The Jets fell to the Vikings 37-17 on Sunday, ending their two-game winning streak and dropping them back below .500. Here are some thoughts and observations from the game:
1. The Jets faced another big-time opponent and came up small. They showed again they are not quite ready to play with the NFL’s big boys. It has been a long time since the Jets notched what you would call a “signature win.” I would go back to 2015 and the win at home over the Patriots. Since then, they have beaten a few good teams but no one that made you sit up and think the Jets had arrived as a playoff contender.
Their three wins this year have come against the Lions (3-3), Broncos (3-4) and Colts (2-5), currently all at or below .500. Those wins could look differently at the end of the year if one of those teams gets hot, but right now they feel like wins over mediocre teams.
Last year, the Jets beat three teams that eventually made the playoffs, the Jaguars, Bills and Chiefs — all impressive victories, but not games that were all that memorable. In 2016, their best win was over a Ravens team that finished 8-8.
At some point, Todd Bowles need to start beating good teams or the Jets will bring in someone else to do it. The Vikings clearly have more talent than the Jets right now, but it was 10-7 at halftime at home on a day when the elements should have helped the Jets. Instead, they fell apart in the second half and lost by 20 points. The Jets committed too many dumb errors in this game to win — from drops to penalties to bad snaps to failing to recognize a fumble. They will never beat a good team as long as they continue to do that.
2. Let’s dig deeper into one of those mistakes on Sunday. In the third quarter, down 20-10, Kirk Cousins threw a backward pass toward Stefon Diggs at the Vikings’ 26-yard line. Jets linebacker Darron Lee and cornerback Parry Nickerson were both near Diggs when he missed the pass. Lee began to celebrate the play. Nickerson just stood there. Neither realized it was a live ball. Finally, Diggs realized it and jumped on it.
Imagine if the Jets had recovered the ball? They would be set up deep inside Minnesota territory. They would have at least scored a field goal to cut the game to seven points. Even better for them would be a touchdown to make it 20-17. That would have breathed life into the crowd and changed the complexion of the game.
Players are taught at the lowest levels of football to play through the whistle. They are taught a little later in their football lives to pounce on a loose ball if there is a throw near the line of scrimmage because it could be ruled a fumble. There was no excuse for Lee and Nickerson not jumping on that ball. It was a huge blunder that cost the Jets.
The biggest mistake by Bowles, in my view, was not taking a timeout before halftime. The Jets had three timeouts. The Vikings completed a 7-yard pass to Diggs on third-and-11, setting up a field goal. There was 1:28 on the clock when he was ruled down. Instead of taking a timeout, Bowles let the Vikings run the clock down to 47 seconds before attempting the field goal, which they missed.
Here was Bowles’ explanation:
“We had the ball in the second half,” Bowles said. “We thought if he missed the field goal, we had time because we had our timeouts. We did have time, but we didn’t make enough plays.”
I don’t get it. The Jets got the ball back with 42 seconds left and all three timeouts. Wouldn’t it have been better to get the ball back with 1:20 left and two timeouts? Try to get a score before halftime and then get the ball to start the second half. Curious.
A lot of people have asked why Bowles did not challenge the play in the first quarter, in which it looked like Cousins may have been tackled in the end zone for a safety, but was ruled down at the 1. I checked with Mike Pereira, the former head of officiating with the NFL who now works for Fox. He said he did not think it was a safety and he thought it would not have been reversed if Bowles challenged it. Some suggested it was not able to be challenged because Cousins was ruled down by forward progress, but forward progress is reviewable when it involves the goal line or the line to gain.
The other play that looked like Bowles could have challenged was the deep pass to Robby Anderson in the second quarter that Vikings safety Harrison Smith pried out of his hands. I don’t think that would have been ruled a catch. You could argue it was worth a challenge because it was a big gain if it was reversed, but I think he would have lost that one.
4. I spoke with center Spencer Long after the game about his bad snaps. He had two more Sunday and has had at least six in the last three weeks. Long is dealing with an injury to his right middle finger. That might not sound like much, but it is when your job is to snap a football.
Long was clearly frustrated after the game and he did not want to make excuses by blaming the finger. It underscores just how much football players fight through to be on the field each week. As fans or reporters, it is easy to criticize these guys when things don’t go right, but we don’t know sometimes what is going on behind the scenes for them to even play. It is something to think about when you are ripping guys on Sunday afternoons.
Revealing stat: The Jets are 3-0 when Sam Darnold attempts 30 passes or fewer. They are 0-4 when he throws more than 30 pass attempts. It is pretty clear what the Jets’ formula is. They have to find a way to get the running game going.
Surprising snap count: Chris Herndon only played 24 snaps out of 71. That was behind fellow tight ends Neal Sterling and Eric Tomlinson. The rookie has shown he can block and catch. It’s time to play him more.
Game ball: Outside linebacker Brandon Copeland had a really nice game. He had five tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack and two quarterback hits. On one series in the first quarter, he tackled Diggs for a 6-yard loss on an end-around. Then, he sacked Cousins on the play that looked as if it might be a safety. Copeland has been a nice under-the-radar signing for the Jets.