Jets quarterback Sam Darnold talks about how he can improve after the Jets 21-17 loss to the Browns in Cleveland on Sept. 20, 2018.
Andy Vasquez, Staff Writer, @andy_vasquez
The Jets couldn’t have started the season any better with a convincing win in Detroit. But after two consecutive demoralizing losses, they’re now at a crossroads of sorts.
Are they the team we saw pound Detroit, or are they the team that sabotaged itself in Cleveland?
Here are three things the Jets need to fix as their season continues.
Let’s be frank, if the Jets had been mentally strong on Thursday night they’d be 2-1 right now and we’d be having a completely different conversation.
But they weren’t.
They were undisciplined with a big lead. They made costly mistakes once the game tightened up. And in the end, they walked out of Cleveland with a loss that will take several days of anger to get past.
Jermaine Kearse diagnosed the issue perfectly in the aftermath.
“We’ve just got a lot of growing up to do,” he said. “In terms of one, being able to handle a lead and two being able to be composed when adversity hits. It’s just frustrating because it’s something that we’ve been dealing with and something that we’ve really got to continue to push the pedal on.”
The culture in the Jets’ locker room has improved in the last two seasons, but they still have a problem with those two key issues: handling prosperity and grinding out wins in close games.
The Jets have had only two winning streaks the last three seasons. They’ve followed up big wins with crushing losses.
And they’ve lost several fourth-quarter leads, the latest coming Thursday in Cleveland.
The schedule doesn’t get any easier next weekend in Jacksonville. The Jets are going to have to deal with adversity after this painful loss. How they handle it will tell us a lot about this team and if its learned anything.
“I mean, we’ve got to be serious about it,” Kearse said of turning the lessons into tangible improvement. “ We can’t just sit here and continue to talk about it. At some point you’ve got to start applying it and that’s as simple as it can get. Less talking and just more applying.”
Jets coach Todd Bowles said he was happy with the offensive game plan on Thursday night.
“I thought we were well-balanced on offense. I thought we had some plays dialed up off of what they did. They changed some things around in the second half that negated some of the things we had dialed up. But I thought offensively we had a good game plan that was balanced.”
Well, we respectfully disagree.
The Jets were obviously worried about the Browns’ ability to rush from the edge and put in a game plan that was far too conservative relying on dump-off passes, screens and rollouts. And once the Jets took a commanding 14-0 lead, the game plan got even more conservative.
Quincy Enunwa said it best after the game when asked about Darnold’s performance.
“He did the best he could with the plays he was given,” Enunwa said.
Enunwa didn’t meant that as a shot at the game plan, but it was a hint of what happened.
Darnold never had a real opportunity to throw down the field until the final drives, when the Jets needed to get back in the game. Offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates treated Darnold like a rookie in this game. Perhaps it was the combination of a short week and facing Myles Garrett, but the Jets need to be more aggressive on offense.
Get more from big weapons
Robby Anderson and Leonard Williams have proven that they can be productive. Anderson had 63 catches for 941 yards and seven touchdowns last season. Williams had seven sacks and made the Pro Bowl in 2016.
But both have been non-factors to start the season. Williams didn’t record a single stat on Thursday night and still doesn’t have a sack this season. And Anderson has only six catches for 90 yards, half of those yards coming on his only touchdown catch of the season.
Yes, he’s important to stopping the run game, which doesn’t show up on the stat sheet. And he’s facing constant double teams, because the Jets don’t have another proven pass rusher. But if Williams is supposed to be better than just an average pass rusher, he needs to find a way to overcome that and make a big play.
Meanwhile, cornerbacks are playing Anderson more physically, and safeties are paying more attention to him lest they get beat for a big play. But he needs to find a way to get open and be more of a factor in the offense.
Most importantly, he needs to take better care of the ball. Anderson has fumbled the ball in enemy territory in each of the last two games, leading to momentum-changing scores in losses. That’s unacceptable.
The Jets need more from Anderson and Williams.