It was the most amazing thing to behold. Out on Route 3, and Route 17, and Paterson Plank Road, the cars were frozen, traffic arteries clogged to a halt. Ninety minutes before kickoff on a perfect Sunday afternoon last month, nervous drivers kept checking their watches and absently slapping their steering wheels.
One guy got out of his Honda, because he could, because it wasn’t going anywhere.
“Is there an accident?” he asked his temporary neighbors. “There has to be an accident.”
There was no accident, unless that’s how you identify what had happened six days earlier, on a Monday night in downtown Detroit, the first night of this football season, the night the Jets just about threw a perfect game at the Lions and rousted their fans to action.
Jets fans had embraced that 48-17 Monday-night lid-lifter, had clutched on to it for dear life. In more lucid moments in the days that followed they would concede that this probably wasn’t a harbinger of a parade five months in the future, just the most splendid kind of outlier. But what fun is it to be a fan if you’re lucid all the time?
So it seemed they were all here: on Route 3 and Route 17 and Paterson Plank Road, trying to stuff their way into MetLife Stadium for the first home game of the season, armed with all the optimism a 1-0 record allows, wondering if maybe, just maybe, all their tears and toils and personal investments would find a payday on this day …
And, well, here we are.
It’s two weeks later, the Jets are on a three-game losing streak, that win in Detroit feels like 30 years ago, the excitement and anticipation that filled the parking lots before the Dolphins filleted the Jets in that home opener dissolving, if not quite evaporated.
And now the Jets are coming home: battered, bloodied, thrice beaten. Looking for anything to wrap their hands around. They get three straight home games, against three opponents — Broncos, Colts, Vikings — they should be able to hang with for 60 minutes apiece. It is their final opportunity to make something of what is rapidly feeling like a practice season.
“We haven’t won our first game at home yet,” Leonard Williams said on Monday. “We have to dominate at home. If nothing else, we have to win at home. For ourselves, for our fans, for all the doubters out there we have to do well these next three games.”
A lot was made about the Jets’ first 25 years as Jersey residents, how they’d forfeited a nice home-field advantage at Shea Stadium in favor of old Giants Stadium, where they were the Giants’ tenants and second-class citizens in every way for every day they called that old joint home. MetLife was supposed to represent a new era in a new home they could call at least half their own.
But in their first 66 games there they have a 35-31 record (including a “road” win over the Giants in 2015), which means it isn’t likely to earn any ominous nicknames like “Death Valley” anytime soon. Now, a good part of that is the simple fact that the teams that have occupied it haven’t been terribly memorable: only one postseason appearance, and not one home playoff game yet.
Jets fans tried to change that narrative in the season opener and did their part. But the Jets didn’t get the memo that it was a 1 o’clock kickoff, failing to report to work until around 2:30 or so. It is a chronic problem for this team.
Jets fans have spent the last two weeks grumbling on return flights from Cleveland and Jacksonville. They still travel awfully well for a franchise that hasn’t exactly been an endless loop of highlights the last couple of decades. Despite what they saw in Week 2, despite what they might feel like at 1-3, it is clear they WANT to embrace this team, WANT to stay engaged, WANT to have a reason to keep their ducats and not give them away on StubHub for a song.
“We’re not as bad as the film looked,” coach Todd Bowles insisted Monday. “We’ve got home games coming up. We have to respond.”
It’s the last available olive branch. For the Jets, this won’t only be about salvaging a football season but clogging those roadways once again. But they have to earn that traffic.