EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The New York Jets would like to forget last season, but sometimes history can be a teacher. Jamal Adams sensed an opportunity on Sunday. After coach Todd Bowles was finished speaking to the team, the fiery safety got in the middle of his teammates and let his passion flow. Adams, who has grown into a prominent leadership role, delivered a speech that left players buzzing in the aftermath of their 37-17 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
His message: This season isn’t last season. It won’t be last season.
The Jets were in the same position last year — 3-4 and trying to hold on to the remnants of a promising start. They failed, of course. After their Week 7 loss in Miami, they unraveled in spectacular fashion, losing seven of their last nine. Adams referenced the meltdown in Miami as he stood in the middle of the MetLife Stadium locker room on Sunday, as he tried to will his teammates into a good place.
Afterward, nose tackle Steve McLendon smiled as he recalled Adams’ speech. McLendon, who spent most of his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers, said Adams reminds him of a young Antonio Brown because of his passion for the game.
“He took the words out of my mouth,” McLendon, one of the vocal leaders on defense, told ESPN. “He said, at this point last year, we were in Miami. Same situation. We had our heads down and we were feeling sorry for ourselves. Today, we didn’t have our heads down and we don’t feel sorry. Let’s get back in it and let’s rise to the occasion. We have the opportunity to do something great in this locker room. We’re good enough to do it now.”
Defensive end Henry Anderson was on the other side of the locker room for Adams’ speech. His words resonated over there as well.
“Jamal said some stuff that will keep us together,” Anderson said. “We have good leadership in this locker room. He knows when to step up and say something. Obviously, he plays his ass off when he’s on the field. It’s good to see someone who talks the talk, then walks the walk.”
In only his second season, Adams has become the face and voice of the defense. This is one of the reasons why the Jets drafted him sixth overall; they believe he has the rare ability to change the culture. After Sunday’s defeat, he vowed there would be no repeat of 2017.
“I’m not going to let it happen,” he told reporters.
If the Jets win some games and hang around until the end, Adams’ words could be remembered as a turning point. Their challenge, though, is formidable. It starts with a two-game road trip, beginning with the Chicago Bears (3-3), who have the kind of defense that can cause major problems for Sam Darnold & Co. With a banged-up receivers group and inexperienced tight ends, Darnold’s targets struggled to get open against the Vikings. He was forced to make too many tight-window throws, and the results weren’t good — 0-for-10 on attempts in which there was less than one yard separation.
A turnaround would have to start with the offensive line and the running game, but the health of running back Bilal Powell (neck) bares watching. Isaiah Crowell hasn’t been the same runner since hurting his foot late in his record-setting performance in Week 5, and he’s probably not equipped to handle a heavy load. Rookie Trenton Cannon is greener than the color-rush uniforms they wore Sunday.
One thing they have is team chemistry. They aren’t the Jacksonville Jaguars, yelling and screaming at each other behind closed doors. The Jets don’t have a winning culture yet, but they have a good culture.
“It’s a lot more close-knit,” linebacker Darron Lee said. “I know, in the first couple of years I was here, the wheels would’ve fallen off and all hell would’ve broke loose. We’re fine. No one is panicking here.”
Adams is setting the tone. On Sunday, McLendon felt like a big brother, seeing the young safety do his thing.
“I’m proud of that young man,” McLendon said. “I get to see him grow. He does everything right. He might not always say the right things [to the media], but his play speaks for itself. I got to watch Antonio Brown the same way. Sometimes the seeds are planted on your team and I’ve been fortunate to watch it grow. It’s amazing to get to see that flower grow.”