One year after starting 0-4, killing their season before it really even began, the Jets find themselves in a familiar position. They are 0-2, falling apart with injuries, and staring at a daunting schedule that could leave them in a deep hole.
They obviously want to avoid that, and all the uncomfortable questions that could come with another lost season.
Maybe there is a way.
Though history suggests the path from 0-2 to the playoffs is hard, it’s also far from impossible. And these Jets do have more talent than they had at this time a year ago and more ways to turn things around.
So here’s a look at exactly how they can do that – five things they can do to help turn around this season before it’s too late:
1. Turn Sam Darnold loose
This is both the most obvious solution to their problems, and perhaps the most difficult. So much of what Darnold is able to do is a product of what’s around him, and right now the surrounding cast is not good. He’s facing the prospect of being without his top three receivers (Jamison Crowder, Breshad Perriman and Denzel Mims), his No. 1 running back (Le’Veon Bell) and his starting center (Connor McGovern) and right tackle (George Fant) on Sunday in Indianapolis. That’s not ideal.
But the solution isn’t what Adam Gase has done the first two weeks – a passing attack based on short passes that theoretically will open up deeper shots later on. There’s no need to wait anymore. Let Darnold do what he does best. Get him outside the pocket and let him throw both mid-range and deep passes. He’s creative and he’s accurate, so let that show. Maybe he’ll make a few mistakes. But maybe he can make players around him better, too.
For proof, look at his touchdown pass to Braxton Berrios last Sunday. Yes, it was a broken play, and yes, it was late in the fourth quarter, but it’s still a good look at what Darnold can do when he has to do more than just dump off.
2. Get the ball to rookie RB La’Mical Perine
Look, Frank Gore is a legend and he’s still very effective. But the 22-year-old Perine has fresh legs and, if what he showed in training camp this summer is any indication, he’s explosive. He missed a lot of the summer with a sprained ankle and he’s still a bit “limited.” But he deserves way more than the nine offensive snaps and three touches he had last week.
Gase said he planned to work Perine in more last week and he plans to do it again this week. As long as Perine is healthy they need to do it more and more. Because while Gore is reliable and will pick up his 2-4 yards and keep the chains moving, this Jets’ offense is crying out for some big play potential. That’s something Perine seems to have.
3. Make TE Chris Herndon a go-to guy
This was supposed to happen anyway, right? Gase seemed to love the receiving potential of Herndon and sounded like he was ready to commit to him as a big part of the passing attack. So how is it that Herndon has been targeted only 11 times so far? That’s just 17 percent of Darnold’s passes in an offense where his weapons are dropping so often that Gase said he’ll look for help from “whoever has a pulse.”
Herndon is supposed to have a pretty good pulse, so Gase should start drawing up some plays for him. Get Herndon and Darnold to develop a rhythm. Yes, defenses could focus on him, especially with the Jets’ top three receivers sidelined. But that’s no reason to shy away from him. They think he’s a playmaker, so give him a chance to make plays.
4. Find a leader to step up and lead
This is big, and won’t be easy, because by all accounts, strong, vocal leadership is not Gase’s thing – at least not in the way that’s required for a struggling team. He’s a technician, someone who wants to find a solution, not fire up players with emotional speeches. In his first year with the Jets, he preferred to leave that to his players, though it didn’t often work.
The problem now is it’s unclear who could do that for him. Jamal Adams, the mouthiest of the Jets, is in Seattle. That doesn’t seem to be Darnold’s leadership style either. It’s certainly the style of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, and that may work for the defense, but he’s in a tough spot trying to rally the entire team without over-stepping.
There were signs of that kind of leadership this week from safety Bradley McDougald, who publicly called out his teammates for their practice habits in an interview with SNY. Going public isn’t necessarily the best idea, so hopefully he stood up in front of his teammates and said it privately, too. Because someone needs to fire this team up before they start going through the motions of a lost season again.
5. Play like there’s nothing to lose
At this point, what’s left to lose? They’re already 0-2, coming off a miserable season and haven’t been to the playoffs in a decade. Outsiders are questioning Darnold’s long-term future, calling for Gase to be fired, and ripping into ownership, too.
As someone once said: Fortune favors the bold. Now isn’t the time to curl up, run a conservative offense, refuse to take chances on defense, or go into a shell in the red zone or on fourth downs. The mantra should be: Go for it. If they’re going to go down, go down trying. Take chances, because if they hit on just a couple of them, it could change the attitude of the players, build their confidence, and turn the season around, too.
So take those deep shots. Go for it on fourth and 3 from midfield. Don’t settle for that field goal. Don’t play like you’re trying to keep the game close. Because at this point, who cares if a gamble doesn’t pay off? Or, to put it into another cliché: Go big or go home.