The Jets are playoff contenders, but their ugly Giants comeback shows that they have work to do

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Enjoy this, assuming you’ve successfully processed it. There’s no telling how long the latter might take for you to then get to the former. The Jets, dead in the water, came back to beat the Giants, 13-10.

All it took was a Graham Gano missed 35-yard field goal with 24 seconds left. A pair of Zach Wilson 29-yard completions to Garrett Wilson and Allen Lazard. A spike with one second left. A Greg Zuerlein game-tying 35-yard field goal. A three-and-out from the Giants to start overtime. A 30-yard pass interference penalty on Adoree' Jackson. Then a game-winning, 33-yard field goal from Zuerlein.

The Jets now sit 4-3. They are back in contention for a playoff berth. But they have some legitimate work to do if they want to get there -- and they know it.

“They don’t ask you how,” coach Robert Saleh said. “They ask you how many.”

It was rainy, windy and cold. The Jets entered the game with a star-studded injury report, then lost center Connor McGovern, guard-turned-backup-center Wes Schweitzer, and nose tackle AL Woods. They faced Wink Martindale, whose exotic Giants defense is a young quarterback’s kryptonite. You knew this game would be ugly. And it was. But this level of ugly was unacceptable.

You didn’t expect the Jets to win big, but it never should have come down to this. The Giants (2-6) stink. Their offensive line was in as dire shape as the Jets. New York entered with Tyrod Taylor starting for Daniel Jones, then lost Taylor to a rib injury and had to turn to undrafted rookie Tommy DeVito.

The Giants finished the game with negative nine passing yards on 14 attempts. They were 2 of 19 on third downs. Their only offense was to turn and hand it off to Saquon Barkley (36 rushes for 128 yards). And for 59 minutes and 36 seconds, that was enough to beat the Jets.

Because the Jets, once again, were pitiful on offense.

“We have to find a way to be better offensively,” Zach Wilson said. “Defense is playing lights-out and we have to be more consistent for those guys.”

Do not diminish this team’s resiliency. Far more across the league wilt in similar circumstances rather than claw back and win. Their defense kept grinding. Their offense kept fighting. The series before Wilson’s game-tying heroics he took a fourth-down sack (Kayvon Thibodeaux, who finished with three) where he held the ball far too long. Instead of falling apart, when he got the ball back, he fired his best two passes of the game, and potentially season.

But this isn’t about the Jets beating the lowly Giants. This is about a team reaching the potential it believes it has. They are well aware if they want to, winning by out-uglying their opponent simply is not sustainable. They must get better. Their defense, with D.J. Reed and Sauce Gardner back, is as good as any in the league. Now the offense must catch up.

“Playing great defense, doing all that stuff, that’s sustainable,” Saleh said. “Making mistakes, penalties, turnovers -- not sustainable. So, like I said, the good news is we can correct it on a W, but there’s a lot of things we’ve got to clean up, for sure.”

The Jets can start by jump-starting their rushing attack. Granted, this is a bit harder if McGovern (knee) and Schweitzer (calf) miss extended time. Still, 22 rushes for 58 yards (Wilson was the team’s leading rusher with four carries for 25) is not good enough. That makes things that much harder on second down. It makes it more challenging to get Garrett Wilson (seven catches for 100 yards) the ball. It can set up impossible third downs.

And third down continues to be an issue for New York. The Jets were 2 for 11 on third down against the Eagles two weeks ago. They were 3 for 12 against the Broncos the week before that. They were 2 for 15 against the Giants. The Jets also picked up just 12 first downs. They had only 251 yards. They had 17 possessions against the Giants. They punted 11 times. They turned it over twice (fumble and botched snap).

“I really wish I had an answer for you,” said tight end Tyler Conklin. “Whatever it is, we need to figure it the hell out. It’s something we have to fix.”

Martindale undeniably played a role in this, as did the pouring rain. He’s one of the game’s best defensive coordinators because of his ability to confuse. He’s a handful for the best in the world to deal with -- see Bills quarterback Josh Allen’s struggles on Monday night two weeks ago. His game plans are near impossible for the inexperienced to dissect.

Zach Wilson finished Sunday 17 of 36 (47.2%) for 240 yards with a touchdown, zero interceptions and the two lost fumbles. Fifty of those yards came on a catch-and-run from Breece Hall, who scored New York’s lone touchdown. The other 58 on the final possession of regulation.

The Jets’ offense will improve by simply playing anyone else. But their inconsistencies and struggles in sustaining drives have been a problem all year. They’ve been treading water, to this point, in spite of it. They must rectify it now that they’ve reached the season’s midway point.

“The reality is that we have standards on the offensive side of the ball that we’re not meeting right now and we take this win with a grain of salt,” Garrett Wilson said. “We feel like we didn’t put what we wanted to on film.

“We’re this close to being special on both sides of the ball.”

The Jets downplayed the importance of this game all week. They didn’t want to provide the Giants bulletin board material centered around a big-brother, little-brother rivalry. This was just another game, they insisted. They had no animosity towards their stadium roommates.

But, after the game, Saleh admitted that this did mean more to ownership. The Jets are “kings of New York,” he said, which puts a smile on the faces of Woody and Christopher Johnson.

Good. All should enjoy this -- players, ownership, coaches fans.

But the Jets want to be kings of much more than this city. At 4-3, they’ll be in discussion to get there.

But they have some cleaning up to do before that’s a realistic possibility.

And that must start now.