5 things to watch as Jets return from bye week during 2023 NFL season

The Jets headed into their bye week on a high, after a two-game winning streak improved their record to 3-3.

Despite the devastating injury to quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the opener and another season-ending injury to stud offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker, the Jets have proven their mettle against some of the league’s top teams by beating the Bills and Eagles, and almost beating the Super Bowl champion Chiefs.

However, they were also flying high heading into the bye week last year at 6-3, only to flounder down the stretch.

Here are the biggest stories to watch as the Jets look for better results after the bye this time around...

Can the Jets perform better early in games?

The Jets have battled well in the second half of games all year, but they don’t make things easy on themselves with their constant slow starts. The team has trailed by double-digits in the first half of all six games so far.

The problems start right from their opening drive, where the Jets have been forced to punt all six times. In fact, they’ve only had two first downs on their six opening drives. One of these was a Breece Hall run on the very first offensive snap of the season and the other was on a defensive penalty in Week 6.

Gang Green has yet to score a first-quarter touchdown and their only early lead was when they went 3-0 up on the Broncos after a muffed punt, only to then go 7-3 down on the ensuring drive. 

Zach Wilson is averaging 27 passing yards in the first quarter of games but 52 in the second, third, and fourth quarters. Can they give themselves a better platform and a better margin for error against some of these supposedly easier upcoming opponents?

Are we going to see more from top rookie Will McDonald?

While the Jets’ defense has kept them in games, first-round rookie McDonald has been a disappointment. He’s barely played in the first six games, was a healthy scratch once and has only flashed a couple of times since the preseason.

On any other team, McDonald would be more likely to be getting reps, but the Jets are deep on the defensive line, especially with the strides Jermaine Johnson and Bryce Huff have made this season.

The good news for McDonald is that when he is in the game, he hasn’t looked overmatched. But he is going to need more opportunities to ramp up his production. The Jets will hope to see more from him after the bye and hope that limiting his playing time won’t have slowed his overall progress.

Will the defense be able to keep up the current turnover rate?

One of the main reasons for the Jets’ downfall at the end of last season was their inability to create turnovers down the stretch. They entered the bye with 14 turnovers in nine games but managed just two in the last eight games -- with just one during their six-game losing streak to end the season.

This season, they’ve been racking up the turnovers once again with 13 in the first six games, 10 of which came against three of the NFL’s best teams in the Chiefs, Eagles and Bills. Hopefully this time will be different because the Jets' offense is playing better, so teams will be less inclined to just play conservatively and wait for them to make mistakes.

One thing that could boost New York would be for Sauce Gardner and DJ Reed to start intercepting some passes. While each of them has played superbly over the past season and a half, the last interception by either of them was over a year ago.

Will the Jets get involved in any trade deadline activity?

The trade deadline is two days after the Jets’ next game against their crosstown rivals, the Giants. If they win that game to move to 4-3 on the season, will the Jets be tempted to become buyers at the deadline?

Adding a stud playmaker to the mix or upgrading a weakness could be exactly what they need to get them over the hump and into the postseason.

Whether or not they beat the Giants, the Jets could also be looking to move some superfluous pieces and acquire some more draft capital. Recent reports have suggested that Carl Lawson and Dalvin Cook might be on the block. Those moves could also save the team a little money and create extra playing time opportunities for McDonald and his fellow rookie Israel Abanikanda.

Pending free agents looking to finish strong

Looking ahead to 2024, the Jets have several key contributors who are free agents at the end of the season, so they will need to start thinking about either re-signing or replacing these players.

Huff is one of the main ones, along with tackle Mekhi Becton and safety Jordan Whitehead. If this trio can have a strong finish, they could increase their value and the number of potential suitors they’ll have if they decide to test the market.

The Jets will need to decide how much of a priority to make each of these players and what they are willing to pay to retain each one. It may depend on how high they are on current rookies McDonald, Carter Warren and Jarrick Bernard-Converse being ready for bigger roles next season.