Jets takeaways from 31-24 loss to Dolphins, including second half letdown

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Zach Wilson sacked by Dolphins
Zach Wilson sacked by Dolphins

With the Jets out of the playoff race, this final month will still contain plenty of valuable reps, especially for quarterback Zach Wilson. Sunday represented a good chance for Wilson and the Jets to play spoiler and also introduced him to a game situation he hasn’t experienced before in the NFL: Trying to protect an early lead. Unfortunately, this didn’t go so well.

Wilson came out looking sharp, as he completed his first six passes and led the Jets to a touchdown on their opening drive, then added a rushing touchdown as the Jets moved into a 17-7 second quarter lead; their largest of the season.

However, in the second half, the game started to look familiar for the Jets as Wilson had trouble dealing with the Dolphins’ pressure packages and the defense struggled to get off the field. The Jets gained just seven yards in the third quarter and Miami scored 17 straight points to take a fourth quarter lead.

The Jets tied the game briefly on rookie Brandin Echols’ interception return for a touchdown, but Miami countered immediately by driving downfield for the winning touchdown with under four minutes to go. The defense then stopped two late drives to clinch their sixth win in a row.

To some extent the game was overshadowed due to concern for Jets safety Elijah Riley, who suffered a scary looking injury early in the third quarter. Riley was carted off and taken to hospital but was able to give a thumbs-up to the crowd on his way off the field.

Here are some more takeaways from the Jets’ disappointing loss:

  • After forcing a three-and-out on Miami’s first drive, the Jets immediately marched downfield to take the lead on Braxton Berrios’ short touchdown run. This drive was all about redemption for Wilson, as the Jets ran some of the same plays he messed up on last week. His success on those plays, making the simple throws and taking what the defense gives him, is a clear sign that he worked on those things during the week and made some positive strides in these areas.

  • The main thing offensive play caller Mike LaFleur did to help Wilson in the first half was to empty out the playbook with a bunch of gadget plays, some of which were extremely effective. In theory, this should have kept the defense off balance and made the Jets’ staple plays more effective in the second half but this didn’t prove to be the case.

  • With Elijah Moore and Corey Davis out, Wilson needs his other receivers to step up for him, but in the first half it was his tight ends who stepped up with four first down catches. His receivers, on the other hand, dropped a couple of catchable balls. However, the tight ends went quiet in the second half and the Jets had just three first downs overall after halftime.

  • Remember when Wilson was struggling early on in games but then playing well in the second half earlier in the season? The script seems to have flipped and now he’s had a few games where he’s enjoyed early success and struggled thereafter. The Jets have to figure out how to get four consistent quarters out of Wilson.

  • Although he lost a fumble, Wilson once again didn’t throw an interception and now has thrown just four in his last seven games. He actually hasn’t thrown more than one in a game since Week 3. With the defense again struggling to generate any second half yardage, this begs the question whether he’s being too careful with the ball because he’s scared to make a mistake.

  • Miami has one of the weakest running games in the league, but the Jets were without Folorunso Fatukasi, one of their best run defenders. After Tua Tagovailoa had some early struggles, they were able to have some modest success running the ball to get back into the game and then when Quinnen Williams also left the game due to a shoulder injury, the Dolphins were able to run the ball at will with Duke Johnson, a late practice squad elevation, racking up over 100 yards and two scores.

  • The Jets’ secondary made several plays on the ball as Tagovailoa tested their secondary. Ashtyn Davis picked off his second pass of the year but should have had another when he dropped a ball that was tipped into the air. Echols’ pick-six was the first interception by a Jets cornerback all season.

  • One key to the Jets’ first half performance was their on-field discipline. They only got called for one first half penalty and that was on special teams. However, a holding call on the first series of the second half led to a three-and-out and then another costly penalty on Bryce Hall set up Miami’s go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. Conor McDermott’s holding penalty then disrupted the team’s final drive with a chance to tie the score late.