami about how much responsibility he accepts for his team’s offensive struggles since his return from a knee injury, Wilson finally blinked and said dismissively, “Yeah, I don’t worry about any of that stuff,” before immediately turning his head away from the questioner — a sure sign of displeasure with what was a fair question.
Wilson wasn’t made available to the media Monday for a temperature check, and perhaps next season he’ll follow the lead of the only New York quarterback ever to win multiple Super Bowls, Eli Manning, whose policy was to be available on Mondays after defeats (to be accountable) and to be unavailable on Mondays after victories (to ensure his teammates received their share of credit). Either way, maybe Wilson’s terse response was something of a good sign. Maybe the losing and his own subpar play are bothering the rookie more than he’s previously let on, and he’ll channel that emotion into a decisive conquest of Lawrence.
Asked how important it was for his quarterback to carry another victory or two into his offseason, Saleh said, “Wanting to win and needing to win are different, right? We are eliminated from the playoffs. We want to win football games. … Whether we win or lose, will it change the confidence level or the development that takes place? I don’t think that moves the needle much. Does it create a little bit more swag? Maybe. Does it create more hope? Maybe. But I’ve seen a lot of teams win this time of year, and there’s a lot of fake optimism. I’ve seen that a lot.”
You know what? Jets fans would sign up for a little fake optimism right now, if it means actually winning a football game for the second time since the World Series ended. Honest to God, the Jets are favored to beat Jacksonville, favored to beat anyone for the first time all year.
“We want to get Ws not only for ourselves, but for the organization and the fan base and the media, for you guys writing,” Saleh told reporters. “I mean, shoot, I’m sure you guys would like to write about a winning team once in a while.”
This is true. But the masses need it a whole lot more than the media does. So late Sunday afternoon, Saleh can’t be talking about the process, and teachable moments, and all the cool, athletic, off-schedule stuff Wilson did after making free runners miss the way he did in Miami.
As one guy who used to hold Saleh’s job famously said, you play to win the game. This weekend, for a change, isn’t about the process. It’s about the result for the New York Jets and nothing else.