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As if we needed any more evidence, this is why the New York Jets aren’t firing anyone on their winless coaching staff this season.
Head coach Adam Gase is inevitably going to short-circuit the offense. And when he can’t come through, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is going to blitz himself right off the cliff, if necessary. They are the twins of incongruous consistency. Two coaches. Two steering wheels. Both driving the Jets to nowhere, which, as luck would have it, is the weird-but-necessary ride the 0-12 Jets need to endure.
If there were any doubts about that, the Jets delivered the emphatic proof in a 31-28 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday, when Williams called a bring-the-house blitz that resulted in Raiders wideout Henry Ruggs torching single coverage, then catching the winning 46-yard touchdown with five seconds left.
If you were a Jets fan and you prize long-term gains over a short-term nothingburger game in December, then you might have thrown a little fist pump when Ruggs crossed the goal line and Williams had snatched the 12th loss of the season from the clutches of victory.
Take that, Jacksonville Jaguars (1-11).
Is this bizarro NFL building dynamics? Of course it is. It’s necessary when there is a quarterback like Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence on the board in the 2021 draft. Not only is Lawrence the certain No. 1 overall pick, but he has also separated himself from Ohio State’s Justin Fields in the eyes of nearly every talent evaluator we can track down. We’ll get to that in a moment and why it matters. But first, back to the Jets and the bad call that created the breakdown the Jets needed.
What was Williams thinking on that all-out blitz — which was not a tanking maneuver? Lest anyone question the call, you should know this entire coaching staff is going to get fired at the end of the season and there’s no way Williams is doing anything to purposefully preserve that No. 1 pick positioning. Also, there’s no way on earth that Williams wants to become the first defensive coordinator in NFL history to preside over two 0-16 seasons. (He notched his first one with the Cleveland Browns in 2017.)
With that in mind, here’s what Williams was thinking:
On the Raiders’ previous drive, Las Vegas faced fourth-and-3 in the Jets’ red zone with 1:42 left in the game and trailing 28-24. Williams called a blitz that brought seven defenders, causing Derek Carr to panic and backpedal before short-arming an incompletion off his back foot and turning the ball over on downs. The blitz made all the difference on that play.
Flash forward to the next series. The second-to-last play by the Raiders, with 19 seconds left and needing a touchdown, Williams called only a four-man pressure with two deep safeties. The Jets got zero pressure on Carr and he was able to step into his pass, overthrowing Nelson Agholor who had inexcusably gotten behind three defenders and was streaking into the end zone. Failing to send pressure on that play had almost lost the Jets the game.
That set up Williams’ final call, which essentially sent eight defenders at Carr and left three defensive backs in single-man coverage. Ruggs ran a stop-and-go route and torched cornerback Lamar Jackson, who had no safety help on the play because of the aggressive play Williams had just called. And that would be that, with Ruggs catching his touchdown and the Jets losing.
As Carr told reporters later, “I couldn’t believe they all-out blitzed us. But as soon as I saw it, I was thankful.”
And the Jets’ players? Well, they were less thankful, particularly safety Marcus Maye, who took a poke at Williams afterward, saying “We could have been in a better call in that situation.”
Maybe he is right. The responsibility is on Williams. But he is who he is. And sometimes Gregg Williams does things like calling ill-advised blitzes that leave his secondary exposed. If the Jets were fighting for the playoffs rather than anchoring themselves to a No. 1 pick, it would be a massive story. But Williams will be fired soon enough and Lawrence positioning is still preserved, so it really isn’t.
All of which brings us back to Williams making a fortuitous mistake. That’s what this was. Let him make the right call in that situation and let the Jets ride home with a meaningless win, and all you would hear about on Monday was whether a momentary victory was worth jeopardizing Lawrence.
Here’s a thought on that: It isn’t.
Competing on Sunday and nearly winning was a great thing for the Jets because it shows some pride. But anyone who understands how NFL teams are built surely gets what is going on. The math isn’t hard. So long as the Jaguars have only one win, any Jets victory between now and Jan. 3 could be severely regrettable in the long-term vantage. It endangers the only thing that should matter to the franchise now and that’s getting Lawrence as the pivot point to the next head coach and the next coaching staff — not to mention an 80 percent retooling of the roster, which will be built to accentuate his considerable set of tools as a franchise cornerstone.
Make no mistake, the Jets are among a considerable number of NFL teams that believe Lawrence is capable of changing a 10-15-year window for an organization. Not only that, this whole admiration for Lawrence isn’t just reserved for the personnel department. Ownership is well aware of Lawrence and is to the point of coveting him in the midst of this whole failed 2020 endeavor. When the personnel department knows the importance of the No. 1 pick and ownership is in that same boat, it goes without saying that losing out on Lawrence in the next month would be monumentally disappointing for all of the parts of the organization that will remain when the coaching staff is blown up in January.
That reality means decades of the Jets’ future is now slammed into the next 28 days of the NFL season. And that’s why the Jets aren’t competing with the teams that remain on their schedule. Instead, they are competing with the Jaguars inside a fortune cookie paradox. It’s where winning is losing and the top prize is secured at the bottom of the standings.
In this bizarro NFL world of the Jets, it makes sense. Just like Williams’ wrong call at the wrong time, generating the right outcome for everyone who is thinking about the next 10 years rather than the next 10 days.
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